29. Messy Macaroons – France

In Hiroshima, I spotted shop windows stylishly displaying towers of tantalisingly multicoloured circular sandwiches, of every colour in the rainbow. At this point, a couple of yearrs ago now, I had never even heard of Macaroons, let alone tasted one. I kept promising myself one, but with all the other amazing food I never got round to it! Returning home I realised I was macaroonless.

Hello Hiroshima

I then heard more and more about Macaroons, they were everywhere, from Gossip Girl to Lorraine Pascale. (Think Blair Waldorf eating an entire box of pistachio macaroons in the bath.) Then The Great British Bake Off with Edd Kimber’s fabulous macarons. The more I heard about them the more I wanted to try them. Newcastle is not the Macaroon (or macaron – you choose which spelling you prefer, English or French?) central of the world. However my Mam happened upon them in Betty’s Tea Room and bought me an entire box! How decadent and divine, so light and sweet. I sampled the lot,  lemon, pistachio, chocolate and strawberry glossy and smooth macaroons filled with delicious jam and buttercream. They feel like something French aristocrats would enjoy on a daily basis.

Betty’s Tea Rooms Handmade Macaroons – note the glossy exterior, feet and lift!

I had to attempt them myself. They are a French invention, but it seems quite a few other countries have their own variation and have adopted them too. We used to make coconut macaroons with my Mam, but they are something entirely different. (But I have bought some rice paper to have a go myself soon…)

My Messy Macaroons

You can use the Italian meringue method (which uses hot sugar syrup to cook the egg whites before drying out the meringue in the oven. I used it to create my Key Lime Pie) or the French meringue method (where the raw meringue is cooked slowly in the oven)  to make the macaroon shell. I opted for the French method, as it seemed easier! However upon further research the Italian method may be more tricky but it supposedly produces more consistent results. (Next time I’m up for experimenting a bit more with this!)

I learned a few things along the way when making these. They are quite technical and a bit tricky but essentially they are a meringue and like when I made pavlova and mini meringues they require ‘drying out’ or cooking in a low temperature oven.

I chose a classic macaroon recipe to follow and adapted it to suit the flavours that I had in my cupboard. Which meant that I ended up with pink lemon flavoured macaroons. This kind of messes with your mind a little.

Whisking the egg whites

I started by whisking the egg whites and a tablespoon of lemon juice with an electric mixer for quite some time until it becomes stiff. Then gradually whisked in  the rest of the lemon zest and sugar until it was fully incorporated. I also added some powdered red food colouring at this point until I reached my desired pinkness. It’s probably best not to use liquid food colourings here as you don’t want to disturb the consistency of the egg whites too much… Runny egg whites make for one flat and merged meringue. (I should know I’ve already been there and done that.)

Adding the pinkness

It can take 10 minutes or so to whisk the egg whites until they are shiny. Then you known they’re ready for the ground almonds. Using a metal spoon I carefully folded in the ground almonds, so as to keep as much air  in the meringue as possible.

I spooned the meringue paste into a piping bag with a plain round nozzle and piped freestyle. Some people like Holly Bell, who are far more prepared than me, use a template of equally spaced circles (or other shapes) under their greaseproof paper to pipe equal amounts onto the tray.  I however was in a baking frenzy and choose to guess. Therefore my  results are somewhat less than consistent. My piping was supposed to produce little delicate rounds of meringue onto the baking tray lined with grease proof paper. Occasionally little meringue peaks formed on my macaroon circles. I quickly flattened them down again with a slightly wet finger. Good news however! There’s no need to grease the paper before piping, which is always a nice treat.

Piped onto the baking paper – all shapes and sizes

Now here’s my lesson at this point I wish that I had

a)    Gently banged the tray on the worktop to make sure the bottom of the macaroons were flat.

b)    Left the macaroons for 20 – 30 minutes to dry slightly and form a skin on the top before putting them into the oven. (I have since discovered that you get a more glossy finish by doing this and it helps the macaroons to form their characteristic ‘feet’(the little rugged ridge around the base of the shell) and lift up from the tray in the oven.

c)    Blitzed my ground almonds in the food processor before using them to make sure they were really fine. This is supposed to help ensure a smooth and glossy finish. I may have even sieved them if I could have been bothered.

d)    Used icing sugar! The recipe just called for caster sugar. Other recipes I’ve looked at use powdered sugar to get a smoother finish.

e)    Froze the first batch before I filled them. Apparently freezing macaroons helps to make them look and taste even better.

Just baked macaroon shells – oh so many I ran out of trays to pipe them on! (oh and I dropped a wooden spoon on that one in the middle before it made it to the oven…)

But this is all fine and well in hindsight. I didn’t have this wisdom then. I was pleased that they held their shape (whatever shape that may be)  in the oven when I baked them for 40 minutes at 150 degrees C with the oven door slightly open. However they didn’t develop the little feet or lift that they are supposed too so they weren’t as sophisticated as I hoped. They were most definitely not smooth, glossy or shiny either, but more of a pumice stone texture. Thankfully they didn’t taste like pumice stone! They were chewy in the centre and crisp on the outside, just how I like them. (I couldn’t resist trying a few straight from the oven.)

I left them to cool completely before filling them with a generous smudge of my home made lemon curd and a sneaky layer lemon buttercream. Then sandwiched two shells together.

Little and Large

This recipe was only supposed to make 15 macaroons. I ended up with well over 30, so perhaps I made slightly smaller ones than I was supposed to, but they seemed massive to me. All the more macaroon to enjoy in my opinion.

My Messy Macaroons

I took a whole box along with me on my last day in my job and they were the first thing to disappear from the buffet table, which indicates success despite their ever so rustic appearance. With the other half I wrapped the empty shells carefully in layers of greaseproof paper and stored them in an airtight container. I froze them for a month and defrosted them for my friend’s leaving do. They accompanied me to the pub in their own takeaway container.

Take away macaroons

I have a whole macaroon book to experiment with so you can definitely expect messy macaroons part 2 in the near future as I’m determined to perfect them!

Things that I used to make messy macaroons

4 egg whites (I used medium eggs)

1 lemon (juice and zest)

250g caster sugar

200g of ground almonds

Buttercream

Approx 300g icing sugar (enough to create smooth sweet paste when combined with the sugar)

1 lemon zested

1 tsp vanilla extract

250g butter

Lemon Curd

Approx 3 tablespoons of homemade lemon curd (but you can add as much or as little as you like)

Baked for 40 minutes at 150 degrees C with the oven door slightly open.

**Note to self – I also used a little splodge of the uncooked meringue mix on each baking tray to hold the greaseproof paper in place**

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15. Millionaire’s Shortbread – Scotland

Shortbread is traditionally Scottish and delicious so what better way to bring it to life than with a generous coating of caramel and chocolate?

Millionaire Shortbread

I’ve been to Scotland many, many times and love it. Who else has a shop dedicated to Chocolate Soup?

Edinburgh

Edinburgh

I’ve made biscuits before but not like this and never Shortbread. After my mam kindly donated a tin of what we thought was caramel I craved Millionaire Shortbread for a week so I dug out a Shortbread recipe and set to work.

The Beginning

It seems strange that Shortbread only consists of sugar, butter and flour. I had to keep checking the recipe to make sure I hadn’t missed something. Where’s the eggs?! Surely this won’t work?

I treat myself once more to another new piece of baking equipment. This time to a very big and deep tray. Perfect for a traybake like this. The can of caramel had a recipe for Millionaire Shortbread printed on it which said to break up Shortbread then squash it into the tin. I was about to bake loads of biscuits then crush them up but realised this was ridiculous. I could simply bake a layer of Shortbread and layer the caramel and chocolate on to it, making one big tray instead. Genius.

The new rolling plan

I quickly whipped up a batch of Shortbread and attempted to roll it out directly onto a sheet of greaseproof paper in an attempt to minimise mess and washing up! Another innovation, although I had to weigh the paper down with various kitchen implements.

Upon rolling the dough it became apparent that we were going to be dining on pauper Shortbread if I had to eek out the dough to fill the entire tray. It would have been a sorry sight to serve up wafer thin Shortbread.

Squished into all the corners

I ended up making another batch and combined the two doughs. A quick roll to flatten it out. Then all I had to do was lift the entire baking sheet into the tray and press the dough into the corners. Minimal effort required!

A quick bake in the oven for the Shortbread and whilst it was cooling in the oven I opened the can of caramel, only to discover that the price label had cleverly concealed its true contents. It was in fact a can of condensed milk! I thought my plan was scuppered but I rooted around in the fridge for some spare butter and sugar. I had enough to turn this can into a wonderful pan of caramel!

Let's make caramel

I hadn’t attempted caramel before, although I have made Dolche De Leche by simmering a closed can of condensed milk in a pan for a couple of hours. I assumed caramel couldn’t be that different and threw myself into the caramel creation with some gusto. Yet with some caution, following my previous burnt pan messes which have killed off a few of my pans. I didn’t want to have to buy any more pans!

add the butter

I was surprised by how relatively easy this was. I didn’t burn then pan or set fire to anything. Success!

And we have... caramel! (No burnt pans!)

Once the next layer of caramel was added to the shortbread it needed to set in the fridge for a while. I left it to cool and threw 3 bars of plain chocolate into a glass bowl over a pan of boiling water to melt.

Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate

This meant just before bed all I had to do was spread the thick chocolate onto the caramel, and leave it to set in the fridge once more.

I discovered a little white chocolate lurking in the fridge too and thought it would be nice to make a swirly pattern on the top with it. So I threw it into a sandwich bag and left it in the hot water to melt.

Swirly

A quick snip with the scissors and I have a handy disposable piping bag (thanks for the tip mam!) and less washing up for me. I swirled it up with a knife and it looked rather pretty, even if I do say so myself!

Look at that thick chocolate!!

The hardest bit of this bake was trying to cut it up into equal pieces without the chocolate cracking in all the wrong places. My hands were a bit sore pressing the knife into the chocolate! Perhaps a sharper knife would help?

How do I cut this??

It was very well received at home and at work. It is genuinely the bake that just keeps going. I must have cut it up into about 35 pieces!  I’ve enjoyed a bit everyday with a massive cup of tea. I predict I will be making this again in the future…

Delicious!

Things that I used to make Millionaire’s Shortbread

Shortbread Base

I had to make twice as much shortbread to fill my tin so I doubled all of the ingredients listed below…

  • 125g/4oz butter (I used 250g butter)
  • 55g/2oz caster sugar (I used 110g sugar)
  • 180g/6oz plain flour (I used 360g plain flour)

Caramel Filling

 

  • 175 g butter
  • 175 g caster sugar
  • 4 tbsp golden syrup
  • 1 x 397 g can condensed milk

Chocolate Topping

  • 1 bar (200 g) dark chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 1 bar (200g) of white chocolate

 

 

14. Key Lime Pie – America (but with a massive Italian Meringue!)

There seems to be a pattern emerging here. It was my friend Jenny’s birthday and I wanted to bake something special for her. When I asked what she would like her immediate response was ‘Key Lime Pie’. Your wish is my command.

I’ve never had Key Lime Pie before but I immediately thought of the Hummingbird Bakery recipe that I had gazed at longingly many a time but had thought it was too complicated and messy to attempt. I would not let my niggling doubts defeat me.

I knew that I would need a bit of time to prepare this one in order to bring it to work to celebrate Jenny’s birthday in style. I got up extra early the day before to smash up digestive biscuits. It’s days like these that I wish I had a food processor. Chris had to ask me nicely to stop hammering the biscuits with the rolling pin as it was simply too early. I ran out of digestives and supplemented the rest with rich teas instead. (that’s ok right?!)

Smashing Digestives

Again I had to shield my eyes from the flying digestive debris when I blitzed the shards with the hand blender. I may, or may not, have gone to work with crumbs in my hair. (It’s hard to tell with my curly mop sometimes).

I melted the butter in the microwave successfully not causing any fireworks this time and quickly stirred it all together. I quickly realised as I attempted to press the buttery biscuit paste into my flan dish that if I used all of the biscuits as instructed in the recipe that there simply wouldn’t be any space for limes in the pie…

Can't fit any more biscuits in!

I had felt a bit guilty and frivoulous for  buying mini pie dishes recently, but this Key Lime Pie emergency meant that I got to christen them! My sleepy brain missed a step in the recipe which said you bake the biscuit base and I assumed they would need to set in the fridge (hence the extra early preparations). Into the fridge they went to wait for me upon my return from work.

Mini Tins

I realised that I had to bake the base and cool it before the lime filling could be poured in. No baking beans needed for this inital bake unlike the Tarte au Citron.

Ready for round 2. Into the oven...

The grating and juicing of the limes was intense and made me crave a mojito. Once it was all grated I whisked it into the lashings of condensed milk and egg yolks, which I lovingly separated from their whites to save for the magnificent meringue.

A lot of limes went into the making of this.

and eggs 🙂

Then to pour the limey goodness onto the biscuit base  which was now a thick greenish creamy paste and bake it in the oven. The lack of light in my oven could pose a problem for checking the bake, but I’ve lived with it for over 2 years now and found a torch is a handy cooking tool.

Ready for round 2. Into the oven...

Who needs a light inside their oven? Torches are the way forward. Is it done yet?

Now for the exciting bit. I’ve never made Italian style meringue before. (and only made normal meringue for the first time recently!) I saw it on the Great British Bake Off  being created very precisely with thermometers and such like. If you’ve read any of my blog you will know by now that I simply don’t do precise, so I was relieved that a thermometer was not needed in this recipe. The only thermometer I own is a forehead strip one that I bought during the Swine Flu Panic last year. Somehow I don’t think I could use that to measure the temperature of sugar syrup…

Frothy egg whites (Before sugar)

8 egg whites were whisked into a frothy frenzy whilst the sugar and water bubbled merrily on the stove. I couldn’t remember if you were supposed to stir sugar constantly or if it makes it return to it’s crystallised state, so I did a bit of both. Stir, let it bubble, stir again. It eventually reached what I assumed to be the ‘soft ball stage‘. A mystical sugary state that frankly I’ve never heard of before I attempted to make fudge the other week, which was a disaster, so I clearly can’t recognise this stage of sugary wonderment. To be on the safe side I let it bubble some more..

Sugar Soup?

Bubblin Hot

When the sugar is syrupy and hot enough it needs to be poured slowly into the egg whites whilst whisking it. It’s a good job I can multi task, as I poured the liquid molten lava with one hand and held the electric whisk with the other, praying I wouldn’t slip and scald myself. When I win the lottery I have promised myself a Kitchen Aid mixer (and a bigger kitchen).

After sugar... I think the meringue's cooked!

I think I may need a bigger bowl if I’m ever going to make this again. It was amazing. Compared to uncooked meringue this was like magic. It quadrupled in size and almost over flowed the bowl! The only downside was after all the sugar was incorporated was that it involved 15 – 20 minutes of more whisking. Thank god for my little electric whisk and my ipod on random. Elvis and whisking. What can be better?

A mini one

Once the meringue had cooled, it was cooked through and ready to be assembled on top of the lime pies. It was a sticky process. With each mountain of meringue in position I popped them all in the oven for the final bake!

The Key Lime Pie Family Portrait

What a wonderful sight! So impressive! I struggled to get the pie into my cake box to transport to work. So cling wrapped it to the hilt and carried it like a baby. I got A LOT of smiles from strangers on my way to work that morning! Someone actually offered me their seat on the metro. It just goes to show people LOVE cake and Key Lime Pie is an attractive bake.

The grand reveal (somehow pearls of toffee appeared from the meringue, I know not how or why but they look pretty.)

This pie goes a long way. We shared it amongst 11 people and then I still had 3 mini pies at home! (don’t worry I didn’t eat them all by myself) The wonderfully sweet meringue balanced out the sharp and creamy lime. The digestive base tasted almost gingery after their third bake in the oven. Perhaps it was the addition of rich tea biscuits, whatever it was, it was wonderful.

Heaven is a massive slice of Key Lime Pie. Happy Birthday Jenny!

Very Neapolitan

13. Lovely Lamingtons – Australia – Lord Lamington’s Finest

As a surprise birthday treat, I decided to bake Chris his favourite Australian treat, Lamingtons. We ate Lamingtons the size of house bricks when visiting Australia. One particular Lamington stands out from our visit this year when we drove the Great Ocean Road and stayed in the seaside towns of Lorne and Apollo Bay to take in the sights (and the cakes and pies too).

Look at this little fella! Spotted on the Great Ocean Road

Somewhere over the rainbow…

I spotted a Lamington recipe in Marguerite Patton’s Everyday Cookbook and planned it all well in advance, purchasing an industrial sized bag of desiccated coconut, only for Chris to then ask for Lamingtons (and a Chocolate Roulade) for his birthday! My plan was discovered, but then again I’m not very good at keeping surprises secret and our tiny Tyneside flat doesn’t leave much to the imagination anyway…

Lamingtons. The classic Australian ones

I googled Lamingtons as they caused a bit of debate in the office. Many of us remember eating these chocolate, coconut, jam, sponge cubes as children, although others remember a pink version. They are also known by different names, such as Madelines, or pink Lamingtons. Some Australian Counsellor put me right. Apparently an Australian Lord loved cake. His maid  accidently dropped his cake into chocolate. Despite being a Lord he didn’t want to waste his cake (Don’t blame him!). So he told her to roll it in coconut so he wouldn’t get messy fingers. Et voila! Lamingtons were born and Australians are very proud of their 100 year recipe. (Check out the Australian Lamington official blog for evidence of the City Counsellor of Queensland shovelling Lamingtons into his mouth and the record breaking Lamington).

Celebrating 100 years of the Australian Lamington

Counsellor Paul Tullly enjoying Lamingtons – Courtesy of australianlamingtons.blogspot.com

I was a bit worried about how technical this recipe was and I didn’t actually own a square tin. I made a quick trip to visit my mam to borrow her tin. I’ve never baked one cake and sliced it in half before. It seems a bit dangerous. Is it difficult? What if I slip with the knife and ruin the entire cake?!

Sponge time

The sponge itself was pretty simple to make. A basic vanilla batter, which smelled gorgeous and tasted rather like a dense madeira cake.

Smells so good

I had to leave it to cool overnight and the next day chopped off the slightly domed top to create a flat surface instead. This was nerve wracking too as the last time I attempted this I cut my hand. I managed and kept all my fingers intact. This meant that I got a sneak preview and ate the lid before work. Hurrah! It was delicious!

Off with it’s dome

I set about creating the chocolate soup, from cocoa powder and icing sugar. I carefully sliced the cake through the middle widthways and had two perfect halves!!

Chocolate Soup?

The recipe was supposed to make 16 portions… I was a bit worried that this dinky square cake just wasn’t enough for the Australian cakes that we were accustomed too. So I baked another one. This time in a big roasting tin to make one flat cake, remembering this time to leave a bit of a dint in the top (pushing more mixture to the edges) so I didn’t get a dome finish.

The second sponge… (please ignore the cat food in the background)

Our guests were arriving for fish and chips and Lamingtons so I didn’t have much time for mistakes. I threw almost a full jar of strawberry jam onto the sponges and rubbed it in with the back of a spoon. (Excessive? Me?)

JAM

Then plonked one half on top of the other and decided that 4 big cakes were better than 16 little ones. I used the sharpest knife I could find and cut the sponge into quarters. Although they still didn’t look that ‘Australian sized’ to me.

That’s more like it

The recipe suggests you use a skewer to pierce the cake and dip gentily into the chocolate soup before lovingly rolling it in desiccated coconut. Who has time for these things? I picked the cakes up with my bare hands and within 2 seconds was up to my eyes in chocolate and coconut. Everything stuck to me! My messy yet effective method.

Step one. Dunk yourself in chocolate

Step two. Roll around in coconut (Do not try to a. answer the phone b. push your hair out of your face c.  say hello to the cat until hands can be throughly washed.)

The cakes needed about an hour to ‘set’. I definitely used more coconut than suggested as the chocolate from my fingers kept leaking onto the pristine white finish and ruining the effect slightly.

The Setting Process

When piled onto my new vintage cake plate, topped with candles, lit and then carried through the beaded curtain from the kitchen to the living room. (No fires were caused in the making of these cakes, don’t worry), They suddenly transformed into magnificent brick like beasts. I had made giant cakes. One cake was more than enough for two people and I still had an entire sponge cake left to assemble!

Happy Birthday Chris!

Happy Birthday Chris! I loved these cakes and was so impressed with how they turned out. The sponge doesn’t need to be the perfect shape, the coconut makes up for any inconsistencies and they are so very moreish.

My Half

I attempted some pink Lamingtons (or English Madelines as Nigel Slater informs me in his ‘Eating for England’ book) especially for Caroline at work as they were her favourite, using powdered jelly. Bizarre stuff but apparently they tasted excatly like the ones she had when she was little. Success!

Pink Jelly Soup

One flat sponge cake goes a long way…

Things that I used to make Lovely Lamingtons…

Sponge cake

  • 5 oz butter
  • 7 oz caster sugar
  • splash of vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 10 oz self raising flour
  • 4 tablespoons of milk

Filling

  • strawberry/raspberry jam

Coating

  • 7 oz icing sugar
  • 1 oz cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoons of boiling water

Decoration

  • 6 oz desiccated coconut (or as much as you need to coat the lamingtons liberally!)

Method

  1. Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla essence together
  2. add the eggs gradually
  3. fold in the sieved flour alternatively with the milk
  4. spread the mixture into a baking tin (8 inch square)
  5. bake for 50-60 mins at 350 degrees F/gas mark 4
  6. cool the sponge and store in an airtight container over night
  7. carefully slice the sponge through the centre to create 2 square sponges
  8. spread with jam
  9. sandwich the two sponges together
  10. mix the icing sugar and cocoa powder together in a shallow bowl adding the boiling water gradually to create your chocolate soup. Add more sugar/water as required.
  11. chop the sponge into equal sized squares (4 if you want big pieces or 16 smaller ones)
  12. dip each piece into the chocolate soup and then into a shallow bowl of desiccated coconut
  13. leave on a cooling rack to harden
  14. eat with a big cup of tea!

* Recipe lovingly adapated from Marguerite Patten’s Everyday Cookbook

 

12. Carribean Christmas Cake – Jamaicing me crazy and setting the kitchen on fire

My battered Delia Recipe

I LOVE Christmas and Christmas Cake! A few years ago I decided, the week before Christmas, to make my first ever independent Christmas Cake. I now know that this is breaking all of the Christmas Cake rules. It needs time to mature, to be fed Brandy and then the icing needs to be spaced out, one layer at a time over a week, so the marzipan has time to dry out and to achieve a much smoother finish. But in true Lauren style, I dove straight in and was sitting up til 1am waiting for the cake to bake. Then a spot of slap dash icing (which I had never EVER done before) til ridiculous o’clock on Christmas Eve.

My first ever Christmas Cake and decoration attempt. I went a bit overboard with the fondant icing! The marzipan snowman lost his head on the way too!

I didn’t want to make the same mistake(s) again this time. My Mam has a fantastic recipe, but I ended up adapting a Delia Recipe as it was a very spur of the moment decision when I first baked it and I have used it ever since. Even the same print out to be exact!

As per usual I didn’t have the correct ingredients in the cupboard so I had to substitute a the vast majority of Delia’s recipe. Ending up with dried mango, dates and raisins instead of cherries, candied peel and currants. Although I did splash out on a big bottle of brandy.

As the rules of Around the World in Eighty Bakes states, I have to bake something that I haven’t baked before. I pondered over this for a while and decided to modify my Christmas Cake and put a Caribbean twist on it. Also I wanted to make mini Christmas Cakes so I can give them as presents this year too,  inspired by a wonderful little short story by Truman Capote, A Christmas Memory.

Rum Soaked Fruit

In order to put a different slant on the classic Christmas Cake I replaced the Brandy with Rum. There’s always some in my cupboard and having tried to drink the leftover Brandy following reading  Gone with The Wind (Scarlett was a Brandy advocate) I realised I’m not a huge fan, perhaps Tesco Value Brandy is not the best to start with….

After soaking all the dried fruit in rum for a day. Opting for cranberries (very Christmassy), raisins and apricots, it was time to start mixing everything together. The butter was a bit hard so I decided to soften it slightly in the microwave, after ensuring the butter packet was paper only I popped the whole block in the microwave for 30 seconds.

The microwave went up in a loud bang and a massive white flash. I created fireworks in the kitchen! A little girly squeal from me and I ripped open the microwave door, to discover actual flames coming from the cleverly disguised tin foil sandwiched inbetween the paper of the packet.

I’ve never set the kitchen on fire before, so I got a bit of a shock.  But I managed to think quick and decided to blow the flames out, whilst balanced precariously on my tip toes. The microwave is on top of the fridge and I’m only 5 foot 2 (ish) so it’s a bit of a stretch at the best of times… Thankfully it worked and I rescued the butter and the kitchen.

The Offending Article

I persevered following the slight disaster and finished mixing the ingredients, with the addition of coconut too. Let’s hope this tastes nice!

Lovely Mixing. (Make a wish)

Then to grease and line 14 small tins of various sizes! This was a bit of test of my patience. I made the next mistake of popping another pack of butter directly on the oven shelf, ‘just for a minute’ to soften. I forgot about it and returned about 20 minutes later to an empty pack of butter and an oven swimming in grease. Eugh!

Oh dear

I got a bit bored of making lids for my mini cakes and decided to wrap the entire tray in baking paper to protect it from the heat. As the cakes are much smaller than the norm I reduced the cooking time slightly
too, so no 1am cake vigils for me!

Mini Cakes. Individually greased and lined.

Patience wearing thin... I'll wrap the entire tray!

They look lovely and smell beautiful too. These cakes are most definitely a labour of love. Now to feed them rum on a regular basis. I’ll store them for a few weeks then attempt some sort of creative decoration. I predict some sort of gold lustre making an appearance. I will keep you posted on my progress!

Phew! 14 mini Christmas Cakes baked

Close up

Winner! Great British Bake Off Book

I wanted to share some excellent news with you. I was thrilled to find this week that I won a lovely prize from Urvashi  one of the fantastic Great British Bake Contestants! I’ve won a copy of the Great British Bake Off Book!

This made my day, particularly as I had ordered a copy from Amazon about 2 months ago and had been eagerly awaiting it’s arrival. Rushing home from work to check the door mat to no avail for about a month. When I tried to contact the seller on Amazon it turned out he had took my money and closed his account! This win more than made up for my disappointment! Thank you so much Urvashi!

I really can’t wait for it to arrive to bake some more Great British Bake Off goodies!! (Sacher torte perhaps?!) It will also help to stem the Great British Bake Off withdrawal symptoms, waiting for the next series in the new year!

If you get a chance I would also check out her lovely blog too…

Happy Friday!!

11. Pavlova Continued… Modified Meringues!

2 days after the tanned Pavlova creation, I still wasn’t happy with my meringue techniques. I can remember my Aunty Janet making beautiful chewy mini meringues and eating loads of them with my cousin Andrew. They were beautifully piped  and subtly golden. I’ve always wanted to attempt petite meringues like my Aunty Janet used to make. Unfortunately I don’t have her recipe, so I thought I would modify the BBC recipe that I used for the Pavlova.

Super Hans. The cat that got the meringue.

I whipped the eggs and the sugar together. Then out with a piping bag! I should probably invest in  something a little more sturdy than a Wilko’s 90p effort, but this was breakfast cooking at it’s best. I free handedly piped little meringue swirls  onto the baking paper saving a little meringue to experiment with later. Super Hans, my cat, was very intrigued by this recipe and insisted on sniffing some of the leftovers…

Freshly Piped Petite Meringues

I thought ‘let’s have a go at pink meringues and make them more like macaroons by throwing in some ground almonds!’ In my mind these were going to be pretty little pink swirls all light and chewy…

Meringue Dots

A second whisk is not what meringues like. A runny pink mess ensued and I struggled to get it into and keep it in the piping bag. Therefore I invented Meringue Dots. Mainly due to the fact that the piping bag kept  dripping meringue everywhere.

Some meringues didn't quite survive.

I guessed at the cooking time again with these being very little meringues and left them for about 40 minutes or so to dry out in the warm oven. Frightened they would weld themselves to the baking paper I quickly removed them and let them cool fully whilst sampling a few on the way. One for the tray , one for me. Oh dear, that one broke. Two for me, one for the tin..

Petite Meringues

I liked these a lot. And one batch makes tonnes of petite meringues!! Although I can’t say they are anywhere as good as my Aunty Janet’s, for a little experiment I quite enjoyed them. Perhaps the piping bag may have to come out to play more often.

The Final Presentation

Perfect little presents too

Not wanting to waste all those egg yolks I whipped up a quick batch of Nigella’s Egg Yolk Sponge Cakes too.

Egg Yolk Sponge Cakes

11. Pavlova – New Zealand and the Ram Van

I love New Zealand. When we visited it was the middle of winter and despite the snow and a week in a The Ram Van camper sleeping in all my clothes and a body warmer, I still loved the experience. Rambling through river beds to touch the nose of Fox Glacier, bathing in the naturally hot spring waters at the bottom of a snow capped mountains (and freezing to death jumping between the pools) at Hamner Springs and 5 hours on a very rocky ferry accompanied by the little known Hugh Grant classic ‘Music and Lyrics’ (that film got me through a very dark point in my life of extreme seasickness). It doesn’t get much better than this. Such a beautiful country.

Me in the Ram (Camper) van. Can you see the snow capped mountains in the background?

I can’t actually remember eating very much cake whilst in New Zealand, but I do remember eating pumpkin soup when we had to stay in a motel when I cried following the horrific storm filled ferry crossing. It was the best pumpkin soup I’ve ever had. Also coffee and cream from a tube that we had whilst camping. I’ve since tried to buy it in England and it’s unheard of here! Travesty! All those outdoor shops we have and not a sign of coffee in a tube! I really wanted to buy some but thought $35 was a bit too steep to mail order some.

It doesn't get much better than this!

I feel a bit like a broken record, but I’ve never baked a Pavlova before and thought why not give it a go? It can’t be that difficult, can it? Perhaps I should have went for something a bit easier when I had friends coming round for dinner? Perhaps this was a bit too daring, baking New Zealand’s National Dish without practicing or preparing beforehand? Perhaps I should have baked something a little less technical when I hadpeople visiting?? Perhaps, perhaps perhaps, but I always seem to throw myself in at the deep end and look forward to seeing if it turns out ok.

Action shot

Somehow I hadn’t really thought about the hour and a half that it requires in the oven on a very low temperature and that it needs to cool down quite a lot before you can serve it. But I had already whisked  everything up by the time I realised this and the oven was already full of pork and potatoes, which needed 2 hours at a very high temperature… Compromises had to be made and we didn’t eat until ridiculous o’clock (sorry Sarah and Ole!). We were all very hungry by this point!

Glossy and fluffy

I thoroughly enjoyed whisking the egg whites this time without any traces of yolk (Hurrah, progress!) and watching them become very glossy and stand up on end. Throwing in sugar I whisked it all up into a frenzy. The meringue mix too on the light brown hue of the soft demerea sugar that I had blitzed in the blender to make it an even finer grain.

The most difficult part was trying to plonk it all in some sort of attractive mess on a baking tray. Genius struck when I realised I could separate the round flat tin from the loose bottom cake tin and use that instead of trying to squish it into a baking sheet, and it would give a good pavlova shape too!

Sculpture of meringue

It took forever to bake and due to the pork emergency we were having I left it in a bit longer than required on a slightly higher temperature than required. Resulting in a rather two toned, tanned pavlova.

It's not burnt... it's just a bit oven tanned.

I whipped up the cream with lemon zest (very nice touch, I will do that more often!) I threw it all together and attempted to balance an enormous amount of fruit (raspberries, blueberries and strawberries) on top and hoped they wouldn’t fall off when I walked through the beaded curtain from our kitchen to the living room.

Extreme Close Up

This is definitely a dessert to assemble 5 minutes before it’s served and eaten straight away. I was surprised by how soft the meringue was, possibly because I used a different type of sugar as I don’t have golden caster sugar… and possibly because it hadn’t completely cooled down. It was more like a sponge cake on the bottom, once the cream had been added, and chewy meringue on the edges. We all cleared our plates so it must have been ok!

8. Make and Bake – Chocolate Cheesecake – America – Hummingbird Bakery

With it being Chocolate Week last week and National Baking Week this week, I thought I should bake something else chocolatey and lovely. A triumphant return to America to one of the few Hummingbird Bakery Recipes that I was still to attempt… Baked Chocolate Cheesecake.

Baked Chocolate Cheesecake

After watching the Baked Cheesecake GBBO episode I was aware of how tricky this would be. But I’m still dreaming about Jo’s Rum and Raisin Cheesecake! I was a little surprised in the supermarket when purchasing all the cream cheese needed for this one… 4 packets of cheese seems like a lot!!

Beacoup de Cream Cheese

I decided to improvise with the biscuits as I already had rich tea in the house rather than buy digestives. That won’t make too much of a difference right?

Biscuity Base

I must admit I was in a little bit of a hurry when putting this one together and roughly blended rich tea biscuits and cocoa powder into sweet dust which permeated the entire kitchen with my little hand whisk. An emergency tea towel was required to protect my eyes.

I pressed the biscuity mess into my borrowed loose bottomed tin and shoved it the fridge to set.

I threw all the cheese with the melted chocolate into a bowl and whisked it all up then added all the eggs… Using one hand to smash the eggs and one hand to whisk, i ended up with egg shells all over the floor, but an effective method nonetheless.

Thoroughly Whisked

I poured it all into the tin then once again disaster struck. I’m most definitely consistent in one area. My inability to read recipes. Dear Lord, I despair at my own ridiculousness. I realised I hadn’t read to the end of the recipe! I didn’t have a tray big enough to submerge the cake in, in order to bake it in a bath of water. I only had another loose bottomed cake tin which I managed to gently manoeuvre the runny cheesecake into. Upon pouring water into the second tin, I thought I could hear rain. No. It was all the water running out of my cake tin over the electrical items down the back of the kitchen units and onto the floor. BRILLIANT.

I had to abandon the water bath idea and hope that it wouldn’t burn being baking directly in the oven.

Just as I was lifting the precariously full tin unto the oven I had a flash of panic. I’ve forgotten something…. SUGAR! (and also vanilla). How did I forget sugar??!! I was so very lucky to have realised at the very last minute, as this would have been a rather expensive and disgusting cheese and chocolate bake.

not quite oven ready... quick hand me a ladle!!

Quick to rescue yet another failure on my part I grabbed a ladle and scooped the gloopy mixture it of the tin and back into the bowl. A quick whisk of sugar and vanilla and it was time for the oven again.

Oven Ready?

To compensate for the lack of water I turned the oven down to hopefully prevent burning. From watching GBBO I know the cheesecake has to wobble a bit in the middle, but mine just kept wobbling all over. I probably kept it in the oven a bit too long.

The Double Tin Effect - sadly no water (probably should have stopped baking at this point...)

An hour and a half later I had one massive chocolate cheesecake on my hands, albeit with a huge crack down the middle, it looked ok!

Rather than at this point...

It needed a night in the fridge and then it was ready for tasting. It’s definitely rich and creamy. It’s so filling  you can only eat a little bit in one go, but I quite like it. The Rich Tea base is actually pretty good too! This feeds about 25 people.

But from this angle (and if you squint a little) the disaster disappears! Magic!

I’ve even purchased some take way pots to deliver take away cheesecake to my friends and family this week. If you’re visiting me this week please beware you will be fed cheesecake and then take some home with you too! Its good to share!

Cheesy and Chocolatey

We’re Jammin’ – Marguerite Patten’s Apple and Ginger Jam – England

Homemade Apple and Ginger Jam

Technically not a bake but as I set my own rules and disregard them frequently, I declare that making something on the oven is almost the same as in the oven. Why quibble over semantics?! Also jam making is a skill that I’m yet to master as my previous charred cherry remains and ruined pan are testament to. Watching a 10 minute River Cottage Preserves Programme does make me a jam expert. New baking commandment. Thou shalt not invent your own jam recipe. Disaster shall prevail if so….

My Own Cherry Jam Recipe... Burnt Toffee

Jam features in so many baked items so I think it’s essential to teach myself how to make it. Also I’m sure Holly Bell whipped up a quick pan of jam in The Great British Bake Off final  therefore I can justify it.

My Wonderful Annotations. Thankfully I can now spell milk... My Mam must have loved those additions to her book.

I dug out my Mam’s proper cookbook. The original Prince cooking bible, complete with little Lauren scribbles and misspelt notes. (Mam must have been thrilled when I did that.) She taught me how to bake from this. I tried to help whenever I could with Graham Gingerbread, Carrot Cake and of course, Rock Buns.

My Mam has always been very good and artistic making impressive celebration cakes for the family. I was a very lucky child to have the Pink Panther, Hello Kitty and most recently Frank n Furter recreated in cake, icing, licorice and glitter for my birthdays. I wish I had some photos to share with you here! I tried to repay the honour by baking Mam her favourite, Christmas Cake. Unfortunately the marzipan snowman got a bit squashed when I pushed a tin lid on it…

The First Ever Christmas Cake That I Baked (2009)

I didn’t really appreciate the wonder of this Everyday Cookbook until I started looking through it over the last couple of weeks. I didn’t even know who Marguerite Patten was, or that she received  for her contributions to cooking, a pioneer of economical cookery. A woman after my own heart.

The one and only Marguerite Patton Ever Day Cook Book

With my remaining wedding apples I wanted to do something special. I LOVE apple and ginger jam and can’t find it anywhere apart from Tynemouth Market once, 2 years ago. But lo and behold Marguerite has a recipe for it!

Apples in Ginger

Only one slight hand injury incurred during some late night apple chopping and I left the apples to marinade in a lot of ginger powder overnight. When I tried to measure out the sugar needed I realised that I had been looking at the wrong side of my scales and had over 1kg of apples, not 1lb that the recipe required. (How did I carry them all back from James and Lara’s wedding!?) It was a very close call and a good catch. I re-weighed everything and after a bit of mental arithmetic I worked out very roughly the proportions of sugar to apple that I needed to get the consistency right.

Rather a lot of apples required...

I know jam is a complicated and delicate process but despite not measuring things correctly, I then threw all of the sugar in at the very start. Upon re-reading the recipe I realised this is NOT what you do. It’s all about getting the magical pectin to seep out of the fruit to make it set, but I had probably ruined it. I followed the rest of the rules however and didn’t stir it once it reached boiling point and hoped that I wouldn’t have to throw out my best pan. Putting the lid on I watched it nervously steam and froth.

Don't Panic! It's all (kind of) under control

It didn’t take long, maybe 15 minutes at the most and then I had jam! But I wouldn’t recommend tasting it at this stage. It’s far too hot…

Looking Jammy

I got a bit carried away when jar shopping . Luckily I bought extra jars, just incase I made more jam than the recipe predicted. It’s almost like I’m psychic. The recipe was only supposed to produce 1lb of jam. I made enough to fill 2 1lbs jars!

Marguerite Pattons' Preserves

I kept a little bit back to have on my toast for breakfast and it was fantastic! Real jam!

If you burn the toast perfectly then Hello Kitty's face appears. It's an art form.

Breakfast Time. Perfect with a cup of tea

Now just to decide if I should keep it all for myself, bake it in a cake or give it away as Christmas presents… What could say ‘I love you’ more than a big jar of homemade jam or ‘I built you a cake?’ What you will need to make your own Apple and Ginger Jam

  • 1lb of apples peeled and chopped in the cubes
  • 1 tsp of ground ginger (although I added far more and think the more ginger the better!)
  • 1lb of granulated sugar
  • No extra citric acid is needed when making apple jam as its got enough pectin in the fruit to set the jam

This recipe yields 1    2/3 lb of jam in total. When I made it it filled two 1lb jars.  Marguerite’s Jam Tips!

  • Marguerite explains that although it’s best to use preserving sugar which has more pectin added to it to encourage the jam to set, you can still use loaf/granulated sugar (which is often cheaper) particularly when preserving fruits with higher levels of natural pectin such as Blackberries.
  • Some fruits such as cherries have low levels of pectin and therefore you will need to use more fruit than sugar and add some citric acid, such as lemon juice to encourage it to set more.
  • If using a fruit with high levels of pectin such as blackcurrants you should use more sugar than fruit. You should get better results when you use more sugar than fruit in any jam as this helps the jam to set.
  • Stew the fruit slowly to maximise the vital pectin extraction