64. Curly Churros

Curly Churros

Curly Churros

Considering how many small fires I’ve started in my kitchen recently I surprised myself by not inflicting any further injuries whilst venturing into deep fat frying for the first time. Churros have been on my got-to-bake list forever.

Going all in at San Churros, Sydney. Churros, Dark chocolate dipping sauce, ice cream, milk chocolate dipping sauce AND a giant chocolate milkshake, just for good measure. (I ate the lot!)

Going all in at San Churros, Sydney. (left to right) Churros, dark chocolate dipping sauce, vanilla ice cream, milk chocolate dipping sauce AND a giant chocolate milkshake, just for good measure. (I ate the lot!)

I first tried Churros in Sydney in the bohemian district of Glebe. San Churros is a late night chocolate cafe offering half a metre long cinnamon sprinkled churros, thick hot chocolate and ice cream. AMAZING. Newcastle needs one of these.

Dippy churros

Dippy churros

Churros are traditionally Spanish but also very popular in Mexico usually dipped in liquid chocolate for good measure. You could also add some chilli to your chocolate (or chocolate to your churros – substitute some flour for cocoa powder) if you want an extra kick.

Glossy chocolatey churros

Glossy chocolatey churros

The process for making churros batter is very similar to profiteroles. Heat the water, butter and sugar in a pan until the butter melts.

churros recipe Heat the water butter and sugar in a pan

Heat the water butter and sugar in a pan

Take the pan off the heat and using a wooden spoon beat in the flour and salt until it comes together into a thick lump.

churros recipe Beat in the dry ingredients

Beat in the dry ingredients – best not use a whisk opt for a wooden spoon…

Then beat in the eggs one by one until it’s a smooth and shiny batter.

churros recipe Beat in the eggs

Beat in the eggs – wooden spoon is a much better option

This is quite a precise process so it’s worth setting up your workstation to make it as stress free as possible.

  • Keep a damp tea towel to hand to wipe your hands when you’re covered in batter.
  • Line a plate with kitchen paper and keep it close to add more layers when needed to drain the churros on.
  • Fill a shallow and wide dish with cinnamon sand to roll your churros in whilst they’re still hot.
Roll the churros in cinnamon sugar whilst hot

Roll the churros in cinnamon sugar whilst hot

To prepare the chocolate dipping sauce, heat the water and milk in a pan until approaching boiling and point. Take it off the heat add half of the chocolate. Stir until melted. Then stir in the remaining chocolate until smooth and shiny. Pour your chocolate soup into a pot ready for dipping.

churros Chocolate dipping sauce

Chocolate dipping sauce

Heat the vegetable oil in a deep pot about 400ml in a 8 inch round stock pot will give you about 2 inches of oil to fry the churros in. Make sure the oil is hot enough before piping your churros in. Just pop a blog of batter in and if it sizzles you’re good to go. You will need a slotted spoon to turn the churros with and to scoop them out when they’re cooked.

Use a slotted spoon to scoop the churros out of the boiling hot oil

Use a slotted spoon to scoop the churros out of the boiling hot oil

Although the batter is thick it should be free flowing. Scoop it into a piping bag with a star shaped tip. Don’t overfill the bag as it becomes really unwieldly (gushing batter from both ends). You need as much control as possible when piping into boiling hot oil as you really don’t want to get splashed.

Scoop the batter into a piping bag. Stand your bag up in a tall cup - churros recipe

Scoop the batter into a piping bag. Stand your bag up in a tall cup

I’ve watched street food vendors preparing churros and they have special batter dispensers that cut off the flow and deposit long sticks of churros into a deep vat of molten oil. Great method but probably not something that you’ve got in your kitchen at home. TV Chefs have also demonstrated perfectly straight churros. Nigella piped hers into boiling oil using scissors to cut the flow from the bag. She made short churros. Jamie Oliver made a firm dough and rolled his churros and then fried them. My batter was very liquid and difficult to control so I mostly ended up with it all over my hands and in my hair but I did manage to get some of it into the pot.

Multi tasking with an upturned piping bag to stop the batter spilling all over the place and flipping the sizzling churros with the other hand

Multi tasking with an upturned piping bag to stop the batter spilling all over the place and flipping the sizzling churros with the other hand

My lack of precision and being covered in batter meant I piped rather curly churros into the pan which instantly puffed up into curious shapes. The batter has a mind of its own and using a shallow round pot does have some limitations. Despite their irregular appearance they’re pretty damn tasty.

Some weird looking churros curling into the pan

Some weird looking churros curling into the pan

They sizzle instantly as soon as they reach the oil (watch out for sizzly splashes) and take minutes to cook, about 2 minutes each side turning a golden brown.

A good cinnamon sand coating is required churros recipe

A good cinnamon sand coating is required

With your kitchen roll at the ready you can pop your churros straight from the pan onto the paper to blot any excess oil before transferring them to the cinnamon sand (caster sugar and ground cassia/cinnamon) for a good sugary coating.

Mountains of Curly Cinnamon Churros

Mountains of Curly Cinnamon Churros

Keep piping churros into the boiling oil, flipping them, scooping them out, blotting them off, rolling in sugar until you’ve exhausted all of your batter. This makes an enormous amount of churros, so you may need to friends to help… Be careful not to leave the oil on the heat for too long, for example if you’re messing around taking photos. Without any churros to absorb some of the heat the oil will continue to sore in temperature and scorch the next churros you pipe into the pan. Also make sure you scrape out any scraps from the oil before piping the next churros in to avoid burnt bits attaching themselves to your fresh batch of churros.

Dippy churros

Dippy churros

Eat immediately! The longer they sit, the more oil they absorb so they lose a little of their crispiness. You’ ll not be disappointed by these churros. I shared these still warm and cinnamon scented to my friends at a picnic and with my family. Every single one disappeared. They’re light and fluffy on the inside and just crispy enough on the outside, (with the added texture from the sugar) to be oh so moreish.

Glossy chocolatey churros

Glossy chocolatey churros

I quite like the contrast of the dark chocolate against the sweet churros, but my 3 year old nephew winced at the bitterness despite the addition of some milk to my chocolate soup. You could use a lighter chocolate or milk chocolate if you prefer more sweetness in your life.

Things I used to make my Curly Churros

Churros Batter

  • 470g/ml water
  • 45g butter
  • 45g caster sugar

Melt in pan then remove from heat

  • 440g plain flour (or if you want to make chocolate churros substitute 420g of flour and 20g cocoa powder)
  • 2g salt

Beat in with a wooden spoon

  • 2 eggs

Beat in with a wooden spoon

Pour the smooth batter into a piping bag with a star shaped tip

  • 400ml vegetable oil

Heat oil until sizzling hot. Pipe in Churros. Cook them for 2 minutes (ish) on each side. Remove from oil and to drain on kitchen paper

Cinnamon Sand Ingredients

  • 150g caster sugar
  • 2-3 tsp ground cassia (or cinnamon powder)

Roll warm churros in cinnamon sand

Chocolate Soup Ingredients

  • 60ml water
  • 20ml milk

Heat liquid til just before boiling, remove from heat and add half the chocolate. Stir til melted

  • 100g good quality chocolate
  • optional sprinkle of chilli powder for extra kick

Add the remaining chocolate and stir until melted.

Dip your warm churros in your chocolate soup and enjoy!

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The Best Banana Bread I’ve ever made

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My Bestest Banana Bread

I’m going to let you into a secret. I’ve been experimenting in the kitchen, trying new combinations of flours and flavours to make some tasty, healthy (ish) cakes using up food that would otherwise go to waste. And what did I conjure up? My bestest banana bread recipe, with coconut, pistachio and rye. Additional bonuses include an extra cake! This recipe is enough for 2 cakes, so you can freeze one for later or give it to a friend who needs a nutritious energy boost. It’s also low in sugar and gluten. (You could choose gluten free flour if you prefer.)

Bonus Banana Bread

Bonus Banana Bread

When my bananas are on the turn and almost ready for the bin I throw them in the freezer in their blacken skins to save for a later date.  (Yes you can freeze bananas. Feel free to peel them first and pop them in a tupperware container first if you want to use them from frozen for smoothies or milkshakes, then you don’t even need to add ice cream for a chilled drink).

Once I have 3 black bananas stockpiled I whip up my Banana Bread. Leave your bananas to defrost for an hour or so before you peel them to make your banana bread, as if they’re too cold it will make your butter solidify and could give you denser cake and an uneven bake.

This is really quick to make. Basically beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Followed by your bananas, vanilla and eggs, then the combination of flours and baking powder. Finally beat in a handful of sultanas and chopped walnuts. This takes about 15 minutes with an electric mixer.

I use two 6 inch round tins to bake this recipe, or you could bake one large banana bread loaf if you prefer. Liberally sprinkle the cakes with chopped nuts (whatever you have to hand is fine). I use pistachios which gives you gorgeous green flecks singing out in between the flaked almonds and hazelnuts.

As the cake bakes the batter rises up and supports the nuts, holding them in place for the final cake. It’s also the perfect way to disguise any uneven finishes on your cake, if like me you have an unpredictably hot oven.

My initial experiments involved using 100% coconut flour, but this ended in disaster. I think coconut flour needs to be balanced against other nuttier flours (I like using rye flour but spelt or wholemeal would work well too) to absorb some of the natural oils and sugars and avoid the quick to burn, blackened mess that I made.

In less than an hour (50 minutes at 150 degrees c to be precise) you will produce two beautifully moist banana cakes, that are perfect accompanied by a large mug of strong tea, perhaps after a bracing stroll by the coast. I’m drooling just thinking of that sweet sponge and nutty crunch of a cake. Wonder how many bananas I have lurking in my freezer today…

Perfect Cake spot: A blustry day by Alnwick Castle

Perfect Cake spot: A blustery day by Alnwick Castle

 Things I used to make my Bestest Banana Bread

  • 125g margarine (or butter)
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 3 over ripe bananas
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste
  • 100g coconut flour (or finely ground dessicated coconut if you can’t find the flour)
  • 90g Rye Flour (or spelt or wholemeal) -NB: Spelt and Rye flours are not gluten free but may be more suitable to those who have a wheat intolerance. Use a wholemeal gluten free flour if you want to avoid gluten in this recipe.
  • 60g plain flour (feel free to use gluten free flour)
  • 3 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1tsp ground cassia (or cinnamon or mace)
  • Handful of chopped sultanas
  • Handful of chopped walnuts
  • * Topping: (2 handful of chopped/flaked nuts: almonds, pistachio, walnuts, hazelnuts
  1. Beat together sugar and butter until fluffy
  2. Beat in bananas
  3. Beat in eggs one by one
  4. Beat in vanilla paste
  5. Beat in coconut, plain, rye flours and baking powder and spice
  6. Beat in sultanas and walnuts
  7. Pour into 2 greased 6 inch round tins (or one large loaf tin)
  8. Cover the top of each cake entirely with a layer of chopped nuts
  9. Bake for 50  mins at 150 degrees c (or until a skewer comes out clean)

My other banana based recipes are Fanny and Otto’s Fijian Banana Cake

58. Spectacular Speculoos

Spectacular Speculoos recipe

Who hasn’t tried Speculoos biscuits?? Anyone?? These little beauties are often found sitting on the edge of your saucer in coffee shops and are a Dutch favourite. They’re crisp, carmelly, sweet and spicy.  Perfect for festive celebrations.  I’ve looked high and lo for the perfect Speculoos recipe and then decided to create my own. It’s very quick to make too!

Beat everything together

Beat everything together – very spicy!

All that’s required is a vigorous beating together of the butter, sugar, an egg, treacle, water, flour and copious amounts of spices (I’m always liberal with my spices) then it’s good to go. Speculoos spread is legendary in foodie circles too. I’ve even managed to incorporate it into my lazy Crack Pie too…

I finally get to try out my biscuit gun

I finally get to try out my biscuit gun

Traditional Dutch Speculoos are usually rolled out and imprinted with pretty patterns and designs. I don’t own anything pretty to imprint them with so I finally got to try out my biscuit gun! Which promises over 100 different designs… considering I bought it for £2 I was’t convinced it was going to work. Oh ye of little faith.

It needs to be a rather liquid batter to get it in the gun...

It needs to be a rather liquid batter to get it in the gun…

I knew that the traditional Speculoos recipe wouldn’t be suitable for use with a biscuit gun as the dough would be to thick to pipe through the patterned nozzles. I did what I always do and modified my recipe to my heart’s content. Adding treacle until I got the shiny, thick, gloopy texture I was hoping for.

Piped speculoos biscuits

Piped speculoos biscuits

The tricky bit is working out how to force the dough/batter into the biscuit gun. I squashed it in with a spoon and had to refill regularly as there isn’t much space in the barrel, but this gave me the opportunity to try out a few different nozzles. I quite liked the star and flowers shapes. Once the dough is in the barrel you just press down on the level and force the dough out the end onto a greased and lined baking sheet. As the dough is a bit sticky it can be a tad awkward to cut off the dough so you can pipe a new biscuit… hence some of the more ‘interesting’ shapes I produced. Occasionally I resorted to chopping the dough from the nozzle with a knife, pushing the gun into the dough and pulling it away again quickly or twisting the  gun until the dough broke naturally.

Refrigerate your piped biscuits

Refrigerate your piped biscuits

Once you’ve experimented with a variety of patterns and piped the entire contents of your dough onto baking sheets, pop them in the fridge to harden for about 15 minutes. This means that the biscuits will hold their shape whilst baking, as the butter will be less likely to melt and spread.

The baked speculoos biscuits

The baked speculoos biscuits

Don’t worry if you don’t have a biscuit gun, I also experimented with using a normal piping bag and star shaped nozzle which also worked rather well to make pretty swirls (even if I do say so myself). Or if you can’t be bothered with messing around making them look pretty and simply want to fill your mouth with speculoos goodness you could just use a spoon and whack a dollop of the mixture on the tray. Alternatively you could chill the dough/batter in the fridge so it’s much firmer (maybe overnight if needs be) and roll it out like you would normally with biscuits and cut them out with your favourite cutter. OR if that’s not enough options roll the chilled batter into a sausage, chill it in the fridge wrapped in cling film and then simply chop it into discs. Simple round biscuits with very little fuss or tidying up afterwards!

Teeny tiny speculoos

Teeny tiny speculoos

This recipe was enough to make at least 12-16 large biscuits and a multitude of mini speculoos biscuits too. (Sorry I shovelled them into my face so fast I didn’t get a chance to count how many I actually produced!)

Speculoos selection

Speculoos selection

I absolutely love these speculoos biscuits. The thicker the biscuit the more chewy they are. The blend of spices is full and comforting, which the added sweetness of the treacle makes it my perfect winter bake.  In my haste to create Speculoos, I seem to have almost stumbled onto my own lebkuchen hybrid. The biscuits have a crispy sugar coating (without the need for any icing) and a chewy rich centre. Even the mini speculoos have a great snap and chew to them.  Speculoos biscuits freeze extremely well too so you can reveal wonderfully festive biscuits at any time of the day or night when friends or family call round.

Spectacular Speculoos

Tme for tea – Spectacular Speculoos

I plan on making my spectacular speculoos again very soon. Maybe for bonfire night and also when I perfect the recipe for rolling, I’m going to make speculoos baubles to adorn my Christmas tree with!

One speculoos or two?

One speculoos or two?

Things I used to make Spectacular Speculoos Biscuits

Prep: less than 10 minutes (if you have ground spices to hand , it will take a bit longer if you’re grinding them yourself)

Chill time: 15 -30 minutes

Bake time: 10-12 minutes

Makes: lots of spectular speculoos! (Approx 20 biscuits- more if you make mini ones too)

  • 110g margarine (is you want to use a biscuit gun marg will help!) or butter (if you want to roll them out)
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 2 tbs cinnamon
  • 1tsp ginger
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp ground cassis bark (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp ground star anise
  • 1/4 tsp rock salt
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Beat it all together until fluffy then beat it

  • 1 egg
  • 1 dessertspoon black treacle (molasses)
  • 1and a half tsp vanilla paste/extract
  • 300g plain flour

Pipe biscuits and refrigerate for 15 -30 minutes or chill dough then roll and cut biscuits out

Place on greased and lined tray and bake at 190 degrees c for 10- 12 minutes until firm to touch

Let them cool (if you can!) and eat with a proper cup of tea.

They will keep in the freezer for a good month or so too if you want to save some for a rainy day,

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Simply having a jam (and chutney) filled Christmas time

Do you think I've made enough...

Do you think I’ve made enough…

I’ve been very lucky this year that the sun has shone and the plants have gone into overdrive. Our wild blackberry bush has offered a new batch of berries each day. Although it’s so tall I’ve had to resort to playing ‘Blackberry Bingo’ and dragging them off the tree with a rake and catching as many as I can. This often resulted in me rather over enthusiastically climbing into the the spiky bush and getting my curls and rake entangled. Once I managed to extract myself from the bush, mostly covered in scratches, I proudly produced my first batch of Summer Jam. Blackberry and Cinnamon.

The Great Blackberry Massacre of 2013

The Great Blackberry Massacre of 2013

Turning to the old faithful Marguerite Patten cookbook for endless jam flavour combinations and recipes I attempted to use my sugar thermometer to ensure I got a good set. Unfortunately the jam bubbled so vigorously it reached the top of the pot, so no temperatures could be read. I will continue to just follow my instincts when testing if it has set sufficiently. Does it coat the back of a spoon or crinkle when poured on a plate? How beautifully obscure these testing methods seem, until you have a pot of molten jam in front of you.

The only problem with blackberries, is the seeds. They must be removed from your jam. I only own a plastic sieve and forced the jam through it with a ladle, hoping the sieve wouldn’t melt or split. It was rather more robust than I expected and survived 2 rounds of blackberry jam, one with cranberries and one with cinnamon! Can you spot the mountain of candied blackberry seeds in the background? (Recipe at the bottom of the page).

Here come the plums

Here come the plums – the beginning of a plum clafoutis

Once I exhausted my supply of blackberries and foraged far and wide, we were offered a huge bag of plums from a friend who’s tree was flourishing. Of course I said yes and made my first venture into chutney. Spiced Plum Christmas Chutney to be exact (recipe at the bottom of the page). I wanted to make something that I could give as presents to family and friends to eat with their leftover Christmas meats and cheeses. Chutney was surprisingly easy (yet eye wateringly pungent with all the red wine vinegar!) to make. I will definitely be making more.

Homemade Strawberry Jam (and a million Mickey Mouse waffles)

Homemade Strawberry Jam (and a million Mickey Mouse waffles)

So inspired by my jam efforts I spotted extremely cheap strawberries at our local market and thought I’d give Strawberry Jam a go too! Thankfully strawberry seeds are so small they don’t really have to be removed from the jam, so no arm aching sieving required for this quick and tasty jam! And it goes surprisingly well with Mickey Mouse waffles, espresso, creme fraiche and berries.

Looking Jammy

Looking Jammy

Another wonderful friend offered me as many apples as I could carry from his very successful tree. I trotted off very merrily with almost 7kg of apples! I spent one Saturday peeling and chopping (thank god for my food processor!) 5kg, transforming them into a double batch of my favourite Apple and Ginger Jam and a new Christmas Chutney, Spiced Apple. Which I can confirm does taste delicious with cold leftover meats. Pork works very well! (Recipe at the bottom of the page)

Spiced Apple Chutney

Spiced Apple Chutney

Not wanting to waste a single scrap of apple I peeled, sliced and dried thin slices in the oven on a low heat, to save for future healthy snacks and bakes. I even managed to peel, core, slice, soak in a watered down lime juice the final kg of apples to store in the freezer for a rainy day, of which I expect there will be many this Winter. I forsee a lot of apple crumble in my future.

Christmas is coming

Christmas is coming

I hope I don’t spoil the surprise but I’m stock piling all my jams and chutneys to give to my favourite family and friends for Christmas. I hope they like it! I think I’m going to need a bigger cupboard and more jars!

Chutney Recipes

Spiced Plum Chutney Ingredients

  • 1kg plums, halved, stoned and finely chopped
  • 3 onions, finely chopped
  • 100g dried cranberries or raisins, roughly chopped with an oiled knife
  • 1 tbsp finely grated ginger
  • 1 tbsp black mustard seed
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 2 tsp nigella seeds (onion seeds)
  • 750ml red wine vinegar
  • 500g light muscovado sugar

Chutney Making Method

  1. Chop up the onions and fruit
  2. Put everything in the biggest pot you have and heat
  3. Stir til all the sugar is dissolved
  4. Bring to the boil
  5. Simmer for 30 minutes (or so) until it’s thick and pulpy
  6. Decant into sterilised jars, seal with wax discs.
  7. Put the lids on whilst still hot to keep the jars sterile
  8. Clean up the outside of the jars and label.
  9. Store in a cool dark place.
  10. Chutney should keep for up to 6 months and will only taste better with age 🙂
  11. Once opened keep your jar in the fridge.

Spiced Apple Chutney Ingredients

  • 1½ kg cooking apples, peeled and diced
  • 750g light demarera sugar
  • 500g sultanas
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp nigella seeds (black onion seeds)
  • 1 black of stem ginger sliced finely
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 350ml cider vinegar
  • 400ml white wine vinegar

Method as before

Eat with lashing of cold leftover meats, cheeses or whack it in a sandwich for a quick festive hit.

Jam Recipes

Some jam recipes suggest using jam sugar, but it’s so expensive I don’t bother. Instead I allow the fruit to stew first to release it’s own natural pectin to help it set. The basic rule of jam is for most fruit (depending on their levels of pectin) is to allow equal amounts of fruit to sugar, adding lemon juice if there’s a lack of pectin. Apples have a good amount of pectin in them so you can always add them to berries when making jam to help with the set too.

Apple and Ginger Jam – revisited and revised 

I previously made this recipe and followed Marguerite Patten’s recipe. You can see this post here.

  • 1000g diced apples
  • 2 Tbsp of ground ginger
  • 3 balls of stem ginger finely sliced
  • 1000g granulated sugar

Method

  1. Chop fruit up into small pieces
  2. Soak in ground spices
  3. Stew fruit slowly
  4. Add sugar and stir over low heat until dissolved
  5. Boil rapidly for 10-20 minutes (or so). The quicker the boil the better the set, but you must keep an eye on it, to stop it burning or going past it’s setting point.
  6. Jam is set when it reaches 105 degrees C (if using a sugar thermometer) or when it becomes thick enough to coat the back of a spoon – dripping slowly off it. Or if you drop a bit on a cold plate it crinkles when you push it with your finger.
  7. Decant the very hot jam when it reaches a good set, into the hot sterilised jars.
  8. Put on waxed paper circles and lids.
  9. Store in a cool dry place.
  10. It should keep well if no moisture gets in to the jars for at least 6 months.
  11. Once opened keep your jar in the fridge.

Strawberry Jam

  • 1kg strawberries
  • 1kg granulated sugar
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice (or half a lemon)

Method as above but with strawberries the fruit didn’t break down massively. You can leave your fruit whole in chunks if you prefer or if you prefer a smother jam, blitz it with a hand held blender, careful not to splash yourself with boiling hot jam though!

Blackberry and Apple Jam

  • 2 apples sliced and diced
  • 750g blackberries
  • 1kg granulated sugar
  • A splash of lemon juice

Method as above but strained the jam through the sieve to remove the seeds as I decanted it into the sterile jars.

Blackberry, Cranberry and Cinnamon Jam

  • 500g of frozen cranberries (defrosted)
  • 500g blackberries
  • 1000g of cinnamon (or in my case cassia bark) infused sugar – stick the bark in a jar of sugar and leave to infuse for a week or so

Method as above but I strained the jam through the sieve to remove the seeds as I decanted it into the sterile jars.

49. German Pretzel Playtime

Pretzels, Pretzels, Pretzels!

Pretzels, Pretzels, Pretzels!

I discovered that I have a slight obsession with Pretzels on our recent visit to Berlin, where I bought many delicious chewy pretzels the size of my head. I really rather enjoyed Berlin, my first venture into German cusine! Traditionally Preztels are a savoury German snack, dipped in a rather caustic solution of lye to achieve the dark brown coating with the distinctive chewy texture.

In amongst the Curry Wursts, Strudels and Pork Knuckle I filled my self up on pretzels as often as I could. We explored the historic sites and the bohemian avenues in the post Christmas and wedding drizzle. Berlin was a very welcome change of scenery, with pickled herring and salmon for breakfast. I went all in with the Germanic food. My instagram feed became awash with a vast array of wonderful and interesting food. Nothing went undocumented!

Dough ready for some good kneading

Dough ready for some good kneading

Upon returning home I wanted to recreate some pretzel perfection, preferably without the hazardous solutions. No chemical burns for me please! Pretzels are made from a basic soft white bread dough recipe. The flour, yeast, oil and water should be mixed together in a big bowl until it can then be kneaded on a oiled board for 10 minutes. Once the dough is smooth and bounces back when pressed your kneading is done.

Kneaded dough ready to prove

Kneaded dough ready to prove

The dough can then be left to prove in a warm place in a greased plastic bag, for about an hour or two.

The proven preztzel dough

The proven pretzel dough

When the dough has doubled in size it’s ready to shape. This is probably the most complicated and time consuming bit of the entire pretzel making process. But it’s not as difficult as it may seem! I shall demonstrate in 10 easy steps…

Stage 1. Roll your dough to a sausage shape and cut into 12 equal pieces

Stage 1. Roll your dough to a sausage shape and cut into 12 equal pieces

Stage 1: Roll your dough to a sausage shape and cut into 12 equal pieces

Stage 2. Roll your 12 pieces into balls (check that they're all roughly the same size)

Stage 2. Roll your 12 pieces into balls (check that they’re all roughly the same size)

Stage 2: Roll your 12 pieces into balls (check that they’re all roughly the same size). Redistribute the dough to make sure you have equal sized dough balls here if needed.

Stage 3. Take one dough ball and leave the others covered with cling film in a greased bowl to stop them drying out. Roll your dough into the longest thinnest sausage you can make

Stage 3. Roll one dough ball into the longest thinnest sausage you can make

Stage 3: Take one dough ball at a time leaving the others covered with cling film in a greased bowl to stop them drying out. Roll your dough into the longest thinnest sausage you can make. Give the dough a good slap if you spot any air bubbles along the way. You need to pop any air bubbles to get a good even bake and to maintain your lovely pretzel shape.

Stage 4. Start shaping you sausage. Curl the dough into a circle but don't close the ends.

Stage 4. Start shaping you sausage. Curl the dough into a semi circle but don’t close the ends.

Stage 4: Start shaping your sausage. Curl the dough into a semi circle but don’t close the ends. You need those loose ends to finish your pretzel shape.

Stage 5. Bring the loose ends of the dough together and twist them up the centre of the circle

Stage 5. Bring the loose ends of the dough together and twist them up the centre of the circle

Stage 5: Take the loose ends of the dough and twist the strands together, one under the other up the centre of the pretzel circle.

Stage 6. Bring the loose ends two thirds of the way up the sides of the pretzel like arms

Stage 6. Bring the loose ends two thirds of the way up the sides of the pretzel like arms

Stage 6: Bring the loose ends two thirds of the way up the sides of the pretzel like arms. Reshape the circle of the pretzel as you go to keep the even shape.

Stage 7: Gently press the 'arms' of the pretzel into the dough to fix it in place.

Stage 7: Gently press the ‘arms’ of the pretzel into the dough to fix it in place.

Stage 7: Gently wrap the ‘arms’ of the pretzel around the pretzel. Gently press the arms into the dough to fix them in place.

Stage 8. Carefully line up your pretzels on a greased and lined baking tray

Stage 8. Carefully line up your pretzels on a greased and lined baking tray

Stage 8: Carefully line up your pretzels on a greased and lined baking tray. Cover them with greased cling film and leave them to prove again for another hour.

Stage 9: Give each pretzel a good coat of egg wash and water and sprinkle with rock salt before baking

Stage 9: Give each pretzel a good coat of egg wash and water and sprinkle with rock salt before baking

Stage 9: Give each pretzel a good coat of egg wash and water and sprinkle with rock salt before baking. In hindsight I went a bit mad with the rock salt. It kind of burns the tongue when you put that much on! I might in the future smash up the rock salt with a pestle and mortar to get smaller chunks and sprinkle a much smaller amount on!

The baked pretzels

The baked pretzels

Stage 10: Give the pretzels a good baking in the oven for 15 -20 minutes at 200 degrees C. These are snack sized rather than the extra large pretzels that I was eating in Berlin, which could probably constitute a main meal. So if you wanted to make yours larger you could divide your dough into 6 lumps rather than 12 and shape them to your hearts content.

The golden pretzel

The golden pretzel

After a quick bake in the oven these mini pretzels beauties are ready to be devoured! The most complicated bit of the entire process is the shaping and after a couple of goes you soon get used to the technique. I’m sure you will end up developing your own pretzel twisting style too. I adore these pretty bread shapes and will most definitely be making them again. They look impressive, so you can wow your friends with your technical know how and let them imagine you’ve spent countless hours in the kitchen preparing treats for them.

Piles of Pretzels

Piles of Pretzels

They also taste amazing with their glistening golden crust. White bread can sometimes be a bit plain, but as the pretzel is thin it takes on the depth of flavour from the egg yolk and salt. Combined with the chewy texture, they are like a plaited bit of bread heaven.  You could even make sweet pretzels if you prefer, with cinnamon and sugar coatings, or add sesame seeds or poppy seeds for a bit of variation. Then you can enjoy them for breakfast lunch and dinner! I may attempt some wholemeal pretzels too to inject some health into my bread products. I will also be attempting extra large pretzels with the distinctive slash as soon as possible! Things I used to create Mini Pretzels Pretzel Dough Recipe

  • 350g strong white flour
  • 1 tsp instant dried yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 215ml of luke warmwater
  • 10ml olive oil

Egg Wash Topping

  • 1 egg yolk mixed with a tbsp of water
  • A sprinkling of rock salt to decorate
  • (Or you could dust them in cinnamon sugar, poppy seeds, or sesame seeds if you wish!)

Bake for 15-20mins until golden brown at 200 degrees C

48. Oh Canada! Oh Nanaimo Bars!

Happy Birthday to Chris  Nanaimo Bar

Happy Birthday to Chris – your own personal Nanaimo Bar

This blog has been a looooong time coming. I wanted to recreate a special treat from our Canadian travels for Chris’s birthday (last October…). My Aunty Carol in Canada recommended the quintessentially Canadian Nanaimo bar to satisfy my Canadian cravings.

Hike up Mount Doug

Hike up Mount Doug

We spent a glorious week with my family on Vancouver island. Taking in all the sites, hiking up Mount Doug, whale watching, exploring the ski slopes and of course meeting a Mountie or two.

Mountie Meeting

Mountie Meeting

Ziplining through the forests in Whistler

Ziplining through the forests in Whistler

So many beautiful sights to take in

So many beautiful sights to take in

Nanaimo bars are as popular in Canada as Tim Horton’s coffee shop. I still dream of those bear claw doughnuts. Unfortunately in England we don’t seem to know what Graham Crackers are or sell them in any shops… and they are an essential ingredient in Nanaimo Bars.

Smash up your biscuits with whatever's handy in a sandwich bag

Smash up your biscuits with whatever’s handy in a sandwich bag

My educated guess is that it’s some sort of spiced caramelised rich tea biscuit. So I did what I do best with limited store cupboard. I improvised. Smashing up a load of rich tea biscuits and adding in a combination of ginger and cinnamon to the mix.

The beginnings of the biscuit base

The beginnings of the biscuit base – combine sugar, butter, egg, biscuit crumbs, nuts and coconut

The base required a tasty combination of biscuits, melted butter, sugar, egg, cocoa powder, almonds, and coconut. It’s really quick to mix it all together. A 20 second blast in the microwave is all the butter needs to be fully runny.

Stir it all together until fully combined

Stir it all together until fully combined

Stir it all together until fully combined and comes together into a stiff mixture.

Biscuit base ready to be baked

Biscuit base ready to be baked

Once combined press the mixture firmly and evenly into all of the corners of a flat lined and greased 9 inch baking tray. Bake the biscuit base in the oven for about 10 minutes at 180 degrees C.

Whipping up the custard filling

Heating up the cream, milk and vanilla to make the custard filling

The next decadent layer is a lovely custard cream. At this point in my baking repertoire I was still yet to attempt custard concocting. Daunted yet undeterred I proceeded to my cupboard to retrieve the custard powder the recipe requires. Disaster struck when I discovered the custard powder was over a year out of date! Not wanting to poison Chris on his birthday I decided I had gone too far and didn’t have time to make another cake so I would have to proceed and whip up my own custard instead.

Thickening up the custard

Whisking up the eggs, sugar and cornflour

I decided a full custard recipe would be far too much for a small Nanaimo bar recipe so I adapted a Mary Berry recipe to make up my own sweet filling. As with gelato or ice cream you start off heating the cream and milk with a vanilla pod to infuse the custard. Then you whisk the eggs until fluffy with the sugar. Taking the cream off the heat and pour over the eggs. Continue to whisk until it thickens. Then return the custard to the pan and whisk over a low heat until it thickens.

Keeping whisking til the custard thickens

Keeping whisking til the custard thickens

The Nanaimo bar is quite a firm cake so I knew I would have to adapt the rather runny custard to make this work. I added the butter, vanilla extract and a lot of powdered (icing) sugar to the custard. Continuing to whisk it over the low heat until it reached the right thick consistency. You may need to add more powdered sugar to make your custard set firmly. It will end up a much paler custard due to the white icing sugar.

The baked biscuit base - nanaimo bar recipe

The baked biscuit base – look at those nuts!

Take the biscuit base out of the oven and let it cool fully. Once the custard has cooled you can then happily pour the custard over the biscuit and let it set in the fridge whilst you whip up the chocolate topping.

The custard layer setting - nanaimo bar recipe

The custard layer setting

Using a bain marie, pop the chocolate in a bowl suspended over a bowl of boiling water to allow the chocolate to melt gently. Save the last third of the chocolate back to add to the melted chocolate to help reduce the temperature of the chocolate. This tempering of the chocolate stops it from blooming or sweating when it’s cooling. It helps to keep your fingers slightly less sticky.

Gloriously gooey melted chocolate

Gloriously gooey melted chocolate

Pour the glossy melted chocolate all over the custard layer and simply let it cool and set.

The chocolate layer

The chocolate layer

But… just before it’s fully set quickly score the chocolate with a sharp knife to mark out the bar squares. You’ll thank me later. Once the chocolate sets fully it’s really difficult to cut through the chocolate and get properly portioned slices, as the chocolate cracks. (I wish I’d known this when I made Millionaire’s Shortbread!)

The scored Nanaimo Bar

The scored Nanaimo Bar

Then once it’s fully set you can take it out of the tin, chop it up and tuck in! I served Chris his for a special birthday breakfast. In hindsight it might not be the best breakfast food, but you can eat whatever you like on your birthday. That’s the rules. It’s a wonderfully sweet treat.  The coconut, custard and chocolate are a brilliant combination. That’s 3 of my most favourite ingredients all wrapped up into one cake. And even better,  it doesn’t take an age to make. I can see why the Canadians love it so.

Nanaimo Bar recipe

Nanaimo Bar

Thank you so much for the wonderful memories and for showing us the sights Aunty Carol, Uncle Malcolm , Kelly and David!

At the top - Whistler

At the top – Whistler

Things I used to make Nanaimo Bars

  • 1 cup or 250g rich tea biscuits smashed to fine crumbs (or if you have access to graham crackers go for it!)
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup or 125g desicated coconut
  • 1/3 cup or 75 g of flaked almonds
  • 1/4 cup or 60g cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup or 60g sugar
  • 1/3 cup or 75g  melted butter
  • 1 egg

Custard Cream Filling

Custard

  • 285ml milk
  • 25ml cream
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 15g sugar
  • 1 tsp cornflour

*Or alternatively use 2tbsp custard powder if you have it!

  • 1/4 cup or 60g butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups 500g icing sugar

*add 30ml milk if you’re not using home made custard

Chocolate Topping

  • 200g plain dark chocolate
  • 1 tbsp butter

Happy Christmas – The Rosca de Reyes results are in!

A very decadent Rosca de Reyes - 3 Kings Cake

A very decadent Rosca de Reyes – 3 Kings Cake

Wow what a year this has been indeed! We’ve made it over half way around the world in 80 bakes, ran my first half marathon (raising over £700 for Oxfam!), baked (and devoured) some wonderful (and some not so wonderful…) cakes AND been very lucky indeed to win the Blog North Best Food and Drink Blog Award.

Great North Running

Great North Running

And that’s not even the end of this amazing year’s excitement, it doesn’t all finish there! I’m very excited to let you know that I won the online bake off and £500 of holiday vouchers for my Rosca de Reyes 3 Kings Cake! Amazing! Thank you all so much for reading, commenting and also voting for me. I can’t thank you enough for your support and love. We will be using the £500 of Cosmos Holiday vouchers to book our honeymoon in the new year, a trip somewhere hot and relaxing will be perfect after our wintery wedding (which is taking place in less than 2 days…)! Fingers crossed the cake stays upright!

A golden Rosca de Reyes

A golden Rosca de Reyes

The lucky winner of the £50 very.co.uk voucher is Jenny B. The company will contact you directly to arrange your voucher. Thank you so much for voting!

I can’t go without mentioning the 4 brilliant bakers and bloggers, in the Rosca de Reyes bake off. They are exceptionally good bakers and I’ve been enjoying their blogs for over a year now and follow them all on twitter. I really recommend checking out their blogs, if you haven’t done so already. They are very talented and inspirational foodie bloggers.

I hope you all have had a wonderful Christmas and are looking forward to the New Year as much as me. I will be returning shortly as a married baker, with a new name and everything. Looking forward to letting you know how my biggest challenge so far pans out… my 5 tier wedding cake!

Lots of love and happy new year!

Lauren x x x

p.s Now would be a perfect time to have a go at baking your own Rosca de Reyes to celebrate the Epiphany on January 6th.

p.p.s. My golden Rosca de Reyes – 3 Kings Cake even got a mention in the The Mirror within an article about Christmas eats and treats around the world!

42. Swedish Tea Ring – the cake for busy bakers

Planning to bake something in advance of an event or special occasion can be difficult. Sponge cake will dry out if baked too far in advance and if you freeze it you can’t ice it beforehand. I seem to be in a real baking frenzy at the moment. Partly because I’m in the process of baking my 5 tier wedding cake…

The teetering tower of fruit cake… shame 2 tiers need to be re-baked.

I’ve chosen fruit cake for my 5 tier wedding cake is because I love fruit cake and it will be Christmas(!) but also because I can plan it in and bake it in advance. Then take my time with icing it, hopefully resulting in a well organised and non stressful experience. Also fruit cake improves with age! The longer I soak the fruit and feed it BOOZE the better it will taste.

Swedish Tea Ring

So what else keeps well? A rich yeast dough, that’s what! Bring on another new discovery and favourite of mine, The Swedish Tea Ring!!

Marguerite Patten has been tempting me with this recipe for years and I finally found a reason to bake it! To give as a present to my friends Josh and Mark for looking after me in Manchester at the Blog North Awards last week.

It’s like a robust Chelsea Bun/Cinnamon Roll/Belgian Bun hybrid. Perfect for cinnamon junkies like me and for preparing in stages for the busy baker. I can also confirm it’s portability! It survived a 3 hour drive through lightening and torrential rain! That’s one sturdy bake.

Whisking the dry ingredients together…

One thing I dislike about making yeast doughs is the kneading time required. I no longer own a hand whisk with dough hooks attached and my food processor can only handle dough for 2-3 minutes before it starts rocking around the counter top precariously. So, in my mad baking frenzy, I improvised as best as I could do. I used my electric hand whisk and beat the dough together… Who knows if this is an acceptable baking practice?

Whisking in the egg

But despite my poor little electric whisk’s protests (it’s been through a lot this year) It managed to combine the wet dough together with minimal effort required from me. I call that a result (although the blown out birthday candle smell emanating from the little whisk’s motor might suggest otherwise…)

Whisking in the milk – making a wonderfully sticky dough

Now as Marguerite arranged each bit of this recipe in a different section of the book, I managed to confuse my recipe somewhat. I used the full rich yeast dough recipe and didn’t adjust it for the Swedish Tea Ring, which means you either make one massive tea ring or one modest sized ring (according to the recipe) and a smaller mini one for later with the off cuts. (I made 2!)

Poor little burnt out whisk – thoroughly kneading/whisking the dough

Whisk all of the dry ingredients together. Then whisk into the mix the butter, followed by the egg and then the milk until you get an elastic, wet sticky dough.

One thoroughly kneaded lump of richer yeast dough

Leave it in an oiled bowl and cover with greased cling film to prove. I popped mine in the fridge over night to prove slowly (although it should only take an hour or two in a warm spot).

Or if you’re in a hurry you could pop your bowl over a pot of soup on the hob to prove…

Remove the proven dough from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature (if you have proven it in the fridge).

Fully proven dough straight from the fridge

Kneaded the full proven dough thoroughly to re distribute the heat throughout the dough.

Kneaded and shaped into a rectangle ready for rolling out

Roll the dough out to a rectangle 10 inches by 8 inches about 0.5mm thick. I was feeling very precise so I even measured and trimmed the rectangle so it had straight edges, to avoid the misshapen ends I found when making Chelsea buns

Rolled and trimmed to perfection. (Note the ball off extra dough leftover…)

My favourite bit was smearing the entire rectangle of dough with melted butter. I don’t think you need to be precise here. I found a pastry brush too delicate for this job and slapped the lot on with my hand instead straight from the microwave. (It only needs about 30 seconds to melt the butter through). The more generous with the butter the more gooey your filling.

Smeared with butter

For those who adore cinnamon, don’t feel restricted by the recipe. Feel free to pour as much cinnamon into your sugar as you can handle. Give it a quick stir to combine and then throw it onto your butter dough until you have an even blanket of cinnamony wonderment. I like to use enough cinnamon to give the sugar a dark brown colour. I ran out of brown sugar so improvised with normal caster sugar. Perhaps brown sugar would produce more of a caramelised effect?

Generously coat the butter in cinnamon and sugar (I was clearly in a hurry when I took this photo – apologies for it’s blurriness!)

After watching the Great British Bake Off, I realised my rolling skills may bye somewhat lacking. I have a tendency to misunderstand which side is the long side of the dough so I took photos to make sure I can bake this again in the future. Roll the dough towards you from the longest edge to the longest edge creating a ‘swiss roll’ of cinnamon dough.

Cinnamon swiss roll

Don’t worry if some of your sugar falls out of the roll. There’s plenty in there to make it taste wonderful. Keep the roll as tight as possible and if you have some melted butter leftover, it’s a good idea to spread a bit along the longest exposed edge to help ‘glue’ the dough to itself. I would also add a bit to one end to help later on…

Keeping the roll tight with one hand and glueing with butter the dough together

Press your fingers along the join in the dough to encourage the dough to combine and stick together. Turn the roll over so the join is firmly disguised under the roll of dough. Gravity should help to force the roll to stick together and stop the sugary goodness running out whilst it bakes.

Firmly joined together – then hide this join underneath the roll of dough

This also means you have the smooth (and prettier) side of the dough roll to play with. The most difficult bit of this bake is definitely joining the two short edges of dough together as they are very sugary and don’t want to stick.

This is my Chelsea Bun attempt but it’s very similar! The swirl of cinnamon at each end makes it difficult to join but making sure you have straight edges when you roll out the dough (unlike here – look at the overlap!) makes it much easier to join

I coaxed them together with butter and nipped the edges together with my fingers until they begrudgingly worked with me.

The troublesome join

I breathed a huge sigh of relief when it finally stayed in place! It could almost be one MASSIVE cinnamon doughnut at this point. But it had to have another little rest to prove again (about 20 minutes) before the next step…

a MASSIVE cinnamon doughnut

Now here my recipe reading skills escape me again. What I failed to understand was Marguerite meant for me to cut completely through the ring to create a fan of cinnamon buns in the shape of a ring, like this…

Marguerite’s Swedish Tea Ring – How it should look in real life – fully exposed cinnamon

Unfortunately the photo was on a completely different page and I interpreted the instructions like this…

Partially exposed cinnamon – my interpretation

Brandishing my sharpest kitchen scissors I snipped delicately and diagonally into the ring to partially expose the cinnamon swirls. I must admit I was nervous that this slicing would compromise the integrity of my dough join so was possibly overly hesitant at this stage.

Snippity snip

All it needed was to be placed into a moderately hot oven for 30 minutes or so, until it turned golden brown.

Swedish Tea Ring ready for the oven

As the Swedish Tea Ring is essentially a bread dough I also made sure it was baked through by knocking the bottom of the ring to listen for the resounding hollow tap.

Fully baked (and a bit more irregular in shape than Marguerite’s)

The baked Swedish Tea ring is a tempting sight with glitterring cinnamon peeking out from the dough (although not the most organised of rings it still looks inviting to me!)

Lemon Glace Icing

Once the ring cooled fully I whipped up a batch of lemon glace icing. It hides an enormous amount of irregularities and flaws, especially if you layer up your icing! Again I can;t say I followed Marguerite’s recipe exactly. I like a tart lemon flavour so I sloshed in a bit of lemon extract to give an extra punch to the icing. I also free poured the icing sugar and mixed it with enough lemon juice to create a runny yet thick icing. (This does take quite a bit of icing sugar!).

free pouring icing – balanced over a big mug

When the icing is just about right in consistency it should taste good (obviously!) not be gritty, the sugar should totally melt into the liquid and it should part when stirred in the bowl. (see the picture above) This means it’s starting to hold it’s shape a bit whilst still being runny to cascade over your tea ring and coat the cake in thick white goo.

iced and decorated Swedish Tea Ring

It’s best to pop your Swedish Tea Ring on some greaseproof paper (or a plate) before you pour the icing over it to catch the icing waterfall. It needs some time to dry and set. I iced mine just before bed so it had time to set over night before being deposited into it’s travel box. Please note you may need more than 2 hands and a palette knife to prise your cake from the paper after it’s iced!

The final Swedish Tea Ring

Mary Berry recommends decorating cakes in groups of threes. I didn’t have the traditional galce cherries in my cupboard but I always have a store of sultanas, hence the trio of sultanas dotted on each section of ring. It’s also best to add these decorations while your icing is still wet.

The Swedish Tea Ring in it’s rustic glory

I loved this bake. It was a pleasure to make, especially as I could spend an hour at a time doing each step making it a more manageable bake to do after work over 2 evenings. The contrast of the sharp and sweet icing against the warming cinnamon is so comforting, just what you need after a long drive in the winter night. Each slice reveals a beautiful cinnamon swirl…

A cinnamon swirl in every slice

I can recommend it with a celebratory gin or a cup of tea. Whatever your preference, I think you’ll enjoy this one. I enjoyed seconds, and could have even squeezed in thirds if I wasn’t being polite!

A chunk of Swedish Tea Ring

It was a good job I had baked my mini Swedish Tea Ring and froze it for later on that week for my friend’s house warming, as it then made a special appearance in a photo shoot for the Sunderland Echo who published an article on my Blog North Award. You can see the mini Swedish Tea Ring being balanced on a cake stand by me here

Double Swedish Tea Ring – Little and Large


Things I used to make my Swedish Tea Ring

1 quantity of Richer Yeast Dough

  • 7g of dried instant yeast
  • 3 oz sugar
  • 1 lb plain flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 0z butter/margarine (you choose)
  • 1 egg
  • just under 1/2 pint milk (room temperature)

Swedish Tea Ring

Use 8 oz of richer yeast dough to make one tea ring or the full quantity of richer yeast dough to make a larger ring (and a mini ring like me)

Filling

  • 1 oz melted butter
  • 2 oz brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of cinnamon (although I added enough to ensure the sugar was a dark brown colour…)
  • Sultanas to decorate (although it should really be glace cherries)
  • 30-35 minutes 350F, Gas mark 3-4 or 170 degrees C

Lemon Water (Glace) Icing

  • about 200g-300g icing sugar (you may need more to get the right consistency)
  • about 3-4 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • a good slosh of lemon extract (not essence)

22. Blood, Sweat and Baklava – Greece

This is without doubt the most epic bake that I have ever attempted. I’ve eaten Baklava in Greece, Turkey and Morocco. It is divine and very moreish with its honey soaked pastry. It’s one of my favourite sweet treats. I’ve been planning on attempting it for a while but was a bit hesitant to attempt Filo pastry from scratch as every book, including my Greek cookery book, said to buy it ready made pastry!

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Baklava

Undeterred I asked my foodie friends for some advice on Twitter and was very kindly assisted by @bakingelements who sent me a Michel Roux Filo recipe from his ‘Pastry’ book. Thank you so much for your help. Without those photos I couldn’t have done it!!

Filo requires a lot of time and patience. It’s really not for the faint hearted. The dough itself is quite a basic concoction, flour, water, salt mixed in the food processor with a dough hook. Seems simple enough…

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Then pour in oil while its mixing and wait until its all combined.

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It becomes rather sticky and stringy at this point.

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My new food processor was thoroughly christened in sticky dough in the process too… Cotton buds to the rescue!

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Then it required about 5 minutes of extra working on a cornfloured board. I had to add a lot of extra flour as it was SO incredibly sticky

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When it was worked sufficiently I measured it precisely (can you believe it? With scales and everything!) into 60g chunks. They had to rest in a cool place for 2hours on a floured tray covered in cling film so it didn’t dry out.

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Pain in the pistachios

This gave me enough time to de shell and husk a whole bag of pistachio nuts. (Note to self. Please buy nuts without their shells in the future.) This is 45minutes of my life I will never, EVER get back. I broke a couple of nails and showered the kitchen in shells when in desperation I smashed the nuts with the stick bit of the pestle and mortar. Not to mention the nips and cuts the little blighters gave me.

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Mixed Nuts

Into the food processor 1lb of mixed nuts I threw, the damn pistachios, whole almonds and walnuts. A quick whizz to chop them up and I added sugar, cloves, cinnamon and some pre chopped almonds.

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To help speed up the chilling process I popped the pastry into the fridge for a bit whilst prepping the pastry board and a vast supply of cornflour.

Now for the tricky and even more time consuming bit. Michel Roux had sensibly instructed me to prepare 60g balls of dough so I had manageable chunks to roll out. However I was also working with 2 separate Baklava recipes which suggested working with a round cake tin and a rectangular tray. Whilst trying to stretch this delicate pastry out I realised there was no way on earth I was ever going to get it to the length and width needed to fit such a long tray and of course roll it to the required 0.5mm thinness!!

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Still a bit too thick...

I decided to use a smaller square tin and ad lib from all 3 recipes that I was following. I greased and lined the tin in preparation.

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The first piece of rolling was lovely, dusting it with flour and gently rolling it out. I can’t believe I actually thought ‘brilliant this is going to be fun’. I lost count of how many sheets of Filo I rolled but as soon as you kind of get it to the right size and try to pick it up, it stretches, so its too big for the tin! Then it tears! And somehow your supposed to brush it with butter evenly too whilst it crinkles up and become more of a patchwork quilt. I had to trim bit here and there and add extra bits to cover the holes but I got there in the end.

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The first fantastically even and smooth layer. Look it reaches the edges (almost)!

I realised that 60g was too much per layer so had to divide each chunk into 4 to get the right thinness and to ensure I had enough layers to go round. I have feeling you’re supposed to let the pastry rest after rolling it but I didn’t have the time. I also had to stretch each piece to fit inside the tin so it was really practicable either.

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The actual amount of dough per layer pre rolling

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Post rolling (not quite a square...)

I also missed the step in the recipe that said you’re supposed to start with 8 layers of pastry on the bottom before you add any layers of nuts and sugar. I had 2 bottom layers and there was no going back. I was in Baklava lasagna mania and only had 2 hours to finish the whole thing.

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So so thin

I’m not sure how much butter I used but I had to refill the pan 3 times along the way.

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Excuse the messy Filo jigsaw

My theory was 2 layers of pastry then a layer of nuts. I attempted to butter both sides of the Filo that was to sit on top of the nuts, which is probably totally unnecessary but the paranoia of dry Filo was setting in. Each time I added a layer I had to cover the pan in cling film too to stop it drying out too.

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The top layer with 8 layers of Filo and a generous butter coating!!

Before cooking it I took my sharpest knife and cut it into cubes

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Precarious cutting through many layers.

I popped it in the fridge (but forgot the cling film!!) then set about simmering the syrup of honey, lemon juice, sugar, water and cinnamon. I added some rose water too.

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Start of syrup.

The Baklava needed 35mins of baking while the pan simmered. I almost burnt the syrup as I wanted to reduce it further and salvaged it by dunking the hot pan into cold water to stop it cooking.

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Nicely caramalised... Definitely not burnt.

Once the Baklava was crisp and golden it was ready to be drown in thick syrup.

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Crisp and golden Baklava

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Syrup soaked

I added a garnish of chopped nuts (I still have a bag left over so probably wouldn’t make as much next time) and some more syrup to top it off. Apparently it needs 4 hours to cool so I wrapped it in a towel and carried it to my friends house for our pudding. It definitely didn’t last long enough to cool for 4 hours!!

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Toppings

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Baklava Heaven

I was hoping after all the time and effort it would be ok and it really really was. The syrup soaked into every layer making a gorgeously sticky delight! Even with less pastry on the bottom it held together and cooked all the way through!

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Piles and piles of Baklava

I’m happy with my Filo experiment. I generally hate making pastry and this almost killed me. There was a lot of energy spent in making this so I don’t feel guilty in the slightest that I ate 2 massive pieces in one go. It did take an entire day to make but what an achievement! Now I’ve made Filo once I know I can do it but perhaps I might buy some ready made if I was going to attempt it again.

I’m now going for a lie down 🙂

*Recipes taken from:

Filo Pastry Michel Roux – Pastry Requires: 400g plain flour; 6g fine salt; 330ml water heated to 50 degrees C; 30ml olive oil; cornflour to dust

Baklava Recipe  Requires: 1 quantity of Filo Pastry; 1lb chopped nuts, cloves, cinnamon, 1 cup of butter, 1/3 cup of sugar

Syrup: 1 cup water; 1 cup sugar; 1/2 cup honey; 1 cinnamon stick; (I added an extra sprinkle of ground cinnamon); 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and I added 1 tablespoon of essence of rose water too.

The Traditional Greek Cookery Book Toubis Edition 2006

 

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21. Whatcha cooking Lebkucken – Germany

Lebkuchen

I’ve always loved lebkuchen. It always seem like Christmas when the shops start selling these chewy and crunchy pink and white sugar coated cookies. This year seemed the right time to attempt to make my own. I’ve not visited Germany (yet) but if the continental Christmas markets are anything to go by I know that I will love it.

A quick google later and I came up with a simple yet effective BBC Good Food Recipe. (I seem to use this website a lot for my continental recipes!) They seemed fairly easy to make with honey, eggs, spices (cloves, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon)  ground almonds, a bit of flour, black pepper and butter. Simple! Although in my case I had nothing to smash up the cloves with, so improvising with a sandwich bag and a jam jar I hammered them into rough chunks. It kind of did the job, but some biscuits were definitely more clovey than others…

Spicy Stuff

This is definitely a different type of gingerbread to the Sunderland Gingerbread, very rich and sweet. But like Sunderland Gingerbread you throw this all in a pan and melt it together! Fantastic!

Butter, honey and sugar

Then throw in the dry stuff and spice

It needs quite a good stir to mix it all together..

Seemed a bit sticky but trust in the recipe

At this point I started to get a bit worried as it seemed a bit on the sticky side and I couldn’t imagine how on earth I was a) going to roll the dough out or b) cut it into Christmassy shapes… Nevertheless I continued and read the recipe through again and realised it needed some time to cool down. Throwing it into the fridge I popped the kettle on and had a well deserved rest (whilst starting the washing up!)

Now that's more like it!

In a bid to speed things up I divided the dough in half and froze half for other Christmas baking emergencies. I then folded cling film around the dough to roll it out without needing my pastry board and to prevent it sticking to the rolling pin.

Cling Film Queen

Choosing my most Christmassy cookie cutters I cut out the festive shapes and popped them into the oven for a mere 15 minutes.

Off to the oven with you

Then all they needed was a glossy sugary coating once they cooled down enough. Whisking an egg white up with some icing sugar to create a glaze is something that I’ve never done before. There’s another first to cross off my list.

Glazing

I drizzled it over the biscuits and let them drip dry onto kitchen roll. Once they hardened slightly they were ready for eating and the biscuit tin! They were lovely and chewy on the inside. They aren’t overwhelmingly spicy but rich and I enjoy the kick of the black pepper and cloves. I will be baking these every year from now on. I may even try some new variations. I’ve seen some with a much more crispy coating and with a little jam in the middle too to make them extra gooey!

Glazed

I did whip up the second batch in a baking emergency, during a Christmas baking marathon, so didn’t cut them into shapes but made a dough roll (using cling flm to roll it up of course)  and chopped it up… very quick and easy!

Dough roll (not to be mistaken for a sausage)

Lebkuchen Quick Chunks