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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53. Triple Layer Sachertorte – why have 1 layer when you can have 3?

Not one that I made earlier unfortunately but one hell of a triple layer Sachertorte in Berlin

Not one that I made earlier unfortunately but this is one hell of a triple layer Sachertorte that I ate in Berlin

What’s more indulgent and luxurious than a Sachertorte? Surely a triple layer Sachertorte beats them all hands down. Why have merely one layer when you can have three? The Berliners had the best idea and yes I stole it, nay, lovingly recreated it at home for my friend Adam’s 30th birthday present.

Oh dear it's all gone a bit wrong, but here's my SacHER torte. Check out that glossy ganache (and ignore my terrible chocolate icing skills...)

Oh dear it’s all gone a bit wrong, but here’s my SacHER torte. Check out that glossy ganache (and ignore my terrible chocolate icing skills…)

Sachertorte was invented in Vienna, Austria and although I’m still yet to visit the country I thoroughly enjoy it’s food. One of my very first around the world in 80 bakes, bakes was indeed a 4 foot pastry monster, also known as the Viennesse Apple Strudel.

I did another one... just one layer to see if I could get it right... shhh don't tell anyone

After all of that I had to make myself a one too … just one layer to see if I could get it right… shhh don’t tell anyone

A very rich and dense chocolate cake, two layers of Sachertorte are usually sandwiched together with apricot jam and chocolate ganache. But for this extra special version I made 3! Well it is a special birthday after all and I had been promising Adam a triple layer Sachertorte for sometime.

Here's a slice of my second attempt at Sachertorte (Just the one layer) but beautifully rich and moist!

Here’s a slice of my second attempt at Sachertorte (Just the one layer) but beautifully rich and moist!

It’s an almost flourless sponge, made mainly from almonds, so it can cope with a bit of handling (or slicing into more layers). It also benefits from a heavy layer of ganache to retain moisture in the sponge.

Melt the chocolate

Melt the chocolate

There’s a lot of real chocolate in this cake, so it’s as chocolately as it’s ever going to get, rather than just adding cocoa powder. This is the real deal. Using a bain marie is the best way to melt chocolate (in my opinion) without burning it. Melt the chocolate gently with a bowl suspended over a pan of boiling water.

Beat together the sugar and butter

Beat together the sugar and butter

Once the chocolate is melted, leave it to cool slightly whilst you beat together the butter and sugar until it’s light and fluffy.

The slightly cooled chocolate can then be beaten into the melted chocolate along with the vanilla extract.

Beat in the chocolate - sachertorte

Beat in the chocolate

Then whisk in the egg yolks one by one until the mixture is nice and thick.

Beat in the eggs - sachertorte

Beat in the eggs

The ground almonds and flour can then be introduced and folded into the chocolatey egg yolk mix.

Whisk egg whites

Whisk egg whites

If like me you have a stand mixer you can do a little cheat here. I used my hand held electric whisk to the egg whites to a fluffy state whilst I set my Kitchenaid to task whisking mix the chocolate and egg yolks together in a separate bowl. This helped to save a bit of time and energy on my part. Don’t worry if you don’t have a stand mixer however you could easily whisk your egg whites after you’ve finished the egg yolk mix.

The egg whites need to be whisked to incorporate as much air into them as possible as this cake doesn’t have any other raising agent to help it do the job. The whites should be whisked for about 2-3 mins at a slow speed until frothy and bubbly. Then increase the speed to high and continue to whisk for about 4-5 minutes, until the whites are stiff but not dry.

Fold into the egg whites

Fold the chocolate mix into the egg whites

Add a good dollop of the chocolate egg yolk mix to the egg whites and fold in gently to help loosen the mixture up. Then carefully spoon the rest of the chocolate mix into the egg whites and fold in, very gently ,to preserve as much air as possible in the mixture.

Pour into the tin

Pour into the tin

Once it’s all combined (and there’s no tell tale spots of egg whites floating about) the batter is good to go. Carefully pour the batter, (holding the bowl as close to the tin as possible so you don’t knock any of the air out of the mixture) into a greased and lined 9 inch round tin and smooth the surface down with a spatula, making sure there’s no holes or lumps. Bake the cake in the centre of your preheated oven at 180 degrees C for 40-45 minutes.

Baked Sachertorte

Baked Sachertorte

Once the cake is thoroughly cooked, you can tell this as a cocktail stick when inserted will come out clean, the cake will shrink back from the sides of the tin slightly and when pressed in the centre the cake will spring back. Leave it to cool in the tin slightly and then tip it out onto a wire cooling rack.

You may remember the Sachertorte from the Great British Bake Off technical challenge in series 2. Mary Berry insisted that you had to use the top of the cake so it had to be as flat as can be. I’m not that strict so I use the lovely flat bottom of the cake as my smooth top, although either end of the cake would be fine to use, as it was in fact rather flat.

Sliced in 3 layers

Sliced in 3 layers

The cake really needs to be entirely cold before you take a knife to it. I’ve learnt this lesson the hard way and broken many a cake cutting into it while it’s still warm too eager to start the layering process. It always ends in tears and much smaller cake than I envisioned. So patience my friend and a really sharp knife.

I find it easier to swivel the cake round and hold the knife in the same place to (attempt) to get an even slice. I find it easier to cut the top layer off first and work my way down. Using a palette knife to support the cake to carefully lift each layer off and pile them up on a plate.

Ganache Mixing

Ganache Mixing

While your slicing up your cake into 3 layers, pop the cream in a pan and heat  it to almost boiling point. Take it off the heat and add two thirds of the the broken dark chocolate. Keep stirring the ganache until the chocolate is fully melted and add the final third of the chocolate. Continue to stir until it’s glossy and smooth.

First layer all jammed up

First layer all jammed up

As this was a birthday present I bought a cake board to pile the cake onto. I sterilised the board with a little orange brandy, to get the party started. Taking the bottom layer (which technically was the top of the cake previously when it was baking in the tin…confusing?) I sat the sponge on top of a splodge of warm apricot jam on the cake board to hold it in place. The jam must be heated to make it extra runny and also to sterilise it, as you want your cake to keep well. 40 seconds in the microwave should do it, but don’t boil the jam!

Ganache Layer

Ganache Layer

Smear a generous coating of warm apricot jam onto the sponge, to act as a barrier against the ganache so it doesn’t seep too far into the sponge. Then add a nice layer of ganache and plop the next sponge layer on top. Repeat for the next 2 layers.

Glazed and stacked triple layer sachertorte

Glazed and stacked triple layer sachertorte

The final layer will need to be neat and tidy so pour the ganache all over the top of the cake and using a palette knife and gravity encourage the ganache to run down the side of the cake. You may need to even things up a little, holding the palette knife vertically and pressing it gently into the side of your cake, run the knife around the side of the cake to straighten up the edges.

Hairdryer at the ready

Hairdryer at the ready

The ganache may start to set before you want it to, so keep a hairdryer to hand (yes a hairdryer- I haven’t lost my mind honest) to heat the ganache a little and allow you to continue to work with it. You can always tip the cake slightly to let the ganache flow around the top of the cake.

Ganached and glossy

Ganached and glossy

Undoubtedly you will get ganache everywhere at this point, on your face, in your hair, up your arms and all over the kitchen, but that’s part of the fun. Keep some paper towels close by to mop up any spillages and to wipe excess chocolate off your palette knife. You’re also going to need a damp paper towel (or 10) to wipe the excess ganache off the cake board. Apparently it’s a really clever idea to put pieces of greaseproof paper under the sponge to catch the ganache which can then be disposed of later on. Or if your cake board is entirely flush to the cake (like mine), you could pop it on a wire cooling rack and let the ganache drip onto a plate underneath, ready to be used again, or eaten with a spoon (I’ll let you decide).

Sack the chef

Sack the chef

The pièce de résistance. The chocolate ‘Sacher’ signature. The name of this wonderful cakes creator. You need milk chocolate to contrast against the dark ganache, melted and in a piping bag. Or like me you may use a sandwich bag with the tip snipped off. You only have one attempt at this, unless you fancy re – ganaching your entire cake, so no pressure. I made a right hash of it (sorry Adam) as my piping/sandwich bag exploded half way through dripping unslightly chocolate onto the cake which then had to be incorporated into the signature.

oh dear it all went a bit wrong but here's my SacHERtorte...

Sack the Chef. Check out my very neat s – a and c

Well my signature is certainly distinctive. But on a positive note the ganache is extremely glossy and mostly smooth. Perhaps I should have stopped while I was ahead… Please note how nice and neat the ‘S’ ‘a’ and ‘c’ are. Maybe it’s a subliminal message to myself SacHER!

Triple Layer Sachertorte! Happy Birthday Adam!

Triple Layer Sachertorte! Happy Birthday Adam!

Anyways I’m sure your chocolate handwriting skills will far surpass mine. I’m assured that it tasted lovely despite how rustic it actually appeared…  I boxed it up and delivered it complete with sparkler candles to wish Adam a very happy 30th Birthday!

Cake delivery!

Cake delivery!

I wanted to try making a traditional one layer Sachertorte just to make sure I could definitely do it right, second time round and definitely not because I’m a greedy guts. I absolutely love this cake. It’s a moist sponge and improves (as most cakes do) when left for a day or two to cut it.

I did another one... just one layer to see if I could get it right... shhh don't tell anyone

I did another one… just one layer to see if I could get it right… shhh don’t tell anyone

I must admit that home made was actually more moist than the shop bought cake we sampled in Berlin. The apricot jam infuses the chocolate with a gorgeous fruity flavour, balancing out the slightly bitter dark chocolate ganache with the sweetness of the jam. The ganache is smooth and luxurious and means the sponge keeps really well.

Here's a slice of my second attempt at Sachertorte (Just the one layer) but beautifully rich and moist!

Here’s a slice of my second attempt at Sachertorte (Just the one layer) but beautifully rich and moist!

One thing to note, if you store your cake in the fridge your ganache will lose it’s shine so it’s best to keep it at room temperature if you want to see it glisten in the birthday candle light. It’s a classic celebration cake that will be loved by everyone.

Things that I used to make my Triple Layered Sachertorte

The Cake

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C
One greased and lined 9 inch round tin

  • 140g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids)
  • 140g butter
  • 115g caster sugar
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 5 eggs
  • 85g ground almonds
  • 55g plain flour

Bake for 40  minutes at 180 degrees C

The Ganache

  • 140g plain chocolate
  • 200ml double cream

The Filling

  • One jar of apricot jam, heated

The Writing

  • 25g melted milk chocolate

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51. The Legendary Crack Pie (concocted the lazy way)

Legendary Crack Pie - no actual crack is involved in this baking process

Legendary Crack Pie – no actual crack is involved in this baking process

Crack Pie the most addictive pie you’re ever going to eat. It even sounds legendary before you even know what’s actually inside it. It hails from New York so apologies this is yet another American bake in my around the world adventures. But I’m sure you will understand why I just HAD to bake this. It was originally invented by Momofuku Milk Bar’s very talented pastry chefs and coined Crack Pie due to it’s extremely moreish quality.

A slice of gooey Crack Pie

A slice of gooey Crack Pie

I’ve been waiting for an excuse to bake this pie. This excuse came in the form of the Private Pie Club. The theme for this months Private Pie was Film Pie. I managed to shoehorn my Crack Pie in under the banner of ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ as the most drug fuelled film I could think of , although with it’s final dusting of floral icing sugar the pie appears much more sweet and innocent than it’s name suggests… (If you like pie you should also come along to Private Pie club and meet other pie enthusiasts!)

Fully iced Crack Pie

Fully iced Crack Pie

The original epic recipe is merely concocted from a few store cupboard essentials. This means you will probably have all of the ingredients ready to hand to bake this pie. So what are you waiting for?? Get baking! Although there is a LOT of everything in it so you may need to invest in a few more eggs…

Blending sugar, salt and flour together the lazy way

Blending sugar, salt and flour together the lazy way

The homemade oat cookie base is well worth the extra effort of making a cookie just to crumble it up and reconstitute it into a pie crust. The pie in total consists of an entire block of butter, almost 500g of sugar (brown and white) 8 egg yolks and cream! This is a gloriously decadent pie for the hungry. It’s so popular I’ve heard that they sell for $45 a pop and are couriered across the states to feed the Crack Pie habit of the nation.

Beat in the butter

Beat in the butter and egg

To start with I got the method a bit backwards. Despite my lack of reading ability it turned out pretty well so you too can follow my lazy method. I forgot to cream the butter and sugar together and instead whacked all of the dry ingredients together into the mixer and beat them until crumbly.

Then beat in the butter and egg to make a thick cookie batter.

Splodge the cookie batter roughly onto a baking sheet and smooth down

Splodge the cookie batter roughly onto a baking sheet and smooth down

The best bit about baking this kind of cookie is it doesn’t need to be pretty and you don’t even have to bother rolling and cutting it out! Music to my lazy baking ears. Basically whack it all onto a greased baking sheet, press it down with your fingers and bake it for 20 minutes. Job done.

The baked cookie base

The baked cookie base

The rough cookie will be a lovely golden hue after 20 minutes in the oven at 160 degrees C. Technically you should let it cool down before crumbling up the cookie but I couldn’t wait.

Blend the crumbled cookie together with even more butter and sugar

Blend the crumbled cookie together with even more butter and sugar

All of the other recipes I’ve found instruct you to blitz up the cookie in a food processor, but frankly that involves unpacking my food processor from the jenga game that is my kitchen cupboard and even more washing up , so I didn’t bother. I threw the roughly crumbled cookie into my mixer and beat it into submission along with an additional 55g butter, 20g brown sugar and 1/2 tsp salt.

This is how the cookie crumbles

This is how the cookie crumbles

After a quick blitz with the mizer (I’m sure you could just use a spoon or an electric handwhisk if you’re feeling the strain) the cookie turn to glossy crumbs. Just moist enough to shape it into a pie crust in your 2 pie tins.

Cookie Pie Crusts

Cookie Pie Crusts

Divide the cookie crumbs into 2 and squash them into 2 pie tins giving a thin and even crust along the bottom of the tin and up the sides. If it’s not sticking you can always blend in a little more butter to moisten the crumbs. I used a 9 inch tart tin and an 8 inch round cake tin. It’s handy to use a tin with a loose bottom to help remove the pie when it’s ready for eating. But feel free to use a solid pie dish, it’ll all taste amazing anyway. Pop the crusts in the fridge to set.

Blend together your sugars

Starting the filling: Blend together your sugars and salt

Now here’s the bit where I ad lib even further from the original recipe. I admit the one store cupboard essential I don’t own is powdered milk. So I just left it out of the filling. I’m not sure what impact this had on the final flavour of the pie but to be honest I didn’t miss it. Looking for a substitute all things suggested just adding actual milk. A splash of milk and a dollop of speculoos butter later and we have one tasty Crack Pie!

Whisk into the sugar, the melted butter, double cream, vanilla, speculoos butter and a splosh of milk

Whisk into the sugar, the melted butter, double cream, vanilla, speculoos butter and a splosh of milk

I love the fact that you just have to keep adding to the one pot to make each stage of this pie. After blending together the white and brown sugar, all that’s left to do is to whisk in to the sugar the melted butter, the double cream, a splash of vanilla, a splosh of milk, and a dollop of speculoos butter. You don’t need to incorporate lots of air into this caramel custard so just whisk it until it’s smooth and everything is incorporated.

Pour the caramel custard into onto the cookie crusts

Pour the caramel custard into onto the cookie crusts

The caramel custard will be shiny and smooth taking on the hue of the brown sugar. Simply pour half of the custard onto each pie crust and bake for 15 minutes at 170 degrees C. Then turn down the oven to 160 and bake for a further 10 minutes. I baked both pies side by side, but the larger of the pies needed an extra 10 -15 minutes of solitary baking time. The pies are clearly cooked when golden all over and only a little jiggly (like a good custard tart should be!)

The just baked Crack Pie

The just baked Crack Pie

A good tip from Mary Berry to achieve an even bake is to place your pies onto a hot baking sheet. It also means your loose bottomed tin will keep it’s bottom when lifting it in and out of the oven (I have had issues in the past with my tart tin). Also if it leaks any butter (and let’s face it with all of the butter in this pie it’s going to ooze a little) you will save a lot of oven cleaning by having your pie on a baking sheet instead.

A pair of Crack Pies cooling

A pair of Crack Pies cooling

The filling will rise slightly whilst baking but maintains a lovely smooth and flat top. Once baked leave your Crack Pies to cool down in their tins. They will keep well for about a week in the fridge and I hear it tastes even better the longer it lasts… (if you can reserve yourself that is!). When I took that first bite of Crack Pie I actually ‘yummed’ out loud. In public! It’s so moist, the cookie crust almost disappears into the gooey caramel filling with the edges giving that much needed bite. It’s a perfect combination of smooth, sweet caramel and oaty crumble, with a hint of spice (from the speculoos) and a tang of salt. The slice quickly disappeared before my eyes and the whole pie was gone within minutes. Without doubt a wonderful sign of an excellent pie.

Extreme Close up of the Crack Pie. Check out that caramel custard

Extreme Close up of the Crack Pie. Check out that caramel custard

As this is a recipe for 2 Crack Pies, you could scale it back to make just the one. But I fear one will never be enough! If you have the ingredients you may as well make two and share with friends (if you like anyone enough to share your Crack Pie with them) or alternatively gorge yourself on all of the pie. (Please eat your Crack Pie responsibly) Or even more sensibly you could freeze your second Crack Pie for a special occasion. I have my Crack Pie resting carefully in the freezer, wrapped diligently in greaseproof paper and tin foil (still in it’s tin) to prevent freezerburn and   that distinctive ‘freezer flavour’ contamination. I literally can’t wait to defrost it.

How to decorate a Crack Pie?

How to dress a Crack Pie?

Now you don’t have to dress your Crack Pie, if you don’t want to. You could leave it naked as the day it was born if you prefer, but I wanted to make it look pretty (and hide a few of the little cracks that had appeared on the delicate crust in the process of forcibly removing it from the tin) Armed with a cake stencil, tea strainer and a box of icing sugar I liberally dusted on a floral pattern, covering the entire pie. It’s the first time I’ve ever managed to stencil anything successfully! Hurrah! Cue many self indulgent shots of stencilled Crack Pie…

The Fully Dressed Crack Pie

The Fully Dressed Crack Pie

Things that I used to make The Legendary Crack Pie 

Oat Cookie (for the crust)

  • 150g plain flour (2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon)
  • 1g baking powder (1/8 teaspoon)
  • 1g Cream of tartar (1/8 teaspoon) – This should actually be bicarbonate of soda however I got the pots mixed up! It didn’t seem to do any harm so I will be using cream of tartar in the future.
  • 2g salt (1/4 teaspoon)
  • 115g softened butter (1/2 cup)
  • 60g dark brown sugar (1/3 cup )
  • 40g  caster sugar (3 tablespoons)

Step 1: Beat all of the above together until fully incorporated

  • 1 egg

Step 2: Beat in the egg

  • 90g oats (1 cup)

Step 3: Stir in the oats

Step 4: Spread onto greased baking tray and bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes at 160 degrees C (375F)

Pie Crust

Step 5: Crumble up the baked cookie and beat in

  • 55g butter (1/4 cup)
  • 20g brown sugar (1 and 1/2 tablespoons)
  • 1g salt (1/8 teaspoon)

Step 6: Split the crumbs in half and press firmly and evenly into 2 (approximately 9 inch) pie tins all over the base and up the sides to form a thin crust.  Pop the crusts in the fridge to set.

The Caramel Custard Filling

  • 270g caster sugar (1 and 1/2 cups)
  • 130g dark brown sugar (3/4 cup and a scant 3 tablespoons)
  • 1g salt (1/4 teaspoon)
  • (I left the milk powder out but if you want to put it in use 1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon)
  • 113g melted butter  (1 cup)
  • 285ml double cream (3/4 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Splash of milk (to make up for the lack of milk powder)
  • 50g speculoos butter (to make up for the lack of milk powder – you could leave this out if you prefer or even use peanut butter instead)

Step 7: Whisk all of the above together

  • 8 egg yolks

Step 8: Whisk in the egg yolks one at a time until the mixture is smooth, shiny and thick

Step 9: Pour half of the caramel custard onto each pie crust

Step 10: Bake the pies side by side in a preheated oven on a hot baking sheet for 15 minutes at 17o degrees C (350F) then turn the oven down to 160 degrees C (325F) and bake for a further 10 minutes. When golden all over and only ever so slightly jiggly your Crack Pie is ready! 

Step 11:  Allow your pies to cool and dress with icing sugar. Then reward yourself for all of your efforts with a slab of pie. Enjoy!

*The Momofuku Recipe was published by the LA Times recently if you want to see it in all it’s glory

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!

44. A Healthy Christmas Pudding? – a very English recipe

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Can this be real? Is there such a thing as a healthy Christmas Pudding when you soak your fruit in booze and add copious amounts of sugar? Well according to the Great British Bake Off (series 2 cookbook) it is. So what’s the difference you may wonder? It’s breadcrumbs, would you believe and no suet!!

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Obviously I can never leave a tried and tested recipe alone so I accidentally modified it… I decided to make it nut free, adding the equivalent amount of dried fruit in place of the nuts to soak in the booze. Then promptly forgot about my decision and added the nuts as well. This will surely be an extra fruity pudding!

I have only attempted one Christmas Pudding, an original Bero recipe, full of suet and other wonderful stuff. However it didn’t cook all the way through despite it’s initial 3 hours of steaming and the additional steaming on Christmas Day itself.

I got a bit carried away when purchasing fruit for my enormous wedding cake   (which actually turned out to be a good thing – it’s a LONG story- but in a nutshell I ruined 3 cakes in the process of baking my 5 tiers so had to bake 8 fruit cakes in the end!) Even with the additional 3 cakes bakes I still had enough dried fruit to bake 2 Christmas Puddings! Hurrah! (I also have plans for my rather sad 3 wedding cake tiers, they will not go to waste!)

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As with all good festive fruit recipes I started with soaking the fruit in Booze, Brandy to be exact, along with some lemon juice. The recipe only requires a soak over night but I decided to soak it in a tupperware pot in the fridge for a few days instead. Surprisingly the most effort in this entire pudding is the weighing of ingredients and bread crumbing. (Totally discounting the watching of the pot bubble for 3 hours of course…)

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The breadcrumbs required a little preparation so a quick blast in the hello kitty toaster and a whizz with the blender makes some lovely breadcrumbs and decorates the kitchen beautifully in bread dust.

Whilst the bread is toasting you have time to whisk together the butter, honey and sugar until light and fluffy. Then to whisk in each egg individually. The more you whisk the lighter the pudding, so whisk away!

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Whisked up and fluffy butter, sugar, honey and eggs with a smattering of grated apple

Then to stir in the grated apple, spices, (nuts) and brandy soaked fruit.

Stirring in the spices, nuts and grated apple

Stirring in the spices, nuts and grated apple

With the grand finale stirring in the toasted breadcrumbs along with the dried fruit.

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This forms quite a pale and loose mixture Once it’s all mixed together well it’s ready to be spooned gently into your pre prepared greased pudding bowls.

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This recipe is enough to make two Christmas puddings. I used a 1lb bowl and a 3/4 1 lb. bowl.

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Fill the pudding basins until at least 3/4 full and make sure the pudding is level by pushing the mixture level with a spatula and tapping the bowl gently on the worksurface to release any air bubbles.

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Then for the exciting bit! I’ve read so much about wrapping puddings in greaseproof paper with a pleat (a double fold about an inch wide) in it to allow room to expand as the pudding steams, but never before have I actually had a go at it!

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Both puddings needed a lid made out of a layer of greaseproof paper and tinfoil (both with wonderful pleats) before being trussed up like a turkey in lashings of my trusty cotton string.

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There is definitely a knack to this technique. My theory is always to tie stuff as tight as possible, it needs to be water tight, (you don’t want to drown your pudding when you submerge it in your pan of boiling water) and when in doubt add more string and tin foil. I added a full coat of tin foil, wrapping the pudding basin from the bottom to ensure the water couldn’t seep into the pudding. It seemed to do the trick. I added an additional length of string, tying it to the string around the edge if the puddings to create a handy handle for lifting out in and our of the pot too.

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Dinner plate face down in the pan

I had planned to economise and steam both puddings together however I failed to measure the pan…. So 2 separate pans were required to steam the little beauties.

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Pudding basin balanced on top of the plate inside the pan

I popped a dinner plate (face down) into my largest pan and a saucer into my smaller pan to balance the puddings on. I boiled the kettle and carefully poured the boiling water into each pan until it reached 2/3 of the way up the side of the pudding basin. Then to pop on the pot lid (an essential bit of the steaming process to keep the heat and moisture in) and let the puddings steam gently in the simmering water. It’s a good idea to allow some of the steam to escape by creating a vent (I tilted my pan lid and as my other pan lid was broken many moons ago I used even more tin foil with a hole in the top to create a lid) This takes about 3 hours on a low heat. I had to keep my eye on the pans and top up the water a couple of times as a pan should never be left to boil dry (this can cause the pan to explode!). So please be careful! My pans and plates made a few worrying noise over the next few hours, clattering about so perhaps a smaller plate would be a better idea to avoid the rattling!)

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Double Bubble – 2 pans steaming 2 puddings simultaneously

After 3 hours remove the puddings from the pans and allow to cool. Take off their tin foil and greaseproof paper and wrap them with a fresh coat. This will help to create a seal and prevent any mould from forming on your lovely puddings. I placed a clean saucer on the top of mine to weigh down the paper and create a good seal.

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Freshly steamed and cooled pudding. Ready for a tin foil coat and a sleep in the fridge

These puddings will keep for up to a month in the fridge or up to 3 months in the freezer, but once defrosted they will need to be eaten within a week. If you were making a traditional pudding with suet they can be kept for about a year to mature so you can make them well in advance! I’ve just read that freezing your pudding helps to speed up the maturation process. So this could be a good option if you haven’t had a chance to prepare it in advance. My puddings are currently having a snooze in the fridge until 15th December as we’re celebrating Christmas a little early in the Prince household! I may even give them both a little drink of brandy to help keep them warm for the next 3 weeks. 🙂

The puddings looked a little paler than I expected after their 3 hours in their steam bath, I think this is due to the breadcrumbs and lack of flour. But I could tell that they were done as one pudding had shrunk back slightly from the side of the basin.  Unfortunately I can’t tell you how they taste yet, as I need to steam them for 3 more hours on Christmas Day (or 15th  December in my case – some of us have a wedding to prepare for and a 5 tier cake to finish decorating!) I will pop back to let you know how they turn out

Things I used to make Healthy Christmas Puddings 

  • 70g dried apple
  • 330g sultanas
  • 200g mixed peel
  • (total 700g of dried fruit – any combination could be used! I added more fruit to replace the nuts if you wanted to make a nut free version just omit the nuts below)
  • Zest of one grapefruit ( I had ran out of oranges so replaced this with the only citrus fruit I had to hand…)
  • 5 dessert spoons of Vanilla Brandy (to soak the fruit in)
  • Juice of 1 lemon (to soak the fruit in)
  • 50g sliced blanched almonds (I accidentally added the nuts which I had added more fruit to compensate for -you could reduce the amount of fruit you use by 100g if you would like to include the nuts?!)
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 75g brown sugar
  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 75g runny honey
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 medium apple grated (with  the skin on)
  • 125g toasted white breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon all spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger

(I heavily adapted this recipe to suit what I had in my cupboards. The original included pine nuts and fresh figs, so feel free to play around with the ingredients, your favourite fruit and nuts and what you can afford to include!)

  • 2 pudding basins (1lb each)
  • tin foil
  • greasproof paper
  • 2 saucepans and 2 saucers
  • Steam for 3 hours on a low heat
  • Refrigerate for up to one month or freeze for up to 3 months
  • On the day you wish to eat your pudding steam for 2 hours on a low heat before serving

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Running Wild With Raw Almond Butter

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Apparently it’s very easy to make your own Raw Almond Butter and it’s supposed to be really good for you. (Especially, if like me, you’re training to run half marathons.) I had to give it a whirl.

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Perserverance is the key to making your own almond butter. It should only take 10 minutes of whizzing up almonds in a food processor to produce wholesome wonderment… However an hour later my head and ears were buzzing from the incessant food processor screeches and I was getting a bit annoyed.

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You may remember that in my wisdom this year, I have decided to run The Great North Run (all 13.1 miles of it) to raise money for Oxfam.I am trying my best to train as much as possible to gradually reach my target distance, but a few niggles have made the path to fitness nirvana rather steep.

So far I’ve;

  •  Been chased and bitten by an overly excited dog

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  • Been pursued by cows (Please note cows seem to like red running tops)
  • Bruised my spine running with my haversack on after work (Note: do not attempt to run home wearing a pair of cowboy boots and a jar of jam on your back)
  • Bought and broke 2 running haversacks
  • Cut my collarbones (see the previous statement)
  • Developed shinsplints and rhinitis
  • Endured 4 ice baths to ease the shinsplints! (For those unfamiliar with the extreme pleasure of an ice bath they are best enjoyed with your pants ON, a cup of tea, almond butter toast and wearing a hoodie)
  • Entered (and completed) 3 competitive races!
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with more races still to come… Gateshead 10k

  • Cut my toes and didn’t even notice (perhaps this is what people mean when they talk about ‘getting into the zone’?!)
  • Purchased a running wardrobe. (There’s a lot of fluorescent pink in there now.)
  • Eaten an inordinate amount of cake (running makes me hungry!)
  • Developed muscles I didn’t know I owned
  • Practiced a lot of yoga to stretch out those weary muscles…
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Carpet Yoga (note Super Hans’helping’ in the background)

Yet I’m undeterred! In fact I’ve even threw myself in at the deep end. Running in the UK monsoon conditions, which others may call ‘the Summer’, with my eyes closed as it’s too difficult to keep them open (perhaps this is a talent that I didn’t know I possessed?) and an all terrain 10k trail run.

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A spot of flash flooding up North to keep us on our toes

Almond Butter, promised me a miracle. It’s a high protein food that is full of Vitamin E and supposed to help prevent sore muscles and ease my aching legs! Hurrah! AND I had a bag of almonds already in the cupboard. It had to be made.

I threw a 200g bag of almonds (with their skins on) into the food processor and turned it up high. It wasn’t particuarly happy with this challenge, but with a little encouragement it ploughed through the almonds.

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Looking like ground almonds

About 4 minutes in (and a bit a scrapping down the sides of the bowl)the almonds looked like ground almonds, the kind you would use in macaroons. So you could make your own ground almonds from scratch too if you wished.

The instructions said to keep going and blitz them up as much as possible. About 10minutes in the almonds should ‘release’ their oils. This means that the almonds should then ball up in to a nice big lump of almond butter.

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Looks like the oils are being ‘released’ -scrambled nuts

However mine did not. It just kept looking like scrambled eggs made out of almonds and sticking infuriatingly to the bottom of the bowl. I religiously scraped the bowl with my spatula to ensure all of the almonds were getting an even blitzing, so much so my spatula got a bit sliced up on the blade and had to go to spatula Heaven. RIP trusty spatula.

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Adding coconut oil and honey – starting to come together….

Apparently you probably don’t need to add any oil to the mix as the almonds have enough oil to suffice. However I couldn’t get mine to stick together so I gradually added coconut oil, another super running food full of energy and good stuff (I clearly known my science stuff here) to help with those extra miles, until I got it to more of a paste like consistency. I also added a good slosh of honey to sweeten the mix, tasting it as I went to make sure it was to my liking.

Eventually I realised that I wasn’t going to get a peanut butter smoothness or glossy texture so I declared my Almond Butter done and popped the lot into a jam jar, ready for my pre run toast.

It is a little on the dry side and almost savoury (maybe I didn’t add enough honey or oil?!) but I quite like it. It doesn’t have any preservatives in it and it almost tastes healthy. You could use rapeseed oil or any other oil that you prefer too.

As it contains no preservatives, it needs to be stored in the fridge as the almond oil may go rancid. However the honey may help to preserve it as it’s the only natural substance that does not go off!

I’m going to see if I can incorporate my Almond Butter into some international baking too, but for now I’m going to just enjoy it on toast and spread on various fruits and vegetables too. Or if I’m feeling particularly lazy (or in a hurry) I might save myself the effort and chew on a handful of almonds instead…

The Final Product! Raw Almond Butter

Things I used to make my Raw Almond Butter

  • 200g of whole almonds with their skins on
  • A liberal splash of coconut oil (any oil would suffice)
  • Runny honey ( 1 to 2 tbsp)
  • A Strong Food Processor

34. Chinese Egg Yolk Sponge Madeleines

What do you do with all of those egg yolks where you’re making macaroons? (Or in my case breaking an entire batch of macaroons??) Well I suggest you make some Chinese Egg Yolk Sponge Cakes, in the shape of Madeleines (of course, any excuse to use my favourite new tin!)

Chinese Egg Yolk Sponge Madeleines

I’ve eaten a lot of sponge cake in China and sampled a few egg yolk sponges at my favourite Chinese Bakery, Bread Point, in town. It’s not half as eggy as it sounds. In fact they are a lovely light and moist sponge cake. Almost like a Madeira Cake but a bit richer.

Up close and personal with Madeleines

In a bid to use up everything that I have in my fridge and cupboards I went on a baking spree. Baking 3 types of cake simultaneously, for my Mam’s birthday. I succeeded to use up EVERYTHING, and then went for a run in the rain. (I have to keep squeezing them in every chance I get!) What an achievement for a rainy Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend. Although I forgot to actually bake anything regal or jubilee related.

As I had used up the egg whites having another bash at macaroons I had 3 egg yolks left over to create the Egg Yolk Sponge Madeleines.

I started by whisking the egg yolks and whole egg together with my food processor using the whisk attachment for about 5 minutes until they became thicker and lemony coloured. (You could of course use a hand held electric whisk instead, I just used this as I already had it to hand from macaroon making…) This creates a lovely warm yellow liquid with all those egg yolks in it!

Fluffy and yellow and frothy

While the mixer is running, add the sugar gradually to the eggs and continue to whisk the mixture for about 10 minutes. While the mixer is running if you have your hands free, you can then use the time to measure out and  sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl.

Breaking the rules and adding the orange zest to the flour

Admittedly I erred from the recipe at this point. I added the zest of an entire orange to my dry ingredients rather than folding them into the wet mix… I don’t think this made the slightest bit of difference, other than I could stir the flour more vigorously without the fear of knocking all of that wonderful air out of the eggy batter. I also couldn’t be bothered to juice my orange, so took the lazy option of adding some lemon juice that I had in the fridge already. Hopefully this added to the citrussyness of the sponge.
I then continued folding in the orange extract and lemon juice. I was also in a hurry so didn’t bother to sift the flour into the mix, but rather opted for the ‘all in’ method. Dumping all of the flour into the egg fluff and folding it in with a metal spoon.
I read somewhere that bakers are divided on this sponge making method. Some say to fold in a third of the flour at a time with a metal spoon to keep in all that lovely air in the whisked eggs. Others say put it all in, in one go, to minimise the amount of folding you have to do, but don’t drop the mixture into the eggs from a height as this will knock out the air. I have tried both methods and I think I have to agree with the latter. And it was quicker too! Whichever sponge making method you prefer the golden rule is always do not stir or beat the mixture and fold with a metal spoon to cut through the mixture. What do you prefer??

Folding in the boiling water one Russian Doll cup at a time

Then last but not least all that is left is to fold in the boiling water carefully to produce a fluffy and luxuriously thick batter.
I found it much easier to squirt the batter into the Madeleine tin last time and have now perfected my method…

Step 1. Carefully empty the batter into a plastic sandwich bag opened over a measuring jug. The jug helps to support the bag and you can fold the bag down over the edges. I also balanced the bowl onto the wide jug neck so to reduce how far the batter had to travel (and preserve the air content!). it also means you can get the spatula out and encourage the rest of the batter into the bag.

The jug helps to support the bag and you can fold the bag down over the edges. I also balanced the bowl onto the wide jug neck so to reduce how far the batter had to travel (and preserve the air content!). it also means you can get the spatula out and encourage the rest of the batter into the bag.

Step 2. Clip the sandwich bag shut with a peg or tie a knot in it so all the batter falls into one corner of the bag. (Hey presto an improvised and cheap cheap piping bag!)

Step 3. Snip the corner off the ‘piping bag’ and you’re good to go! Squeeze the bag gently to release an even flow of batter into your pre greased tin and use your spare hand to put your finger over the ‘nozzle’ when you have piped enough mixture into each portion of the Madeleine tin. Less mess and no waste!

I  found this much easier and quicker than trying to spoon the batter into the tin as it went everywhere and left lots of mess on the tin too. Don’t forget to grease your Madeleine tin well (I love my quick release spray!) and only fill each Madeleine well one third of the way up so they have room to expand. If you over fill, they will spill out and burn.

Egg Yolk Madeleines ready to bake – look at those flecks of orange!

Leave the tray on a flat surface to settle and let gravity do its job. The mixture will spread and level out, filling all of the shapely Madeleine grooves. You probably won’t need to put as much batter into each well as you think, but this allows you the option of topping up any wells that look a little low.

Baked Egg Yolk Madeleines

Bake the at 325 degrees F (165 degrees C) for 10 to 15 minutes. (You can make one large cake with this recipe but you will need to bake it for 60-65 minutes)
After allowing them to cool for a couple of minutes in the tray, turn the Madeleine tray over onto a wire rack and let the Madeleines fall out. Leave them to cool completely on the wire rack and re grease your Madeleine tray and pipe another set of Madeleines into the wells. This recipe is enough for a batch of 24 Madeleines. If you have any problems getting them back out of the tin, gently coax the edges with your fingers or while the tin is upside down gently tap it. They will eventually pop out, unless the tin hasn’t been greased enough…

Cooling down nicely – Egg Yolk Madeleines

I really love these cakes so zesty and sweet. Having baked them in the Madeleine shape, they have a wonderfully light and soft centre with a golden crust, with a nice bite to it. Not dry or tough in the slightest. I will be making these again for sure.  They are traditionally baked as round cakes or one large cake but I quite like how portable and hand sized the Madeleines are easy to eat on the move with a good cuppa!

Orange Egg Yolk Madeleines

If you’re feeling fancy you could even dust them lightly with confectioner’s sugar or frost with Orange Butter Frosting. But I think I prefer to see the shapely grooves of the Madeleine.

Mountains of Madeleines

Things that I used to make Chinese Egg Yolk Sponge Madeleines…
This was enough to make 24 Madeleines ir you could make one large round cake with this recipe
  • 1 2/3 cups plain flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • The zest of 1 large zest
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange extract
  • 3/4 cup boiling water
  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
  • Bake madeleines for 10-15 minutes

** This recipe was lovingly adapted from the All Recipes website

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**

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

Lemon Curd – Curd is the Word

Marguerite Patten's Preserves

This is another non bake so I’m not counting it towards my eighty bakes from around the world. However I want to master the many skills that are needed to be a good baker and make things from scratch hence the curd experiment.I had a bag of lemons that needed to be made into something lovely and after reading Mary Berry’s ‘At Home’ book I realised Lemon Curd is a vital ingredient in many, many cakes. Marguerite Patten made my first venture into jam making so easy that I wanted to try another recipe from her Everyday Cookbook.

The addition of eggs scares me a little. What if I do it wrong and I poison people?! Pushing down those terrible thoughts, I put my faith in Marguerite. She’s never let me down yet and my Dad loves Lemon Curd so I’m sure he will appreciate it.

Them's a lot of lemons (and pips)

It was a relatively simple process. Grate the lemon zest and juice the lemons into a jug.  Admittedly this is hard work when you only have a little wooden juicer thing (I’m not sure of its real name) and trying to avoid pips getting into the mixture. If only I had some muslin or something to sieve the juice through… I try to avoid using the fine sieve whenever possible as I don’t like washing it but it had to be deployed here to sieve out the remaining shards of pip.

Juiced

All the ingredients, butter, sugar, lemon and eggs had to be placed in a good old bain marie to simmer. With a constant and vigorous stir to avoid lemon scrambled eggs.

Bain Marie

Looking a tad lumpy but it's all in the process...

After about an hour on a gentle heat it was the right consistency to ‘coat the back of a spoon’. I find this term a bit confusing as most things do coat the back of spoon… I think Marguerite means when the mixture is thick enough it sticks to the spoon and slides slowly off, or that’s the definition I went with.

Now it coats the back of a spoon! (and looks a lovely glossy sunshine yellow colour)

Then all I had to do was pour it into my sterilised jar (previously of curry sauce origin – lets hope this doesn’t taint the final product!) I had purchased a beautiful thick glass jar with a hinged lid for preserve making. However I managed to knock it onto the floor before work one morning and it promptly smashed into smithereens and flew everywhere! Hoovering under the cupboards before work whilst holding back a curious cat is not so much fun!

The final Lemon Curd

I saved the curd for a special occasion and cracked it open to make a couple of lemon curd tarts this week. It is beautifully sharp and sweet and just the right consistency. There was no curry like after taste either (phew!) so I had sterilised the jar very well. I may never buy lemon curd from a shop again!

Just in case you would like to make your own Lemon Curd a la Marguerite Patton here’s the things that you will need…

  • Rind of 3 lemons
  • Juice of 2 large lemons
  • 8 oz of sugar (I used granulated and got good results)
  • 4oz of fresh butter (I used unsalted real butter not margarine)
  • 2 eggs