Fresh Egg Pasta

Pasta: the king of comfort foods. It doesn’t matter how bad a day you’ve had, pasta will always be there to make you feel better. As a staple food of the student diet, pasta was one of my main sources of carbs while I was doing my undergrad degree; but, as much as I love the easy to handle/buy/use dried pasta, it just wasn’t as good as the fresh stuff. Whilst I wouldn’t have made fresh pasta regularly if I had my pasta machine up at university, because – let’s be honest – no one has time for that, it would have been nice to have the opportunity when the cravings arose.

You can make pasta with basically any type of flour, but traditionally you would use durum wheat flour. Durum wheat is significantly harder than standard wheat (it is more difficult to grind up) and dough made from it doesn’t stretch in the same way that bread dough does. If, like me, you don’t happen to have durum flour (or pasta flour/ type 00 flour) lying around, you can simply use plain flour, which has a lower gluten content than bread flour. Egg pasta will be softer than the dried pasta you can buy and if you wish to have an end result which would be considered al dente, you would need to let the pasta dry out after you have cut/shaped it (it doesn’t need to dry fully but if you make it and boil it immediately, the pasta will come out very soft).

Pasta is one of the most famous things to have come out of Italy. In fact, so much is eaten there that the demand exceeds the quantity of wheat which can be grown in the country so flour has to be imported to produce enough pasta to feed everyone who wants it. Whilst there are mentions of Lasagna going back to the 1st century CE, the pasta and lasagne we know today did not emerge until around the 13th and 14th centuries. Dried pasta was incredibly popular owing to its ease of storage as it could be taken on voyages and long journeys without rotting. Unlike fresh pasta, dried pasta doesn’t contain any egg. It is comprised of flour, semolina and water so once it has been dried pre-packing, there is nothing left that could go off!

Like most doughs, pasta needs to rest before it is rolled. This allows the flour to fully absorb the water (from the egg). The resting also lets the gluten strands relax which gives the dough a smoother finish. In reality you should let your dough rest for at least an hour and then give it another quick knead before rolling but, using the method I outline below, you can just about skip this and reduce your resting time to about ten to fifteen minutes. I tend to find that the penultimate thinness setting on my pasta machine gives the best results as the thinnest setting results in soggy pasta without any sort of texture. Of course this will depend on the type of wheat you use, the resting time of the pasta if you wish to dry it a little before cooking and the ratio of ingredients and none of this even accounts for personal taste but, for me, setting five of six gives the optimum results.

 

 

 

 

Fresh Egg Pasta

Serves: 3 or 4 (depends on your portion size – serves more if you are making ravioli)

Work time: 30 minutes

Resting time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 3 minutes

 

Ingredients:

200g plain flour (type 00 pasta flour if you can get it)

2 eggs

2 tbsp olive oil

Pinch of salt

 

Bowl method:

Stir the salt into the flour in a bowl and make a well in the centre.

Add the eggs and olive oil and stir to combine.

When the mixture has mostly come together, pour it out onto a work surface and knead for five minutes. You do not need to knead the dough until it is completely smooth – this will come later.

Wrap the dough and leave to stand for ten minutes.

Table Method:

Make a pile out of the flour on a work surface (make sure to leave plenty of room around the outside.

Use your fingers to make a hollow in the centre and circle them outwards until you have a large ring of flour.

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Add the eggs, oil and salt to the centre of the ring.

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Use a fork to whisk together the eggs and oil and slowly bring in the rest of the flour from the edges.

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Once the egg and oil mixture starts to thicken as you slowly add the flour, stop using the fork and use your hands to bring the dough together fully.

Knead for five minutes. You don’t need to continue until the dough is smooth as this will come later.

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Wrap the dough and leave to stand for ten minutes.

 

Making the pasta:

Roll the dough through the widest setting of a pasta machine. You may have to slightly flatten one edge to get it to go through. Do not worry if it rips and is ragged.

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After the first pass through the pasta machine.

Fold the dough in half and repeat on the widest setting.

Continue to roll the dough through, fold once and reroll until the dough has become smooth and there are no tears.

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IF THE DOUGH STARTS TO BECOME TOO STICKY AND STICK TO ITSELF, DUST IT WITH FLOUR.

Move your pasta machine to one setting thinner (mine works upwards with higher numbers meaning thinner pasta but I do not know if this is true for all machines) and roll the pasta through.

Continue to decrease the distance between the rollers rerolling the pasta through each setting.

If the pasta sheet becomes too long, cut it in half and do each part separately. I find that this recipe gives about four or five pasta sheets as if I didn’t cut the pasta, it would not be manageable.

 

Lasagne:

Use the pasta sheets from the penultimate thinness setting and cut them to the size of your dish. Use instead of normal shop bought lasagne sheets.

 

Ravioli:

Take a sheet of dough on the penultimate thinness setting and cut it in half.

Make small dollops of filling in on one of the halves.

Make a ring of water around each dollop of filling.

Gently lay the remaining pasta over the top and press down around each section of filling to seal. You should try and seal as close to the filling as possible to ensure there is no air in the ravioli.

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These are stripey ricotta and lemon ravioli.

Use some sort of cutter (either a biscuit cutter or some sort of knife) to cut out the ravioli. Do not cut too close to the filling as you don’t want them to burst when cooking.

Cook the ravioli for three minutes in a pan of boiling, well-seasoned water.

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Linguini and other pasta shapes

Most pasta machines come with some sort of linguini or tagliatelle cutter on them.

Roll out the dough to the thinnest setting and then roll the sheet through the linguini attachment (or other).

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The moment the pasta comes through, dust it with flour and make sure each piece has a light coating to stop them sticking to each other. You can now leave the pasta to one side while you shape the rest – do not worry if it dries out as it will rehydrate in the cooking water.

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Pasta with garlic and chilli.

For other pasta shapes – follow the instructions on the machine that makes them. If they are handmade shapes, there are lots of videos on the internet which can help you.

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Spicy arrabiata pasta

 

This recipe is super easy to make and really versatile. There has been at least one occasion when I was craving pasta and the shops were shut so I made it myself at home. If you are a fan of pasta dishes, you should check out my recipes for beef lasagne and spinach and ricotta lasagne. If you are more of a fan of pasta with sauces, why not try a bolognaise?

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a new sweet treat.

H

Cinnamon Buns

The smell of cinnamon buns baking in the oven is hard to beat. One of the best things about baking is that you can fill your house with the aroma of delicious sweet and savoury treats but within those smells there is a definite hierarchy. Bread, chocolate brownies and cinnamon buns have to be at the top of the list; I love cake as much as the next baker but the smell of cake in the oven doesn’t quite make me salivate and prepare to overeat in the same way that breathing in the scent of pure chocolate goodness or hot, sweet, fluffy buns does.

 

Cinnamon can be bought either as sticks or as a powder but, no matter how you try to disguise it, cinnamon is tree bark. There are several species from which it can be obtained but, in essence, it is the dried inner bark of trees of the genus Cinnamomum. This genus is part of the Lauraceae family, which also includes herbs such as bay leaves (bay laurel) and the classic millennial food: the avocado. Cinnamon is extracted by scraping the outer bark off freshly cut trees, beating what is left of the tree until the inner bark detaches from the rest of the plant and finally prying off the inner bark and leaving it to dry. After all of that work, only a thickness of around half a millimetre is actually used for the spice. The cinnamon trees are far thicker than the final cinnamon sticks which you can buy but as it dries, the bark curls up into the tight spirals which can be seen in the sticks (or quills). In Sri Lanka – one of the primary suppliers of cinnamon to the world – the tightness of the curls is used as a method of grading the product.

 

There are records of cinnamon dating back over four millennia, although some believe that what was recorded as cinnamon back then was actually cassia (native to China) – another species within the Cinnamomum genus but not true cinnamon (Cinnamomum Verum which is native to India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar). Cinnamon was highly prized and was gifted to leaders as well as being used as an offering in temples. Around 2000 years ago, the price of a pound of true cinnamon (about 1500 denarii) was roughly equivalent to 50 months labour for the average Roman. The price dropped rapidly from there as people started to use cassia which was far more available (a mere 125 denarii per pound) and tastes very similar. Nowadays cinnamon costs about £35 per pound for the standard own brand cinnamon sticks in a supermarket.

 

The primary constituent of the essential oil in cinnamon, and the one which gives cinnamon its distinctive smell, is cinnamaldehyde. This is what infuses your house when you bake cinnamon buns. As the boiling point of cinnamaldehyde is 248°C, baking will not drive off all of this compound so there will still be plenty left in the buns after cooking to give them the taste that you want. Obviously you can change the amount of cinnamon in the filling to suit your own taste but be careful not to put too much in. If you over cinnamon your buns, the filling can trigger pain receptors in the mouth giving a feeling akin to burning – this is what hot cinnamon sweets do. In the quantities given in the recipe, you won’t experience the burn and all you will get is cinnamon flavoured, yeasty heaven.

 

These things really are divine.

 

Cinnamon Buns

For the dough:

500g plain flour

80g caster sugar

1.5 tsp salt

10g instant yeast

2 eggs

60g butter

100ml water

80ml milk

 

For the filling:

100g unsalted butter

90g soft brown sugar (or white sugar if you don’t have any brown)

2 tbsp ground cinnamon

Pinch of salt

 

Glaze:

150g icing sugar

2tbsp milk

Pinch of salt

Optional: vanilla extract

 

 

 

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt and yeast.

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In a pan, gently heat the milk, water and butter until the butter has melted and the mixture feels warm to the touch but not hot.

Add the milk and butter to the dry ingredients along with the eggs.

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Mix together slowly using a dough hook until a dough is formed – this will prevent you accidentally covering the kitchen in flour.

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Switch the mixer to medium and knead the dough until it starts to come away from the sides of the bowl.

Turn the dough out into a lightly oiled bowl, cover and leave to rise for 30 minutes.

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While the dough is rising, beat together the butter, sugar and cinnamon for the filling until it is very soft. You need to be able to spread this on the dough after it has been rolled out without tearing it.

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Grease a large baking dish. I use a tarte tatin tin.

Roll out the dough to a 24×18 inch rectangle.

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Spread the dough with the filling making sure to spread all the way to the edges.

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Roll the rectangle of dough up lengthwise into a sausage shape.

Trim off the ends as they will be messy and not have as much filling.

Cut the sausage into twelve to sixteen little spirals.

Place the spirals into the baking dish making sure to leave an inch or so between them so they can rise.

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Cover again and leave to rise for at least half an hour more or until the rolls have doubled in size.

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Preheat the oven to gas mark 3 (170°C).

Bake the cinnamon buns for 25 minutes. If they start browning too much, cover them with silver foil to stop them darkening any more.

Allow the buns to cool in the tray for about five minutes before turning them out onto a cooling rack. You may have to invert them onto a tray and then back onto the cooling rack as they are very soft and you don’t want to tear them.

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Sift the icing sugar into a bowl.

Add a tablespoon of milk and mix to make a thick paste. If the icing sugar is too thick, you can add more milk but be careful not to make the icing too runny.

Spread of pipe the icing over the still warm buns. The heat will cause the icing to be absorbed more and flow into all the cracks and divots of the buns.

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These can be served either hot or cold. They are so delicious however they are eaten.

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If you are a fan of fun bread, why not try making some bagels? You can make them cinnamon flavoured too…

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a dish which is far easier to make than you would expect!

H

Watercress Soup

I first had watercress soup when my mum took me out to a posh restaurant for lunch several years ago. The restaurant has sadly shut down since then however it is still something we talk about. Why? Well there are several reasons (all of them good) but one of the main ones was the fact that I had never actually tried a lot of the food that I had there. It would be quite an expensive mistake to go to a fancy restaurant and order something you didn’t like so it was a bit of a risk ordering food I had no experience of. Luckily, the food was delicious. The starter, as you may have guessed from the introductory sentence, was watercress soup.

Watercress is a semi-aquatic plant – it grows in a very wet environment either with soaked soil or where the roots are fully submerged with the plant floating above. It can be eaten raw or cooked and is picked at different stages of growing depending on what it is required for – the plant can grow to around a metre From what I can ascertain from the internet, it seems like the name watercress derives from the growing conditions rather than the fact that the leaves are 95% water but all evidence appears to be highly circumstantial.

Watercress soup is a classic vegetable soup which is thickened with potato. The starches from the potato provide the texture while the stock, onions and watercress provide the flavour. Like any leaf based soup (for example: spinach), the leaves are added right at the end of cooking, just before blending. This is because you want the leaves to wilt a little in the heat but not cook through and go soggy. No one likes soggy watercress. What you are effectively doing is blanching the watercress in the soup and then blending and serving.

Like many soups, this is simple to make dairy-free and vegan by simply substituting the butter with oil or margarine and the cream with some sort of dairy alternative.

 

Watercress soup

Servings: 4

Time: 25 minutes

 

50g butter

1 medium onion

300g potato

2 bags watercress (probably around 150g altogether)

750ml vegetable stock

50ml single cream

Salt for seasoning

 

Melt the butter in a pan and heat until foaming.

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Roughly chop the onion and add it to the pan. Sweat the onion until it is translucent.

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Roughly chop the potatoes (no need to peel them) and add them to the onion along with the stock.

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Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.

Roughly chop the watercress and add it to the pot.

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Lightly simmer for no more than five minutes.

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Blend the soup.

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Stir through the cream and season to your taste.

Serve with a drizzle of cream.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are a fan of soups, check out my tomato soup recipe or maybe even my recipe for coconut and purple sweet potato soup – the colour is fantastic and the taste is pretty good too.

 

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for sweet, yeasted treat.

H

Jaffa cake… Cake

For those of you who have been following me for some time, you may remember a blog post from a little over a year ago in which I discussed the controversies surrounding the pronunciation of the word scone – and the additional arguments about the order in which the cream and jam should be applied. The thing about the scone debate is that, even though it still rages to this day, it has never made it into the court (as far as I am aware- please correct me if I am wrong). The same cannot be said for the Jaffa cake.

Jaffa cakes are a British snack created in 1927 by McVitie’s (originally McVitie and Price). They consist of a small cake layer and a thin circle of orange jam, topped with a layer of chocolate. Many supermarkets in the UK sell own brand Jaffa cakes as McVitie’s never trademarked the name and so, whilst the originals may still be the best-selling cake in England, you can find other varieties all over the place. I recently tried some similar style snacks from Poland some of which had raspberry jam and others blueberry.

The controversy surrounding Jaffa cakes arose because, in the UK, chocolate covered biscuits (for example: chocolate digestives and chocolate hobnobs) are taxed whilst chocolate covered cakes are not. The issue with Jaffa cakes was that they seemed to be created to avoid tax because they are eaten in the same manner and circumstance that you would eat a biscuit but are culinarily defined as a cake. It should be noted that McVitie’s have always classed them as a cake whereas HMRC wanted to class them as a biscuit to increase revenue from taxes which lead to the infamous court case.

The argument reached a climax in 1991 when it entered the court. There were many things taken into consideration before the final decision was given: Jaffa cakes are closer in size to a biscuit than a cake; they are advertised and packaged in the same manner as biscuits; they are displayed in the biscuit aisle of supermarkets and not with the other cakes; the batter for the “cake” contains egg, sugar and flour – it is a genoise sponge – and is closer to cake batter than biscuit dough; when they go stale, Jaffa cakes harden like stale cake and do not soften like a stale biscuit; the texture of a Jaffa cake is soft like a cake whereas biscuits are hard and can be snapped; and of course the product is literally called “Jaffa cakes” not “Jaffa biscuits”. The judge noted this final point and all but dismissed it saying that it was only a minor consideration. I still can’t make up my mind on which side of the debate I think the Jaffa cake falls but I definitely do eat them like a biscuit – then again I would never dunk one in my tea!

The cake in the recipe below is a Jaffa cake inspired cake. It is not meant to be recreating one but it should be reminiscent of a Jaffa cake. To that end, the top is designed to have the same shape as a Jaffa cake with the cake, jam and chocolate layers but it has been scaled up a bit. I would also recommend spreading the marmalade layer at the top of each piece over the rest of the slice unless you particularly enjoy eating a mouthful of marmalade (I don’t judge… peanut butter and Nutella are very eatable with a spoon…). The chocolate ganache replaces the actual chocolate on a real Jaffa cake because if you scaled up and had a proper chocolate layer, the cake would be uncuttable. It would be a messy nightmare waiting to happen.

I chose to set the jam with pectin for this as I find that vege-gel has a bizarre flavour and both real and vegetarian jelly are kind of wet meaning buttercream won’t stick. Frozen pectin set marmalade, on the other hand, adheres to the buttercream really well and gives a fantastic shape to the final cake.

I hope you like the recipe.

 

 

Jaffa Cake Cake

Cook time: 35 minutes

Total work time: 2 ½ hours

Setting time: as long as possible (overnight if you can)

 

Jelly:

1 jar of thick marmalade

Or

1 jar runny marmalade and 1 sachet pectin

 

For the cake:

335g (12oz). butter

335g (12oz.) sugar

6 eggs

335g (12oz.) self-raising flour OR plain flour with 1tbsp baking powder

Zest of two oranges

 

Buttercream:

Just to fill between the layers:

200g (7oz.) room temperature unsalted butter

300g (10 ½ oz.) icing sugar

25g (1oz.) cocoa

1 tbsp milk

 

Total coverage:

450g (16oz.) room temperature unsalted butter

700g (25oz.) icing sugar

50g (2oz.) cocoa

2 tbsp milk

 

Syrup (optional)

Juice of 2 oranges

75g sugar

50ml triple sec or other orange liqueur

 

Ganache:

Just the top:

100g dark chocolate

100ml double cream

 

Full coverage:

400g dark chocolate

500ml double cream

 

 

For the jam layer:

If using thick marmalade:

Line a six-inch cake tin with cling film and spoon the marmalade in.

Place in the freezer.

 

If using runny marmalade:

Line a six-inch cake tin with clingfilm.

In a pan, heat the marmalade until it has mostly melted but is not yet boiling.

In a separate pan, whisk the pectin into 60ml (1/4 cup) cold water. You may need to use a blender to get rid of all the lumps.

Heat the pectin water until it begins to slacken up.

Pour the pectin water into the marmalade and whisk it all together.

Heat the marmalade until It is boiling and allow to boil for one minute.

Turn the heat off and pour the marmalade into the tin.

Allow to set for an hour at room temperature before moving to the freezer.

 

For the cake:

Preheat the oven to gas mark 3 (170°C).

Grease three eight-inch cake tins and line the bases with baking parchment.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the orange zest and beat again.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition until the egg is fully incorporated. If the mixture looks like it is about to split, add a tablespoon of flour to bring it back together. If your eggs and butter are at room temperature, the mixture should not split at all.

Once all of the eggs have been added, beat in the flour in three additions.

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Split the batter evenly between the tins, level it and bake the cakes for about 35 minutes or until they are golden brown on top and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

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Allow to cool in the tins for five minutes before transferring the cakes to wire cooling racks to cool completely.

 

Optional: To make the syrup

Pour the sugar and juice into a pan.

Bring to the boil and allow to simmer for one minute.

Remove from the heat, stir through the triple sec and allow to cool.

 

To make the buttercream:

Beat the butter in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment until it is light and fluffy.

Add half of the sugar and beat until fully combined.

Add the rest of the sugar and the cocoa and beat again.

If the icing is very thick, add the milk and beat again to combine. This should result in a fluffy, soft icing which can be easily spread.

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To assemble the cake:

Level the cake layers and lay the first on an eight-inch cake board.

Use a pastry brush to brush syrup all over the top of the cake.

Spread a layer of buttercream on the cake.

Add another layer of cake and repeat until all the layers have been stacked and covered in buttercream.

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If you are covering the entire cake, remove some of the buttercream for later and use the rest to create a layer of icing down the sides of the cake. And over the top.

You do not need to crumb coat as the entire cake will be covered in ganache so this layer will not be seen.

 

Remove the marmalade from the freezer, place it in the centre of the cake and cover in the remaining buttercream smoothing over the edges so the top is reminiscent of a jaffa cake.

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Place the cake in the fridge for at least an hour to firm up the buttercream.

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For the ganache:

Chop the chocolate and place it into a large bowl.

Heat the cream until almost boiling (but don’t let it boil) and pour it over the chocolate.

Allow to stand for two minutes and stir together.

 

If you are only ganaching the top, gently pour the ganache over the centre and work outwards being careful not to let it flow over the edges of the cake. You can use an inverted cooling rack to get the lines across the top which a real Jaffa cake has in the chocolate.

If you are ganaching the entire cake, place the cake (on its board) on a cup or jar to raise it off the surface so the ganache can drip down the cake and off the sides. I like to do this over a baking tray so the excess ganache can be collected and used at a later date.

Pour the ganache in the centre of the cake and spiral outwards making sure to pour it so the ganache flows down the side of the cake and coats it evenly.

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Allow the ganache to set for half an hour and then transfer the cake to a serving board. You can decorate the cake as you wish now. I like to do something to cover up the ragged edge around the base – this can be piping excess buttercream in a border or covering the base of the cake in mini decorations.

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I would suggest when you serve this that people spread the marmalade in their slice over the whole cake and don’t just eat it as a separate layer but that’s just how I would eat this cake – you may know people who are happy to eat marmalade by itself.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you a fan of the fruit and chocolate combination, you should definitely check out my Chocolate and Raspberry Layer Cake or maybe my White Chocolate and Raspberry Tart.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a delicious soup.

H

BBQ Pulled Chicken

The first thing to note when it comes to BBQ sauce is that the sauce itself does not need to be smoky. In fact, the original BBQ sauces would certainly not have been as they were, quite simply, sauces with which to glaze meat prior to cooking on a BBQ – this of course being where the smoky flavour comes from. Lots of BBQ sauces that you can buy have added smoke flavour (which I am certainly not against, I really like it) because they are aiming to recreate the flavour of a piece of food which has already been cooked. For this reason, I have left the choice of smoked/unsmoked paprika in this recipe up to you. You could also add liquid smoke if you like a particularly potent flavour.

Owing to the nature of what defines BBQ sauce it is very difficult to place a date on when it first appeared. It is very much an umbrella term for a wide range of sauces all with different ingredients and characteristics. The ‘classic’, western, tomato-based BBQ sauce that we know today appeared around the late 1800s / early 1900s, but before that there were plenty of sauces used for glazing and basting, many of which were butter based. These buttery BBQ sauces are still popular in several American states and are a pale gold  colour.

Although the regions and ingredients change a lot between different styles of sauce there is a common theme running through them. Almost all BBQ style sauces are sweet and tangy. This is normally achieved by combining vinegar and sugar. This combination transcends continents and can be seen in Asia with hoisin sauce. Instead of a tomato base this sauce is built upon fermented soybeans (giving a rich umami tang) and contains, among many other things, white vinegar, sugar and salt. Dark brown western BBQ sauce contains tomato (for the umami hit), vinegar, sugar and salt. Even the tomato-free sauces contain vinegar and some sort of molasses for the sweetness and colour. The notable exception is Alabama White BBQ Sauce which is a mixture of mayonnaise, mustard, horseradish and lemon. There are also vinegar free sauces which use citric acid (either crystals or from lemon juice) but the tang from the vinegar is distinctive of a BBQ sauce so these condiments are not for me – I am a huge fan of vinegar based sauces, can’t get enough of that sour, sour tang.

If you are making your own sauce for an actual BBQ, there are a couple of things you should note. Whilst in a slow cooker, you could happily swap honey (which has a very high fructose content) for sugar, this will burn over a BBQ as the fructose begin to caramelize at a lower temperature than sucrose (table sugar). For a real BBQ, I would recommend marinating the meat in the sauce but wiping as much as possible off before cooking to prevent it burning. You can start to baste the meat towards the end of the cooking as the sauce will change flavour as it cooks (our friend the Maillard reaction returns once again). If you really want to use honey in your sauce, try not to add any to the meat until the last second. Maybe give it a quick sear on both sides to caramelize the sugars but the fructose will burn if you are not careful – it may be safer to have the sauce as a dip for the meat once it is cooked.

BBQ sauce is one of those things that is unique to each person who makes it. Feel free to play around with the recipe – add more spices, take some out, mess with the proportions – because everyone has a different palate. The first recipe I used was simply far too sweet for me but some people like it sweet and other like it sour. Let me know if you change it up and how it goes – I would love to give your version a go!

 

 

BBQ Pulled Chicken

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 6-8 hours

 

 

4 chicken breasts (6 thighs or 8 drumsticks)

1 cup tomato ketchup – try and use a brand that isn’t too sweet, you can always add more sugar if you want it but you can’t take it out

½ cup apple cider vinegar

¼ cup brown sugar

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

2 star anise

½ tsp cayenne pepper (or less if you prefer it less spicy)

2 tsp garlic powder (or 8 cloves)

2 tsp onion powder (or ½ medium grated onion)

2 tsp paprika (smoked or unsmoked)

 

Tip all of the ingredients except the chicken into a slow cooker and stir together.

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Add the chicken and cook on low for six-eight hours. You do not need to take the chicken off the bone.

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Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the slow cooker and use two forks to pull the chicken into chunks. It will tear down the muscle fibres so you will get the best “pulled” chicken effect from chicken breast as it has the largest single chunks of muscle but if you just want BBQ slow cooked chicken, any will do. Any chicken that was on the bone will come off easily.

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Put the pulled chicken back into the sauce and stir it through. Allow to reheat for ten minutes or so.

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Serve in a bun with salad and cheese should you want them. I particularly like it with lettuce and spring onion. The pulled chicken can also be used to top nachos, potato skins or even rice bowls.

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Let me know if you want me to do more slow cooker and crock pot recipes, they are super easy meals and taste so delicious.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a delicious cake inspired by one of the most controversial confections in English history.

H

Croissants

Croissants tend to be quite hit and miss when you buy them. In most cases, they are never as good as you remember – too dry, not flaky enough, lacking in ‘yum’ etc. The best way to avoid disappointment is to make them yourself… and it isn’t even that difficult! The main ingredient in making croissants (or any kind of viennoiserie for that matter) is time. The time spent physically making the dough is only about an hour and the rest is just waiting around letting the yeast and the fridge do their thing.

Viennoiserie could be described as the love child of puff pastry, bread and cake. A combination of everything good about baking, it’s a yeasted dough enriched with sugar, fat and egg and is often laminated. Because of this, you end up with the flavour from the yeast, fats and sugar; the flake of a laminated pastry; a rise from the yeast and the laminations in the dough; and a certain softness from the fats and egg which is not present in puff pastry. All in all, fresh viennoiserie is incredible.

The croissant is believed by many to have started life not in France, but in Austria (Vienna to be specific…). Although there is no hard evidence to confirm this, all circumstantial evidence points to the kipferl being the ancestor from which the croissant evolved. These were crescent shaped confections (kipferl meaning “crescent”, hmmmm I wonder what croissant translates as…) which were eaten around Europe. Kipferl are a yeast leavened crescent shaped roll eaten in Austria (there are many varieties around Europe and the Middle East including kifli, kifla, giffel, rogal and rugelach). There are, however, another origin stories for the croissant. One of the more interesting ones is the evolution from the Egyptian dish feteer meshaltet, a layered pastry consisting of thin layers of dough separated by ghee. Specifically, feteer halali was a similarly layered, flaky pastry but was in the shape of a crescent and was around well before the croissant.

However it was originally produced, fresh croissants are a thing of beauty and are very much worth the effort it takes to make them. With a bit of planning, they won’t even be that disruptive to bake. Fillings can be included but I feel that it is worth trying the plain ones before getting clever as if things go wrong, it is always helpful to know which step the problems occurred in. I hope you discover how easy and delicious these can be for yourself – and it doesn’t hurt that they will make your house smell wonderful.

 

Croissants

Work time: 60-90 minutes

Rest time: 15-20 hours

 

For the Viennoiserie dough:

500g plain flour

75g sugar

1 ½ tsp salt

100g cold butter

10g instant yeast

1 large egg (about 60ml)

2 tbsp milk

140 ml water

Optional: food colouring

Optional: 1 egg for egg wash

 

For the butter block: 250g butter

 

 

Cut the butter into cubes and rub into the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

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Make a well in the centre of the flour and butter mix.

Around the edge of the well, tip the salt, sugar and yeast – try to avoid the yeast and salt touching.

Pour the water, milk and egg into the centre of the well.

Mix with a spoon until the dough starts to come together and then knead for about ten minutes until a smooth, shiny dough is formed – it will not be as smooth as bread dough as there is less gluten but it should still be homogenous and slightly bouncy.

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Place the dough back into its bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge overnight (at least twelve – eighteen hours).

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To make the butter block:

Take a piece of greaseproof paper and fold over the edges so a 6”x6” (15cmx15cm) square is formed. DO NOT CUT THE PAPER.

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Unfold the paper, place the butter inside the square and refold the paper around it.

Use a rolling pin to pound out the butter until you get an even layer. By folding the paper, you ensure that the butter will end up in the shape you want it to as it will not spread past the folds!

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Place the butter back into the fridge for half an hour.

 

Optional:

Take 100g of the dough and add a few drops of concentrated food dye. Knead this in, rewrap the coloured dough and place it back into the fridge for later.

 

Roll out the (remaining, uncoloured) dough until it is a little wider than the butter block and just over twice as long.

Remove the butter from the fridge and lay it at one end of the dough.

Fold the dough over the butter and seal it around the edges to create a package. If you have lots of overhand of dough, feel free to trim it but remember to leave the butter parcel sealed.

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Roll out the dough until it is about 6/7mm thick (about ¼ inch).

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Fold the ends to the centre and then fold down the central line to create four layers. This is a book fold.

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Wrap the dough and let rest in the fridge for at least an hour.

Remove the dough from the fridge and roll out lengthwise until it is the same thickness as before.

This time fold the top third of the dough down and the bottom third up. This is a letter fold.

Refrigerate for another hour.

 

If you are using the coloured dough:

Roll out the coloured dough until it is the same size as the laminated dough.

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Brush any excess flour off it and gently moisten the dough with a little water.

Lay the laminated pastry on top and lightly press down to seal.

Flip the pastry so the colour is on top and ensure there are no air bubbles.

 

Roll the pastry until it about just over 5mm thick. You want a long oblong of dough with a short side of about 30cm (one foot).

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Trim about a cm off the edges to reveal the coloured pastry on top of the laminated dough.

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Cut width wise across the pastry to get 6 smaller rectangles.

Cut each of these down the diagonal.

 

Line two baking sheets with baking parchment.

Take a triangle of dough and lay it coloured side down on the work surface.

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Gently stretch it so it is more of an isosceles triangle shape.

Make a 1cm slit in the short side.

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Gently tug the edges apart and begin to roll up the dough from the short side to the long.

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When it is fully rolled, lay the croissant on the baking sheet with the tip of the original triangle underneath the croissant to make sure that it doesn’t unroll.

Repeat with the rest of the pastry laying no more than 6 croissants on each sheet. Allow them to space to rise!

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Optional: Egg wash the croissants now.

 

Place the sheets into a draft free zone and let rise for two to three hours. I like to use a turned off oven to leave them in because it prevents the croissants drying out. Make sure to remove them from the oven before the next step!

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Look how beautiful the laminations in this croissant are!

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (200°C).

Optional: Egg wash the croissants again. This will make them super shiny.

Bake the croissants for 6 minutes.

Reduce the heat to gas mark 4 (180°C) and bake for another 6 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack.

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These are best served still warm from the oven but can be kept in an airtight container for up to two days before they start to go bad. I would recommend reheating them either in the microwave or for five to ten minutes on your oven’s warm setting if the croissants are any older than that.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are a fan of laminated pasty, you should check out my recipe for puff pastry and all of the amazing things you can do with it from Beef Wellington to Pastéis de Natas

Have a good one. I will be back next week with a recipe for a slightly faster recipe you can make for a delicious dinner.

H

Black Pepper Tofu

We have all experienced it. You place the food in your mouth; you like the taste and it isn’t too spicy; you swallow it and take another bite; the heat begins to build… and build … suddenly you are regretting your choices. A deep regret that a glass of water will do nothing to placate. Your mouth is on fire.

The flavour profiles of chilli peppers is one of their most interesting traits.  Some chillies are like an explosion of fire that is rapidly extinguished and then you are fine, some warm slowly to an uncomfortably hot level before reducing to a more manageable experience and then there are the slow burners. These hit you in the back half of your mouth. They start with nothing and rapidly grow in spiciness – the ghost pepper (bhut jolokia) takes almost 30 seconds to start heating your mouth to a level which can lead to excessive sweating, shortness of breath, flushing, crying etc. and this level of heat can hang around for over half an hour!

Capsaicin is the “active ingredient” in chillies – it’s what makes them hot. The capsaicin binds to the receptors in your mucous membranes – this is why it affects the nose as well as the mouth – and stimulates the same response as burning. Exposure to concentrated capsaicin causes irritation to the skin – inflammation and itchiness – which is why capsaicin is used in some forms of pepper spray. The hydrophilic nature of capsaicin means that water will do nothing to alleviate the affects. The best way to get it off your skin is by rubbing with some sort of oil and then washing with large quantities of soap as the soap will emulsify the water and capsaicin allowing it to be rinsed off.

The most interesting hot sauces on the market employ many types of chilli. This gives their flavour a level of complexity that is not present if only a single variety is used, as the heat can come in waves. There is the added benefit that chillies have different flavours apart from their spiciness; some chillies are sweet, some are nutty and some are fruity. Mixing your chilli types in a dish is a great way to personalise it to your palate. The primary flavours in the recipe below are chilli…and black pepper – it is spicy. Pepper – as I have said before – produces a very different heat to that achieved from adding chillies to a dish. The active ingredient, piperine, is far less aggressively hot than capsaicin but gives a far more warming flavour. Of course too much warmth still feels like burning but with a well balanced dish, this shouldn’t be an issue.

The recipe below was originally taken from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty. I have refined it a little to suit my personal taste but it is relatively true to the original. I hope you enjoy.

 

 

 

 

Back Pepper Tofu

Time: 30 minutes

Serves: 3

 

 

400g tofu

50g cornflour

½ tsp salt

75g butter

6 medium shallots

3 tbsp finely chopped ginger

6 medium garlic cloves – crushed

4 finely chopped red chillies (you can choose mild chillies to super spicy ones depending on the heat level you wish to achieve)

3 tbsp dark soy sauce

2 tbsp light soy sauce

2 tbsp kecap manis (sweet soy sauce)

1 ½ tbsp brown sugar

2 tbsp black peppercorns

½ tsp pink peppercorns (these can be replaced by black ones if you prefer)

8 spring onions, finely sliced

 

Press the tofu. This involves cutting it into slices and wrapping them in a cloth before placing weight on top to squeeze out the excess liquid. It will help give the tofu a firmer texture.

Combine the salt and cornflour in a large bowl.

Cut the tofu into cubes and toss these in the cornflour/salt mixture to coat.

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Fill a large frying pan with half a centimetre of oil and fry the tofu on all sides until it is crispy.DSC05659

Set the tofu aside and drain the oil out of the pan – I like to filter it into a jar and keep it for deep frying at a later date.

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Finely slice the shallots into half-moons.

Melt the butter in the frying pan and add the shallots, garlic, ginger and chillies.

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Lightly fry for about ten to fifteen minutes until the garlic is cooked and the shallots are soft.

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Grind up the peppercorns. You can either do this using a normal pepper grinder or using a pestle and mortar (I prefer the latter).DSC05671

Stir the peppercorns and sugar into the soy sauces in a bowl and then add this to the shallots.

Allow to bubble away for two minutes to combine all of the flavours.

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Tip the tofu back in and stir to cover the tofu in sauce.

Continue to cook until the tofu has been sufficiently reheated.

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I forgot to buy spring onions for this but you don’t need to make the same mistake!

Stir through the finely sliced spring onion and serve.

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UPDATE: the spring onion gives a proper burst of colour to the dish

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are a fan of tofu, you should definitely check out my recipe for ginger tofu or even my teriyaki recipe.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a flaky pastry which will easily outshine the ones you can get from the supermarket.

H