Pressed Biscuits

Biscuits have always been – and are still – my nemesis in the kitchen. I have always struggled to get them fully cooked and crispy but not burnt or soft and chewy like giant cookies but neither raw nor overcooked. These pressed biscuits are small enough that you can basically guarantee that you will not end up with a raw centre (unless you underbake them which I have been known to do when I’m desperately trying not to brown the biscuits too much).

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This is the biscuit press!

The biscuit press that I use was my grandma’s and it still works brilliantly. They are absolutely worth investing in because they are not that expensive and, although you may not use them every week, when you need them these presses are invaluable – you can churn out hundreds of identical biscuits with very little effort. Most presses have a single or double setting on them. This basically dictates the size of the finished biscuits but it is worth having a play with yours to get used to it as if the dough is too soft, the double setting on the press can end up with blurry, smudged looking biscuits. It’s a classic example of just getting to know your equipment for the best results.

My biscuit recipe is a classic sugar cookie dough. This is probably the simplest form of biscuit you can make as there are no added flavours or ingredients that could affect the final outcome, it is just flour, butter, sugar, egg and vanilla… (also salt). Lots of recipes use different proportions of these ingredients to get the same style of biscuit so don’t be worried if your personal recipe is slightly different – the changes are usually very minor. Some recipes also use a raising agent however I feel that, if you beat your butter and sugar enough, there is plenty of air whipped into the mixture allowing the biscuits to rise a little and spread in the oven – ensuring that all the different sections are connected – but not so much that all definition from the biscuit press shape is lost. There is also a mindset that you should use icing sugar for this style of biscuit. It would make sense as Viennese whirls use icing sugar for their sweetness but the dough for this recipe has to be considerably tougher than that used for the whirls if only because it has to snap when you lift up the press, it cannot stretch into trails, you want the strands of biscuit to break cleanly leaving a beautiful, pressed result.

For flavoured biscuits, you can replace the vanilla with any sort of other extract or you could replace a couple of tablespoons of flour with cocoa, matcha, or some instant coffee powder for a colourful flavoured biscuit. You can even combine complementary flavours of dough in the press to get a beautiful, marbled result.

 

Pressed Biscuits (Spritz biscuits)

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Makes three to five sheets of biscuits depending on the size

 

335g butter

225g sugar

450g flour (for chocolate biscuits, replace 40g flour with cocoa)

1 egg

¼ tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 (180°C)

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

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Beat in the egg, vanilla and salt.

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Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined – if you overwork the mixture, the biscuits will be tough.

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Set up your biscuit press according to its instructions.

Select the piped shaped you want at the end and fill the press with one quarter of the dough.

Press the dough through onto a baking sheet to cover it in mini biscuits. It may take a bit of practice with your machine to work out which setting gives the best results. I have found on mine that for some shapes, a single click is enough but for others, you really need the double.

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Bake the biscuits for ten minutes.

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These are chocolate, not a burnt version of the last picture!

Allow to cool for a minute to harden up and then transfer the biscuits to a wire rack to cool completely.

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These biscuits will stay fresh for a few days if you keep them in an airtight box so don’t feel the need to eat them immediately…. or do eat them, no judgement here. I would not blame you!

 

If you are a fan of biscuits and fancy trying something a little bit more intricate than these, why not have a go at making my checkerboard biscuits? They look really cool and are a fantastic mix of vanilla and chocolate flavours.

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

H

Chocolate and Raspberry Caramel Bone Cake

After last year’s nauseating brain cake (check out how to make it here), and the spider cake that followed it (not for the arachnophobic among you), I thought I would tone down the horror of this year’s Halloween cake – not least because I still have to travel in public with it. So, of course, I made a cake with lots of broken bones oozing red goo stuck around it. It does not provoke the same level of visceral disgust as its predecessors but I definitely would not view it as plain – there is still an element of gore which is impossible to ignore.

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I have always classed myself as pretty squeamish. I cannot stand watching people get hurt, surgery, pimple popping etc. – it makes me feel faintly sick and go remarkably white (so I am told). I can just about deal with seeing things after the event – blood, autopsied bodies on tv – but watching it actually happen… that’s a no from me. For this reason, I feel that I have nailed a gore cake when it starts to elicit feelings of revulsion from me, its creator.

Squeamishness isn’t actually associated with seeing open wounds and that kind of thing but is actually a description of the feeling which they induce. As a result, the feelings of unease, nausea and even induction of vomiting can be caused by a great many things from watching someone get cut open on tv to seeing certain insects. There is, however, a phobia present in around 3% of the population which has the same symptoms as the squeamish response but is specifically caused by seeing blood, injections/needles and injury. I don’t think I have this because I can deal with blood and I have never fainted at the idea of needles (although I couldn’t go as far as saying that I am totally ok with having a piece of metal stuck into me, it’s not my idea of a good time).

I’ve always viewed my uneasiness around bones as one of those things that is completely natural because we shouldn’t actually be looking at bones, right? They should be safe and sound, wrapped in layers of muscle and connective tissue, all covered in skin; so seeing a large piece of bone – or large quantity of blood – means that something has gone very wrong. There is no reason to have your bones on display other than showing your teeth to someone.

This cake didn’t start cause me discomfort until I began to add the blood to the bones. The wet, fresh look really adds to the revulsion caused but that is a good thing! Normally I like my cakes to look so neat that people don’t want to cut them but when it’s Halloween, I like to go for the “this cake is so horrifying that no one can get near enough to cut it” approach.

Good luck making your cake gory as hell and have a fab Halloween (if you do that kind of thing – if you don’t, I hope you get left in peace all evening).

 

 

Chocolate and Raspberry Caramel Bone Cake

Time: 4+ hours

 

For the bones:

3 egg whites

175g caster sugar

¼ tsp cream of tartar

Pinch of salt

1 tsp vanilla extract – optional

 

For the cake: (a batch of my devil’s food cake recipe)

75g cocoa

150g brown sugar

1 ½ cups (375ml) boiling water

180g unsalted butter

225g caster sugar

340g plain flour

¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda

¾ tsp baking powder

1 tbsp vanilla extract

3 eggs

 

For the raspberry caramel:

200g raspberries (fresh or frozen and defrosted)

80ml double cream

280g sugar

2 tbsp glucose syrup (or another 20g sugar)

25g butter

 

To fill:

520ml double cream

Raspberry coulis (optional)

 

 

Make the meringue bones:

Preheat your oven to gas mark ½ (85-90°C). (If your oven won’t get that low, select the lowest setting and then wedge the door slightly open with a wooden spoon.)

Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks are achieved.

Whisk in the salt and cream of tartar.

Add the sugar a spoon at a time until it is all incorporated and has dissolved fully in the egg white. You can check this by rubbing a little meringue between your fingers to see if it feels gritty.

If you are using it, whisk in the vanilla now.

Load the meringue into a piping bag and pipe bone shapes onto a baking sheet.

Bake for one and a half to two hours and then turn the oven off and leave the meringues inside to cool.

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Once cool, box up the meringues in an airtight box and set aside.

 

Make the caramel (as this will have to be cold before it can be used).

To make the raspberry caramel, blend the raspberries with the cream – if you don’t have a blender, you can use a potato masher.

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Strain through a mesh sieve and use a spoon to push as much of the cream through the sieve as possible leaving only a little raspberry pulp behind which can be discarded – you should have just under a cup of raspberry cream.

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Place the sugar, glucose syrup and a quarter of a cup of water into a pan.

Place this on a high heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved.

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Allow the sugar to boil unstirred until it reaches a dark golden colour.

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Pour the raspberry cream into the sugar. BE CAREFUL because the water in the cream will flash boil and could splatter a little.

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Stir the cream through and add the butter.

Boil this for another three or four minutes to make sure the caramel will be thick.

Pour into a heatproof container, cover and leave to cool.

 

To make the cake:

Preheat the oven to gas mark 3.

Grease and line three eight-inch tins with butter, cocoa and baking parchment.

Place the brown sugar and cocoa into a bowl and pour the hot water over them. Stir until combined.

Cream the butter and caster sugar together in a separate bowl.

Add one egg and a spoon of flour and beat to combine.

Repeat with the other eggs to mix them in.

Add the bicarbonate of soda and baking powder along with half of the remaining flour.

Turn the mixer onto slow to avoid covering the kitchen in a cloud of flour.

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Once this flour is almost fully mixed in, add the rest of the flour and beat again to combine.

Finally, pour in the liquid chocolate from earlier and slowly mix together until you have a smooth, glossy, chocolatey batter.

Divide this batter between the tins and bake for 30-35 minutes until the cakes have risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of each cake comes out clean.

Turn the cakes out onto a wire cooling rack and leave until they are cold.

 

 

Once the cakes are cool, you can begin to assemble.

Whip the remaining cream to hard peaks (be careful not to overwhip as it will become butter).

Place a slice of cake onto your cake board and top with around a quarter of the whipped cream.

Drizzle over a couple of spoons of raspberry caramel.

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Add the next layer of cake and repeat before topping with the final layer of cake.

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Spread a thin layer of cream over the top and sides of the cake.

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Arrange the meringue bones around the outside of the cake. You can snap them in places to give a slightly jagged effect if you want.

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Drizzle some of the remaining raspberry caramel and raspberry coulis to give the bones and cake a more bloody appearance.

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Serve.

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If you are not eating this cake immediately, it must be kept in the fridge as it has a large quantity of cream and you do not want it to go bad!

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. I love doing themed cakes and I had seen a couple of bone based cakes on the internet so decided to give it a try myself. Let me know if you have a go and how it turns out!

 

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a nice, simple dish with a good amount of chilli.

H

Italian Meringue Macarons

I feel as though I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with macarons. I love to eat them (homemade or not) but hate the effort required to make them. Seriously, have you ever sieved ground almonds for anything else? It’s a nightmare. In addition to that, I feel really guilty if I think about buying them because I know that I could make them for far less than they cost in the shops especially the good ones, I mean come on, £18.00 for eight macarons… are you having a laugh @Ladurée?

Last time I talked about macarons on thatcookingthing, I was rather vague and only gave a little detail about all of the different parts of the macaron which make it what it is. This time, I want to focus on one specific element – the meringue. There are two methods of making macarons – one using French meringue and the other using Italian. I assume that you could also use Swiss meringue but having never seen a Swiss meringue based recipe, I feel like they are either not very successful or not very nice (because Swiss meringue is super easy to make so would be brilliant for this kind of thing). French meringue is the “classic meringue” you think of. Caster sugar is beaten into whipped egg whites to create a glossy, sugary mix which is thick and voluminous. Italian meringue is slightly more tricky as a sugar thermometer is needed. Sugar syrup at 118°C is poured into whipped egg whites to make a super thick meringue which is incredibly stable.

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French Meringue Macarons – not my most successful!!

French meringue is very delicate – this is the method I used for my last macaron recipe; however it is easy to over mix the batter when you are folding in the dry ingredients. The final result is a bit denser than the macarons made using the Italian method and is also less sweet as the ratio of sugar to almonds is smaller. The feet formed on French macarons tend to be more irregular and bulging outwards than on their Italian counterparts. As it uses a far more stable meringue, the Italian method tends to be used more often in professional bakeries as it is easier to get the same results consistently. These macarons tend to rise more vertically than the French ones and the feet formed are more regular and taller with small bubbles in them. I have found that Italian macarons always require resting to form a skin before baking whereas French ones can often get away with being piped and baked immediately.

Personally, I prefer the French method. I think the end result is more to my taste, it’s less sweet than the Italian method and it is also far simpler. As a result of the stability of Italian meringue, the folding section of the recipe takes far longer as you have to beat the air out of the mixture until it reaches the right consistency – this is not easy when the meringue is famous for not deflating. Despite what I said about them earlier, Ladurée, one of the most famous macaron patisseries, use the French method over the Italian one so I can’t hate them too much. Pierre Hermé (the other famous macaron makers) on the other hand use the Italian method – and are also slightly more expensive so it’s a double fault for them!

Have a go at the recipe below and let me know what you think. It would be fascinating to find out whether people prefer the Italian or the French method.

Good luck.

 

 

 

Italian Meringue Macarons

Work time: 1 hour

Rest time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

 

 

260g ground almonds

260g icing sugar

200ml egg whites (split into two 100ml measures)

¼ tsp cream of tartar

200g caster sugar

1/3 cup water

Optional: 2 tbsp instant coffee or 2 tbsp cocoa

 

Filling:

300ml double cream

300g dark chocolate

25g brown sugar

25g butter

 

Tip the almonds and icing sugar into the bowl of a food processor and blend for 30 seconds to help grind them to a finer powder.

Sieve the ground almond and icing sugar mix into a bowl. If there are a couple of tablespoons of ground almond bits left in the sieve, discard them.

If you wish to add the coffee or cocoa, sieve it in now.

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Tip in 100ml egg white and mix together thoroughly. Cover and set to one side.

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To make the meringue: tip the caster sugar and water into a heavy based saucepan.

Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the sugar.

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Use a sugar thermometer and keep cooking until the sugar reaches the soft ball stage (116-118°C).

 

When the sugar has reached 110°C start to whisk the remaining 100ml egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the cream of tartar once the mix is foamy. You want the egg whites to reach soft peaks by the time the sugar is up to temperature.

Once the sugar reaches 118°C, remove it from the heat. With the beaters running on high, gently stream the sugar syrup down the side the of bowl (trying to avoid pouring it directly onto the whisk).

Leave the beaters running until the outside the bowl feels cool again and the meringue is super thick and glossy.

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Take one third of the meringue and stir it into the ground almond mixture until completely combined. This will slacken up the mixture making the next step easier.

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Fold the rest of the meringue through the almond mixture.

Continue to fold and beat the mixture until it flows in thick ribbons off the spatula. You should be able to draw a figure of eight with the mixture as it flows off the spatula. This figure of eight will slowly sink into the rest of the batter over fifteen seconds or so.

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Line five or six baking trays.

Load the mixture into a piping bag and pipe small circles about 3cm in diameter leaving a couple of centimetres between them.

Lift the tray and smack it down on the surface a couple of times. Rotate the tray by 180° and repeat. This will pop any air bubbles stuck in the mixture. I also use a small pin to pop any remaining large bubbles that I can see as these will cause your macarons to crack if you are not careful.

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Set the macarons to one side for twenty minutes to allow the top to form a slight skin.

 

While the macarons are resting, preheat the oven to gas mark 2 (150°C).

Bake the macarons for twenty minutes. Test for doneness by gently nudging the top of the macaron, if it sticks a little bit – this is good!

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Remove the macarons from the oven and leave on the tray to cool for five minutes – this will help finish cooking the base.

Gently remove the macarons from the tray and place them, shell side down, on a wire rack to cool.

 

 

To make the filling:

Chop the chocolate and put it into a large bowl.

Heat the cream, butter and sugar until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is about to boil.

Pour the hot cream over the chocolate.

Leave for two minutes for the chocolate to melt and then whisk together.

Leave to cool, stirring regularly until it reaches a thick, piping consistency.

 

To assemble:

Pair up the shells by size.

Pipe a large dollop of ganache into the centre of one of each pair and then gently press the other macaron on top. I find that lightly twisting the macaron helps prevent breakages.

Place the macarons in an airtight box in the fridge overnight.

Eat the next day – or even the day after that! They get better with age for the first few days.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. These are delicious with a cup of coffee, tea, hot chocolate, by themselves etc. (you can eat them any time really, you don’t need an excuse).

If you want to try something a bit easier, why not try making standard meringue first and then moving on to these? I have recipes for both Swiss and French meringue knocking around the place on here.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a lovely warming soup recipe (because it is that time of the year again)!

 

Honey Cake Swiss Roll

It’s that time of the year again! Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) began yesterday night and today is the first full day. Honey cake is a traditional food to eat during this festival so here I am with another honey cake themed recipe. Last year I posted my recipe for traditional honey cakes but these often need to be baked a couple of weeks in advance, be wrapped up and allowed to rest so the flavours can mature. Contrary to the weeks needed for standard honey cakes, this swiss roll needs only the time it takes to cook, cool, fill and roll before you can be happily munching away on its deliciousness.

Honey cake is eaten to symbolise the wish for a sweet new year. It is classically flavoured with oranges and warming spices such as cinnamon and ginger but really any cake where the predominant flavour and sweetener is honey can be classed as a honey cake. My mum has been using the same recipe to make these for as long as I can remember and as a child, I absolutely loved helping out. This was probably because the raising agent (bicarbonate of soda) is stirred into orange juice and anyone who has done a small amount of chemistry knows what happens next. The bicarbonate reacts with the citric acid in the orange juice and goes super fizzy very quickly which was great fun for a child to be able to do – it’s still really cool to be honest.

There are other classic foods eaten on Rosh Hashanah too. Challah, an enriched, plaited dough made every week for the Sabbath undergoes a change of shape from the long plait to a rising spiral. This is an eastern-European Jewish tradition which several explanations: the roundness represents the continuity of creation; the roundness is because the year is round and goes on and on; the challah looks like a crown for crowning God as king on Rosh Hashanah; the rising spiral symbolises the hope that prayers will ascend to heaven. In the non-eastern-European communities, challah is sometimes shaped into animals like swans or lions often using biblical inspiration but sometimes, it is just done to mark Rosh Hashanah as different to other festivals and the sabbath.

Probably the most recognisable tradition from Rosh Hashanah is the dipping of apple in honey. The question of course is why do we use apples? Like the many reasons for round challah, there are different theories for the choice of apples. The fruit is sweet (back to the sweet new year thing again) but that isn’t enough because there are plenty of other sweet fruit out there: mango, papaya, dates and peaches to name just a few. The choice of apples was again an eastern-European one albeit one which has been picked up by many denominations of Jews from many different backgrounds. According to some sources, it represents the Garden of Eden which was supposed to have the scent of an apple orchard. Apples are mentioned in Solomon’s Song of Songs and are meant to be representative of people’s love for God. If you go back about a millennium or so, you find no mention of apples –  dates and figs were used as sweet fruits for dipping so sometime since the 7th century, someone dictated that apples should be the fruit of choice and since then, it has become one of the most symbolic representations of the Jewish new year.

I feel that I have to mention that I view this as one of my most successful recipes. The flavours work amazingly well together, there are a mixture of textures and the tang from the crème fraiche cuts through the sweetness of the honey beautifully. The bites almost have layers, different flavours appear and then die down to be replaced by others and everything is matched up in the most amazing way. I hope you like it as much as it do!

 

 

 

Honey cake swiss roll

Work time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Cool time: 45 minutes

 

Ingredients:

4 eggs

75g caster sugar

75g soft brown sugar

Zest of half an orange

Pinch of salt

150g plain flour

1 tsp mixed spice

½ tsp ground ginger

½ tsp ground cinnamon

25g butter

2 tbsp runny honey

1 tbsp water

A few tablespoons of icing sugar

 

 

For the filling:

300ml double cream

300ml crème fraiche

3 tbsp honey

100g walnuts

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (200°C) and line the base of a large swiss roll pan with baking parchment.

In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, sugars and salt until incredibly thick and foamy and has almost tripled in volume. This will take about five to ten minutes depending on whether you use a stand mixer or a hand-held electric one. You need an electric whisk to do this – it’s just not worth the effort to do this by hand. When you think the mixture is at the right stage, give it an extra 30 seconds.

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While the eggs are whipping up melt the butter and honey together with the water in a small saucepan and set aside.

Once the eggs are ready sieve the flour and spices over the top and fold in.

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When there are no longer big patches of flour in the mix pour the butter/honey/water, which should still be slack and slightly warm, around the inside edge of the bowl and fold this into the cake batter.

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Pour the batter into the lined baking tray and bake for ten minutes until the top is golden brown and the cake is well risen. It will probably not pull away from the sides of the pan (unless you greased them too) so that is not a good indication of whether it is cooked or not. If you are unsure you can use the skewer test and see if a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.

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Once the cake is cooked, remove it from the oven. Sieve over the icing sugar and make sure there is a thin layer over the top of the entire cake.

Lay a piece of baking parchment (which is larger than the cake) on a flat surface or table and flip the still-hot cake out onto this. Peel the baking parchment off (what was) the base of the cake.

Soak a tea towel in cold water, wring it out and lay this over the cake and leave to cool. This will stop the cake drying out when it cools and reduce the chances of cracking.

 

Make the filling while the cake is cooling.

Remove about ten walnut halves which look nice and set them aside.

Roughly chop the remaining walnuts and tip them into a large frying pan.

Toast the walnuts over a medium heat until they just start to turn golden. Remove from the heat immediately and leave to cool.

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Whip the double cream until it is just about to reach stiff peaks.

Whip the crème fraiche for about 30 seconds to thicken it just a little.

Fold the crème fraiche and the honey into the whipped cream.

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Once the cake is cool, spread about two thirds of the filling over the entire cake and sprinkle most of the toasted walnuts over this in an even layer.

Use your hands to push the walnuts into the filling. This will allow the filling to stick the cake together. If you don’t do this there is a chance the walnuts could form a barrier and prevent the cake sticking in it’s roll shape. It would uncurl which would not be ideal.

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Using the baking parchment the cake is resting on, lift one end of the cake up and over to start the roll.

Continue to roll up the cake using the parchment to ensure the roll is nice and tight. If it starts cracking, just ease up on the tightness of the roll at that point and it should be ok.

Once the cake is fully rolled, wrap it tightly in the baking parchment and place it in the fridge, seam side down, to rest and set for about ten minutes.

 

Once the cake has rested a bit, remove it from the fridge and unwrap it.

Place the cake onto your serving platter and trim the ends to make a neat looking spiral.

Spread the remaining filling in a thick line across the top of the cake and stick the reserved walnuts to it. If there are any toasted pieces left, sprinkle these over too.

Drizzle a little bit of honey over the walnuts and cream.

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This can be served immediately or kept in the fridge for a few days completely covered.

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The cake works wonderfully with a fresh honey cake martini.

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you fancy trying your hand at some non-cakey Jewish treats, why not make yourself some rugelach? They are absolutely delicious.

 

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a delicious lunch which can be taken to work!.

H

Sourdough Pizza

I finally bought a pizza stone a couple of months ago after restraining myself for years. I had never cooked with one but they are supposed to make your pizza better and I had been having issues with a soggy and undercooked pizza crust for quite some time. The result? Crispy crust, quick cooking time, all round better pizza in my opinion.

Question: what is a pizza stone? Answer: it is a relatively simple way of recreating the conditions found inside a pizza oven without having to go out and build yourself a new, extraordinarily expensive piece of kit. The moment the dough hits the stone, it is exposed to a huge amount of heat which makes the yeast go crazy giving a super puffy, air-filled crust. The pizza stone retains its heat well so the addition of a (comparatively) cold pizza on top of it does little to lower its overall temperature. This causes the base of the pizza to cook fully and quickly, giving a solid, crisp base that will not be soggy. Any sections of dough which may be a little wet quickly dry, as the pizza stone is porous and thus pulls moisture out of the base of the crust again leading to a crispier base… I think there may be a pattern here. Basically, this can all be summed up as: the pizza stone ensures the crust is cooked quickly and properly and – most importantly – fully before the toppings begin to burn.

I have used metal trays for baking pizza and, while they do work, the best method I know still involves preheating the tray and then transferring the pizza onto it. Unlike the stone, metal is not porous, so any steam which may escape through the base of the pizza is trapped against the dough – causing it to be reabsorbed and softening the dough. Some methods of cooking use both a pizza stone and a metal sheet. The pizza goes on the preheated sheet and the stone rests on a wire rack directly above the pizza. Again, this is recreating the conditions of a pizza oven where extreme heat is being blasted at the pizza from all directions, the base of the oven, the roof, even the walls all help cook the pizza.

When it comes to hand stretching dough, I have found that the best way to learn is watching online tutorials. Written instructions are ok but it is so much easier when you can see what is going on. It may split the first time… or the second… or even once you think you know what is going on but this is fine – I just stitch it all back together and after the cheese is added, no one will be able to tell. Stretching the dough by hand, in my experience, is the best way to get a puffy crust on the pizza. When you stretch it, the dough from the centre of the pizza is slowly transferred to the outside. This can weaken the centre of the pizza though so make sure to keep an eye on it and if any bits seem dangerously thin, try and avoid stretching them any more than necessary.

Sourdough pizza (like normal sourdough bread) takes time and you need to plan ahead if you want to eat it. Luckily, the majority of the time needed is resting and proving so it is not too time consuming when you are actually making it. I prefer the taste of sourdough bases but let me know what you think if you try it. If you don’t have a sourdough starter, you can always make your own or you could get some from a friend. I am sure there will be someone in your local area with one who would be happy to donate a little to you.

 

 

Sourdough pizza:

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Rest time: 16 hours

 

To reactivate the starter:

½ cup sour dough starter

1 cup strong white flour

1 cup water

 

For the dough:

75ml water

500g flour

2 tbsp olive oil

10g salt

 

For toppings: tomato passata, mozzarella, any other toppings of your choice

 

Mix the starter with one cup of flour and one cup of water. Cover and leave overnight. You can use the starter straight from the fridge, no need to warm it up as that is what this step will do.

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After sitting overnight, the starter should be very bubbly.

 

In the morning, add the flour for the dough, 25ml water and oil to the reactivated starter. Mix until it forms a shaggy mess – it need not all stick together at this point. Cover and leave to rest for 30 minutes to an hour.

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Sprinkle over the salt and the rest of the water and knead to combine.

Knead the dough for five to ten minutes until it is smooth and elastic.

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Cover and leave to rise for six or seven hours. I would set this up before work and leave it in a cool place throughout the day.

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About an hour before making the pizzas, split the dough into four and shape each quarter into a ball. Cover and leave again for half an hour to let the gluten relax.

 

Place a pizza stone into the oven and turn your oven to the highest setting (mine is gas mark 9 at around 250°C). ALLOW THIS TO HEAT UP FOR AT LEAST HALF TO THREE-QUARTERS OF AN HOUR.

Take one of the balls of dough and flatten it using your fingertips. Stretch the dough until it is the same size as your stone. This can be done by picking it up at the edge and rotating the dough so its own weight stretches it. This ensures the dough in the middle of the pizza is nice and thin and the edges are a bit thicker so you get a good crust. You could also use a rolling pin if it is easier for you.

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Spread the tomato paste out from the centre until it is half an inch from the outside of the dough.

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Grate/thinly slice the mozzarella and sprinkle it over the pizza. Top with your favourite toppings.

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Using a single, swift motion slide a peel underneath the pizza. (A peel is just a large, flat paddle. It might be worth practicing getting the pizza onto and off of the peel before you add the toppings (as in when it is just the base)). You cannot build the pizza on the peel as it will stick if it is left there too long. If you do not have a peel (like me) you could use a cake lifter or even make the pizza on baking parchment and slide this parchment from a normal baking tray onto the pizza stone.

By gently shaking the peel, slide the pizza onto the pizza stone and bake for five to ten minutes (depending on your oven temperature). When the pizza is done, it should be able to be tilted by lifting up one side as the base will be cooked and a little crispy.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you would like to have a go at normal, non-sourdough pizza, check out my recipe. The crust is super light and fluffy and it tastes amazing. I have been known to lightly brush the outer crust (without the toppings) with garlic oil and give it a sprinkle of sea salt for extra flavour.

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

H

 

 

Chocolate Rugelach

Rugelach are one of those foods that have come on a serious journey. Originating in Poland with a standard yeasted dough, they are now eaten all around the world in Jewish communities and have evolved to include ingredients such as sour cream, cream cheese, laminated pastry and fillings such as halva and Nutella. These are quite a different beast to the original basic dough filled with dried fruit and jams.

A big question when it comes to making rugelach is whether or not to add dairy. In orthodox Judaism, milk and meat are not to be eaten in the same meal so by including butter or sour cream in your dough, you are preventing yourself from eating the rugelach as a dessert after a meaty meal. The obvious choice would be to leave it out but of course the dairy adds a large fat content to your dough which softens it dramatically. You could always add oil to replace the fat from the dairy but that still will not solve the tricky problem of laminating the pastry. One solution is that you could use some sort of margarine instead of the butter – after all, the pasty is a soft lamination, you are not required to keep the butter cold at all times like in puff pastry – but the flavour wouldn’t be the same (although with enough added sugar, I am certain that this would not be a problem).

This dough takes a relatively long time to rise. Both milk and sour cream have a non-neutral pH (they are both slightly acidic) and their pHs both lie outside the range at which yeast ferments best. The eggs and the dairy constituents contain fats which coat the flour during the mixing stage. This slows down the rate at which the yeast can break down the carbohydrates into fermentable sugar. With eggs, butter, milk and sour cream in this recipe you should not be worried if your dough rises slowly but you will have to be patient. Rugelach which are under proved – especially during the second rise – will not cook through in the oven, resulting in a doughy interior.

The sugars in the milk (as well as the sugar added to the dough) will result in the rugelach browning in the oven faster than normal bread but you have to hold your nerve about this. Make sure you know the temperature your oven is working at and, if you have a fan oven, adjust it down a little to ensure perfectly cooked, unburnt pastries.

The recipe I use for rugelach includes chocolate in the soft lamination. The cocoa butter in the chocolate helps to separate the layers and it also ensures you have a huge quantity of chocolate in the final pasty (which is never a bad thing). You are of course welcome to laminate just with butter – I can assure you this works very well as it is the technique I use when making Pastéis de Nata. You could even use a flavoured butter – cinnamon or why not give it a savoury twist and infuse your butter with herbs or garlic and stuff the rugelach with cheese? Go wild!

These things will make your house smell delicious – forget baking bread when someone is coming over for a viewing, make rugelach! Hopefully you will enjoy these as much as I did and let me know how they go if you try them at home.

 

 

 

Rugelach (the sour cream variety)

Work time: 1 hour

Proving time: 8 hours

Cook time: 30 minutes

 

Ingredients:

Dough:

650g plain white flour

1 ½ tbsp yeast

150g white sugar

1 egg and 3 egg yolks

200ml sour cream

80g very soft butter

160ml warm milk

1tsp salt

 

Filling:

200g dark chocolate

100g butter

50g sugar

 

Glaze:

1 egg + 1 tbsp water

300g sugar

200ml water

 

 

Tip the dough ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attached.

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Mix until combined and then knead on a medium to low speed for five to ten minutes – until the dough is stretchy and bounces back a little when a finger is pressed into it.

Cover the dough and leave in a warm place for about four hours (or until doubled in size). Alternatively, you could leave this overnight at room temperature (providing the room is not too hot).

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Melt the chocolate and butter together and leave to cool until the mixture begins to thicken to a spreadable paste.

Flour a surface and roll out the dough to a twenty by twenty five-inch rectangle.

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Spread a quarter of the chocolate filling over two thirds of the rectangle. Fold the uncovered third over the middle third and the final third over them both (this is a letter fold – when the dough is folded in three, like a letter).

Pat out any air bubbles and seal the edges.

Roll this log back out again into a twenty by twenty five-inch rectangle but the other way from the first time. This will ensure that the folds are perpendicular to before.

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Repeat the spreading and folding again with one third of the remaining filling.

Mix the sugar into the filling that remains.

Roll out the dough back into its rectangle and square off the edges.

Spread the remaining filling over the dough.

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Cut the dough in half lengthwise.

Cut each rectangle into triangles with bases around three inches long.

Line two baking sheets with baking parchment.

Roll each triangle up into a little croissant like shape and place it on the baking sheet with the tip underneath the body – this will prevent any unrolling during rising and baking.

Cover the rugelach and leave for one to two hours or until they are visibly risen and they wobble a little when the tray is jiggled.

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

Whisk the egg in a bowl with 1 tbsp water.

Egg wash the rugelach and bake for 25-30 minutes.

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While the rugelach are baking, pour the sugar and water into a saucepan. Bring to the boil and stir until all the sugar has dissolved. Continue to boil for another minute and then remove from the heat.

 

The moment the rugelach come out of the oven, glaze them with the sugar syrup. This might sizzle a little when it hits the rugelach or the baking tray but that is fine.

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After glazing, move the rugelach to a wire rack and leave to cool.

Pile up on a platter to serve

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These rugelach really are amazing and I would say they are 100% worth the effort it takes to make them. If you are a fan of laminated doughs, why not try making some puff pastry to bake with or maybe you could have a go at croissants!

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a delicious savoury treat.

H

Vegan Salted Caramel Tart

This tart has been in the making for three years now. I created it for one of my closest friends who couldn’t eat dairy products at the time. The recipe has sat on my computer ever since then and has only been shared twice. The first time was an e-copy that was sent to a vegan friend who tried some of the original dish and wanted to know how to make it for herself; the second sharing event was a printed copy included in a short cookbook I wrote using all of my vegan recipes and given as part of a wedding present.

As you may suspect, the most complicated part of this recipe to develop was the caramel. Standard caramel is based around sugar, cream and butter – as you can imagine removing the dairy from this is not ideal. My first attempt involved replacing the cream with coconut milk and the butter with a dairy free alternative. It was almost good. The problem: you need to cook the caramel for a decent length of time and I broke, I just gave in too early and took the caramel off the heat. It did not set. You really need to boil caramel to get it to set properly. Since then I have realised that vegan caramel also works far better with brown sugar and not melted white sugar, as I would use for a classic, cream-based caramel.

Coconut milk is extracted from the grated flesh of the coconut. It is relatively high in fat (above 20% for non-skimmed/non-low fat varieties) and this is why it works as a cream replacement in the dish. Coconut cream has at least 20% fat and is incredibly thick. While you could use it for this recipe instead of coconut milk, it really isn’t necessary as the aggressive boiling will drive off the water from the coconut milk. Moreover, I would discourage using coconut cream because the extra water in the milk will help dissolve the sugar before the cooking begins. If the sugar isn’t all dissolved, you will end up with a gritty caramel – or even worse, it might crystallise and if that happens there is nothing you can do to revive the situation.

I class this recipe under my list of things that show that vegan food is just as good as the non-vegan stuff. Just because this is dairy-free does not mean it is flavour-free too! Let me know what you think.

 

 

Vegan Caramel Chocolate Tart

Work time: 2 hours

Cook time: 30 minutes

Cool time: 4 hours

 

For the pastry:

250g plain flour

125g cold margarine

50g sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 pinch salt

2 tbsp water

 

For the vegan caramel:

300g dark brown sugar

400ml coconut milk

100g margarine

 

For the chocolate layer:

300g dark chocolate

175g margarine

125g water

50g brown sugar

 

 

Tip the flour and margarine into the bowl of a food processor and blend until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

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Add the sugar and blend again.

Pour in the water and vanilla and blend until the pastry starts to clump together.

Pour the pastry onto a clean surface and squeeze it into a ball. Very lightly knead this to ensure the pastry is homogenous.

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Wrap and leave in the fridge to chill for half an hour.

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6

Unwrap the pastry and roll it out to a few millimetres thick (about ¼ inch). Use the pastry to line a tart case.

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Prick the base of the pastry all over with a fork.

Line the pastry with foil weighed down with baking beads and bake for fifteen minutes.

Remove the beads and bake for another ten to fifteen minutes until the pastry is golden.

 

To make the caramel:

Start this when the baking beads have been removed from the pastry case.

Tip the sugar and coconut milk into a pan and whisk to combine (you do not need to fully dissolve the sugar).

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Bring to a boil and add the butter in four chunks.

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Boil, stirring regularly, for about ten minutes until the bubbles become larger and slow down. The mixture should be thick on the back of a spoon. To test if it is done, take a small amount of caramel and place it in a bowl in the fridge. After about 30 seconds, it should be thick and not flow too much when you draw your finger through it.

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Pour the caramel directly into the pastry case.

Lightly sprinkle with flakes of sea salt.

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Allow to cool for an hour to room temperature and then in the fridge for another hour until the caramel is cold to the touch.

 

For the chocolate layer:

Pour the water into a pan. Add the sugar and the margarine. Bring to the boil

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Break the chocolate into pieces and place them into a large measuring jug.

Pour the boiling liquid over the chocolate, leave for two to three minutes for the chocolate to melt and then lightly whisk until a smooth, glossy, chocolatey sauce is accomplished.

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Pour the chocolate sauce over the top of the caramel. Pour it in the centre of the tart and allow it to flow out! This will get you the smoothest result. Gently tip and shake the tart to smooth out the chocolate layer.

Allow to set in the fridge for at least an hour.

Decorate with cocoa powder, lustre dust, chocolate pieces or whatever else you fancy!

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Once the chocolate has set, do not try to smooth it! I used a hot offset spatula to try and even the chocolate layer but actually it just took the shine away which was a real shame.

This can be served with cream or ice cream (or dairy-free alternatives) but I don’t think they are necessary as it is perfectly amazing by itself!

If you fancy trying the non-vegan variety, why not check out my quadruple chocolate and salted caramel tart or if you are looking for other plant-based desserts, look no further than my apple and cinnamon tart.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a delicious Indian dish.

H