Puff Pastry

Puff pastry has achieved a reputation as one of the hardest baked goods to master. I would argue that this is unfair: what puff pastry needs is not skill but patience (and a fridge…. and time). If you follow the instructions and let the pastry cool properly between each fold you can achieve a perfect result every time.

One of the most interesting things about puff pastry is the question of why it puffs up. Why does this pastry puff but others, such as shortcrust pastry, do not? The answer is the same as it is for choux pastry, the only other pastry designed to expand dramatically in the oven: steam. The water added at the beginning evaporates in the heat of the oven. This creates tiny pockets of steam inside the pastry. The butter introduced to the pastry during the folding process creates a miniscule barrier between each layer of dough and this allows the steam produced to lift the layers above it ever so slightly. The effect of the rise is small but when you have over 100 layers, it adds up to a rise that can triple or even quadruple the height of the pastry.

Puff pastry should be cut with the sharpest knife possible or, if you are using biscuit cutters, you must push them down directly. The reason for this is that, if you don’t cut the edge of the shape evenly, the steam can escape from some areas before it raises the pastry whilst other places will puff up as usual leading to an uneven rise. This is also why the edges of the pastry, where the butter is sealed in before the rolling and folding begins, should be incorporated into the dough as soon as possible. They have no butter layer so if they are baked in the oven, these edges will not rise.

While making puff pastry, it is imperative that you allow adequate time for the pastry to rest in the fridge between folds. This gives the butter time to cool down. When you roll out the pastry both the ambient heat of the room and the increase in pressure from the rolling pin heat the butter and, as it warms up, it starts to be absorbed by the flour. If the butter isn’t cooled regularly, it will melt into the pastry and you will lose all the layers you have spent hours trying to create. Not only that but pastry cannot cope with a 1:1 ratio of butter to flour and the butter will melt in the oven, the pastry will collapse/slide off/ liquify resulting in both a mess and a lot of wasted time.

The most basic things you can make with puff pastry are, in my opinion, cheese straws and palmiers. For cheese straws, you grate a large quantity of cheese over the rolled-out pastry, fold it in half (once), roll it out again, and cut into straws which can then be baked. For palmiers, replace the cheese with granulated sugar and, after you have rolled out the pastry with the sugar layer, roll it up from opposite ends into two spirals which come together to make a heart. Slicing with a sharp knife results in lots of identical, sugary hearts which are delicious to eat and beautiful to behold as you can see the layers of the pastry properly.

49635146_243220593234851_6221421077860450304_n

I hope you will discover how easy puff pastry really is to make and once you have made it for the first time, you can go and buy it from the shops because no one has time to make this stuff regularly. It is very much a special occasion type of food.

Puff Pastry

Work time: 30 mins

Rest time: around 5 hours

Ingredients:
250g plain flour

225g unsalted butter (fridge cold)

150ml water

Pinch of salt

Sift the flour into a bowl.

Sprinkle in the salt, stir through and make a well in the centre of the flour.

Pour the water into the well and mix with a spoon until the basic dough begins to come together.

Tip out onto a table and knead for about five minutes until a smooth dough has formed.

Wrap the dough in clingfilm and leave to rest for 20-30 minutes so the gluten can relax.

49472182_358568714972736_7840809991119306752_n

While the dough is resting, place the butter between two sheets of baking parchment and bash/roll it out to a rectangle 20x15cm (8”x6”). Wrap it up and place it back into the fridge to firm up while you deal with the dough.

Once the dough has relaxed, roll it out into a rectangle about 25x35cm (10”x14”).

Remove the slab of butter from the fridge, unwrap it. You now have two choices: you can place the butter at the edge of the dough (as in the picture below) or you can shift it up to the centre of the dough. The former will give you three seams where the dough is sealed around the butter whereas the latter will only give two (as the third seam will be in the middle and hidden by the butter). Seal the edges of the dough well to prevent the butter escaping.

49848568_364169710829376_8271974246066946048_n
This uses the side seal method, not the central seal
49789439_2250745541847580_6828984926759550976_n
The three sealed edges must be folded in as soon as possible

Roll out the dough lengthwise until it has doubled in size (around half a metre long) and then fold the dough into three layers. This will incorporate one of the original seams into the pastry. This is important to do early as sections with less butter will rise less than the rest of the pastry folding the seams in early will help give an even rise. If you see butter start to burst out of the edges, let the pastry cool more in the fridge and try to fold the burst section into the centre of the pastry to prevent it leaking more later on.

49682566_943093579222521_3622371667939950592_n.jpg

Rewrap the dough and leave it to rest for another 20-30 minutes in the fridge. Try not to let the dough rest in the freezer unless completely necessary as the shock cold can cause the butter to seize and shatter which will ruin the pastry.

Once the dough has rested, roll it out again in the opposite direction to the last fold (so the edges with the three layers from before will be folded back into the pastry. Fold the pastry into three again, rewrap and chill for another half hour.

Repeat the previous step another two to four times for proper puff. The full six sets of folds will give your pastry 729 layers which should result in super flaky pastry with a beautiful, even rise.

Keep the pastry wrapped up in the fridge until you are ready to use it. Make sure the oven is hot when the pastry goes in otherwise the butter will melt and leak out leading your baked goods to fry on the bottom and be soggy on top.

You can use this pastry to make tart cases, mille feuille, vol-au-vents and a myriad of other delicious and crispy foods. For basic mushroom vol-au-vents, roll out the pastry and cut small circles out of it. Use a smaller cutter to cut an even smaller circle in the centre of each vol-au-vent BUT ONLY CUT HALFWAY DOWN. Bake these at gas mark 6 until golden and crispy. Remove from the oven and let cool. The half cut in the centre will allow you to partially hollow out the vol-au-vents without removing the base. Spoon in a generous helping of mushroom duxelle (the recipe for this can be found with my beef wellington recipe)

49781696_539102116600367_1959168229926502400_n
Cheese and pesto twists – spread the filling on the pastry, fold once, re-roll and cut
49464952_360741258060166_110866166905307136_n
Mushroom vol-au-vents and brie and cranberry tartlets. You can clearly see the layers inside the vol-au-vents from all of the folding

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are interested in recipes using puff pastry, check out my takes on beef wellington and salmon en-croute.

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

H

Fruitcake

Fruitcake is a bit of a ’marmite-y’ food. You either love it or hate it. Clearly it’s the dried fruit that causes the issue as the recipe for a basic fruitcake is a standard sponge cake but uses brown sugar instead of white and often has no raising agent. The thing about fruitcake that really sets it apart is that it can last for years. Properly stored, you can keep a fruitcake for up to 25 years and still eat it without having to worry about food poisoning. This is probably because of the copious amounts of brandy in which this cake is soaked. A good fruitcake will be regularly ‘fed’ brandy for a month or so before it is stored and left to mature until it is needed.

Christmas cake is distinguished from normal fruitcake by the time of year at which it is eaten. The recipe is the same…. it’s just eaten in late December rather than at any other time. Whilst the darkness of the cake can come from using light and dark brown sugar, a properly deep brown colour is achieved by adding black treacle. Treacle is the bitumen (tar) of the sugar world. It is what is left over at the end of the refining process when the corn syrup, standard sugar and other lightly coloured products have been removed. It is full of ‘impurities’ which would ruin normal sugar syrup but are really only the minerals in the sugar beet or sugarcane, things like iron, magnesium, calcium etc. These minerals are so concentrated in black treacle that some brands have even been used as a health supplement.

The alcohol added to the fruitcake gives it a very moist crumb and an intense flavour without making it too boozy. This is because while the cake is maturing, all the liquid diffuses evenly throughout it whilst the alcohol evaporates leaving only its flavour behind. The hardiness of fruitcakes is what makes them so perfect for weddings. Cakes can be cut and pieces posted out to friends and family without the worry that all that will arrive will be a mushy mess.

The cake is very rich so you will get a lot of servings out of it – you cannot eat much at any one time. I hope you enjoy the recipe (and the cake in about two months time).

 

Fruitcake

450g currants

300g sultanas

275g raisins

200g glace cherries, rinsed and roughly chopped

100g mixed peel

250ml brandy

10oz flour

10oz brown sugar

10oz butter

5 eggs

1 tbsp black treacle

¾ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp nutmeg

¾ tsp mixed spice

Zest of 1 orange

 

Tip the sultanas, currants, raisins, peel and cherries into a large bowl.

Pour over the brandy, stir, cover tightly and leave to stand for 24 hours.

48926261_1488237227973691_1414040080091185152_n

 

Turn the oven to gas mark 1.

Line an eight-inch square tin or a nine inch round tin with a double thickness of baking parchment.

Cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Do not skimp on this stage. It should take at least five minutes.

48396176_2164333667151161_3089767578315259904_n

Beat in the treacle.

Beat the eggs lightly to combine.

Add the egg a tablespoon at a time beating after each addition to prevent curdling. If the mixture looks like it is beginning to curdle, add a tablespoon of flour.

48409341_343449549720567_4130152276817870848_n

Once the egg has all been incorporated, add the flour and spices and lightly beat until just combined.

48409347_816240715425220_8484488764016558080_n

Drain the dried fruit and reserve the brandy for later (it will be used to feed the fruitcake).

Add the fruit to the cake mix and use a wooden spoon to combine by hand. This prevents the fruit from being pulverised.

Tip into the tin and spread out evenly.

48921894_224324318488686_3725984369521721344_n

If you are using metal tins, tie a strip of baking parchment around the outside of the cake so that it comes up to at least double the height of the tin. Also cut out a circle/square of parchment which will fit over the top of the cake – this will stop it from browning.

48427000_594655780963539_2726966103069687808_n

Bake for four hours.

Remove the parchment covering the top and bake for another 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean (it may be a little wet but not mushy). If the cake begins to brown too much, place the parchment back over the top.

48416143_2168102440117590_5936125646135623680_n

Remove the cake from the oven and leave to cool.

Once it is cold, prick it all over and spoon two tablespoons of the brandy over the cake. Leave for an hour to absorb and then wrap the cake tightly in baking parchment and then foil.

48387472_732159287139494_9105364949948956672_n

Leave the cake to mature for at least two weeks (although preferably a month) feeding the cake brandy twice each week.

After the cake has matured, you can serve it as it is or decorate it with marzipan and royal icing to make a proper Christmas/wedding/decorative cake.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you love cake, be sure to check out the recipe for my beautiful chocolate raspberry layer cake.

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a winter warmer to keep you going strong into the new year.

H

48416143_2168102440117590_5936125646135623680_n

Tricolour Vegetable Bread

A few years ago, I came across a method of plaiting challah which created a circular braid. It was incredibly exciting as this was not a plait that I had ever seen before and the final shape is really something to behold. It’s stunning. Somehow, it looks even better than the bread you can buy in a shop as it is clearly handmade but is precise and beautiful. Fast forward three years and a vegan friend requested that, instead of a birthday cake, I make her a loaf of bread. At the time I was creating my artisan vegetable loaves recipe, which I suggest you try before this one as this recipe is a little fiddly. (That being said, if you want to just go for it- why not? Even if the braid doesn’t work, you’ll still have a really cool loaf of bread.) This recipe is what I came up with for her birthday as I didn’t want to just do a bog-standard loaf of bread.

Challah is an enriched bread eaten by Jews as part of the Shabbat meal. There are many theories about why it is plaited. Traditionally, two loaves are served and each one has six stands. This brings us to the number twelve (the total number of stands) and this is often taken to represent the twelve loaves of bread which would be offered at the Holy Temple. This theory holds water as the number twelve comes up in lots of different shabbat bread traditions. Some families will actually have twelve mini loaves of bread whereas others will have a tear ‘n’ share style loaf with twelve separate sections. I will make an instructional post about how to braid a six-strand loaf of bread at some point in the future.

Another suggestion for the braiding is to make the challah instantly recognisable. As it is often baked in the oven with a meat meal, the challah is not kosher to eat with any dairy products; to prevent anyone inadvertently doing so, the challah was given a unique shape. This reasoning is less necessary now as people who buy challah need not worry if the bread is kosher to eat with meat or milk, it is parve (classed as neither milk nor meat and thus allowed to be eaten with both). If you make your own challah, you will have most likely considered the ‘meatiness’ of the bread already if it is something which concerns you.

As you will see in the recipe, different amount of sugar are added to the different vegetable doughs. The spinach dough has one teaspoon added and the carrot, half a teaspoon. This is because the vegetables all have different sugar contents which will affect the rise of the dough. By adjusting the levels manually, we can ensure an even rise when the dough is proving which is important if we want the final loaf to keep its shape.

I hope you find the recipe as fun to bake as I found to create. You can swap the vegetables for any of your choice or even just try out the six braid on normal bread. This loaf is also good to egg wash but be careful not to let the egg pool in the divots as no one wants scrambled egg baked into their bread.

 

Tricolour Vegetable Bread

Prep: 1 hour

Shaping: 30 minutes

Cooking: 40 minutes

 

Ingredients – makes two loaves

900g flour

1 small beetroot

150g spinach

1 medium carrot

3 teaspoons instant yeast

1 ½ tsp salt

1 ½ tsp sugar

 

Peel and roughly chop the beetroot.

Blend it with a few tablespoons of water until a mostly smooth paste is formed – it will still be a little gritty as the beetroot is raw so will not puree as well as a cooked one would. This is fine as the beetroot will cook in the oven and blend into the bread.

Set this paste aside and repeat with the carrot and then the spinach so you have your three colours of vegetable paste.

 

In a bowl, place 300g flour, 1 teaspoon yeast and ½ teaspoon salt.

Make a well in the middle.

Add water to the beetroot mix until you have 200ml and pour it into the well.

Mix with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together. If you need to, add more water.

Once the dough has mostly come together, tip it out onto a surface and knead it for five minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Remember, the beetroot will ensure that it is never fully smooth on top.

Cover and place to one side to rise.

Repeat the above steps with the spinach paste (adding one teaspoon of sugar to this) and the carrot paste (adding half a teaspoon of sugar).

48398167_1006756149515258_7135068176290676736_n

Leave the doughs until they have at least doubled in size – this can take several hours if it is a cold day.

48417898_402909300279911_4263068595367444480_n

To shape: split each dough into four even pieces and place two of each colour off to one side for later.

Roll out the dough into long stands – I normally go for around twelve inches.

Follow the diagram below to set up your basket weave.

basket weave

Once you reach step five where all of the stands are in place, number them starting with the top left one and go clockwise around the loaf.

Place strand 1 over 2, 3 over 4, 5 over 6 etc. until all of them have had their first weave and the loaf looks more like the final image (albeit a little neater).

Renumber the strands.

Place 3 over 2, 5 over 4, 7 over 6 etc. until you get all the way around.

Renumber and repeat from the first weaving step until all the dough has been used up.

Once there are no bits of dough left on the outside, tuck any remaining edges under the loaf to neaten it up and move the loaf onto a baking tray to rise again.

48369353_534059790403175_7975661493083439104_n.jpg

Repeat with the other loaf

Cover the loaves and leave it until they have doubled in size again – I like to cover them with a tea towel as there are no issues with it sticking which can sometimes arise if you use plastic.

48363991_741426466232646_1016680327319388160_n
Risen and egg washed

Once the loaves have doubled in size, turn the oven to gas mark 6 (200°C).

When the oven is up to temperature, uncover the loaves and bake for 20 minutes. Turn them and bake for another 20 minutes.

If the bread is still not quite done after the full 40 minutes, give it another five but otherwise, remove it from the oven and leave on a cooling rack until completely cold. If you want to cut into it as soon as possible, leave it for at least two hours to ensure the interior won’t be doughy.

DSC05186

If your oven is small, you may have to bake the two loaves separately – this is fine.

DSC05196

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. This bread is wonderfully savoury and goes very well with soups or even toasted and smeared with a little bit of pesto. If you enjoy baking bread, why not try making bagels? They look amazing and taste delicious!

Have a good one an I will be back next week with a recipe for a rich Christmas cake – just in time for Christmas eve (although I hope you are planned and ready by then.

H

 

Chocolate Raspberry Layer Cake

Glazing is a great way to get a beautiful result with minimal effort. When made correctly, all that needs to be done is to drizzle the glaze over the top of the cake and suddenly this glorious, shiny dessert appears. Of course, this assumes that the dessert is chilled, the glaze is not too hot and that everything is the correct consistency – if any one of these is not right, the glaze will slip straight off the cake. You don’t want this, it is messy and upsetting (and may or may not have reduced me to tears before). As long as you plan carefully and do everything in the correct order, it is not that hard to make sure that the glaze will stick.

I have two main memories of glazes. One is the first time I made a mirror glaze – it looked incredible although I messed up the proportions of ingredients and ended up with a shiny layer with the consistency of rubber. It was not great. The other memory is of playing Scrabble. This is a popular game in my family and we had started a round with my grandma who, as one does, tried to get the z (worth 10 points) onto a triple word score. There was a significant amount of confusion when she laid the word “EZALG” down on the board happily grabbing herself a large number of points and moving comfortably into the lead. You aren’t allowed to play words back to front in Scrabble but it is always worth a try.

The most famous of the dessert glazes is the Mirror Glaze. Made famous a few years ago by a Russian baker whose photos and videos went viral the mirror glaze gives a shiny, colourful finish to any dessert it is applied to. The shine comes from the mixture of condensed milk with glucose or corn syrup before gelatine is added to help the mixture set on the cake. This is classically used for entremets or other such mousse-based desserts as these can be frozen before the glaze is applied to help it stick. Before this glaze can be used on a cake, the naked cake must first be surrounded by a smooth layer of buttercream which is then set in the fridge, preventing it from melting when the warm glaze is applied.

48059304_2369660073075604_8334204976406462464_n
The glossy top of a galaxy themed mirror glaze.

For those of you who do not eat gelatine, chocolate ganache can also be used to glaze a cake which is what is done in this recipe. The chocolate ganache is drizzled over the cooled cake to give a marbled effect, making every cake decorated like this unique. I hope you enjoy!

 

 

Chocolate Raspberry Cake

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

 

Jam:

150g raspberries

150g jam sugar

 

Filling:

250ml double cream

100g raspberries

 

Icing:

110g unsalted butter (softened)

150g sifted icing sugar

20g cocoa

 

Glaze:

175g dark chocolate

175g milk chocolate

350ml double cream

2 tbsp glucose syrup

 

To Decorate:

50g raspberries

Chocolate Chips

 

 

Start by making the jam

Place the raspberries and sugar into a saucepan. Heat and stir until the raspberries have broken down and the sugar has dissolved.

Boil for two minutes, stirring regularly to prevent any burning.

Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4.

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.

DSC05079

 

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.

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.

DSC05085

Divide this batter between the tins and bake for 25-30 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.

 

When the cakes have cooled, make the butter icing to crumb coat the cake with:

Using a whisk attachment, beat the butter until it is light and fluffy.

Add the icing sugar in three batches whisking until each one is fully incorporated before adding the next.

Sift in the cocoa and mix again.

 

Whisk the cream until it just reaches stiff peaks. Make sure not to over whisk it!

Lightly crush 100g of the raspberries with a fork to break up the shape and fold them through the cream.

 

To assemble:

Place a layer of cake on a cake board.

Add half of the jam to the cake and spread it out until it is an inch from the outer edge.

48381447_776125069408820_3612240849406001152_n

Add half the cream and spread it out leaving a quarter inch around the edge.

48056415_385482928882463_5257406996734279680_n

Place the next layer of cake on top and repeat.

Top with the final layer of cake.

 

Cover the entire cake in a crumb coat* with the icing. This will be covered with ganache so it doesn’t matter if it isn’t pretty as long as it is smooth. You have to ensure that everything is covered by the icing as any exposed areas are visible on the finished cake.

DSC05095

Let the cake cool in the fridge for several hours before glazing.

*a crumb coat is a thin layer of icing applied directly to the cake’s surface. It is then set in the fridge to hold all of the crumbs in place so any following layers of icing are smooth and clean.

 

Half an hour before you glaze, place the cake in the freezer so the icing can firm up as much as possible without the cake actually freezing.

Chop the milk chocolate put in a bowl. Do the same with the dark chocolate.

Gently heat the cream with the glucose until just before it starts to boil. You should be able to see steam rising and it will feel hot to the touch. If the cream boils, the ganache can split.

Pour half the cream into each bowl and leave for 90 seconds.

Stir each bowl until a smooth ganache is formed.

 

To glaze:

Remove the cake from the freezer and place it on a raised surface so the glaze can run off the edges.

Tip half the milk ganache into a jug followed by half the dark ganache.

Add the rest of the milk chocolate ganache followed by the rest of the dark ganache. DO NOT STIR – this is what will create the marbled effect.

Pour the ganache from the jug over the cake drizzling it over the edges if it doesn’t flow over everything evenly.

Lift the cake from the base and gently shake/vibrate it with your hands which will smooth out the ganache.

Let the cake stand for five minutes before using a sharp knife to remove drips from the base of the cake.

Decorate with raspberries and chocolate.

48393507_266577934031795_6097080769618903040_n
If the cake looks a little wonky – no one will care 😉
48392688_500874010433349_4496227208632729600_n
Sometimes though, it will be perfect!

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. This cake is beautiful and sure to wow anyone who sees it. If you love chocolate cake (and also love spiders) be sure to check out my chocolate spider cake with marshmallow webbing or if you are looking for something a little bit more classy, why not try a white chocolate and raspberry tart?

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a stunning circular woven vegetable bread.

H

Swiss Meringue

A few months ago, I did a post on making foolproof meringues. This comes as a sort of follow up because what is important about the three different types of meringue is that they are all good for specific, and different, things. I don’t tend to make meringue for any other reason than using up egg whites left over from other recipes – however I have been known to make the odd meringue cake or pavlova in the past.

Unlike French and Italian meringue, swiss meringue is heated before baking. The sugar is added at the start of the recipe and the additional weight literally weighs down the egg whites during the beating resulting in a strong but dense mixture. When making a classic (French) meringue, you can also add the sugar at the start but, because the eggs are not heated, this doesn’t have as much of an effect as it does when making the Swiss variety. One of the benefits of the thicker mixture achieved in a Swiss meringue is that you end up with a super marshmallowy centre without going through the stage that we all want to avoid where putting the meringue into your mouth is like eating a tube of superglue.

Where Swiss meringue really comes into its own is when you are making layered meringue cakes. As the mixture is denser, the final baked product is much less fragile and the rigidity of the meringue makes it a safe option for stacking without any of the edges snapping off. The stability of the uncooked meringue is also far superior to both French and Italian meringues. If left for too long, French meringue will deflate – this is irreparable; beating it again will not help – and, once made, you have a limited time (around 24 hours) with Italian meringue before the sugar starts to recrystallise leading to a gritty mouthfeel with is rather unpleasant.

Unlike both of these, Swiss meringue will stick around for a long time making it perfect for use in icing – most famously, the Swiss Meringue Buttercream. With a much higher butter:sugar ratio than traditional American buttercream, the icing is far less making it nicer for those of us without a sweet tooth. The high proportion of butter does unfortunately come with a cost. This can be a dangerous icing to use in summer as the butter can melt. The meringue does help prevent it getting too runny but there is only so much you can do to hold together a frosting that has become 50% liquid in the heat. Of course the very butter that can cause this catastrophe in the summer is also what allows the icing to set solid in the fridge making it a perfect base layer to have underneath fondant and ganache as you can scrape things off the cake without damaging any crumb coats that you may have already applied. I would definitely recommend using a Swiss meringue buttercream if baking for adults (assuming you have the time) as it has a far nicer flavour and texture that its American counterpart – just make sure that it is at room temperature before you serve it.

I hope you enjoy the recipe for the meringues and that the baking gods prevent any cracks from occurring.

 

 

Swiss Meringue

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 90 minutes

 

3 egg whites

6 oz. caster sugar

¼ tsp cream of tartar or ¼ tsp white vinegar or ¼ tsp lemon juice

 

Put the egg whites and sugar into a large mixing bowl.

Add about an inch of water to the bottom of a saucepan and stand the mixing bowl over the top – the bowl should not touch the water.

Bring the water to a gentle simmer whilst stirring the egg mixture.

DSC05120
You can see the grains of sugar around the outside of the bowl.

Continue to beat the egg mix (by hand as you don’t want to whip the eggs yet, just dissolve the sugar) until all of the sugar has dissolved. The egg mix will feel slightly warm to the touch and a small amount rubbed between your fingers will feel smooth and not grainy. At this point, it will be glossy white and have the consistency of double cream.

DSC05123
The mixture is far smoother after gentle heating.

Remove the egg and sugar from the heat.

Turn the oven to gas mark 1 (140°C) to preheat.

Add the cream of tartar/lemon juice/vinegar and whisk with electric beaters until the meringue has increased massively in volume and is thick and glossy. It should be able to mostly hold its shape when the beaters are removed. This will take about seven or eight minutes.

DSC05125

Pipe the meringue onto baking sheets – larger meringues will take longer to cook. For an added stripe of colour, take a small amount of gel food colouring and straw a strip down in the inside of your piping bag before filling it.

DSC05126

DSC05127

Place the meringues into the oven and prop the door slightly open with a wooden spoon (only about one or two centimetres).

Bake for 90 minutes or until one of the meringues comes off the tray without sticking.

Turn the oven off, remove the spoon from the door and let cool for at least an hour before removing the meringues from the oven. This will help prevent cracking and the formation of a cavity at the base of the meringue.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. These can be served with whipped cream and fruit for miniature pavlovas or Eton mess. You can also melt a little chocolate, dip the meringues into it and leave them to cool to get a lovely, chocolate layer around the base of the meringues. They also make great snacks when you just need a little bit of sugar.

DSC05130

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

H

 

 

Pumpkin Pie

For such a bland ingredient, I find it fascinating that pumpkin has a whole dessert dedicated to it. That being said, the predominant flavour of a pumpkin pie is a sweet, spiced custard. This is not a bad thing in my eyes. The pumpkin is mainly there as a medium to keep the sugar and flavours in one place after the pie is cut open – a job that it does magnificently.

A classic problem most people face with a pumpkin pie is the dreaded crack. This is no Madeira cake, where you want the filling to bubble up from within like lava leaking from a volcano, this is a beautiful glossy pie with a smooth flat top. The reason that pies crack is overcooking – specifically overcooked egg. This is, of course, a problem as the egg is what causes the filling to set and gives the melt in your mouth, custardy texture. As an egg cooks, the proteins inside it tighten and cause it to shrink. Anyone who has fried an egg will have seen how the edges pull in ever so slightly as they cook, giving a slightly smaller, thicker end result than one would otherwise get. This phenomenon, when spread over the entire width of a pie, can do irreparable damage which can be hidden by whipped cream but will always be there.

“So how”, I hear you shout, “can I stop my pie from cracking?” There are two easy solutions. One: do not overcook the pie, the eggs should be just set and the centre of the pie should be slightly wobbly when it is taken out of the oven. Two: replace some of the egg white with egg yolks. In the recipe below, you will see that there is only one egg white whilst there are four egg yolks. The yolk cooks at a slightly higher temperature than the white of the egg and also shrinks far less if overdone. That is not to say that this solution will ensure perfection every time – everyone messes stuff up occasionally. What this does do however is give you a larger margin of error on your pie. With such a high specific heat capacity due to the fat content, the pumpkin pie will take a good few hours to cool. Leave at least four if you are serving it that day. In this time, the latent heat inside the pie will finish cooking the centre. I should note that we aren’t talking about a small central area here, you should be envisioning a solid four-inch-wide circle in the middle of the pie which appears sunken when the pie comes out of the oven. The puffed-up edges will deflate as the pie cools and the centre will firm up. If your pie is fully cooked through when you remove it from the oven, it is almost guaranteed to crack as it cools if it has not done so already.

All that doom and gloom aside, these pies are celebratory. They are a celebration of the harvest and one of the foods which Americans can proudly call their own. The first recipes for sweet pumpkin pies appeared during the 1800s and their popularity has grown ever since. After the civil war, pumpkin pies were rejected by many southern areas as a way of renouncing what they saw as a Unionist tradition being forced upon them. In retaliation, many people ate sweet potato pies or included pecan nuts and bourbon in their pumpkin pie recipes to separate their pies from the classic “yankee” pie. Nowadays, it is traditional to serve a pumpkin pie as dessert after the Thanksgiving meal but they can, of course, be eaten at any time of the year.

I hope you enjoy the recipe as much as I did – I will certainly be making this again.

Pumpkin Pie

Pastry:

4oz cold butter

8oz flour

3 tbsp caster sugar

60ml cold water (ideally from the fridge)

Pinch of salt

Pumpkin Filling:

1 tin pumpkin puree (15oz/425g)

1 tin condensed milk (14oz/400g)

1 egg

3 egg yolks

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground ginger

¼ tsp Chinese five spice (or a pinch of ground cloves, ground star anise and ground pepper)

½ tsp salt

To make the pastry, cube the butter and rub it into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Stir through the salt and sugar.

DSC05101

Add half of the water and stir with a knife until the mixture begins to come together. If it is still dry, add more of the water.

DSC05102

Once the dough has started forming into pieces, tip it out onto a workbench and knead it together into one ball. Try to work the dough as little as possible.

Flatten the dough into a thick disk (about 2cm high) and wrap it in cling film before placing it in the fridge to chill.

DSC05107

In a large bowl whisk the egg and extra yolks into the pumpkin puree.

DSC05103

Whisk in the spices, salt and then the condensed milk.

DSC05105

If you don’t have Chinese five spice, you can substitute it with cloves, star anise and ground pepper, I don’t have these in ground form at home so had to grind them by hand in a mortar and pestle. It doesn’t take that long but you have to remember that a pepper grinder like the ones you would use at dinner will not grind the pepper enough for this recipe. You do not want lumps of pepper in your pie!

Preheat your oven to gas mark 7 (210°C)

Butter a 10 inch pie dish.

Roll out the pastry and line the pie dish with it.

Trim the edges leaving a 2cm overhang.

DSC05108

Fold this overhang back side the pie and press it into the top edge, this will give you a thick rim which you can crimp.

To crimp the rim of the pie dish, one finger of your left thumb and your right thumb and forefinger to press the edge of the pie into a little divot. Repeat this around the whole pie to get a beautiful edge.

OPTIONAL BUT RECOMMENDED: Using foil and baking beads, blind bake the case for around ten minutes. This will help avoid a soggy bottom late on, you don’t need to bake it for long as it will have another 45 minutes or so in the oven to crisp up but I have found that if you do not blind bake this, although fully cooked, the pastry can be a little bit soft.

Pour the filling into the pastry case and place back into the oven for 15 minutes.

DSC05109

Turn the oven down to gas mark 3 (170°C) and bake for another 30-40 minutes. When fully cooked, the pie should be just set in the middle and a skewer inserted an inch away from the pastry case should come out clean.

DSC05110

Allow the pie to cool completely before serving.

DSC05114

As usual, the first slice may be a little problematic to get out but after that, all slices of pie will come out beautifully and taste amazing – just remember to loosen them underneath with a knife or offset spatula before you try to lift them off the plate.

Serve with lightly whipped double cream and a sprinkle of ground cinnamon. You do not need to add any sugar or flavouring to the cream as the pie is sweet enough already.

DSC05118

The flavour of this pie is gorgeous and its custardy texture is ultra smooth and creamy. It is simply divine. Of course, not everyone likes pumpkin pie and if you are one of those people, why not try making my raspberry and white chocolate pie – or maybe ever a quadruple chocolate and salted caramel one? If, on the other hand, you are looking for something a little bit more savoury, why not try making a flavourful hot water crust chicken pie? It’s sturdy enough to survive in a lunchbox and just a good cold as it is hot.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with another meal idea.

H

Chocolate Spider Cake

This cake makes a perfect, child-friendly dessert for a Halloween party. It’s not too in your face with the spiders but there are enough of them to make the cake look a little bit creepy. The cobwebs are also super fun to create which is always a bonus when baking. Hidden away beneath the spiders is a rich devil’s food cake sandwiched together with whipped cream. The cream cuts through the richness of the cake, helping to balance the flavour, and acts as a strong glue to keep the cake in one piece.

Devil’s food cake has been around for just over one hundred years. It is a variation of the red velvet cake and is generally distinguished from a classic chocolate cake by the addition of water as the primary liquid. This increase in water (and decrease in egg content) results in a very dense, rich, moist cake which I far prefer to a classic chocolate sponge cake, which can get very dry. The other main difference between a devil’s food cake and a classic chocolate cake is the addition of not only baking powder but also bicarbonate of soda. The raising of the pH by the bicarbonate of soda causes the cocoa to turn a far darker shade of brown, leading to the almost black appearance of the cake.

The decoration on this cake looks really cool but I would check with the people you are making it for because, although they are not real, the spiders on top can really upset some people. Arachnophobia is an interesting condition because it would have helped our ancestors to avoid contact with spiders – they knew that spiders were dangerous but didn’t know which ones could kill. It is interesting that such a small creature can pack such a powerful punch and it makes sense that a healthy fear of them keeps you alive longer. The thing about arachnophobia is that the extremeness of the fear is not healthy. Like all phobias, arachnophobia isn’t just having an aversion to arachnids, it is an overwhelming sense of fear and panic which is completely disproportional to the danger being posed. For some people, the sight of webs or a picture of a spider can cause heart palpitations, panic attacks or even fainting.

Spiders permeate many different cultures. From Arachne in ancient Greek mythology, to Anansi in African folklore, to Aragog from the Harry Potter series, spiders have woven their way into stories for thousands of years. They are usually representative of some sort of trickster god or betrayal – whether this came before the fear of spiders or after is a cause for debate – and rarely have positive connotations. It is interesting that such a small animal can have such a big effect on ancient stories and even how we act today.

Living in a country where you can almost guarantee that any spider you see will not be dangerous, I find it fascinating how strong a reaction some people can have to them. Even for people without a genuine phobia, the unease felt around spiders is what gives this cake its creepiness and what makes it perfect to serve up around Halloween.

 

Chocolate Spider Cake

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 filling and icing:

200g soft butter

300g sifted icing sugar

50g sifted cocoa

1 tbsp milk

300ml double cream

2 tsp vanilla

 

To decorate:

200g marshmallow

Small round chocolates (Halloween themed spheres and maltesers both work)

50g milk chocolate

 

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4.

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

DSC05078

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

DSC05079

Cream the butter and caster sugar together in a bowl.

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

Repeat with 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.

Once the flour has mostly mixed in, add the rest and beat again to combine.

DSC05081 (1)

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

DSC05083 (1)

Divide this batter between the tins and bake for 25-30 minutes until the cakes have risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of each cake comes out clean.

DSC05085

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

 

To make the icing, beat the butter with the whisk attachment on a stand mixer until it is soft and fluffy. Using a stand mixer is far easier than a hand held one but if you don’t have one, any electric set of beaters will do!

Add half of the icing sugar and beat slowly until the sugar has been mixed in. Then increase the speed of the mixer and beat the icing for another minute.

Repeat the above step with the cocoa and then with the remaining icing sugar.

Tip in the milk and beat the icing for another five minutes to make it ultra fluffy.

Once the icing is done, add the vanilla to the cream and beat until the cream just reaches hard peaks. Make sure not to overwhip it or you will end up with butter!

 

To assemble the cake:

Level each layer of cake – it doesn’t have to be perfect as you can bulk out small dips with extra cream and icing (no one will mind).

Place the bottom layer on a cake board and pipe a circle of icing around the edge. Fill the centre with the cream.

DSC05093

Add the next layer and pipe more icing onto it before filling the centre with cream.

DSC05094

Finally, place the top layer onto the cake and cover the cake with the remaining icing. There should be enough to give a thin layer of icing on the top and the sides of the cake – you will still be able to see the cake layers through the side of the icing. If you want a completely opaque layer around the outside, multiply the icing recipe by 1.5 and make the layer around the cake much thicker.

DSC05095

Place the cake into a fridge for at least half an hour to set the icing.

 

To decorate the cake:

Melt the chocolate.

On a sheet of baking parchment, pipe lots of little chevrons about 1cm tall and 1.5-2cm wide. These will become the legs of the spiders so make sure to pipe at least 9 per spider so you have a spare for when one of them inevitably snaps. Put these in the fridge to set.

Cut the base off each chocolate sphere (about ¼ of the way up the sphere)

 

Once the cake has been sufficiently chilled, you can make the webs.

Pour the marshmallows into a bowl and microwave for 30 seconds.

Stir them and microwave again until all of the marshmallows have melted. You may want to stop heating when there are a few lumps left as these will melt if you stir the mixture.

Continue to stir the marshmallow for three or four minutes until it becomes super stringy.

DSC05096

Pick up a blob and use all of your fingers (wash your hands first!) to stretch it out into a white sheet or a large number of strings. Wrap this around the cake and continue to wrap the strings or marshmallow around the outside until they snap.

DSC05097

Continue to add layers of cobwebs to your cake until you are happy with the appearance. You want to still see the icing underneath as it gives a good contrast. (Wash your hands again to remove residual stickiness!)

 

Use the stickiness of the marshmallow to stick the balls of chocolate all over the cake and add eight legs to each of them. Pipe a small head at one end of each spider.

For added colour, brush a tiny amount of lustre dust over the back of each spider.

DSC05098

 

This cake looks really cool and is perfect to serve up on Halloween for a party or just to an arachnologist at any point of the year. It can look super creepy and with multiple layers of cobweb, the 3D effect stops the cake looking too flat and boring.

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are looking for another Halloween recipe, check out my amazing brain cake – it’s super gory but looks really cool! Of course, if you want something a little bit more tame, why not treat yourself to a wonderful coffee and walnut cake – or even a lemon drizzle cake!

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a delicious lunch which is as good cold as it is hot.

H