Chiffon Cake

Chiffon cake is probably the most complicated of the classic sponge cakes. It is like a combination of a genoise and a Victoria sponge. Like the genoise it is a whisked sponge but, unlike the genoise, there is a lot of fat in the recipe, much more similar to a Victoria sponge. The finished product is a flavourful, light cake with a texture far more spongey than any other cake I have had the pleasure to try.

A classic chiffon cake is baked in a tube pan. These are like bundt tins but have flat sides and a flat base – something I will discuss later. The pan provides several elements which are essential for a successful chiffon cake. The most important thing is to not line the tin, either with butter or parchment paper. This is because the cake will cling to the sides of the tin allowing it to rise magnificently in the oven. If the sides are greased, the cake cannot stick to them so will collapse around the edges dragging the rest down with it. The addition of the tube in the centre of the tin provides another wall for the batter to rise up, giving a more even shape and bake. Because the cake must adhere to the tin to rise properly, it must be cut off the tin when it is fully cooked otherwise you won’t be able to remove it. This is why the tin must have flat sides and a flat base. You need to be able to run a knife around the edge to release the cake which is not possible if you use a standard bundt cake tin.

One of the trademarks of the chiffon cake is its texture. It is absolutely jam packed with air. This gives it a light, fluffy feel in the mouth but like everything else to do with the chiffon cake, it introduces another requirement to prevent cake disaster – in this case, collapse under its own weight. We all know how aggravating it is when a cake you have spent time on collapses after baking leaving a huge dent in the top and a dense texture beneath but at least, with most cakes, there is an easy way to avoid this: cook the cake fully and do not open the oven during baking. With a chiffon cake, there is an extra step: you must cool the cake upside down (a technique also used when making angel food cakes). Cakes firm up as they cool but when they come out of the oven, they are still very soft and delicate. For a chiffon sponge, the structure inside is so fragile that its own weight can crush the cake. It will not spark joy. To avoid this, many chiffon pans have legs which will hold the tin upside down while the cake cools. Because the cake adheres to the tin, this will not crush it –  in fact, the cake must now fight gravity if it wishes to sink!

There are four main flavours used for chiffon cakes: vanilla, lemon, coconut and pandan. This is because a light sponge requires a light flavouring. All of these can be paired very well with some sort of flavoured or unflavoured cream or even a curd. Cream and fresh fruit are the optimal items for decorating a chiffon because buttercreams are too dense so their texture would not match that of the cake. Pandan is a Chinese leaf which is normally blended with milk or water before the liquid extracted from the pulp is used to flavour the cake. If you want to try one of these, the pandan extract is used to replace the coconut milk in this recipe. You could even swap the coconut milk for normal milk for a vanilla or lemon sponge, or any flavoured milk if you want to experiment with flavours.

52153189_2231969983690632_1415573134307753984_n

52605917_2228275250527480_1960062072750342144_n
Pandan turns the cake a remarkable shade of green

The cake in this recipe is a lightly coconut flavoured sponge which is split and filled with cream, fresh mango and passionfruit. I would definitely describe it as ‘tropical’ flavoured. Like most chiffon sponges, it is huge – despite having fewer ingredients than a normal cake – so you can feed a lot of people with it. I hope you enjoy the recipe.

 

 

Chiffon Cake

5 eggs

80ml vegetable oil

80ml coconut milk

150g caster sugar

150g plain flour

1tsp baking powder

¼ tsp cream of tartar (or unflavoured vinegar)

½ tsp salt

Flavourings of your choice (eg. Vanilla extract, coconut essence, lemon rind, pandan)

 

To fill:

300ml double cream

Fresh fruit of your choice

 

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 3

Separate the eggs.

Add 75g of sugar to the yolks and beat until light and fluffy. This is easiest using a hand-held electric whisk.

52283870_507995069740034_3854259988792868864_n.jpg

Beat in the oil and then the coconut milk. If you have extra flavouring add it now.

52590411_365913267584991_5803090030574436352_n

Sift the baking powder and flour together.

Beat this into the egg yolk mixture and set aside.

52117067_236983150579535_5731333943240687616_n

 

In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form.

Add the cream of tartar/vinegar.

Beat in the remaining caster sugar a little at a time until it is all added.

Continue to beat until the meringue reaches stiff peaks. It should be bright white, glossy and smooth.

52366974_442317683175880_4382002733784236032_n

 

Take one third of the egg white mixture and gently stir it into the egg yolks and flour. This is to loosen the texture of the yolk mixture so you can mix everything evenly later. If you try to fold the egg whites without doing this, you will end up with unmixed batter. I find a balloon whisk is best for this step.

52859670_1357405471068094_4000269360525475840_n

Fold the rest of the meringue mixture through the batter in two additions and fold until you are certain that there is no unmixed batter or meringue left. The batter should be thick and smooth.

Slowly pour the batter into an unlined, ungreased tube pan from at least a foot above the pan. The slow pour stretches out large air bubbles and causes them to pop giving a nicer final structure to the cake.

Use a spatula to spread the batter evenly around the pan. Insert a skewer and swirl it through the batter to help release any air pockets that survived the trip into the cake tin.

Bang the base of the tin onto the counter a few times to pop the larger bubbles which have risen to the surface.

Bake for 60-75 minutes, until the top crust is a deep golden colour (but not burnt).

52293379_321461278555344_1511697165271957504_nRemove the cake from the oven, invert the pan and leave to cool completely

52253294_323674361594926_4834152576897253376_n

 

To release the cake, run a knife around the outside edge and remove the cake and base of the tin.

Run the knife around the inside edge and also the base of the cake.

Invert onto a plate and remove the rest of the tin.

DSC05268

 

The cake can be served straight up or spit down the middle and filled with cream and even fresh fruit.

DSC05273

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. This cake is super light and airy with an amazing texture – it’s just so spongy! If you are a fan of cakes with less icing, check out my recipe for lemon drizzle cake.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for…

H

Buckwheat Pancakes

Although they have similar names, buckwheat and (regular) wheat are not related – in fact it is closer to rhubarb and sorrel than it is to standard wheat. It has been called a superfood owing to its incredibly high concentration of protein, fibre and selected vitamins and minerals. (Make of that what you will, I’m not particularly taken by so called superfoods, but you cannot argue that buckwheat is healthy.) It is also perfect if you are celiac or gluten free as buckwheat contains no gluten!

Buckwheat is eaten all around the world owing to its ability to thrive in “low fertility” soils. It is perfectly happy to grow in acidic conditions if the soil is properly drained. The plants left after the seeds have been harvested can be dug back into the ground and used as green manure. Its high nutrition levels make it particularly popular when there is little else to eat as it can help reduce malnutrition.

Recently the use of buckwheat in foods has dramatically increased in an explosion of gluten free baking however in Japan and India, unlike in western countries, buckwheat has been eaten for centuries and holds deep cultural significance. Soba noodles, from Japan, are made from buckwheat flour and the lack of gluten meant that an entirely new production system to stretch out the noodles had to be invented. In India, some Hindus will eat buckwheat-based foods on days where they fast as they will only abstain from cereals and buckwheat does not fall under that category so need not be avoided.

The pancakes in this recipe use a mixture of buckwheat flour and wholemeal (or brown) flour. They look healthier than standard crepes… Wholemeal flour comes from regular wheat but unlike the standard white flour we use, it is not bleached (leading to its darker colour). Another difference between the whole wheat and standard white flour is the flavour. There is a distinctive taste with brown flour that you do not get with white.

These pancakes are most definitely savoury. They are delicious for dinner when filled with mushrooms or creamed leeks. You could even treat yourself and have them with smoked salmon and cream cheese! I hope you enjoy them because they are super simple and make a great last-minute dinner when there is nothing else in the house.

 

 

Buckwheat pancakes

2 oz. (50g) buckwheat flour

2 oz. (50g) wholemeal flour

Pinch of salt

1 egg

Half pint milk

Oil for frying

 

In a bowl, stir together the flours and salt.

51753171_257863761804250_2129683332135387136_n

Make a well in the centre and add the egg and half the milk.

Whisk to a smooth, relatively thick paste.

Slowly whisk in the rest of milk to create the pancake batter (for thicker pancakes, only add half of the remaining milk)

52014010_315371075992562_4088911648654360576_n

Heat a frying pan and add a little oil. If you aren’t using a non-stick pan, don’t go to the next step until the oil starts to shimmer otherwise the pancakes will stick.

Pour 60ml (a quarter cup) of batter into the centre of the pan and tilt the pan to spread it out.

Once the top stops being shiny, flip the pancake. It should be golden brown underneath.

52057054_1229802603837457_84838759580827648_n

Add fillings of your choice to the pancake while the underneath is cooking and then fold it in half.

51588401_767312383669618_4387526482633687040_n

You can keep these warm in the oven on a low setting while you cook the rest or serve them straight out of the pan.

51737736_385488902016062_8973409952454410240_n

51638536_455803968289897_2441878835524796416_n

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. For other simple recipes, check out my parsnip and my sweet potato soups.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a deliciously light cake.

H

 

 

 

 

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe

Crème Caramel

Crème caramel looks classy. A perfectly baked custard with a smooth velvety texture and a dark layer on top where it has absorbed the caramel, covered in a shiny, golden brown sauce gives a level of elegance to this dessert that many others lack. It helps that crème caramel is often served in individual portions which makes it seem more personal rather than getting a slice of a huge multi-serving dessert. Crème caramel should not be confused with crème brulee which is also a baked custard; but as the latter is served in its ramekin, the custard is usually less set as it does not need to hold its shape (and of course, crème caramel has a liquid sauce whereas crème brulee has a hard layer of caramel on top).

What makes the custard for crème caramel unique is that is uses whole eggs. Most classic custards used in baking (crème anglaise and crème patisserie) use only egg yolks. This is because a crème caramel needs to be sturdy enough to stand up with no walls to hold it in but also should have a melt-in-the-mouth, velvety texture. Crème patisserie would make a good candidate for this as it is a strong custard which is thick enough to be piped however this comes from a starchy thickening agent (either cornflour or normal flour). This starch gives the custard a far claggier consistency which is very nice in eclairs or holding together a fraisier cake but does not lend itself well to a light dessert – it is far to rich. To get a softer texture, the egg whites are added to the crème caramel as these set when they cook. Egg white coagulates at a slightly lower temperature to the yolks (that’s how you get a runny yolk on your poached eggs) and as such, once the yolks are cooked, you can guarantee that the whites are too and that the dessert is ready to be taken from the oven.

Like most desserts which involve baking some sort of custard, crème caramel is taken out of the oven slightly before the middle is set. This is because milk and eggs have a moderately high specific heat capacity – it takes a lot of energy to raise the temperature by a small amount. As a result, the desserts can lose a lot of energy without cooling too much so they take a long time to cool and the residual heat in the custard will finish cooking the centre without overcooking it (as the overall temperature of the dessert will not rise once it removed from the oven). In the cases of some desserts (like pumpkin pie), the sugars in the custard will compound this effect – white sugar takes 50 times more energy to heat up and cool down than an equivalent quantity of water – and the pie can still be warm up to four hours after removal from the oven.

Crème caramel is best made the day before you wish to eat it. This is so the water in the custard has time to dissolve the caramel. Even if it doesn’t look like there is water available, caramel is hydroscopic and deliquescent. You can guarantee that it will pull moisture out of the custard and then proceed to dissolve in it to make the golden sauce you find covering all crème caramels. If you try to serve the crème caramel too soon, you will see a layer of undissolved caramel in the base of the ramekin after plating up. This is flavour which has been lost! I am not patient when it comes to eating things I have made. I want to eat them as soon as possible but, as I have learnt, sometimes it really is better to wait.

Like anything involving melted sugar, please be careful as caramel will badly burn you if it gets on your skin. Make sure that you don’t mess around with it and that you have access to a very cold tap should you manage to splash yourself. Do not let children near the caramel until it has cooled.

As you will realise, these are incredibly easy to make and taste fantastic. You should definitely try them out. They also make a brilliant dinner party food as they are prepared in advance, low effort and high impact.

 

 

Crème Caramel

 

For the caramel:

200g sugar

80ml water

Butter (for lining the ramekins)

 

For the custard:

1 pint whole milk

4 eggs

25g sugar

1 vanilla pod or 1 tsp vanilla extract

 

You will need 6 ramekins and a large tall sided baking dish which the ramekins will fit into.

 

Place the ramekins in the oven and heat to gas mark 2. This will prevent the ramekins from shattering when you pour the boiling caramel into them.

In a heavy-based steel pan (don’t use non-stick as it will cause the caramel to crystalize) mix the sugar and water.

Gently heat on the hob and stir to dissolve the sugar.

Once the sugar has all dissolved, turn the heat to maximum and boil the sugar and water mix until reaches a deep caramel colour. If you are unsure about how far to go, it is better to err on the side of caution and have slightly pale crème caramels the first time. You don’t want to burn the sugar.

While the sugar is boiling, run a basin about an inch full of cold water. The moment the caramel reaches the desired colour, plunge the base of the pan into the water to cool it. If you don’t do this, the latent heat in the saucepan can continue to cook the caramel causing it to burn.

The moment you have cooled the pan, pour the caramel into the ramekins and tilt them to make sure it runs right to the edges. Try not to let the caramel set too much as you may have to spread it with a spoon and it is very, very sticky (and hot).

51608080_539289069894162_7046747933399580672_n

Allow the caramel to cool to room temperature. Do not place it in the fridge as the environment in it will cause the caramel to go soggy. This usually takes 30 minutes to an hour.  Don’t be worried if you hear cracking noises. That is the caramel contracting as it cools and it can crack a little but this will not affect the dessert. Just rest assured that it is not the ramekin that is breaking!

51672223_322817601679714_520776832023265280_n

 

If you are using a vanilla pod, split it down the middle and scrape out the seeds. If you are using extract, skip this and the next step.

Place it in a saucepan with the milk and gently heat until the milk is body temperature or feels slightly warm to the touch. Remove from the heat and let cool. Strain this before the next step so there are no little bits of vanilla pod in the final desert.

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar. Whisk in the milk (and vanilla) to get a homogeneous mixture.

51128938_796329107392387_5312235634406981632_n

Use butter to lightly grease the ramekins (but don’t grease the caramel). This will help later when you want to remove the crème caramels for serving.

Pour the milk mix into the ramekins splitting it evenly between them.

Place the ramekins in a large baking dish and fill it with boiling water until it comes half way up the side of the ramekins. Bake for 30-45 minutes at gas mark 2. You will know when they are done as the crème caramels will have a slight wobble in the centre when jiggled and will clearly not be liquid anymore. It should appear a little bit rubbery when you wobble them (but I promise the texture is incredibly soft.)

51107140_759837421058626_1481401282009759744_n

Remove the desserts from the oven and the tray and leave to cool to room temperature. Cover them and leave in the fridge until serving. They can be eaten the day they are made but I would advise leaving them for 24 hours as in this time, the caramel will absorb into the dessert giving you the classic, golden sauce that pours out all over the crème caramel when you serve them.

To plate up, run a blunt knife around the outside of the crème caramel, invert onto a dish and jiggle until the dessert comes free. I often find that it can help to detach one area from the side of the ramekin to release the seal.

DSC05245

 

If you enjoy baked custard desserts, you should check out my recipes for both pumpkin pie and a delicious chocolate tart!

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a simple weeknight meal which packs a punch of flavour.

H

Beef Stroganoff

It has been a considerable amount of time since I last talked about a dish that has a defined and traceable heritage, so this is a little bit exciting. We often find that foods have changed tremendously between when they were created and today and this is true in the case of stroganoff. What makes this dish different is that the name has not changed at all. While there is a little bit of contention about whether the dish was named after the Stroganov family (the most accepted root) or as a derivative of the Russian verb “strogat” meaning to chip or shave off, what we do know is that the first written recipe for beef stroganoff appeared in 1871 in a Russian cookery book by Elena Molokhovet: A Gift To Young Housewives.

The original stroganoff did not have mushrooms. Nor did it have onions. It consisted of lightly floured beef cubes which were sautéed and served in a sauce made of mustard and bouillon with a dollop of sour cream on top. Even to this day, it is still common to find stroganoff not in a creamy sauce but in one that is deep red/brown, full of flavour and accompanied with sour cream added after plating up. Some versions also include tomatoes and other vegetables but I like to stick with what I know, mushroom and onion. By removing the beef and substituting the stock for mushroom stock, you can make a delicious mushroom stroganoff which works wonderfully as a pasta sauce.

One thing to note is that beef stroganoff is only as good as the beef that you use to make it. Now I’m not advocating that you go out any buy a tenderloin or fillet steak, that would be ridiculous and frankly, if you want to spend that much money on a slab of meat, you should enjoy the steak by itself. For a standard, fast cooked beef stroganoff like the one in the recipe below, rump steak is the best cut. You can use tougher cuts like chuck or stewing steak if you wish to slow cook the stroganoff but these will not work in a standard recipe. As a result, this isn’t the cheapest dish I have ever given a recipe for but if you fancy treating yourself, why not do it in style? I like to serve stroganoff with long, thick egg pasta noodles as the high surface area can carry a lot of sauce. It isn’t uncommon to see it served with shorter pasta or even rice to soak up the sauce but pasta is the more traditional (and, for me, preferable) option.

 

Beef Stroganoff

Time: 30 minutes

Serves 4

Cost per portion: about £4

 

500g beef steak (rump or round steak is traditional)

2 medium onions – thinly sliced into half moons

500g mushrooms – thickly sliced

2 cloves garlic – minced

2 tbsp vegetable oil

30g flour

60ml white wine/dry vermouth (optional)

500ml beef stock

150ml sour cream

1 tbsp mustard (optional)

Chives to garnish

 

Slice the beef into 1cm strips.

50770299_525133781307816_4193435003561967616_n

Heat the oil in a large pan until it is starting to shimmer.

Add the beef in a single layer and sear for 30 seconds.

51223836_2661446907215688_8488629967188393984_n

Turn and sear for another 30 seconds. Don’t worry about any caramelisation stuck on the base of the pan as this will just add to the flavour later.

Remove the beef from the pan and set aside for later. It will not be cooked all the way through at this point.

Add the onions and fry for a minute.

50805292_345678006156158_8622768637725376512_n

Add the mushrooms, stir and then pour over the wine. This will deglaze the pan and prevent the mushrooms from sticking until they begin to release their juices.

51039859_341981106417654_1896106457774948352_n

Continue to fry the mushrooms for another five minutes stirring regularly.

Sprinkle over the flour and stir through.

51014103_343636709814658_6391537048758517760_n

Add half the stock and stir again until all of the flour has mixed in. Then add the rest of the stock.

Bring to a simmer.

Simmer for three minutes until the sauce has begun to thicken.

Mix in the sour cream (and the mustard). Do not allow the sauce to boil once the sour cream has been added or it will split.

50955206_367709647344383_561527851094900736_n

Add the beef back in, including any juice that has come out, and allow to sit in the simmering gravy for two minutes before serving.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

 

This can be served with any sort of carb but I would recommend long, thick linguini style pasta. It’s even better when the pasta is fresh!

51178845_2314677962100222_170472697996771328_n

The stroganoff can also be frozen for up to three months.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are looking for a classic, classy steak dish but this doesn’t do it for you, why not check out my recipe for beef wellington? It’s divine. If, on the other hand, you are looking for something a little bit sweeter, why not treat yourself to some delicious German pfeffernusse?

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a classic pudding.

H

Beef Dumplings

I was introduced to dumplings a few years ago by one of my best friends and housemate, Yan. I would recommend checking out her blog as she is a phenomenal cook. One time after visiting home for the weekend, she returned with a huge bag of homemade, frozen dumplings. Being the naïve person I am I assumed they were just like a Chinese version of ravioli – most cultures have some sort of meat wrapped in dough in their cuisines. My gosh was I wrong. Her mum’s dumplings were an experience that I have never forgotten.

It didn’t take long for Yan to suggest that we had a dumpling dinner day when we came together as a house and she taught us how to fold dumplings. I feel like I did very well out of this as the standard filling (and the one which Yan made) is pork based. As a result, I ended up making my own filling which was turkey based and there was a lot. Since then, I have experimented with different meat fillings and one tofu one – I primarily use beef and turkey. Coming up with an actual recipe for this post presented something of a problem as I usually eyeball the ingredients depending on how much ginger, garlic or chilli I am feeling like at the time.

The history of Chinese dumplings doesn’t specify the year when they first appeared but they seem to crop up sometime around 2000 years ago. They are traditionally boiled or steamed, however pan-fried ones have become very popular recently. These fried potstickers are crispy on the base and tender at the top. My favourite story of their origin is about a chef who was boiling his dumplings and took his eye off the pot. It boiled dry. Instead of starting again, he served up the dumplings and pretended that they were meant to be crispy on the base. The charade was so good that the eaters believed him and they enjoyed the contrasting textures so much that they requested the meal again. Since then potstickers have spread and nowadays are enjoyed all over the world.

Dumplings are great fun to make and are fantastic to do with friends – it not only speeds up the crimping process but gives you a chance to relax and have a nice chat or a catch up. I do not make them very often as I normally fold all the dumplings alone and I rarely have time for that, however when I can I love to make a batch and freeze them for a later date. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did when I first tried these dumplings.

 

 

Dumplings

Makes around 40 dumplings

Serves 3

Cost per portion: about £2.00

Time: 1.5 hours (wrapping 40 dumplings alone takes time but can be fun with a friend or even if you just put a film on in the background)

 

2-inch piece of ginger

3 garlic cloves

1 medium heat chilli (optional)

500g minced beef

One bunch spring onions/salad onions

1 tbsp dark soy sauce

1 tbsp sesame oil

Salt and pepper to taste

One pack dumpling skins

 

Optional

2 tbsp curry powder

1 tbsp chilli oil

 

Peel the ginger and garlic. Finely chop both and place them into a large bowl.

Finely chop the spring onions, including the green part, and add them to the ginger and garlic.

50218073_392754621526437_3257866516607008768_n

If you want to add some spice, chop the chilli and add it to the bowl.

For curry dumplings or extra spicy dumplings, add the curry powder/chilli oil at this point.

Add the beef, soy, sesame oil, salt and pepper before mixing everything until it is fully combined. I tend to do this using my hands as I can feel when everything is mixed together.

50231600_300248570627568_3196658894722039808_n

 

To make the dumplings, place a circle of pastry on a board.

Add a heaped teaspoon of filling to the centre.

Wet the edge of the wrapper and pinch to seal – this will make a very basic, uncrimped dumpling.

 

To crimp – I would recommend finding video tutorials as words and pictures will probably not do this justice but here goes (there are pictures of the steps below:

If you are right handed:

Make the filling paste into an oval

Pinch the wrapper at the edge of the oval using your left hand

Use your right thumb inside the dumpling to stabilise it and use your right and left index fingers to pinch together a second fold next to the first.

Fold this down and pinch it onto the uncrimped edge of the skin.

Repeat the crimping steps along the edge of the wrapper until you get all the way along.

As you crimp, the dumpling will start to curve around giving a crescent or half moon shape at the end.

Once you have finished crimping, go back over the edge and pinch together again to fully seal.

If you are left handed, just reverse the instructions above.

50293434_2285953691634862_7182834204101574656_n

 

After you have mastered the basic crimping technique, you can start to play around with it and make different shapes for different flavours.

49947656_380969476002927_7988992238346567680_n

To cook, you can either steam, boil or pan fry the dumplings for around five minutes. I would not recommend trying to make these into potstickers as ultra-thin, shop bought skins do not stand up well to the different cooking techniques required to make good potstickers.

50110634_1924843530946510_7822977334150955008_n

These are best served with a dipping sauce made from soy, sesame oil and rice vinegar. I also like to add sriracha for some extra heat. I would give a recipe for the dipping sauce but it is very personal so I would recommend experimenting until you reach a satisfactory taste. Another thing I would recommend is making lots of dumplings. You can eat far more than you think!

50593743_279008712796529_9211414766298333184_n
Steamed crystal dumplings with tofu

If you love dumplings, why not try my turkey filling? Any leftovers can be made into burgers for a separate meal. If you love Asian flavours but would prefer something a little less labour intensive, why not try my sticky salmon or my ginger tofu?

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a layered biscuit recipe.

H

 

 

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

Hummus

I have mentioned several times on this blog about how pasta is my ultimate comfort food however I had clearly overlooked one thing – hummus. Don’t get me wrong, I adore pasta and when I am feeling down it is just what I want but there is something about hummus which makes it a perfect accompaniment to almost every meal. I am not kidding with that last sentence – last time I was in Israel I ate chicken dipped in hummus and one of my housemates at university would put sweet chilli hummus on pasta whenever she was feeling down.

Another thing about hummus is that it is packed full of protein. It is great for vegans or people who cannot digest meat properly. Not only that but the protein content of the chickpea cooking water is so high that you can actually whip it up like egg white and use it in meringues. Each medium egg white should be replaced with two tablespoons of aquafaba, as the liquid is called, when baking. Whilst you can extract aquafaba from all dried beans and legumes, chickpeas seem to produce the most effective one to use as an egg replacement.

The name ‘hummus’ means ‘chickpea’ in Arabic. The full name ‘ḥummuṣ bi ṭaḥīna’ means ‘chickpeas with tahini’. The tahini is a very important part of hummus. It is created from blended sesame seeds and the ultra high fat content enables the hummus to be deliciously smooth and creamy. A lot of supermarkets save on costs when producing hummus by using less, or lower quality, tahini and you can taste this in the final product. Ethiopian tahini is generally viewed as the best among hummus connoisseurs with people all around the Middle East using it to make their hummus. Of course, it is not the most readily available in shops but if you have time to order it online, and the patience to wait for it (or you just want to make the best hummus of your life) then I would definitely recommend ordering some and seeing what you think of the result.

Although it takes a little bit of planning, hummus is a super simple food to make. It also makes a great starter (either for one or at a diner party) as it is served cold so can be prepared in advance. I hope you like it.

 

 

Hummus

Work time: 15 minutes

Waiting time: 12-36 hours

Cook time: 1.5 – 2 hours

 

 

250g dried chickpeas

1 tbsp flour

1 tbsp salt

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Water

200ml tahini (t’hina)

4 garlic cloves

Juice of 3 lemons

1/8 tsp dried cumin

2 tbsp olive oil

 

In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda with a little water to form a paste.

Add another litre of water whisking to ensure all the lumps are removed.

Place the chickpeas in this and add more water to cover if necessary.

Leave overnight (or up to 36 hours) for the chickpeas to rehydrate. They will increase in volume a lot.

48958808_396293737807016_3560158040160206848_n

 

Drain the chickpeas and rinse well to remove all the flour mix.

Place them into a pan with 1.6 litres of water.

Bring the water to a boil and then simmer for one and a half to two hours until the chickpeas are soft and can be gently squished between your thumb and index finger.

Leave the chickpeas to cool for an hour in this water.

Drain the chickpeas (reserving some of the liquid for later use in this recipe. The rest can be discarded or used as an egg replacement in meringues and mousses – this is aquafaba).

49555824_505269916543420_3915922537908797440_n
Leave the skins on. They will blend well so there is no point in going through the hassle of removing them.

Mince the garlic and let it rest in two tablespoons of the lemon juice for a few minutes. This helps to remove the aggressive rawness of the garlic before it is eaten.

In the bowl of a blender, place the chickpeas, tahini, garlic and lemon juice mix, cumin and olive oil. Blend to a thick paste.

49028222_292233791430013_1563898975176622080_n

Taste the hummus and soften the consistency with the aquafaba. Season with salt and the reserved lemon juice.

49621898_2181966728734784_6544972972996689920_n
You can also add fresh herbs to the hummus for extra flavour. Here I have added coriander but parsley, chives and tarragon also work well.

Scrape the hummus into a bowl, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with ground paprika.

49058240_278191212807663_1987791485419913216_n

You do not have to keep the hummus in the fridge but make sure it is covered! Ideally you want to serve this within 36 hours of making it but it is still perfectly edible after this time.

49091440_1049436861909203_7287789130207985664_n

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are still in the Christmas spirit (we are still in the 12 days of Christmas after all) why not try making yourself a delicious Christmas cake or if you are more of a fan of savoury things, treat yourself to an amazing tricolour loaf of woven vegetable bread.

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a recipe for the infamous puff pastry.

H