Baked Alaska

Happy birthday to you,

Happy birthday to you,

Happy birthday That Cooking Thing,

Happy birthday to you!

Hey guys, That Cooking Thing turned two years old yesterday and this post marks the third year for recipes from this blog. I just want to extend a massive ‘thank you’ to those who have been following me since the beginning, a few of you have liked every single post and I feel so honoured that you guys are still here after all this time. To those of you who have joined more recently, welcome and I hope you stay around for a long time to come!

I thought it would be appropriate to make something super celebratory to mark this bloggiversary so this week I have made a Baked Alaska. No corners have been cut in this recipe (although I wouldn’t judge if you bought the ice cream because making it fresh takes time). This baked Alaska is vanilla flavoured with a little bit of chocolate. A layer of vanilla sponge with a dome of creamy, delicious vanilla ice cream with a centre of chocolate chip ice cream all topped with peaks of French meringue and then baked in the oven. The homemade ice cream is certainly the star of this dessert and you do not want to detract from it by jazzing everything else up too much. You can tailor your flavours though, why not coffee ice cream and a brownie base? Or strawberry ice cream and chocolate cake?

When it comes to baking your Alaska, you have three options: the oven, the blowtorch or fire. Traditionally (and as I have done in this recipe) the entire dessert is placed into a maximum setting oven for five minutes to caramelize the outside and give the beautiful golden crust you associate with a baked Alaska. The blowtorch method is most likely the best thing to use if you are piping on your meringue as the blowtorch will crisp any edges (such as those left by a star tipped piping bag) and really bring out the definition of the meringue. If you use a blowtorch, I would recommend using a Swiss or Italian meringue where the egg whites have already been heated during the cooking process. For a classic baking in the oven, you could still use these meringues if you want but there is no need to expend the extra effort as a French meringue will work just fine! The final method – the flambé – is obviously the most theatrical but is the hardest to control. Once you have set the alcohol on fire and poured it over the Alaska, you cant stop the cooking if it goes too far. It might even be worth a practice run on a separate Alaska (just for you of course) to work out the correct quantity of rum to use for the flambé.

 

If you try this for yourself, let me know how it goes – maybe even give me a tag on Instagram so I can see what you have made. Have a fab one and hopefully the next two years will be as successful as the last two.

 

 

Baked Alaska

Work time: 1 hour

Cooling time: overnight

 

Ingredients:

1 tub vanilla ice cream

OR

4 egg yolks

300ml double cream

300ml whole milk

1 vanilla pod

100g caster sugar

 

For the cake:

2 oz. butter

2 oz. caster sugar

2 oz. self-raising flour

1 egg

½ tsp Vanilla extract

½ tsp milk

 

For the meringue:

4 egg whites

8 oz. caster sugar

¼ tsp cream of tartar or ¼ tsp white wine vinegar

 

 

For non-homemade ice cream:

Allow the ice cream to soften a little until it can be scooped easily.

Line a 600ml bowl with a double layer of cling film.

Scoop the ice cream into the bowl, press it down and wrap the clingfilm over the top.

Place back into the freezer until completely solid (probably best to do this overnight).

 

For homemade ice cream:

Follow churning instructions on your ice cream maker – mine requires the bowl to be cooled for 24 hours in the freezer prior to use but other varieties may differ.

Pour the cream and the milk into a heavy based saucepan.

Split the vanilla pod down the middle and scrape out the seeds. Add both the seeds and the pod into the milk mixture.

DSC06101

Gently warm the milk until it is hot to the touch but not boiling. You do not want to scald the milk.

While the milk is heating, lightly beat the egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl until they have lightened in colour and you have a homogenous mixture.

DSC06102

Once the milk mix has begun to steam, take one cup of it and slowly pour into the egg mixture whilst whisking. This will temper the eggs.

DSC06104

Stream the rest of the milk into the egg mix whilst stirring continuously.

Return the mixture to the pan and gently heat, constantly stirring in a figure of eight, until the custard begins to thicken. The custard will coat the back of a metal spoon when it is ready. The mixture will start to steam quite a lot before it begins to thicken so don’t worry if you start to see wisps rising from the surface. Once the custard begins to thicken, it will do so very fast and you will be able to see that it is far more viscous.

DSC06105

Pour the custard through a fine sieve and into a jug. Leave this to cool completely before the next step.

 

If using an ice cream maker, follow the instructions on your machine. Some will have an internal freezer, others will require freezing prior to use. The following instructions are for my brand of ice cream maker: the Magimix 1.1.

Assembler the ice cream maker and turn on the paddle.

Stream the custard into the maker and then leave for 25 minutes to half an hour until the ice cream is very thick and frozen. If you are unsure, and your ice cream maker is still churning away happily, give it another five minutes as this can’t do any damage!

DSC06114

Before you turn off the ice cream machine, double line a 600ml bowl with cling film.

Scoop the ice cream into the bowl, cover the top and leave to freeze solid overnight.

 

 

For the cake:

Preheat the oven to gas mark 3.

Grease and line an eight inch tin.

In a bowl, beat the butter until light and fluffy.

Add the sugar and vanilla and beat again.

Add the egg and beat to combine.

Finally, add the flour and slowly mix until just combined.

Add the milk and mix one last time.

Pour the cake batter into the baking tin and spread it out.

DSC06128

Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.

DSC06129

Leave to cool.

 

 

To prepare the Alaska for serving:

Preheat the oven to gas mark 9.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks.

Add the cream of tartar and whisk again.

Slowly sprinkle in the caster sugar a spoon at a time until it has all been incorporated.

Continue to beat until you have a glossy meringue. The sugar should be completely dissolved.

DSC06130

 

Assembly:

Remove the ice cream from the freezer.

Cut the cake to the same size as the base of the ice cream dome.

Place the ice cream on top of the cake on a baking sheet.

Spread the meringue all over the ice cream and the cake. Make sure the meringue covers everything.

DSC06131

Use the back of a spoon to make peaks in the meringue.

DSC06132

Bake for five minutes turning halfway through to ensure it is crisped up evenly around the outside.

DSC06134

Transfer the Alaska onto a plate and serve.

DSC06137

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. This was one of more complicated things I have made for the blog but only because I made the ice cream from scratch. The final result is absolutely delicious and it is sure to wow anyone you make it for. You could always make mini ones too if you want to do single portions.

 

If you would like to know a little bit more about the different types of meringue, check out my usual recipes for both swiss and French meringues. If you are just interested in the cake element, why not make yourself a Victoria sandwich?

 

Have a good one and I will see you next week with a delicious savoury snack.

H

Decadent Mushroom Pasta Bake

This post marks the end of the second year of That Cooking Thing’s existence. When I started back in August of 2017 I had no idea that I would still be creating weekly recipes two years later. Many blogs seem to fizzle out within a few months of their inception and, to be honest, that is kind of what I expected to happen with this one. I was going into the Master’s year of my undergraduate degree and really didn’t have the time to spend writing weekly posts and making pretty dishes for the Instagram but here we are – procrastination is a powerful motivator for things you do not have time to do. I am now coming towards the end of my second degree and even with the working life looming ahead I hope to continue this blog for the foreseeable future.

I thought that it would be nice to revisit an old recipe and jazz it up for the final post of the year. This recipe was the second savoury one I posted: a chicken and mushroom pasta bake. I like to think that I have come on in my techniques and cooking ability since then, and this updated recipe hopefully shows that. The biggest difference from the original recipe is that this one is vegetarian; there is no chicken to be found in this dish. You could, of course, add chicken if you so wished and it would still taste excellent, but with the growing number of vegetarians and vegans in the world I like to make sure that my recipes are as accessible as possible to as many people as possible. I still eat meat (although with the current political climate and possibility of a significant change in the UK’s food standards, I cannot say that this will not change in the near future) but lots of people don’t and I like to make recipes which do not come across as meaty ones that have just had the chicken or beef etc. removed. Vegetarian recipes should not need meat to be delicious!

Instead of a stock and cornflour-based sauce, the sauce for this bake is based around mushroom paste. The first thing you do is blend mushrooms until they are almost a puree (a far finer chop than you would use to make a duxelle) and then cook them to drive off all the liquid and really intensify the mushroom flavour. This mushroom paste, when mixed with cream cheese, will become the base of the sauce. It should be noted that this sauce can be put on anything you like – it doesn’t have raw egg or cornflour so you can just eat it as it is. You could even serve it as a mushroom pate! The remainder of the mushrooms are then cooked down and the liquid they release is collected and stirred into the sauce to slacken it. All this liquid will be absorbed into the pasta when it cooks in the oven giving it a far stronger mushroomy flavour. I went a bit wild and bought some posh woodland mushrooms for this as I wanted it to be a bit celebratory and didn’t want to use just the standard mushrooms but obviously the recipe does work just as well with those.

Cheese is an important part of this dish. Whilst most pasta bakes have a crust of cheese on top, this one also has chunks of mozzarella stirred into it so when the bake comes out of the oven and is served, all of the stringy goodness can be seen and it is really satisfying finding a big blob of cheese in the middle of your portion. Other cheeses could be added too: goat’s cheese works well with mushrooms, parmesan is always welcome in this kind of dish and cheddar is good too if you don’t want to go out and buy special cheese just for this. The final decoration on top of the cheese crust – finely chopped parsley and basil – is sprinkled over the bake after it comes out of the oven. This prevents the herbs from burning but also means that the aroma isn’t driven off during cooking. The heat from the pasta bake will wilt the herbs and cause them to release their fragrances before propelling the smell of fresh basil through the room as the herbs heat up.

I hope you have enjoyed the blog so far and that you use the recipes. If you do, let me know in the comments or tag me on Instagram @thatcookingthing – you could also use #thatcookingthing because I seem to have commandeered the hashtag. If you have friends who would like these recipes, let them know about the blog because I would love to help and inspire more people in the kitchen.

See you next week for the third year of That Cooking Thing!

DSC05787

 

Decadent Mushroom Pasta Bake

Serves 5-6

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes

 

Ingredients

750g mushrooms

1 large onion

50g cream cheese

20g parmesan

400g mozzarella

1 mushroom stock cube

4 tbsp olive oil

3 cloves garlic

30 ml milk (optional)

250-300g pasta

5 grinds black pepper (or more to taste)

3 large basil leaves & a few sprigs parsley

 

 

In the bowl of a food processor, blend 250g of the mushrooms with half an onion, two cloves of garlic and 60ml water until it is a thick paste (it doesn’t have to be fully pureed).

DSC06066

Pour this out into a large pan and cook until the majority of the liquid has boiled off (about 10 minutes). It should be rather sludgy at this point.

DSC06069

Tip the mushroom paste into a bowl and add the cream cheese. Stir to combine.

Finely chop the rest of the onion and sauté it in a pan with the remaining oil.

While the onion is cooking, chop the remaining mushrooms into quarters (or sixths depending on their size).

Once the onion turns translucent, add the mushrooms and another 60ml water. Cover with the lid of the pan and leave to simmer for five minutes. Give the mushrooms a stir and let them cook for another five minutes.

DSC06071

While the mushrooms are cooking, start cooking the pasta. You want to take it off the heat and drain it about two minutes before the packet says it will be done as it will continue to cook in the oven and you don’t want it turn mushy.

Drain the liquid from the cooking mushrooms into the mushroom paste and stir it through. Taste and season with salt and pepper. This will become the sauce.

DSC06072

Once you are happy with the seasoning, stir in the cooked mushrooms.

Grate two thirds of the mozzarella and chop the rest into 1cm cubes. Finely grate the parmesan. Set the cheese aside.

Drain the pasta and stir through the sauce.

DSC06073

Allow to cool for a minute and then stir through the chunks of mozzarella, the parmesan and half of the grated mozzarella. Do not stir it too long as the heat of the pasta will start to melt the cheese. You just want it evenly distributed.

Tip the pasta into a greased dish and top with the rest of the mozzarella.

DSC06074

Bake for 40 minutes at gas mark 6 (200°C) until the top of the bake has turned golden and crispy.

Finely slice some fresh basil and parsley and sprinkle this over the top once the pasta bake is removed from the oven. The heat of the bake will cause the herbs to release their oils and the aroma will come out without the herbs drying and burning as they would in the oven.

DSC05794

 

 

I hope you enjoy the recipe. I have made this several times recently because it is just so good! I also take it for lunches because it tastes fab cold as well as hot. If you like mushrooms, you should have a look at my mushroom carbonara dish as it is amazing – you could even make your own fresh pasta for it.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with an amazing recipe for a truly celebratory cake.

H

 

Chocolate Ring Biscuits

Whenever someone brings in a Fox’s biscuit selection (other biscuit selections are available), the first ones to go are the chocolatey ring biscuits. The other biscuits are nice but there is something about shortbread with an obscenely thick layer of chocolate that just can’t be beaten for most people. The recipe below is my take on these biscuits. The chocolate layer isn’t quite as thick but you are welcome to double up to a kilo of chocolate and double dip the biscuits if you want them to be ultra-chocolatey.

As the chocolate is being used to coat the outside of the biscuit, and thus will be handled when the biscuit is eaten, it is important to make sure that it is well tempered. Tempering is a process where you control the crystal structure which forms when the cocoa butter in chocolate cools. This is why compound chocolate doesn’t need tempering… there is no cocoa butter in it, they use other fats instead! But real chocolate, with cocoa butter, has a far nicer taste and mouth feel, so to get the best results we must temper the chocolate. This involves melting the chocolate, cooling to a specific temperature and then warming it slightly before it is used.

Cocoa butter has six crystal stages which are arranged by the temperature at which they form: I, II, III, IV, V and VI. This ability to exist in multiple different crystalline structures, as exhibited by cocoa butter, is known as polymorphism and this polymorphic property is what can make or break your chocolate work. When you buy chocolate it has already been tempered and it is packed solid with type V crystals – the tempering not only gives the chocolate a satisfying snap when you break it but also is what keeps it solid at room temperature. Crystal types IV and lower melt well below 27°C, well below body temperature meaning that your chocolate will be soft at room temperature or immediately melt all over the hands of anyone who tries to touch in. In contrast, type V crystals melt just below body temperature (33°C) meaning that your fingertips will not melt it when you pick up the chocolate as they are slightly cooler than your internal temperature but when you put the chocolate in your mouth, it will begin to melt.

The issue is that when you melt chocolate so it can be used for covering the biscuits, you destroy the temper, that is to say that the heating melts the type V crystals which the manufacturer formed in the chocolate. Because of this, you must make sure to heat the chocolate well above the type VI melting point (36-37°C) so that there are no “bad” crystals and you can start the process of forming the chocolate from an unadulterated mixture. While the type VI crystals are solid at room temperature, their melting point is too close to body temperature so they don’t melt in the mouth as nicely as type V. The addition of unmelted chocolate cools the mixture as the unmelted chocolate not only must be warmed to the same temperature as its surroundings but will take in latent heat so that it can also melt. This rapid cooling, whilst also agitating the mixture by stirring, prevents the formation of type VI crystals. The reason we continue to slowly cool the chocolate down to around 28°C is to make sure that it is close to the type V crystal formation temperature. It is then warmed just a little bit to melt any type IV crystals that could have formed, slackening the mixture in the process, and making the chocolate perfect for dipping.

You will notice when you temper chocolate that as you approach the correct temperature, the chocolate becomes a lot more viscous. This is a good indicator that you are almost ready to dip. It will also mean that you get a thicker layer of chocolate on your biscuit and that is always a good thing.

Chocolate Ring Biscuits

Prep time: 1 hour

Cook time: 18 mins

Dipping time: over an hour

Makes around 35-40 biscuits

Ingredients

11 oz. (310g) plain flour

1/4 tsp salt

7oz. (200g) butter

4 oz. (110g) sugar

2 egg yolks

1 tsp vanilla extract

To cover:

500g dark or milk chocolate (you will need to temper this if it is real chocolate).

50g white chocolate for decorations.

To make the biscuits:

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

Place the butter and flour into a food processor and blend until the mixture resembles sand (this is like rubbing the butter into the flour – which also works – but is more effective as you don’t introduce heat from your hands).

DSC05606

Add the sugar and salt and blend again until fully combined.

Pour in the vanilla extract and add the egg yolks. Blend again until everything appears homogenous.

The mixture should feel slightly sticky.

Pour the contents of the blender onto a surface. Use you hands to squeeze all of the bits together and continue to compress until the dough comes together but try to avoid kneading the dough too much so you don’t get too much gluten forming – a little is fine as you need the gluten to hold the biscuits together when you dip them.

DSC05608

Lightly flour the dough and roll out to ¼ inch (about 1/2cm) thickness.

Use a two-inch cutter to cut as many rounds out of the dough as you can.

DSC05609

You can bake the biscuits as they are at the moment (circles) but you will get fewer than 40.

To make the rings, use a cutter just smaller than half an inch (about a centimetre) to cut a circle in the centre of each of the larger circles. I found that the cap from a bottle of whisky was best for this as I didn’t have a proper sized cutter.

DSC05610

Place the rings on a tray lined with baking parchment – leave about an inch between each biscuit.

DSC05611

Place the rings on a tray lined with baking parchment – leave about an inch between each biscuit.
Let the biscuits rest in the fridge for ten minutes to firm up.

Bake for 18 minutes – or until the biscuits start turning golden around the edge.

DSC05612

When the biscuits are cooked, transfer them to a wire rack to cool and leave until completely cold.

If you are using compound chocolate, ignore the tempering instructions. Just skip to the dipping stage.

Tempering the chocolate

Chop up two thirds of the chocolate and place it into a large bowl.

DSC05614

Roughly chop the remaining chocolate and place in a smaller bowl and off to one side for later.

Fill the base of a saucepan with water and place the big bowl of chocolate over the top.

Heat the water until it is just simmering – don’t let it properly boil – whilst occasionally stirring the chocolate in the bowl until it melts. Don’t stir to vigorously (it’s just unnecessary).

Continue to heat the chocolate until it has reached 55°C for dark chocolate or 45°C for milk chocolate. If you do not have a thermometer, dip your finger in and the chocolate should be uncomfortably warm. If you do have a thermometer, you can still dip your finger for an excuse to eat some of the melted chocolate – I would. PSA: remember to wash your finger between dips

Remove the bowl of melted chocolate from the heat.

DSC05622

Tip the contents of the smaller bowl (the unmelted chocolate) into the melted chocolate and gently stir. This will bring the temperature of the chocolate down whilst also introducing the desired V crystals into the mixture. These V crystals from the unmelted chocolate will help seed the formation of more of them in the melted chocolate as it cools.

DSC05621

Continue to stir the chocolate until it reaches about 29°C for dark chocolate or 27°C for milk chocolate. This will feel cool to the touch. If you dip a spoon in the chocolate and place it in the fridge, the chocolate should harden very quickly to a semi-shiny state on the back of the spoon.

Place the chocolate back over the heat until it reaches 31°C for dark or 29°C for milk. If you don’t have a thermometer, heat it gently for about 45 seconds to a minute. This will slacken the chocolate a little making it easier to work with.

Remove the chocolate from the heat again.

The Dipping

Set up a dipping station with the biscuits on one side of the bowl of chocolate and a lined baking sheet on the other.

DSC05624

Use a fork to place a biscuit into the chocolate and make sure it is just covered.

Lift the biscuit out and gently tap the fork on the side of the bowl a few times to let the chocolate drip off.

DSC05625

Place the biscuit on baking parchment and repeat with the rest.

DSC05627

For the white chocolate decoration, melt the white chocolate in the microwave in fifteen second bursts stirring between each heating.

Pour the chocolate into a piping bag, make a tiny hole in the end and pipe lines of chocolate across the entire batch of biscuits. This will ensure that the biscuits have the same design but each one is unique.

DSC05629

I hope you enjoy the recipe. If you fancy trying some classic shortbread or alternatively, going the other way and making yourself some millionaire’s shortbread, you should definitely check out my recipes for them.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a super duper spicy recipe.

H

Tiramisu Swiss Roll

As I have said several times in the past, there is a bizarre mystique that surrounds many baked goods causing people to believe that they are too difficult to make at home. The swiss roll is one item which has been given this reputation by nefarious rumours but is far simpler than you may imagine. They are surprisingly sturdy and once rolled, can be wrapped up in clingfilm or parchment paper and moved easily from one place to another without having to worry about them losing their shape.

The Great British Bake Off has helped bring swiss rolls back into fashion like so many other baked goods. The classic questions which arise when making a swiss roll are: how to prevent it from cracking? How to get a tight roll? I will address these one at a time but the answers are intrinsically linked as what both boil down to is how the cake batter is mixed.

When it comes to preventing a swiss roll from cracking, each backer has their own method which they swear by. I have tried a couple of different methods and will give you my opinion on them, but please remember that everyone has their own way and I can only judge the techniques from the results that I have had. There first of three main methods that I have encountered regarding the prevention of cracking is the pre-roll. This involves rolling up the cake while it is still hot and very soft. You let the cake cool in the rolled position before unrolling it, applying the filling and then rerolling the cake. This is meant to cause the cake to ‘remember’ the rolled-up shape so when the filling has been added, it is easier to roll up again. I do not like this method and, truthfully, I have had the most disasters while using it. Why would you handle a fragile cake more than you need to? You are rolling/unrolling this cake three times more than if you wait for it to cool before filling and rolling. The second method involves cooling the cake flat, still in its tin, under a damp tea towel. The tea towel prevents too much of the steam from escaping but also stops it condensing and being reabsorbed into the cake leading to a soggy mess, as would happen if the cake were covered with a hard object. This method seems to work, but you may have to remoisten the tea towel if it dries out from the heat as you want to keep the cake in a humid environment.  The final method involves adding a little water to the recipe or simple syrup to the finished cake. The additional moisture in the cake gives it more flexibility allowing for a tighter roll as the cake can bend more without breaking.

If you want to get a tight roll, the easiest way to learn is by practice. Trying to avoid too much filling at the end of the cake where you start rolling is imperative, as if there is too much cream it will prevent the cake from folding over into a super tight swirl and you will end up with a cake more reminiscent of an arctic roll. The other thing to do is to make sure that you don’t underfold the mixture when you are adding the flour, if there is too much air left the cake will overinflate in the oven and will be too thick to roll properly – of course you must be careful not to overmix the batter and knock all the air out but, like I said before, practice is key.

Once you have mastered the swiss roll, you will see that it is a great last-minute cake as you can make the entire thing from start to finish in under an hour (assuming you aren’t trying anything ultra creative). The one given in the recipe is slightly more technically challenging because of the addition of the chocolate stripes but if you don’t feel like attempting them, you could always chop up some chocolate and sprinkle it over the filling before rolling to keep the chocolate flavour but avoid the faff of a second batter.

 

 

 

Tiramisu Swiss Roll

Time: around 2 hours

 

For the chocolate stripes:

50g butter

50g icing sugar

30g flour

20g cocoa

2 egg whites

 

For the coffee cake:

3 eggs

125g caster sugar

120g plain flour

2 tbsp instant coffee powder

1 tbsp tepid water

Pinch of salt

 

For the syrup:

100ml water

100g granulated sugar

½ tsp instant coffee

2 tbsp kahlua/tia maria/rum (optional)

 

For the Filling:

250g mascarpone

100ml double cream

50g icing sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

 

 

 

Make the stripes:

Cream the butter and icing sugar in a bowl.

Mix in the egg whites until completely incorporated.

Mix through the flour and cocoa.

The mixture should be a spreadable paste. If it is very thick, add water ½ tsp at a time until the paste is a little thinner.

DSC05492

 

Cut a piece of baking parchment the same size as the base of your swiss roll tin.

To decorate the outside of the cake you have a few options: you can pipe swirls etc across the sheet of parchment, you can cover the whole thing and use an icing scraper to scrape away sections to give perfect stripes or you can use Sellotape to cover areas of the paper to give you completely straight edges on your stripes when you have spread the chocolate mix over the gaps and then removed it.

Once you have decorated the paper, place it on a flat tray in the freezer for fifteen minutes to half an hour.

DSC05493

 

While the design is hardening up in the freezer, butter the edge of your swiss roll tin, this will help you remove the cake later as they can stick rather spectacularly.

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

Sift the flour and coffee powder into a bowl and set aside.

Place the sugar and eggs into the bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment fitted.

DSC05494

Whisk until the mixture has turned light, foamy and thick – around seven minutes. It will not reach the same stability as pure egg whites, the mixture will still flow but will be absolutely full of air.

DSC05495

Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in half of the flour mixture along with salt.

DSC05496

When the first batch is mostly incorporated, add the remaining flour and fold it in.

Pour the water around the edge of the mixture in the bowl – if you pour it into the middle, it can deflate the mixture.

Fold the water through. This additional liquid will help give an even textured cake and prevent it from cracking when you roll the cake up.

Remove the parchment paper from the freezer and place it into the bottom of the swiss roll tin.

Pour the batter on top and gently spread it out. Be careful not to be too aggressive when spreading as you don’t want to disrupt the pattern on the base of the tin.

DSC05497

Bake for 10-12 minutes until the cake is just golden on top and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

DSC05498

 

While the cake is baking, make the syrup.

Combine the water and sugar in a pan.

Bring to the boil and stir to dissolve the sugar.

Add the coffee and stir again.

Pour the syrup into jug and set aside to cool.

After it has cooled for ten minutes or so, add the alcohol of your choice.

The syrup should be no more than slightly warm to the touch when you use it.

 

Remove the cake from the oven.

Lay out a sheet of baking parchment, which is bigger than the cake, on a flat surface.

Dust the top of the cake with icing sugar, loosen the edges from the side of the tin.

Flip the cake out onto the baking parchment so the base with the design is now on top.

Gently peel off the parchment which is on the designed side of the cake.

DSC05499

Cover the cake with a damp (but not wet) tea towel and leave to cool.

 

To prepare the filling, beat the mascarpone, vanilla and icing sugar until the mascarpone has softened.

Add the cream and mix again. The mixture will go very runny and then as the cream is beaten, it will thicken up again. Stop when the filling reaches a thick but spreadable consistency as you don’t want it to rip the cake apart when you add it.

DSC05500

 

To assemble the cake:

Gently flip the cake onto a new piece of baking parchment so the patterned side is down.

Lightly brush the top of the cake with syrup. This will help prevent cracking.

Spread the filling across the top of the cake leaving a centimetre strip filling free along both short ends of the cake.

DSC05501

Starting at one of the short sides, use the parchment to help fold the end of the cake up and over before rolling the cake up down its length. Make sure the seam is underneath the cake as the weight on top will prevent the cake unrolling.

DSC05507

Trim the edges to neaten them up and transfer the cake onto a serving platter.

DSC05504

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are a fan of swiss roll style cakes, why not try your hand at a chocolate log (they aren’t just for yule) or if you would like a slightly simpler tiramisu, check out my recipe here.

Have a good one and I will see you next week with a spicy beef dish which is great for dinner and as a cold lunch the next day too.

H

Pastéis de Natas

I thought that I didn’t like custard tarts. It turns out that I was just unfortunate enough to have never tried these absolutely divine creations. A rich, cinnamon and vanilla egg custard encased in shatteringly crisp, flaky pastry turns out to be just thing to make you feel better after a stressful day… or anytime to be honest.

Pastéis de nata were born of convenience. Catholic monks at the Jerónimos Monastery used egg whites to starch clothes and, as you may imagine, they got through a lot of them. To avoid wasting the yolks, the monks baked them into cakes and pastries. In an attempt to earn some money to prevent their monastery being closed the monks joined with the local sugar refinery to sell small custard tarts. The monastery still closed (in 1843) and the recipe was sold to the owner of the sugar refinery who opened the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém in 1837. Their descendants still own the patisserie to this day which is where the Pastéis de Belém, an alternative name for the pastries (but only when sold from this specific shop), can be bought.

There are two things which stand out to me about the Pastéis de nata separating it from the level of mediocraty that most custard tarts inhabit and both of them are to do with the pastry. Firstly, the pastry is a soft lamination. That is to say, the butter is not kept super cold like in classic puff pastry but is instead so soft that you can easily spread it on a very fragile dough. Secondly the lamination in the final product is vertical.

By using soft butter in the pastry, the lamination is far less pronounced than it would be for a classic puff pastry. The definition between the layers isn’t as strong because some of the softer butter is absorbed into the pastry while it is being rolled. This creates a texture which is somewhere between standard puff pastry and Danish pastry dough. The ultra-high oven temperature causes the pastry to cook very quickly resulting in a super crisp exterior and ensuring that the pastry is fully cooked despite no blind baking and only a short baking time. This also prevents the butter melting into the pastry in the oven as the flour begins to cook before it can absorb any more of the fat.

The direction of the lamination has a distinct effect on the final product. Where normal puff pastry has horizontal layers, the Pastéis de nata dough has vertical ones. This means that it expands horizontally in the oven, outwards and not upwards, which prevents it forcing the filling out and spilling. It also gives a far more beautiful final result as the lamination in the pastry walls of the tart is far more prominent than if a standard puff pastry had been used.

I know they are a bit of a faff to make but I guarantee that these pastries are 100% worth it. Let me know how they go for you!

Pastéis de Natas

Makes 24

Cook time: 15-20 minutes

Prep time: 45 minutes

Rest time: at least 4 hours

Ingredients:

270g flour

200ml water

Pinch salt

250g very soft butter

6 egg yolks

250ml + 60ml milk (the creamier the better, but don’t use actual cream!)

3 tbsp flour

265g sugar

150ml water

1 cinnamon stick

1 tsp vanilla extract

To make the pastry:

In a stand mixer:

Put the flour, water and salt into the bowl of a mixer with the dough hook attachment.

Mix and knead with the stand mixer until the dough forms a very soft bowl and starts to come away from the sides of the mixing bowl.

Heavily flour a surface, tip the dough onto it and coat in flour.

Wrap in cling film and leave for at least fifteen minutes.

By hand:

Stir the salt into the flour and pour in the water.

DSC05460

Using a wooden spoon, mix the ingredients until they are combined and form a very soft dough.

DSC05461

Tip onto a surface and use a pastry scraper to help stretch and knead the dough. DO NOT ADD MORE FLOUR.

Once the dough begins to get more elastic and less sticky (around ten minutes), coat it in flour, wrap in plastic and leave to rest for at least a quarter of an hour.

DSC05462

If your butter is not super soft, heat it gently in the microwave, for ten seconds at a time until it begins to soften. Make sure to stir between each heating to ensure that it doesn’t fully melt anywhere. Make sure the butter is very soft before setting aside.

DSC05465
This butter has been heated too much. If your butter also melts, allow it to cool in the fridge and stir it vigorously every five minutes to ensure it doesn’t set at the edges whilst remaining liquid in the centre. Continue this until the butter is a thick pastey consistency.

Generously flour a surface and turn out the dough.

Roll it into a rectangle about 18”x12”.

DSC05466

Take one-third of the softened butter and spread it down two-thirds of the length of the dough. Do not spread it all the way to the edges.

DSC05467

Fold the unbuttered third of the dough across and then fold the opposite side on top to create three layers. Gently press the edges to seal.

Rotate the pastry through a quarter turn and reflour the surface if necessary. The pastry is super soft and sticky so don’t be afraid to use a lot of flour at this stage.

Roll it out again into a rectangle and repeat the folding instructions with another third of the butter (half of what is left).

Rotate, roll and old again using the remaining butter.

Roll out the dough into an 20”x18” rectangle.

Roll it up into a tight log starting at the closer side to create a spiral of lamination.

DSC05469

Wrap the dough up and refrigerate for at least four hours and preferably overnight.

To make the filling, whisk the 60ml portion of milk into the flour in a large bowl.

DSC05474

In a heavy based pan, add the sugar, water and cinnamon stick. Heat to dissolve the sugar and bring to the boil without stirring. Leave for one minute.

DSC05473

DSC05476

While the sugar is dissolving, scald the remaining milk. This is done by bringing it to the boil in a separate pan.

The moment the milk boils, take it off the heat and pour it into the flour and milk mix whisking constantly.

Once the sugar syrup has boiled for a minute, take it off the heat. Remove the cinnamon stick and like the milk, pour it in a thin stream into the flour mixture, whisking constantly.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks to break them up.

While continuing to mix, pour in the milk and sugar syrup mix in a thin stream. This is very hot and you want to avoid cooking the eggs and causing them to scramble.

Once the eggs are incorporated, stir in the vanilla extract.

Strain the filling mixture into a jug, cover and leave to cool.

DSC05477

To assemble the tarts:
Preheat your oven to 260°C (500°F) or the highest setting (this tends to be around gas mark nine which is 230/240°C).

Lightly butter a 12 pan cupcake tin.

Remove the pastry from the fridge, cut in half lengthwise and place half of it back into the fridge.

If the ends aren’t straight, you may have to trim them.

Cut the log into twelve rounds and place them into the tins with the spiral of lamination facing upwards.

DSC05478

Leave for fifteen minutes to soften.

Fill a small ramekin with water as you will need wet fingers for the next bit.

Using wet thumbs, gently flatten the centre of each piece of dough – do not flatten the edge, you want a sort of well shape.

Moving outwards, gently squash the dough into the shape of the tin coming about three quarters of the way up the side (there are plenty of videos online which will show you how to do this properly).

Use half of the filling mixture to fill the cases about 75-80% full.

DSC05480

Bake for fifteen to twenty minutes, turning at ten minutes, until the top of the tarts has blistered to dark brown is several places. You don’t want them to be fully dark brown all over but you also want a bit of colour.

DSC05482
The tarts will come out of the oven puffed up. The filling will collapse as they cool.

Take the tarts from the oven and let cool for five minutes before removing from the tin.

DSC05484

These are best served still warm from the oven (but not boiling hot) and sprinkled with a little bit of icing sugar and cinnamon. The filling is delicious and the pastry is stunningly crisp. The pastry will stay crisp for about 48 hours but soften over time.

Store in the fridge where possible!

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are a fan of flaky and puff pastry, be sure to check out my recipe for it – I promise that it isn’t as hard as it seems. You could even use your puff pastry to make salmon en croute or Beef Wellington.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a delicious roast dinner with an obscene amount of garlic. It’s wonderful.

H

Falafel

When most people think of falafel, they think of chickpeas. Now, they aren’t technically wrong as the main constituent of modern falafel is chickpeas however they were traditionally made with fava beans. Falafel is still made with fava beans in many places – notably Egypt which is believed to be where falafel (ta’amiya) originated from. It is not uncommon to find a mixture of chickpeas and fava beans in falafel either but for most people, especially those in the western world, chickpeas are the favourite.

As with hummus there is much debate over the specific origin of falafel. It is generally accepted that the food which evolved into the falafel we know today was Egyptian, however many countries in the Middle East claim falafel as their own, even going as far as calling it their national dish at various points in history. In a surprising turn of events, there are also those who claim that India owns the rights, as it were, to the falafel’s creation – although I cannot find any evidence to support this so if you know of any I would love to hear about it! The movement of nomadic groups around the middle east would have meant that falafel was transported all over the area. This could very easily give rise to the arguments that exist today.

There are hundreds of different varieties of falafel, the main differences between them arising from the addition of different flavouring elements. Fresh herbs, dried spices, alliums, even the length of the time the dried beans are left soaking can all have an effect on the final product. Fava bean falafels often contain leeks whereas a chickpea-based mixture will usually include onions or spring onions (scallions). Both varieties have a hefty amount of garlic (as they should) and regularly contain fresh parsley and coriander which gives rise to a lurid green centre when you bite into the falafel. I have seen recipes for both falafel and hummus where you are instructed to leave the chickpeas in their soak for days until they sprout as this apparently gives a sweetness to the final product. Again, I have never tried this but let me know if you have and if it works. I doubt I would be successful if I tried this as the salt in the soak I leave the chickpeas in is probably high enough in concentration to kill any part of the chickpea which is still alive.

When making falafel, it is imperative that you start with dried chickpeas. This is because canned chickpeas come pre-cooked and, while this is just about acceptable when making hummus, for good falafel the chickpeas must be raw. When chickpeas are cooked, the starch inside them bursts and comes out into the liquid they are cooked and cooled in giving rise to aquafaba. Unfortunately, this starch is essential to making good falafel as without it they will fall apart during cooking. You can avoid this by adding some flour to bind the mixture together but it won’t have the fluffy inside and crispy outside that you want for the best falafel. This can only be achieved by making them from scratch (which is brilliant if you are cooking on a budget as a bag of dried chickpeas can make twelve generous portions of falafel and only costs about £1.20).

The final combination of herbs and spices is of course completely up to you. The ones given in the recipe below are my favourite but everyone has their own preferences. By adding salt to the original soak, the chickpeas are already a little bit seasoned so you may have to play around with the amount you add depending on whether you are a salt fiend like me or not. The bicarbonate of soda and flour are there to help soften the skin of the chickpeas so they can absorb more water but will not impact the flavour in any way as they are completely washed off.

I would serve these with fresh hummus and pitta bread – perhaps a laffa or taboon bread if you are feeling like a bigger portion. You can stuff the pitta with hummus and spicy sauces, pickled veg and fresh salad (tomato and cucumber are popular) before topping it with these glorious crunch balls. Enjoy the recipe and let me know how it goes for you.

 

Falafel

Soak time: 12-36 hours

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Serves: 6

Cost per serving: around 50p

 

 

250g dried chickpeas

1 tbsp flour

1 tbsp salt

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 medium onion

4 large cloves garlic

3 tbsp chopped parsley

½ tsp ground cumin

½ tsp ground coriander

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Place the chickpeas into a bowl and fill it with water.

Mix the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda with four tablespoons of water to make a slurry.

Stir the slurry into the chickpeas and water.

Leave overnight or for up to 36 hours for the chickpeas to rehydrate.

 

Drain the chickpeas and rinse them to remove all of the flour mixture.

Roughly chop the onion and garlic and put into the bowl of a large food processor.

Add the parsley, chickpeas, cumin and a little salt and pepper.

53905666_2237270909875533_822571771457699840_n

Blend to make a rough mixture. It will begin to clump with the liquid from the chickpeas – this is good! As the chickpeas are raw, you will not get a smooth paste.

53777524_355971808592267_4473399569123639296_n

Shape into patties just under an inch thick  – a rounded tablespoon of mixture per patty should give you 35 falafel from this recipe.

53552208_2315234032087252_7943089539147366400_n

Add a centimetre of oil to the base of a large frying pan and heat. Use a little of the falafel mixture to tell when the oil is ready, it should bubble around any falafel added – please note that the oil will not bubble unless something is in it and is very hot. Do not let children near hot oil.

53216955_602148883594351_2205238648754929664_n

Place the falafel in the pan and leave for two minutes until the base is golden. Flip and repeat with the other side. Continue to flip the falafel until they are a dark brown all around the outside.

53487519_818124638539625_6141550152332083200_n

If you are cooking the falafel in batches, keep them warm in the oven (on its lowest setting) until all the falafel are cooked. Place them onto a piece of kitchen roll when you take them out of the pan to remove any excess oil.

53812021_247466679533529_5432148338172493824_n

 

Serve with hummus, pitta, schug and fresh salads for a delicious, middle eastern feast.

DSC05341

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you want to make your own hummus to go with these falafel, check out my recipe. It’s ultra-smooth and pairs beautifully with the crispiness of the falafel.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a miniature cake recipe.

H

 

 

 

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