Banoffee Cake

If the name fusarium oxysporum cubenese doesn’t strike fear into your heart, you are probably like most people in the world. When information about pathogens, whether they affect humans, animals or plants, is disseminated to the public, the full scientific name of the causative agent is rarely used – if it is used at all. This is because most people don’t care about the tiny fungus/bacteria/virus etc. as the science of the pathogen is irrelevant to them. What they want to know is what this thing does and how it can be treated – in the cause of fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubenese, what is causes is Panama disease.

You are far more likely to have heard of Panama disease than the fungus that causes it. The name rolls off the tongue better, it’s short and it mentions a place that you probably recognise. It is also the biggest threat facing bananas. The fungus is resistant to fungicides and as it displays no symptoms on around 40% of growing stems and buds is easily spread when cuttings of the plant are taken. Banana plants are reproduced asexually – cuttings are taken and grown into new plants – so there is almost no genetic variation across the community. The most commercial variety is the Cavendish banana – the classic curved, yellow, sweet bananas you buy in shops – and the near identicality of the plants makes them highly vulnerable to disease. Genetic variation within the banana plants relies on random mutations which results in far less diversity than is gained by reproduction which requires two plants.

Panama disease has struck before. Back in the 1950s, it almost completely wiped out the Gros Michel banana – the variety that was most commonly available at the time – and banana farmers were forced to change to a new variety (the Cavendish banana) or face bankruptcy as their crops failed. There are currently some varieties of banana which are resistant to fusarum oxysporum cubenese Race 4, the type that affects the Cavendish banana, but these are not commercially available yet. Changing an entire species is an expensive thing to do, the plants take time to grow and there is always the threat that the fungus will mutate again to affect the new variety of banana at a later date.

The disease has been known about since the cultivation of Gros Michel bananas started in the late 1800s – this was fusarum oxysporum cubenese Race 1. The first formal identification was in Panama, whence the name derives, but the disease did not reach its devastating pandemic levels until the 1950s. When a plant is infected symptoms display first on the older leaves and sections of the tree before spreading to the newer growths. The fungus causes the equivalent of an immune response in the plant which causes it to secrete a form of gel into the xylem (the vessels which carry water around the plant – think of them like the veins of a plant). This gel forms a barrier inside the xylem that blocks it off preventing any flow along it. The plant gets the equivalent of thrombosis before the affected areas start to wilt and die.

There is still hope though. As I have mentioned, this has happened before and the banana survived so don’t be too afraid. There is a lot of ongoing research into new, resistant strains of bananas and of course, fungicides which will actually affect fusarum oxysporum. That being said, you should still definitely make this cake as soon as you can because it would be a shame to miss the opportunity. The cake takes the classic flavours of a banoffee pie and transfers them into a new form: banana bread style layers sandwiched with caramel buttercream and brûléed bananas. It simply must be tried to be fully appreciated!

 

 

 

Banoffee Cake

Time: 4+ hours including cooling

 

Caramel:

200g caster sugar

90g unsalted butter

250ml double cream

 

For the cake:

290g plain flour

125g caster sugar

100g brown sugar

250g butter

2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

4 bananas

150ml buttermilk

2 tsp vanilla extract

4 eggs

 

Icing:

To fill between the layers, use the quantities below. If you want to cover the sides of the cake too, double the recipe.

200g butter

300g icing sugar

 

Brûléed bananas:

5 bananas

A sprinkling of brown sugar

(you will need a cooks blowtorch)

 

 

To make the caramel:

Tip a third of the sugar into a heavy based steel pan – non-stick pans encourage crystallisation which ruins caramel.

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Heat the sugar on a medium heat and as it starts to melt, use a wooden spoon to gently move some of the unmelted sugar into the melted areas. Move the pan on the hob so no area gets too dark when melting. You don’t want to burn the sugar. Turn the pan onto a medium to low light for the rest of this.

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Once about half of the sugar in the pan has melted, sprinkle on half the remaining sugar and gently stir the melted areas. The sugar may start to clump but don’t worry!

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As more of the sugar melts, sprinkle on the remaining sugar and continue to agitate the melted areas in the pan to prevent burning and to bring the unmelted sugar into contact with the heat.

Once the sugar has all melted, you should have a light caramel. If it is cloudy, that means not all the sugar has melted! Swirl the sugar in the pan a little to help stir it but at this point, do not use the spoon as it will make the sugar crystallise.

When the caramel is clear, continue heating slowly until it is a deep golden colour. Swirling it gently will help to mix it in the pan so it doesn’t burn.

The moment the caramel is a rich golden brown, turn the heat to minimum and immediately pour in the double cream. BE CAREFUL – the cream will bubble and steam vigorously so make sure you are using a big pan so it doesn’t spit out of the pan. Stir the caramel to make sure it is all mixed. The area with the cream may be thicker than the melted sugar as it is cooled a little but it will remelt and everything will mix together nicely.

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Add in the butter chopped into small cubes or slices. Do this slowly and mix after each addition.

Leave the caramel to cool.

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To make the cake:

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 (200°C).

Line three eight-inch cake tins.

Peel the bananas and put them into a bowl. Using your hands or a fork (I find hands are much faster, more efficient and give you a better end result) mash the banana.

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Pour in the buttermilk and stir it through.

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In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars until light and fluffy.

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Add the baking powder and bicarbonate of soda to the flour.

Beat the eggs into the butter mixture one at a time. If the mixture begins to look curdled, add a small amount of the flour.

Slowly beat in the flour in three additions.

With the mixer on minimum, add the banana mixture and stir it through.

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Divide this batter between the tins and bake for 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Let the cakes cool in the pan for ten minutes before removing them and leaving them to cool fully on a wire rack.

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To make the buttercream:

Beat the butter until light and fluffy. I find this easiest with the whisk attachment on a stand mixer but you can use the paddle instead.

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Sift the icing sugar and add a third of it with the mixer on slow as you do not want to cover your room in a cloud of sugar. Once the icing sugar has mostly been incorporated, switch the mixer back to high for a minute to beat everything together again.

Repeat with the rest of the icing sugar.

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Add a couple of tablespoons of the cooled caramel until you get to your desired flavour. Remember that the caramel will soften the buttercream so don’t add too much if you want to do intricate pipework.

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This stuff is delicious

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Once the buttercream has been made, you are ready to brûlée the bananas and assemble the cake.

Peel the bananas, slice them into 1cm thick rounds and lay them out snugly on a heatproof mat or surface.

Sprinkle with brown sugar until there is a thin layer over them.

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Using a chef’s blowtorch, caramelise the sugar – it is ok if it burns in a few places!

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Leave for five minutes to cool.

 

If your cakes are very domed, you may wish to level them but this step is up to you.

Place one layer onto your serving dish/cake board and spread a thin layer of icing over it.

Lay half of the banana on in a single layer on the top of the cake. You may wish to pipe a thin border around the edge to ensure they do not slip out but this isn’t strictly necessary.

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Add another layer of cake, icing and the remaining bananas.

Add the final layer of cake and top with the rest of the icing.

Optional: if you also wish to ice the sides, spread a thin layer of icing around the sides and on the top. It is ok if you can see the cake through this as this is only a crumb coat. Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes and then add the rest of the icing to the outside, smooth it with a bench scraper or another flat edge that is taller than the height of the cake. You can buy specialist tools for this if you so wish.

Decorate as you see fit. I decided that I wanted to dye some of the remaining icing yellow and ice it with the same design I would use for cream on a real banoffee pie but it is totally up to you. Yolanda Gamp at How To Cake It, where the idea for this cake came from, uses toffees along with banana and plantain chips to cover the outside and give another texture if you are stuck for ideas.

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This cake made me happy

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you have a sweet tooth and are thinking of other caramel recipes, my chocolate and caramel layer cake and tart are both amazing or you could push the boat out with my white chocolate mousse and raspberry caramel tart. For something a little bit more on the simple and savoury side, my hummus and falafel recipes have gone down tremendously well so why not have a go at one of them?

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe and I will be back next week with a recipe that has survived the test of time, it originated over 4000 years ago!

H

Pavlova

Pavlova is another one of those foods which has debatable origins. Both Australia and New Zealand argue that it started with them, however there does not seem to be any conclusive evidence to decide between their claims. This is primarily because the earliest recipe we have for a dessert labelled pavlova is not meringue… it’s gelatine based. What we do know is that the pavlova in the form that we see it today was named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova.

Pavlova should have a crisp outer shell and a marshmallowy centre. This differs from normal meringue which is usually hard all the way through. This difference is attributed by most chefs to the cornflour added to the recipe, however this is probably done to help stabilise the meringue so it does not deflate. What makes the centre ultra-soft is how the dessert is cooked. By using a slightly higher baking temperature at the start, and then reducing it, the outside of the pavlova is cooked substantially more than the centre so it hardens up before the temperature of the oven is reduced. The pavlova is also cooked for less time than you would use for crisp meringues. If you think about it size wise, the pavlova is far bigger than a standard meringue but is cooked for the same amount of time so the central area will not be cooked as much.

I have talked a lot about whisking eggs in recipes on this blog and I thought that, seeing as it is such a crucial element in this dish, I would go into the actual science behind the meringue. Egg whites are about 90% water and 10% protein. Of this protein, the majority is a substance known as ovalbumin. Ovalbumin has a bizarre property: one end is hydrophilic (that is to say, it loves water) and the other is hydrophobic (it hates water, rather like oil does). This is simplified on the diagram below [1] where the green end is the water loving side and the red is water hating. When in the unbeaten egg white, the protein is suspended in water but this is not good for the hydrophobic side. To avoid the water, the ovalbumin curls up [2] encasing the water-hating region inside the water-loving one. As you beat the egg white, two things happen: one, the ovalbumin is unravelled exposing both sections of the protein (the most stable position for it is on the surface of the liquid [3] where the hydrophilic side can sit happily in the water, and the hydrophobic side can float in the air) and two, air bubbles are beaten into the egg white. As you beat the egg white more and more these bubbles are broken up and made smaller and smaller, increasing their surface area. The surface of the bubbles is the perfect place for the freshly uncurled protein to sit so as the proteins come into contact with the bubbles, they begin to surround them [4]. The proteins then form chemical bonds to each other which causes the giant mesh of air and water to become, at least, semi-stable.

proteins 2

When you add sugar to the pavlova, you must do it slowly. This gives the sugar time to dissolve in the water in the egg whites (N.B. this is why you should use caster sugar instead of granulated as the crystals are smaller and thus dissolve faster). If you add the sugar too fast, the weight of the solid grains will break the bonds between the protein molecules and cause the meringue to deflate. This is often unsalvageable – you can try to keep beating the mixture on high speed to thicken it up but it will never be as fluffy as it once was.

After baking, you should get as much cream onto the meringue as possible. The fruit choice is up to you – more colours, and more vibrant colours, will have a more striking effect but really no one will mind as long as it tasted good. Be careful if you use a coulis as this can flow off the edge and dissolve the meringue, so try to make the edges of the cream higher than the centre (like a shallow bowl) as this will help prevent any leakage.

I hope you enjoy the recipe!

 

 

Pavlova

Prep time: 20 mins

Cook time: 2 hours 10 mins

Cool time: 2 hours

 

8 egg whites (at room temperature)

450g caster sugar

1 tbsp cornflour

1 tbsp lemon juice/white vinegar

Pinch of a salt

 

600ml double cream

Fresh fruit

 

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

Draw a nine inch wide circle on a sheet of baking paper.

 

Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks in a stand mixer. You should be able to invert the bowl without the egg falling out at this point. It’s fun to do this over an unsuspecting friend/parent/child/housemate/loved one (but only if you are certain that it won’t go wrong… accidentally)

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The egg whites hold their shape and appear almost cloud like.

Add the sugar a tablespoon at a time with the mixer running.

Once all the sugar is added, continue beating the meringue until the sugar is fully dissolved.

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The meringue should be thick, glossy and hold its shape. This photo was not taken while the meringue fell from the whisk into the bowl, it actually stayed like this after settling, supporting its own weight.

Beat in the cornflour and vinegar.

 

Spoon the meringue into the centre of the circle on the baking sheet.

Spread it out to edges. You can decorate the boarder with peaks of meringue or just smooth it off so it is flat at the sides if you want a cleaner look.

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Some volume was lost as I used carton egg whites for this – they do not whip up as well as fresh ones but I had no way to get rid of eight yolks and didn’t want to waste any. If you use fresh eggs, you will get a far taller meringue.

If you manage to get maximum volume out of the egg whites, the pavlova will be tall too. It is common to use the end of a spatula or palette knife to drag indents up the side to give the meringue a bit more structure when it bakes. It can also help to make the sides a little higher than the centre to help hold the filling in.

 

Bake for ten minutes before reducing the temperature to 90°C in an electric oven or leaving the oven on gas mark 1 but wedging the door slightly ajar with a wooden spoon.

Bake for another two hours.

Turn the oven off and leave the pavlova to cool in it. If you used a spoon to wedge the door open, shut it now. If you take it out now, it will sink and crack.

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To assemble, beat the cream to soft peaks and spoon over the top of the meringue.

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Decorate with the fruit.

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Pavlova profile

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are interested in trying a different type of meringue (which can also be used for this), check out my recipe for swiss meringue – it’s crispy and delicious.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a Mediterranean dish that is great for lunches.

H

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.

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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.

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

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Sift the baking powder and flour together.

Beat this into the egg yolk mixture and set aside.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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

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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

Pfeffernüsse

Pfeffernüsse and gingerbread are very similar biscuits. Both are sweetened with a mixture of sugar and honey/syrup, flavoured with warm spices and often use the same technique to make the dough. The difference, as you may have guessed from the name, is the primary flavour. Whilst pure gingerbread uses only ground ginger, pfeffernüsse use a full quintet of spices. This selection of warming spices gives the pfeffernüsse a most incredible depth of flavour that is hard to find anywhere else in baking.

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Cloves, allspice, peppercorns, nutmeg and cinnamon in their unground state.

As you may have guessed from the name, the predominant flavour of pfeffernüsse is black pepper. Unlike chilli peppers, the spicy flavour that comes from peppercorns is caused by piperine (not capsaicin). This is why the ‘burn’ caused by eating peppery food feels different. Where capsaicin is aggressive, painful and can be felt through the entire digestive tract, piperine is far milder. A measure of piperine has only 1% of the ‘burn’ that would be experienced with an equal weight of capsaicin and causes a less aggressive, more warming, reaction. Black pepper is the spiciest of all the peppers and comes from the unripe fruit of the plant; green pepper is also unripe but picked at a different stage in the growing process; white pepper is created from the ripened berries of the plant; and pink peppercorns are from an entirely different plant altogether. Pink peppercorns are actually from the same family as cashews and can cause allergic reactions in people with a nut allergy!

The lack of much leavening agent in pfeffernüsse results in a harder texture than standard biscuits (although not nearly as hard as amaretti or biscotti). The butter and syrup soften in the oven and the small amount of bicarbonate of soda expands causing the pfeffernüsse to spread a little, resulting in their domed hemispherical appearance. Before they can spread too much the flour cooks, setting the biscuits in their final shape. The cracks on the surface occur as the outside sets but the inside is still flowing, causing the cooked outside of the biscuit to split open. These cracks are never anything to be worried about. With a sprinkle of icing sugar, they can look artistic or with a thick glaze, they are completely covered up. I often find that if I make my glaze too thin, it can sink into the crevasses of the biscuit so do not be afraid if a second coat is required to get a fully smooth, shiny appearance.

I first came across these in Germany but you don’t need to wait to visit to enjoy these delicious treats. They are easy to make and addictive to eat so have a go and let me know what you think.

 

 

Pfeffernüsse

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Glaze time: 15 minutes

 

Ingredients:

125g butter

270g plain flour

60ml golden syrup

1 egg

150g light brown sugar

½ tsp vanilla extract

¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda

¾ tsp ground cinnamon

¼ tsp ground cloves

¼ tsp ground pepper (the fresher, the better – I use a mortar and pestle to pulverize a mixture or black and pink peppercorns for this but fresh black pepper works fine by itself)

½ tsp ground allspice

¼ tsp grated nutmeg (like the pepper, fresher nutmeg works better)

 

To glaze:

450g icing sugar

60-80ml milk

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 3.5 (175°C).

Line two or three baking trays with baking parchment.

Gently stir together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, and spices.

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Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.

Beat in the golden syrup.

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Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat again until fully combined.

With the mixer beating slowly, add the flour and spices and mix until just combined.

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Once the mixture has come together, take a heaped teaspoon and roll it into a tight ball between your palms.

Place the balls about 3cm apart on the baking trays.

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Bake for around 15 minutes until the pfeffernüsse are golden, firm(ish) to the touch and have begun to crack on top.

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Leave to cool.

 

To glaze the biscuits, sieve the icing sugar into a bowl and make a well in the middle.

Add 60ml of milk and slowly mix together to create a smooth, thick icing. If not all of the icing sugar will mix in, slowly add extra milk until everything has combined.

Dunk the top of each biscuit into the icing leaving the base clean. Place the biscuits onto a wire rack to allow the excess icing to drip off.

If you want, you can sprinkle some coarsely ground pink peppercorns over the top to give the biscuits some colour but they look just as beautiful without.

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These keep for a good week or so and actually taste better the day after they are made once the flavours have been allowed to mature!

If you like spiced biscuits, you should definitely check out my gingerbread recipe or if you are looking for a dessert that will suit your Veganuary needs, why not check out my vegan apple pie?

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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!

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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

 

 

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.

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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).

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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

Tricolour Vegetable Bread

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tricolour Vegetable Bread

Prep: 1 hour

Shaping: 30 minutes

Cooking: 40 minutes

 

Ingredients – makes two loaves

900g flour

1 small beetroot

150g spinach

1 medium carrot

3 teaspoons instant yeast

1 ½ tsp salt

1 ½ tsp sugar

 

Peel and roughly chop the beetroot.

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

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

 

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

Make a well in the middle.

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

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

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

Cover and place to one side to rise.

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

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

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

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

Follow the diagram below to set up your basket weave.

basket weave

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

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

Renumber the strands.

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

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

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

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Repeat with the other loaf

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

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Risen and egg washed

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

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

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

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

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

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

H