A week in the life of …. my oven!

image

So maybe not the most exciting post but my oven is an essential part of my daily life without which I couldn’t run my little business.

When I visit my mums house her oven is ALWAYS immaculate – it looks like she never uses it and it has always been like this – I don’t know how she does it but it just doesn’t get dirty – or she is a magical cleaning wizardess – I suspect the latter! Well I can probably never live up to those dizzy heights. My oven on the other hand seems to get greasy and grimy even without using it, but admittedly its on most days not just with cakes but home cooked meals and the weekly roast adored by my family! As I bake for others it is essential I keep the oven clean and it regularly gets a total blitz – I like to use OvenPride its pretty toxic stuff but it does the job without too much scrubbing.

However, how to master the keeping it clean between cleans magic – Croylek asked me if I would like to trial their Tufflek teflon oven mats – so of course I said yes and here are the results.

Day1: My 13 year old oven looking very smart with its freshly trimmed mat

image

& chicken wrapped in bacon and new roast potatoes for supper

image

Day2: Just a few cakes to bake

image

image

Day3: More cake and a few marks on the mat easily removed with a damp cloth

image

image

Day 4: roasting chicken thighs for my poorly dog to eat!

image

Day 5: Beef and ale pie with wedges!

image

Day 6: Little lemon cakes and lasagne for supper

image

image

Day 7 : slow roast lamb and roast potatoes

image

and a quick wipe over and its like new!

image

Well I don’t think I’ve have ever kept my oven so clean – so perhaps I haven’t put the mat properly through its paces – how about a greasy bacony grill pan. My teens are bacon obsessed but not so clean the grill pan obsessed. So here it is pre and post cleaning

image

image

A few grease spots left but it literally took a rinse over with warm water and a squirt of washing up liquid.

Conclusions : yes there are lots of teflon mats out there and I’m not sure these are much different to most but they do work, they do the job perfectly and at £4.99 per mat on Amazon they are a competitive price. I have a spare mat for you to win too! Just follow my self @becksbake and @Croylekstore on twitter and retweet the link to this blog post and I will draw a name out of a hat on 1st September.

Croylek kindly sent me complimentary mats to try however the views here are completely my own.

Silicone Mats and new recipes!

image

I am quite a traditionalist when it comes to my baking equipment, I like my metal baking trays and am happy using non stick baking parchment, so when I was asked if I would like to try some silicone mats I must admit to being a little dubious.

Kitchenways kindly sent me this set of two to trial run and here is how I got on with them.

image

My first observation was that they have two sides – a smooth side and an imprinted side – the instructions on the back of the packet are rather generic to all of the silicone bakeware products I suspect and I wasn’t sure which side to use. As a silicone newby this would have been helpful information. Secondly do I need to grease or not? nothing helpful there either.

My first outing with the mats was when making meringue shards – unfortunately a complete disaster – I have heard that macarons don’t cook well on silicone mats either – The meringue didn’t dry out enough ( I feel the thick silicon changed the way the heat was conducted from the metal baking tray) and stuck terribly to the mat (I hadn’t greased it). So I would definitely not be using it for those again. I canvassed a bit of opinion from bakey pals who do use silicone and decided to try biscuits and greasing!

I was given Eric Lanlards new book, Afternoon Tea for my birthday and as there was a biscuit challenge over on twitter #GBBOTwitterBakeAlong run by Bakes4fun and @BakingNanna this was the ideal chance to try a new recipe.

Cardamom Biscuits

The full recipe for these biscuits can be found in Afternoon Tea by Eric Lanlard, but here is how I got on.

The basic biscuit is a shortbread style dough so rubbing in cold butter to flour and sugar, with just a small amount of ground cardamom.

image

image

I get mine from Steenbergs – it has a lovely flavour.

There is quite a high butter content which makes the ‘rubbing in’ a bit tricky – make sure to use the tips of your fingers so you don’t melt the butter to get to this ‘breadcrumb’ stage – it will make for a lighter biscuit.

image

You then add the vanilla bean paste, I like this Nielsen Massey one as I can get it in the supermarket and it has a lovely flavour, finally bring together into a dough.

image

It is key with biscuit making to allow the dough to rest in the fridge, the recipe says for 1 hour, so wrap well in cling film to be sure it doesn’t dry out.

The next step in the recipe was to roll out the dough. My tip here would be to split the dough in half so you don’t keep re-rolling the same dough over again, as this will cause the biscuits to go tough.

The recipe said to roll out to 1cm or 1/2inch, that seemed extraordinarily thick to me and certainly didn’t seem to match the picture in the book – I suppose shortbread is often quite thick but I felt that this wasn’t quite right so opted for 1/2cm instead. I have a fab rolling pin with guards on with measured thicknesses, this really helps get an even layer of dough for cutting.

You are then told to cut your desired shapes, transfer to a greased baking mat, I decided to grease my silicone ones this time, and press a blanched almond into each biscuit.

image

Chill once more for 20 minutes before baking.

So onto my next bone of contention with the recipe – the instructions say to bake at 170C or 140 fan oven, 30C is an awful lot to reduce a temperature by for a domestic fan oven and as the baking time was only 12  minutes I guessed 140C fan would be too low (even more so had I stuck to the original 1cm depth).

So 12 minutes in, the biscuits weren’t golden brown at all, in fact they barely had changed colour, so I added on 3 minutes, then maybe 2 more minutes? Still no better, so I turned the oven up by 10C and gave them another 3 minutes. By this point I was worried they would be drying out but they still hadn’t achieved the lovely golden colour in the book.

The next step was to leave them to cool enough to handle, remove from the baking sheets (which they did perfectly) then dip the corners in golden caster sugar, which I duly did but you couldn’t see it at all, the whole thing looked really insipid.

image

These were to be a gift so tasting good alone wasn’t enough I needed them to look tasty too. I ended up resorting to my blowtorch to caramelise the sugar and the almonds and finally they looked the part

image

If I make them again, and I probably will as they were delicious, I think I will sprinkle the biscuits with the golden caster sugar before I add the almonds and bake at a higher temperature. The ones in the book have a light sheen to them under the almond and the dipped sugar which I reckon was achieved this way. Its such a shame when recipes seem not to have been tested properly in books, but I will try some others before I condemn this particular book to the charity pile.

As for the mats – yes they bake biscuits very nicely, they save the need to use baking parchment which then gets thrown away and are easy enough to clean, my only request is some more detailed instructions on using them on the packet.

image

#kidsinthekitchen

image

imageOne of my biggest passions in encouraging kids into the kitchen. I firmly believe that if you get kids involved in cooking food they learn to enjoy a much wider variety of flavours, they become more adventurous in their food choices and grow up with a healthy relationship with food. Thats how, a number of years ago, I started my after school kids club Funkilicious Food, we have covered numerous topics from creating simple suppers to learning how to bake and I have taught a wide variety of ages too – with even some requests from my grown up friends that we have cooking workshops at my house run by me or guest chefs. It’s all great fun.

Most of my cooking is learning about doing it from scratch but anything that entices children into the kitchen is good in my book, so I was delighted to be asked to try out a couple of Junior Bake boxes by My Bakes . The idea behind the boxes is that at the start of each month you are sent a box through the post (it fits through your letterbox).

Inside is and instruction sheet, some ingredients – although you do need to add fresh ingredients – and some additional items that you need to make your bake.

You can just get a one off box or subscribe for a period of 3, 6 or 12 months.

My kids are a bit grown up for this now so I ‘borrowed’ a couple of neighbours children Daisy 9 and Olive 7 to test run the boxes.

This months box was to cook some cupcakes with a coloured buttercream topping and sprinkles. We needed to provide the eggs and butter and you also needed a bun tin to put the cases in.

Daisy did a great job at reading the instructions for us, we made the cupcakes by hand and the girls had fun creaming in the ingredients.

imageBut breaking in the eggs was definitely the fun part and folding in the flour brought a few more smiles.

image

With Olive passing a critical eye over her big sisters technique!

They filled the cases very carefully….

image

But we definitely found that the mixture made far more than the 10 cases provided could hold, so luckily I had a few spare to hand.

image

And it left plenty for licking out the bowl at the end!

The cakes baked really quickly but left just about the right time to make the buttercream.

We used the power tools this time – more excitement using the icing sugar provided and our own butter. We added the colouring from the little bag which was quite tricky but made it a lovely vibrant pink.

image
Enter a caption
We scraped the mixture into the provided bags, but I let the girls choose a nozzle each from my kit so they could make pretty shapes – this would have been a nice keepsake to be included in the kit so the kids could have built up their own baking equipment store.

We draped the bags over a plastic cup to make it easier to fill them, my own tip, again little tips like this make baking easier for kids and maybe it could have been included on the instructions. We also put a plastic bag clip on the top of the piping bags to stop the mixture squeezing out of the wrong end of the bag – a top tip for kids and adults alike.

image

We piped swirls and stars on then added the little hearts and glitter which went down really well with Daisy and Olive

image

The girls were rightly super proud of their cakes

image

image

Both girls said said they had a fun time and that receding a box through the post like this would be a great thing to look forward to. My thoughts are that it would certainly encourage kids into the kitchen and especially suitable for families that don’t bake much themselves already. The instructions were clear and easy to follow and the packaging attractive. I do think it would be nice to provide something that was a keepsake or a baking tool that could be used again, once you have made everything, other than the recipe the box is finished with once you have made the cakes.

However I do think the boxes are a great way of getting kids baking, a subscription would make a wonderful Christmas or birthday present that give a skill to last a lifetime.

Check out Bake boxes for adults and kids by My Bakes here 

A Royal Bake #fitforaqueen

image

I was encouraged recently to enter a competition I saw over on Twitter to bake a cake #fitforaqueen being run by Kitchenways, details of the competition are in the link. Earlier in the year I baked a cake that I named my Elizabeth cake but felt I could improve it and make it more refined for the royal birthday so here it is:

English Country Garden Coronet Cake

image

The cake is a featherlight lemon sponge filled with a fresh lemon curd cream, fresh strawberries and blueberries. It is surrounded by a coronet of meringue shards that have been decorated with dried cornflowers and freeze dried strawberry pieces. The whole cake is topped with fresh edible red, white and blue British grown organic flowers from Maddocks Farm with a tiny gold coronet nestled in the centre of the garden. I have chosen these flavours as they say fresh British produce and flavours to me with a hint of Eton Mess combined with a WI feel lemon curd. The flowers are reminiscent of a typical English country garden in spring and come from an enterprising British company.

Its quite a technical bake in several aspects but in case you wanted to make this cake here comes the recipe. Alternatively bake your own #fitforaqueen cake and enter the competition yourself.

Meringue shards

2 egg whites

150g caster sugar

Dried cornflower petals

Freeze dried strawberries (6g tube)

Lemon curd cream

4 egg yolks

grated rind and juice of 2 lemons

100g caster sugar

250ml double cream

Sponge

4 eggs

100g caster sugar

100g plain flour

1 lemon

extra 60g sugar

To finish

Fresh edible organic flowers

150g strawberries

100g blueberries

Gold sugar paste / crown cutter

Firstly make the shards

Prepare two large baking trays with silicon sheets or parchment paper at least 30 cm x 20 in size.

Preheat the oven to 100C fan

Then make sure the stand mixer is super squeaky clean, I rinse the bowl and whisk in a little white wine vinegar, then dry with a paper towel.

Add the egg whites to the bowl and switch on the mixer really low.

Put the sugar in a glass bowl and warm in the microwave for 1 – 2 minutes.

Once the sugar is slightly warm it will stick just a little to the edges of the glass bowl and feel just warm to the touch.

Once the egg whites are nice and loose and the sugar is warm , turn the mixer up and whisk to a soft peak

image

Once this stage is reached turn the mixer to a medium speed and slowly spoon by spoon add the sugar. Whisk really well between each addition.

Once all the sugar has been added continue to whisk on a highish speed until the meringue is stiff and glossy and if you rub a little between your fingers you cannot feel the sugar granules.

image

Dollop half of the mixture on each sheet and spread out flat and rectangular shapes with a palette knife – about 20 x 30cm . they should be as even as possible and only a few mm thick.

image

Sprinkle with the dried cornflowers but not the strawberries yet!

Bake for 40/45 mins until dry all the way through and lifting easily from the parchment.

Remove, sprinkle with the strawberry pieces and spray very lightly with water to fix.

image

Allow to cool

To make the curd cream

Put the egg yolks, grated rind  and juice with the sugar into a bain marie ( or a heatprrof bowl). Place over a pan of barely simmering water and stir constantly until the curd thickens.

image

Once thickened sufficiently it will come away from the edges of the pan, be glossy and settle in position.

image

Transfer to another dish and cover with cling film, allowing the film to connect with the mixture. Leave to cool completely – you will finish the cream later.

image

To make the sponge

Grease and line the base and sides of 4 shallow 6 inch tins, (or as I did 2 shallow and 1 deep tin as I don’t have 4 shallow ones!).

Preheat the oven to 160C fan.

Put the flour and the rind of one lemon in a bowl, whisk with a small hand whisk.

Put the 4 eggs and 100g caster sugar into a separate heatproof bowl.

Place over a pan of barely simmering water and whisk until tripled in volume and leaves a trail in the mixture. It will start looking like this:

image

and end up like this

image

leaving a trail looks like this!

image

Carefully fold in the flour and lemon rind mixture, take great care not to deflate the mixture too much.

Share evenly between the tins, each layer should have about 100g of mixture.

Bake for about 20 minutes  (maybe 25 if you are using deep pans)

Whilst it is baking mix the remaining 60g sugar with the lemon juice and a couple of tablespoons of water in a small heavy bottomed pan. Warm through to dissolve the sugar.

Once baked the sponges will be firm but springy to the tough and golden brown on top.

Remove and pierce several times with a cocktail stick, brush each layer of sponge with the syrup.

Allow to cool.

Once cold you may need to split the sponge if you used a deep pan. Pop in the freezer for 5 minutes. the carefully with a very sharp knife or electric knife split the sponge in two.

You are almost ready to construct!

To make the shards carefully move the meringue to a chopping board. use a very sharp knife and score lines 2.5cm apart along the short length to separate each shard. Be warned they are very fragile and will break but don’t panic you will have enough to work with and can always patch them back together on the cake.

image

Finish the lemon cream by whipping the double cream to soft peaks.

Take a spoonful or two of the cream and add to the lemon curd to loosen it, then transfer that back into the cream and fold in together. Give it all one last short whip to a smooth consistency

Chop the strawberries in to small pieces.

Make up the cake with a thick layer of cream topped with the strawberries and blueberries between each layer.

image

Finally cover the whole cake in the cream sides and top!

Stick the shards all around the cake breaking them off to the length you require.

image

Finish off with your fresh flowers and crown made from gold paste using a crown cutter.

image

Allow to firm up in the fridge for an hour or so before you cut is as its a super soft cake

image

 

 


			

Chequerboard Cakes

image

image

My poor husband almost didn’t get a birthday cake this year! I was totally lacking inspiration and didn’t want to make him a cake just for the sake of it. He loves all things custard and I had planned just to do him a custard tart, in fact I still might, but no cake. However this week I received my order of new and replacement Foodie Flavours and they had kindly included a complimentary bottle of rhubarb flavour. Inspiration finally struck – he loves rhubarb and I hate it so I never cook it!

image

He also loves rhubarb and custard sweets – the kind you used to buy by the quarter as a kid. So there it was a rhubarb and custard cake was formulating in my mind, but what to do inside? My first thought was a marbled cake but I thought the flavours might get lost, so different layers maybe? Then I finally settled on a chequered board style cake and this is it!

I won’t bore you with my recipe as it’s just a simple Madeira style sponge, the custard layers were made by replacing 25g of the flour with custard powder and adding egg yolk yellow Sugarflair paste. The rhubarb flavour simply had some drops of rhubarb natural flavouring added and pink Sugarflair colouring. I felt it needed quite a lot of the drops to get any flavour and you’ll have to ask my husband if it tasted of rhubarb, but it was certainly fruity! I made a deep 6 inch sponge of each colour, also important is that I made it the day before, if you plan to cut cakes for construction its best that they rest overnight first as very fresh cake is too crumbly.

The chequerboard is really easy to achieve – here’s how to do it.

Firstly you needed flat even layers of cake. I always bake my cakes in deep straight sided tins then split them, it gives you a much more evenly sided cake to work with. For this cake the layers need to be the same height and level so you need to get a ruler out. I find the best way to get a level top is to measure up the side of the cake and mark the upper level with a cocktail stick. For this cake I went 4cm as it was the highest point I could achieve a level at for both cakes.

image

Once you have marked all round the cake with the cocktail sticks get a large sharp serrated knife and start to cut just above each cocktail stick moving around the cake as you go,

image

don’t try to cut all he way through the cake in one go, but instead cut and turn.

image

I have a short video here that shows you how to do it ( with some rather hilarious sped up music in the background!)

You then need to split the cakes into two layers using the same method as before.

image

Next step is to use circular cookie cutters to cut out evenly sized rings in each cake, it’s a good idea to use a ruler to centralise the rings checking that you have the same distance all the way around the ring to the edge of the cake.

image

Mine had a couple of centimetres between the ring and the cake, then for the middle circle again a couple of centimetres.

image

They need to be even to get the full chequered board effect. Once you have cut the circles in each layer it’s time to switch them around.

Hopefully the pictures explain how to do it better than the written instructions!

Wipe a thin layer of buttercream around each circle and swap the cake colours to alternate the rings.

image

The final result will be four layers looking a bit like targets!

image

Next step is to construct the layers on top of each other, once again a thin scraping of buttercream, just enough to stick the layers together.

image

Alternate the outer edge colours as you go

image

You will need to cover the cake to hide the layers so that its a surprise when its cut, also there isn’t much buttercream on the cake yet so a good layer on the outside stops the cake being too dry.

Firstly rough coat the whole cake with a thin layer to stop the crumbs showing through the final layer, and pop it in the fridge to set for half and hour or so.

image

I used swiss meringue buttercream for the first time on this cake which has a lovely creamy texture to work with. I wont give you huge detail on how to buttercream a cake but just incase you want to know roughly how I achieved the final finish – the yellow was flavoured with a creme patissiere and coloured again wth egg yolk yellow Sugarflair paste, the pink was just coloured and flavoured as I did for the sponge, with rhubarb natural flavouring and pink paste. To get the marbled effect dollop the colours of buttercream randomly over the sides and top of the cake and smooth as usual.

image

I finished my cake off with Rhubarb and Custard sweets round the top and lemon & sour cherry sherbet around the base.

image

I love to hear your comments especially if you try any of my recipes and instructions so please feel free to leave me a message.
Little footnote update – he got his custard tart too!

  
Link up your recipe of the week

” rel=”attachment wp-att-1366″>image

 

 

 

Gravity Defying Cakes

image

Gravity defying cakes are very ‘in’ at the moment and my most popular pin on Pinterest by far is and M&M cake made by one of my kids for her friends birthday.

This Easter I thought I would do something a little different and combine my favourite bundt tin with a chocolate chicken from Lidl and a gravity defying design! I thought it was an original take however I have now seen two other similar ones already on various forums!

You can even buy a anti-gravity kit from Lakeland UK which gives a very stable design, but all you actually need is a balloon stick and chocolate!

Here is my quick how to!

Equipment: a ballon stick and a board! you can get these easily online from various market sites, or from party shops.

image

I covered my board in chocolate but this isn’t essential.

Fix the stick holder to the board with a blob of chocolate below.

image

cover with chocolate to secure and leave to harden. I use dark chocolate as it sets harder than milk.image

For this cake I used a bundt so it had a hole in the middle, but if you are using a layer cake just put the stick in first and thread the layers over the stick.

image

Paint the stick with melted chocolate, it covers the colour of the stick and makes sticking things to it much easier.

Cut the stick to size by holding your ‘vessel’ over it remember to allow enough stick to go inside and to the top of your final vessel.

You need to form a good base for the chocolates to build up from, so I filled my bundt hole with eggs. I also suggest you add any toppings to the cake at this point as it is easier than after you have covered the stick.

image

Gradually build up the chocolates from the bottom by brushing them with some chocolate and sticking them to the stick.Using a brush helps keep your fingers clean and minimises chocolate on the outside of the construction.

image

It helps if the chocolate is fairly cool. Be patient and make sure each chocolate has set in place before you add the next one or you will get an avalanche!

image

Make sure you keep turning the cake to build up the stick evenly.

image

When you are near the top test your ‘vessel’ to see if you have enough chocolates attached to the stick. If you are using a bag then go higher so they look like they are pouring from the bag. If like me you have a solid item then you may need to put the last few chocolates once in position.

Put a blob of chocolate on the top of the sick to help hold the vessel in place

image

If you are using a bag fill it with loosely scrumpled cling film to make the bag look full and it will help hold it in position too. I made a hole in the chickens base with a hot bbq kebab skewer just big enough for the straw to help keep it stable.Finish off which more chocolates around the base and if you want to have the chocolates pouring off the cake use chocolate to stick these to the side too.

image

These cakes are really much easier than they look my teenagers made both of these for their friends. We used coloured royal icing for the skittles instead of choclate.

image

image

 

Macaron mysteries

image

image

I have grown to love making macarons and if you’ve read my blogs in the past you will know that my eureka moment was when I did a course with InlovewithMacs. I learned the key stages of the art of macaron making and with practice I believe I have mastered the art of getting a good mac most times. I wouldn’t dare say perfect, nor would I say everytime as they are still super tricky and prone to all sorts of hiccups at many stages, but in this post I will try to share with you the key things to look out for.

Firstly the stages are the same whether you choose to make them using the french meringue method with cold sugar or the italian method with hot sugar syrup. You need a stable meringue to be able to mix it with the almonds and still get a good rise on the final macaron. I now use the italian method as I find it makes for the most stable meringue which withstands mixing better – but it does mean you need to make a sugar syrup and the best way to make sure its at the right temperature is with a sugar thermometer.

Talking of equipment I don’t use silicon macaron mats, I just use a good quality baking sheets and thin silicon baking sheets, with an A4 template underneath of pre marked 3cm circles, you should be able to fit 20 on one page nicely spaced out. Finally a couple of piping bags fitted with 1cm plain open ended nozzles.

Tip one

Make sure the bowls you use are scrupulously clean. I give the bowl and whisk on my stand mixer a go over with some white wine vinegar to make sure it is completely grease free.

Tip two

Weigh everything out first ‘Blue Peter’ style! You will need lots of bowls! Two for the almond mixtures, two more small ones for the egg white and a final bowl in a stand mixer for the meringue. Finally you will also need a small heavy bottomed saucepan for the sugar syrup.

image

Tip three

Blend and sift the almonds. I give mine a whizz in the food processor then sieve them into the bowl and make sure I have the exact measurement at that point. Sieve the icing sugar into the same bowl then use a small hand whisk to mix it altogether.

image

Tip four

Colouring & flavouring the macarons. I like a lovely brightly coloured macaron but to achieve this you need good quality colouring pastes as they don’t interfere too much with the consistency of the macaron. I usually tend to leave the macaron shell plain in flavour and just add natural flavours to the filling. I use Sugarflair pastes and add the colour to the 35g of egg white that is add after the meringue is made with the almond mixture. for this really strong colour I used a good 1/4 tsp. Mix it well with the loose egg white until completely dissolved.

Tip five

Weigh the egg whites. I use TwoChicks pasteurised egg white, couple of reasons for this, I don’t always have time to make things with the yolks and unlike the whites yolks don’t freeze as easily, also they weigh out more readily than fresh whites and weighing the egg whites is absolutely essential for macarons. I also let the egg whites come to room temperature before I use them

Tip six

Lay out the silicon sheets on baking sheets ready and prepare the piping bags with the nozzles, stand them in tall cups with the top of the bag pulled over the cup ready for filling.

image

Ok we can get started now! This recipe makes two batches so you can colour / flavour in two lots

Ingredients

For the dry mix you need to weigh two lots of the ingredients below – weighed out in two separate bowls for the dry ingredients and two small bowls for the egg whites & colouring in each bowl weigh out the following:

100g ground almonds

100g icing sugar

35g egg white

colouring

Meringue Ingredients – just one lot of this  – it gets split in half later 

75g egg white – in stand mixer bowl

200g sugar

60ml water

Method

Place the 200g of sugar and water in a heavy bottomed, give it a gentle swirl to make sure the sugar is all wet before you start. Over a gentle heat warm up to dissolve the sugar. At the same time tune on the stand mixer to a gentle pace starting to whisk the 75g of egg white. Once the sugar starts to dissolve, turn up the heat and bring to the boil, once boiling also turn up the mixer. The sugar syrup needs to reach 112C – 116C (soft ball) and the egg white needs to reach soft peaking stage

image

 

Once the required temperature and consistency has been reached remove the sugar syrup from the heat, check the egg whites are at soft peaks and allow the bubbling to calm down on the syrup.

image

Then the fun begins!

With the mixer on a high speed SLOWLY add the sugar syrup by drizzling in a very thin stream down the side of the bowl. This is one of the potential hiccup points – add the syrup too fast and the meringue is likely to collapse, too slowly and the syrup starts to set and wont incorporate fully causing lumpy crystals

image

Once all the syrup has been added – and this can take a good few minutes – keep whisking for a good 5/10 minutes until the bowl feels cool to the touch again. At this point the meringue should be really stiff, stable and glossy.

image

This meringue now needs to be halved and added to the whisked almond & icing sugar. Finally add the coloured final 35g of egg white and fold in. This is called the macaronage stage. You are aiming to incorporate all the ingredients and achieve a ‘ribbon’ consistency. This is when the mixture falls from the spatula in a continuous ribbon into the bowl and settles after a few seconds into a flat surface. The mixture should be neither too thick or too runny (Hiccup point two).

image

You can mix one batch and pipe it then do the next batch afterwards.

Transfer the mixture to a piping bag and pipe 3 cm blobs from directly above the centre of each circle using all the mixture you will get about 60 circles.

To get rid of any excess bubbles or central peaks on the mixture you can either rap the baking sheet on the table sharply or I wiggle the circle template under the silicon sheet – mine is laminated!

image

Repeat with the second batch of mixture.

Turn the oven on to 140C – if you have an oven thermometer to check the temperature is correct – all the better. I have 3 shelves ready, evenly spaced, in my oven too.

The macarons now need to dry and form a skin. This usually takes around half an hour but is really dependent on the air humidity. They need to be dry enough that when you touch them they don’t stick to your finger. (Hiccup point three!)

image

So the ones above aren’t ready!

image

But these ones are as when lightly pressed my finger came away clean.

Put the first tray on the middle shelf and time for 8 minutes.

After 8 minutes take them out turn the tray my 180 degrees and put on a lower shelf. Put the next tray on the top shelf and time for a further 8 minutes.

image

After 16 minutes the bottom tray should be ready. Test this by seeing if the macarons will lift from the tray cleanly. (Hiccup point four – last one!)

image

If they don’t return to the bottom of the oven for a minute or two longer.

Meanwhile continue to rotate the trays of macarons every 8 minutes until they are all done. For the final tray when it moves to the bottom shelf place an empty tray on the top shelf – this helps the macarons retain their colour.

Leave to cool on the trays then carefully transfer to a cooling tray.

image

Macaron shells can now be stored in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for a month.

When you are ready to fill them you can use a number of fillings, creme patissiere, jam, curd, buttercream or ganache are all great. I prefer ganache – it can be coloured and flavoured really easily and keeps best in the fridge without sinking into the shell. You can fill and freeze ganache filled macarons too.

Ganache

200g white chocolate

100ml double cream

natural flavouring drops ( I use Foodie Flavours)

Colouring

Warm the cream, almost to boiling point in a small heavy bottomed saucepan. remove from the heat and add chopped chocolate. Stir well until all the chocolate has melted and is incorporated. Split into two bowls and colour and flavour to taste. Transfer to piping bags and leave to cool to room temperature.

When you are ready to pipe pair up the macarons. Mine are never all exactly the same size but strangely I always seem to find enough to make evenly match pairs! Line up the pairs with one side upside down, it makes piping and pairing so much easier. Pipe circles of ganache on each  upturned shell and fill in the middles once you have piped them all if you have any mixture left.

image

Gently wiggle the pairs together using the edges of the shell , don’t try to press the middles as you will end up breaking the shells, pop them in the fridge for the filling to harden up and then they are ready to serve!

image

 

 

Slow Cooker Chilli con Carne

image

Did you have a fabulous Christmas?

We did – lots of family, laughs and scrumptious food. On my wish list for the festive season was a slow cooker. I first used a slow cooker 10 years ago borrowed from a friend when our kitchen was installed but just never got round to getting my own, however now I have one I think it might just revolutionise the way I do meals.

We are quite a grown up family now, two teenagers and a 21 year old (oh and a husband!) which often means we aren’t all in at the same time to eat. Already I have found the beauty of the slow cooker is that I can leave it to do its thing and the family can help themselves as they come and go.

I, of course, turned to twitter for help first off and was sent to some fabulous blogs for recipes and ideas. Baking Queen 74 sprang to mind first as I remembered she had posted about slow cooked cakes and she soon linked me up with lots of others such as Munchiesandmunchkins.com, Farmersgirlkitchen.co.uk and Foodiequine.co.uk amongst others, so I thought I would join in with the #SlowCookedChallenge hosted this month by Farmers Girl Kitchen.

image

I kicked off my slow cooker adventures with a recipe from the manual which made a really tasty paprika chicken casserole which went down really well!

image

Next up I went for pulled pork, both twitter and a friend had recommended it and we loved slow cooked meat. I got a bit more adventurous and combined a recipe from the Baking Queen 74 blog with my friends recommended recipe. The sauce was super tasty but I think I either needed a different cut of pork (I used loin) or a longer cooking time as the meat was a little dry. However still a success with the family and we were having pork sandwiches for a couple of days afterwards – so I will try again.

image

I then thought I would get really adventurous and try a recipe I cook most weeks – Thai chicken curry. I just used my usual recipe and left it to cook …. slowly. It worked perfectly but no photos as I was out that night and the kids sorted themselves out fitting my flexible meal catering remit perfectly –  no more pizza money needed!

So to todays recipe – having had success with using a recipe I cook regularly I thought I would try Chilli Con Carne. There are lots of recipes already online and I often pop mine in the oven if I cook it in advance – so I was pretty sure it would work.

Chilli con Carne

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil

2 medium onions

2 red peppers

1 garlic clove

1 red chilli

500g minced beef

1 tin/carton chopped tomatoes (400g)

300ml passata

2 stock cubes

1 tsp marmite

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 large tin kidney beans

1/2 tsp chilli powder (I used mild but feel free to spice it up with hot!)

imageimg_7008

Method

  • Dice the onions and red peppers and finely chop the garlic and chilli. You can remove the chilli seeds if you don’t want a very spicy dish.
  • In a large frying pan fry the onions over a gentle heat until they are soft and starting to turn brown at the edges

img_7010

  • Add the pepper and continue to cook over a medium heat for a few more minutes until the peppers also start to soften.
  •  Add the fresh chilli and garlic and cook for another minute stirring all the ingredients together.

img_7012

  • Add the fresh mince and stir in well to break it up, turn up the heat and brown all the meat.

img_7014

  • Sprinkle over the stock cube, paprika and chilli powder – bear in mind the slow cooking mellows the chilli flavours – so don’t be shy! Add the marmite  (I love adding this, it gives a great depth of flavour but bear in mind you probably wont need salt as well).

img_7020

  • Give it all a good stir and cook for a minute then add the tomatoes and passata. Stir again and bring to a simmer.

img_7021

  • Finally drain and rinse the tin of beans then add to the rest of the ingredients. Give it all another good stir and make sure its simmering gently.

  • Now time for the slow cooker to do its thing. Transfer to the cooker dish and cook for 5/6 hours on low.

We served ours in taco shells,  with soured cream, grated cheese, green jalapenos and shredded lettuce. But its just as good on a baked potato or with some steam rice! Its a simple recipe and I’m sure you all have your own variations but needless to say the slow cooker is a huge success and we will definitely be having lots more slow cooked meals.

image

 

Apple and Cinnamon marzipan Couronne

IMG_6295-0

It was Apple week on Sunday Bake Club this week and as luck would have it my mum had brought me some windfall cooking apples on a recent visit. I decided to adapt a recipe that I make quite regularly for a mincemeat couronne by Paul Hollywood. 

A couronne or crown has a rich yeast dough base, it’s filled with either a sweet or savoury filling then split and twisted into a circle before baking. It’s a delicious and showstopping way to bake a dessert that goes a long way.

I kind of made up the apple and cinnamon version as I went along but will do my best to let you know how I made it!

  
Apple and Cinnamon Couronne

Ingredients

250g strong white bread flour

1tsp salt

8g instant yeast

50g unsalted butter room temperature 

135ml milk

1 egg

Place the flour into a bowl. Put the salt on one side of the bowl and yeast in the other.  Warm the milk until just tepid and beat in the egg. Cut the butter into cubes. Stir it all into the flour. Once made into a dough knead either by hand or on a slow speed with a dough hook in a stand mixer for 8/10 mins until smooth and elastic. Place in a greased bowl and cover with cling film. Leave to rise for at least an hour until the dough has doubled in size and springs back when lightly prodded 

Fillings

5/6 cooking apples

2/3 tbsp soft brown sugar

30g butter room temperature

130g dark brown sugar

2tbsp ground cinnamon

200g ground almonds

1egg beaten 

Whilst the dough is rising prepare the fillings.

Peel core and chop the apples. Place in a pan with the 2tbsp sugar. Warm the apples over a gentle heat until they sets to break down, stirring occasionally. Simmer over a low heat for about 15 mins until they turn to a purée, add more sugar if they are a bit sharp. 

To make the cinnamon marzipan 

Combine the butter, sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Stir in the almonds. Add enough egg to form a paste. Place in the fridge until required.

To construct the couronne.

Once the dough has proved turn out onto a floured surface. Gentle knock back the dough using your finger tips, then roll out to a rectangle about 35 X 25 cm.

The rectangle should have the long edge facing you.

Roll out the marzipan on a surface sprinkled with icing sugar to the same size then place on the dough.

Spread the Apple puree over the marzipan layer.

Roll the dough tightly along the long edge like a Swiss roll. You will end up with a 35cm long roll.

Cut the roll length ways down the middle. 

Twist the length together to form a rope effect. This part is quite sticky and messy take it slowly so as to not lose the form of the dough and spill the filling out. Lift the rope onto a baking sheet lined with non stick parchment or a silicon sheet and form into a circle, tucking the end around each other. Cover with greased cling film and leave for another hour to rise again.

Preheat the oven to 210c.

When the dough has risen and is soft and springy to the touch bake for 20/25mins until golden brown and has a firm base. 

Leave to cool on the baking tray as its hard to move when it’s warm!

To finish

2tbsp salted caramel 

2tbsp Billingtons golden icing sugar 

1dstsp warm water

I use my homemade salted caramel sauce but there are lots of good ready made ones available. Just pop a couple of spoonfuls in a piping bag, snip the end and drizzle over the cooled couronne.

The ‘caramelled’ glacé icing is made using Billingtons golden icing sugar, it has a lovely flavour and when mixed with a little warm water has a lovely pale golden colour. Do the same as the caramel with a piping bag and drizzle to your hearts content. 

  
Slice and serve. This couronne freezes really well too so cut into slices and pop in the freezer for later if it’s too big for one serving