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Stollen moments

Over the festive period I had fun making stollen. I made three different batches using this basic recipe. Each time however I changed the final construction.

Mmmm, stollen
Mmmm, stollen

For my first batch, which I took into work, I followed the recipe exactly. Basically you create an envelope with the dough and place the marzipan inside.

The second batch I made were for a pre-Christmas gathering at my sister’s house. She doesn’t like marzipan, so I made stollen bites. Half with marzipan. Half without. These didn’t really turn out that well. The marzipan stayed as a hard lump in the middle of each bun.

My final batch (pictured) was, I think, the best. This time I rolled the stollen like a swiss roll which distributed the marzipan evenly throughout. With the marzipan rolled much thinner it almost melted into the dough, which was delicious.

2013 in books, films and beers

I like to keep records of things. The books I read. The films I see. And the beers I drink.

In the last year I have:

  • Read 15 books
  • Drunk 57 different beers
  • Watched 74 films

I’m pretty pleased with the number of books I’ve read. A little over one a month is good for me. I’d like to up that a bit for 2014. My favourite book read this past year is the final part of M.C Scott’s Rome series, The Art of War.

The number of different beers I’ve tried does not surprise me; I rarely drink the same beer twice. A few stand outs from the past few months are Batemans’ Mocha Beer, Siren’s Liquid Mistress and Orkney Brewery’s Clootie Dumpling.

And films. Well. Here’s an interesting stat for you – I’ve seen 58 of those 74 films since June! There are a number of possible reasons for this, the most likely are a subscription to Netflix and returning to the city that boasts the best independent cinema in the UK. The two films that are far and away the best I’ve seen in the past year are The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) and The Selfish Giant (2013).

A feast

Halloumi burgers This afternoon I spent four hours making tonight’s tea. And boy was it worth it.

I began by baking black olive and sumac rolls using Dan Lepard’s recipe for carrot and sesame sandwich bread. Prior to baking I hadn’t really thought what I might eat them with.

Then I remembered that I’d had a pack of halloumi in the fridge for a couple of months waiting for just such an opportunity to use it. Searching for recipes on BBC Good Food I found one for halloumi and aubergine burgers.

A quick trip to the supermarket and this is the result. Delicious.

Four hours to make, 10 minutes to devour!

Ginger beer scones

One of the tea houses in Newcastle (yes, we’re lucky enough to have more than one place dedicated to selling a wide variety of teas) offers an array of interesting and delicious cakes. On one occasion I saw they had ginger beer scones and from that moment on was possessed with a desire to try making them. I found this Dan Lepard recipe and last night finally gave it a go.

Oh. My. God. They are brilliant. And I’m not just saying that because I baked them. Two independent tasters have said that they are the best scones they’ve ever had. EVER!

They’re much lighter than regular scones, but somehow more dense and less cakey. My mixture came out a little wet and so I added around 25-35g more flour. As I was falling asleep I realised why this was – I added some of the syrup from the stem ginger as I was spooning it in. This is not a bad thing. I think it helped to intensify the ginger flavour. So I’ll be modifying the recipe to include this.

I’ve also got an idea for how to modify the recipe to create similarly light and less cakey plain scones. So watch this space.

Savoury courgette loaf

Over the weekend I was talking to my Aunt about courgettes, as you do, and I became obsessed with the idea of making courgette bread for my lunches this week. We moved on from the conversation and did other things, but later on I was presented with an old copy of She magazine with a recipe for courgette loaf in it. It looked simple enough and I had the basic ingredients to make the bread, what I didn’t have were the extras that would have given it some extra flavour – herbs, ham etc. So of course I improvised. Based on my experience handling the dough I have also modified the quantities:

Ingredients
200g courgette, grated
4 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
350g plain flour
1tsp fast action yeast
75ml olive oil
1tsp ground cumin
1tsp chilli flakes

Method

  1. In a bowl beat the eggs and add the salt and spices
  2. Add the flour and yeast to the bowl and combine with the egg mixture
  3. Add the oil and grated courgette and mix in evenly
  4. Knead the dough for 3-5 minutes until it becomes smooth and non-sticky
  5. Place in a loaf tin and leave for 1-2 hours or until the dough has doubled in size
  6. Bake at 200 for 45 minutes

And there you have it. I’m happy with the overall flavour but the texture is a little cakey. More experimentation needed, reducing the number of eggs perhaps. It has made a good easy packed lunch though as an accompaniment to a nice bit of cheese and salad.

Kitchen Stories

Over the past few days I have been thinking about kitchens a lot. It all started when I caught the end of a Nigel Slater programme on the TV. He has a kitchen to die for. You can catch a glimpse of it in the video below – the recipe starts around 2m17s, but if you like beer as much as kitchens, it’s worth watching from the start.

I have recently moved house and in the run up I spent a lot of time thinking about how I would use the space in my new kitchen, what extra features I would have, and most often what wonderful things I would bake. Then circumstances changed and I didn’t end up moving to the house with the amazing kitchen.

I am making do with what I’ve got. A kitchen is better than no kitchen, after all. But I long for a kitchen of my own. To the extent that I’m starting to harbour thoughts of getting back on the property ladder sooner, rather than later, just so I can have my own kitchen again.

In my dream kitchen I would have a proving drawer. A whole cupboard dedicated to baking. More work surface than you’d know what to do with. A wine rack. A solid wood chopping board. A sink with a drainer. A breakfast bar with tall stools for people to perch on and talk to me as I work….

You see how easy it is to get carried away. I’ll keep on dreaming and perhaps one day soon I’ll post you a picture of my own kitchen.

P.S. The title for this post comes from a great Scandinavian film I saw about 10 years ago. You should definitely check it out if you get the chance.

Italian filled rolls

My new kitchen is small; I’d guess at around 3m x 3m, with only about 1m of usable work surface. This is a challenge to the domestic baker, but not insurmountable. I’ve been waiting for my first attempt at baking until I had the flat to myself so I could completely take over the kitchen. Today was the day.

I’ve had this Italian recipe for filled rolls on my to do list for months. Looking for inspiration for my packed lunches I decided to give it a go. Now I don’t read Italian so with the help of Google translate I set out to bake. I amended the recipe as I went and this is the result:

Ingredients:
300g strong bread flour
200g plain flour
100g butter at room temperature
250ml milk
1 whole egg + 2 egg yolks
1tsp salt
2tsp fast action yeast

Filling: any combination of cheese, ham, courgette, tomato, chicken, onion (or anything else you can think of)

Method:

  1. Warm the milk and add the yeast. Leave for 5-10 minutes until the yeast begins to activate.
  2. Pour the warm milk mixture into a large bowl with the flour, eggs, salt and softened butter. Combine the mixture. The result should be a smooth, elastic dough.
  3. Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes.
  4. Put the dough in a bowl covered with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and let it rise until increased three times in volume (about 1.5 hours).
  5. Take the dough and divide into balls of around 40g, roll each ball out to form a disk and stuff to taste. Securely close it and place (closure down) on a baking tray covered with greaseproof paper leaving a little space between the balls.
  6. Leave the prepared trays for 30 minutes to 1 hour then brush with milk, sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake at 180 degrees for about 25 minutes.
The result
The result

I have to say, this was probably the best dough experience I’ve ever had. It was light, and elastic. Felt almost like pizza dough rather than bread. And for the first time ever I had a visible, and marked difference in size after leaving it to prove.

I decided on a filling of onion, courgette, emmenthal and chicken. I cut the onion and courgette fairly small and roasted it first to try to get rid of some of the moisture. I used a pack of pre-cooked chicken, the stuff you get for sandwich fillings, and cut the cheese into small chunks.

My dough and filling made 13 rolls. I reckon two would make for a decent sized packed lunch. I’ve experimented with freezing half of the batch. If that works well I could see this becoming a regular thing.

Adventures in gluten free baking

This weekend I tried gluten free baking for the first time. I needed to make a gluten free cake for an event today, and wanted to do a test run. The advice I had been given was that any recipe that uses standard flour and produces a moist product would work.

For my first attempt I used this recipe for banana muffins. I replaced the self-raising flour with Dove’s gluten and wheat free white self-rasing flour blend. Because I seem never to be able to follow a recipe directly I also added choc chips and chopped nuts. I was really pleased with how the muffins came out. They were moist, even in a smaller fairy cake size, and if you weren’t told I doubt you’d know they were gluten free.

The next task was the cake for today. I chose one of my favourites, coconut and carrot slices. Again I replaced the standard flour with gluten and wheat free blend from Dove’s. It baked exactly as it would normally. I lost a little of the bottom to the cake tin when it turned out, but this gave me the chance to taste it ahead of today’s gathering. It’s bloody good!

So at the end of all this I’d say I can now do gluten free baking. The trick is in selecting the right recipe.

Ottolenghi

Okay, I have a confession to make. I used to think that Ottolenghi was this chef’s full name. That he was called Otto Lenghi. I know different now. I also have to confess that despite having a family who all asked for and got his books for Christmas the past few years I had never cooked one of his recipes. Until yesterday….
Beef Shakshuka
I made beef shakshuka with smoked aubergine. The first step of the recipe is to smoke the aubergine. I did this under the grill. It took around 30-40 minutes and by the end my clothes, hair and kitchen all stank of smoke. Over 24 hours later the kitchen still does. I love it!

The depth of flavour in the whole dish was amazing. The cinnamon comes through strongly, as does the lovely smoky flavour of the aubergine, and I added a splash of lemon juice. I didn’t make the tahini sauce – I’m not a massive fan – and I don’t think the dish felt like it was missing something. I ate this with olive ciabatta. Yum!

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