Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Christmas stars

I'm not really much of a Christmas person. I tend to get a bit annoyed by Christmas songs playing everywhere from November onward, and I hate the idea of having to buy Christmas presents just for the sake of Christmas. And speaking of Christmas songs, how annoying is it they are all about that whole Jesus is born and blah blah blah. Seriously, can we get over that old bit of superstition please. People have enough reasons to kill each other without religion to add to all of that.

For the last few years I have pretty much ignored Christmas. I have outsourced Christmas shopping to my sister. I get her something she wants (I demand that she makes a wish-list), and she usually gets my mum's and dad's presents. And I have agreed with all my friends not to exchange Christmas presents. I can be persuaded to write a few Christmas cards, but that's pretty much it. If I had the money, I would fly away to the Bahamas and lie on the beach for all of Christmas. But that would break my mum's heart, so I won't. I will get on a over-full train to make my way down to an overcrowded Heathrow, stand in line for hours while sweating in my warmest winter coat, and then run like crazy to make my flight and sit next to sweaty, smelly people who like me have been stressing like crazy to make it onto the plane. And they call it a Holiday...

It's not that I have anything against Christmas per se. I just resent all the stress that comes with it. There has to be presents, even if no-one actually really needs anything, and you really can't afford any of that, but hey, if you don't buy loads of presents you don't really love your loved ones, right? And there has to be tons of food, to the point of it becoming a problem because there is so much to eat before it goes bad. And then you eat that damned Christmas food until New Year's because there just is too much of it. How about just getting away somewhere warm, lying on a beach, eating in a restaurant and actually spending time together with no presents and no left-over food and no stress? Maybe one day I get to do that. But until then, I will drag my heavy bag around from home to train, to another train, to the check-in desk and then again out from the next airport, all while sweating like crazy. What's not to love about that?

Obviously there are some good things about Christmas. Like not having to go to work for a whole two weeks! That is such a luxury. Unfortunately I do have a deadline for a book chapter coming up at the end of the year, but I'm doing my best to finish that before I fly home. I'm hatching an evil plan to not check my work email for the whole two weeks. That would be awesome. Right up to when I actually get back into work, and have to deal with two weeks of untouched emails. There are lots of crazy people in science who love their job so much that they work on all through Christmas, so I know there *will* be emails. 

So that should be enough of a moan for this time, and now on to the actual recipe. Which is not really a recipe at all. It's about putting jelly on puff pastry. But this is a traditional Finnish pre-Christmas pudding, so obviously I had to blog about it. I guess it's the Finnish equivalent to mince pies. Recreating this outside of Finland is a bit of a challenge though, as you need the right type of jelly (in Finland we call it marmelade). It is made from prunes, and there is something magic about it because it doesn't mind being baked in the oven. I don't think you can get any baking proof jellies over here, but I might be mistaken. So if you happen to be in Finland, pick up a jar or two of this thingy, which pretty much looks like... well... hmm.... black goo? You can even buy it online!

Me and best friend made a UK version of these pastries a few years ago by mixing canned prunes with plum marmelade. This mixture is not baking proof, so instead of making the pastries look like the ones I have in the picture, you need to make them into hand pies, and make sure you use a fork to seal the pies really tight. That gives you the right flavour, if not the traditional look. 

Other than the problem with the jelly/marmelade, these only take a second to make. They are nice to eat for dessert, or to enjoy with your afternoon coffee. Or for breakfast. Or in the evening with hot cocoa. Or mulled wine. 

Christmas stars:
puff pastry (all butter ready rolled is my favourite)
prune jelly 
1 egg 
icing sugar
The howto:
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. Roll out puff pastry to about 0.5 cm thickness if not using ready roll. Cut into squares, about 9x9 cm. Make cuts in every corner and turn every second corner to the centre to make a star shape. Use a fork to gently whip the egg and brush egg wash all over the pastries. Use two teaspoons to put a heaped teaspoon of marmelade into the centre of the stars. Bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until the puff pastry is golden. I prefer mine a bit underdone so that the pastry is still a bit gooey under the marmelade, but if you prefer your puff pastry flaky and dry, bake a bit longer. Dust with icing sugar right before serving.
The verdict:
This is a Finnish pre-Christmas classic. I just have to make them every year. Back home, frozen puff pastry is sold ready rolled into small rectangles, with four rectangles per pack. One rectangle makes two pastries, so I used to make a single woman's serving of two Christmas stars. This was super convenient, whereas in the UK, puff pastry is sold in huge blocks, so once you thaw it from frozen, you have to quite a big serving. I blame my weight gain on having too many of these pastries around. They are so addictive. They are best when still warm, but I have had no problem in disposing of leftover cold ones either. In fact, I would say the speed at which I am disposing of lefover ones, straight into my stomach, is much more of a problem. I think Christmastime is not Christmastime without these pastries!





Sunday, 16 December 2012

Rice porridge


I just read on Hufvudstadsbladet (the Swedish-Finnish daily newspaper) that the hottest food trend is porridge. Apparently, you can buy creme brûlée oatmeal in New York for $16, and there is a pub in Copenhagen called Grød which only serves porridge. You can find their menu here, and it looks lovely, if I ever happen to be in Copenhagen, I will definitely give them a try. What would you say about oatmeal with caramel sauce, roasted almonds and apple? Or barley porridge with flaxseed, apple, raisin and ginger syrup. And in the Christmas-time, they are obviously also serving rice porridge. I will certainly keep the porridge trend in mind next year, as there are so many wonderful porridges out there to make, and I love a nice steaming bowl of porridge for breakfast. I almost never have breakfast anywhere but home or at my workplace cafeteria, but when I'm travelling, I have a tradition of getting a serving of oatmeal with fruit compote from Eat at Heathrow airport. There is something very soothing about spooning oatmeal into your mouth while staring at the giant screens, waiting for the gate of your flight to be displayed.

Call it sticky rice or rice pudding, in Finland we call it rice porridge, and eat it for Christmas. Other times of the year it's oatmeal all the way, but on Christmas you celebrate by making your breakfast porridge from luxurious rice. Well, it was luxurious probably a hundred years ago or so... In Finland (and Scandinavia) rice porridge is served warm, and usually eaten for breakfast. For Christmas, an almond is added to the pot of porridge, and getting the almond means good luck for the next year. Christmas rice porridge is served with cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on top, and sometimes with a bit of butter as well.

For rice porridge you should use a round, short grained rice. In Finland it's sold under the name of Puuroriisi (porridge rice) and it's similar to pudding rice. Also risotto rice works quite well. What you want is a rice with high starch content, which will make a creamy porridge.

In my family, rice porridge is our traditional Christmas brunch, usually eaten before the Christmas sauna. I actually sometimes cheat and make rice porridge other times of the year as well, because it's really tasty. It's nice to have for dinner on a cold winter's day, or even for breakfast in the middle of summer while thinking about the fact that it's only half a year left until Christmas. Although rice porridge is traditionally served with cinnamon and sugar, this time I decided to pimp it up with some Christmas-y apple syrup with pecans and raisins. The recipe for the syrup for the pecans is stolen from Completely Delicious.

Rice porridge (serves 4):
200 ml (3/4 cups plus 1.5 tbsp) rice
200 ml (3/4 cups plus 1.5 tbsp) water
1 liter milk (the more fat in the milk, the tastier the porridge...)
1/2 tsp salt
(1 almond)

For the candied pecans:
200 ml apple juice
100 g light muscovado sugar
cinnamon stick
4 whole cloves
1 tbsp (or a bit more...) whiskey
20 pecan nuts
1/4 cup raisins

The howto:
For the candied pecans, cook juice, sugar, cinnamon, cloves and whiskey until a heavy syrup forms (about 30 minutes). Add the pecans and raisins, take the saucepan off the heat and let cool. Store in a glass container.

For the porridge, heat water until boiling. Add the rice, and let cook until the rice has absorbed the water. Add milk and cook on a low heat until the milk has been absorbed (about 40 minutes). Just remember, no matter how big a saucepan you use, the milk will boil over, you will just have to accept that, and clean up the mess...
The verdict:
First of all, every time I have rice porridge, I am amazed at how rice and milk can taste so extremely good. And this is one of the most Christmas-y flavours I can imagine. At the same time, this was a bit different to me, as I'm used to having rice porridge very simply with cinnamon and sugar. However, I absolutely loved the syrup. I don't think I have ever made syrup, but it turned out to be really easy. Just let the mixture slowly boil away, and it will turn to syrup. There is no way you can mess that up. And the super sweet syrup tastes very Christmas-y of apple. It is one of those food epiphanies where you just make something really simple, and it turns out to be so amazingly delicious that you have to taste it over and over again until you have spooned half of the syrup into your mouth before being able to serve it to anyone. Not sure if that correctly illustrates how much I loved the syrup. To summarise, I effin' loved it!!!! I would love to bathe in the stuff. And eat it with pretty much anything. Pancakes. French toast. Any sort of toast. On crackers. Using a spoon right out of the jar. Sip it through a straw. Lick it off the floor. Just a few ideas...

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Blogosphere overview

It seems like Christmastime is the time for cookies in the US. Ok, to be honest, seems like any time is cookie time in the US. But I have noticed a significant increase in cookie recipes on food blogs recently. Every food blog and their friend are doing cookie recipes. There is no way I will have time to bake any cookies before Christmas, I'm currently struggling with even making room for working and sleeping. And watching Big Bang Theory marathons. It's brilliant. I love Sheldon Cooper.

Anyways, as I'm so busy lying on my sofa and watching Big Bang Theory, I don't think there will be any Christmas cookie baking for me this year. And I have to say, it's not a big Finnish Christmas tradition anyways. We bake gingerbread, and that's pretty much it. At least in my family. But there are so many lovely Christmas cookie recipes around, I thought I would make a summary of a few really good ones that have popped up in my RSS feed recently. Maybe I can try them after Christmas. Oh, except after Christmas I start my new life. Which has no sugar in it. At least until I can squeeze my butt back into my jeans. But maybe next Christmas?

Is there anything more Christmas-y than cranberries? Well obviously lingonberries. But as they are not available in these parts of the world, cranberries are the closest substitute, and these recipes look absolutely delicious.
Cranberry ginger sugar cookies from 365 Days of Baking
Cranberry cashew chocolate chip cookies from Cookies and Cups
I have seen recipes for these chocolate crinkles on many cooking and baking blogs, so you might have seen some variation of these before. They look absolutely delicious.
Chocolate crinkles from AJ's cooking secrets
Then there is this whole thing about Christmas and peppermint. To be honest, I had never associated peppermint with Christmas, it's not a thing in Finland. Or maybe it is, and I'm just totally oblivious to it. I'm very sceptical about the whole thing, but I would be willing to give it a try. And the recipes below sound like good places to start. 
Peppermint sugar cookies from Bakerella. Gorgeous!!
Peppermint white chocolate chip cookies from Closet Cooking
Peppermint dream butter cookies from Recipe girl
This is a nice twist on the traditional gingerbread.
Chewy Gingerbread Cookies with Double Chocolate Chunks from Lulu the Baker
I love buttermilk, so any excuse to use it are always welcome in my book.
Buttermilk chocolate cookies from Barefoot and Baking
And to end, a few different types of butter cookies. Make one, make two, make them all.
Swedish dream cookies by One Perfect Bite
Scotch shortbread and Berlinerkranser from Simply so Good
Well, those should keep you busy for a while. Hopefully you find an interesting recipe to try, and have a look at the wonderful food blogs featured here. And maybe I can squeeze in a batch of one of these cookies somewhere in my busy Big Bang Theory watching schedule.



















Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Getting into the Xmas spirit

When I was a child, my mum kept all her recipes in a small black binder. They were hand written on checkered paper, or clippings from magazines and journals. That black binder probably existed in our house for at least 20 years. One of the recipes in that binder was our family's traditional gingerbread recipe. I remember how we baked gingerbread every Christmas. My mum would make the dough in a big red bucket. Ok, I probably don't remember the red bucket, I must have seen it in a photo. Anyways, I remember my mum making a really big batch of gingerbread dough, and taking it down to the cellar to rest over night.

We made a gingerbread house every year. We even had a traditional design for the house and used the same grease-stained cardboard cutout pattern year after year. We had an old cast iron skillet we used to make the caramel to glue the house together. It used to be my dad's job to assemble the house. And we then made a winter wonderland in our open fireplace, with elfs and candles, and the gingerbread house as a centrepiece (and I had to look up the plural of elf on google... how embarrassing!). There was one more Christmas tradition that related to the gingerbread house. It wasn't supposed to be eaten until the official end of Christmas, which in Finland is 20 days after Christmas, on January 13th. But when we got around to eating it, the whole back side of the house had already been eaten away piece by piece, and all the candy decorations had been picked off the house, one by one. Sometimes pieces of candy were glued on using so much sugar icing that a piece of the house would break off when you tried to peel off the piece of candy. 

I used to make a lot of gingerbread houses back when I was still living in Finland. Well, they were more like cottages than elegant mansions, but it was one of my Christmas traditions. Back home you could buy frozen gingerbread dough. So I never bothered to make it myself. It was great for making houses, as you need a really good dough that is easy to roll and bakes evenly. And it was really tasty too. Below are some old pictures of a few gingerbread houses from Christmases past. Sorry about the crappy quality of the photos as they were never meant to be displayed in public.


This year I was looking at amazing gingerbread house pictures online, and got a sudden craving for making traditional Finnish gingerbread. So I called my mum, and asked her if she still had the traditional gingerbread recipe. Well, shock and horror, she didn't!! So I was heartbroken, thinking I would never again taste the traditional gingerbread of my childhood. But surprise, when I was complaining about it to my sister, she said that she had copied the recipe from the black binder. So in the end, I got the one and only right gingerbread recipe. 

I brought a bag of gingerbread spice with me from Finland, thinking it should contain everything I needed for the recipe. However, when I had a closer look at it, it turns out it only had cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and cloves. My traditional gingerbread also contains dried bitter orange peel (Seville orange peel). That seems to be a spice completely unknown to the UK, and hard to find online, so I just had to admit defeat and leave it out this time. Another problem I encountered was that the only syrup you can get in British supermarkets is golden syrup. The Finnish syrup is much darker, so I bought golden syrup and treacle, and made my own mix. Despite these slight problems, the gingerbread turned out great. And as usual, not quite 100% of the dough made it to the next day, I had to do some quality control every now and then to assure that the flavours were developing properly while the dough was resting.
My family's traditional gingerbread (makes a lot):
250 g butter
200 g sugar
150 ml syrup (I used 1 tbsp treacle and the rest golden syrup)
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ginger
2 tsp bitter orange peel (if you can find any)
2 eggs
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
about 900 ml (3 2/3 cups) plain flour


The howto:
Put the butter, sugar, syrup and spices in a pan and heat until the butter and sugar has melted to forma a smooth mixture (don't boil). Let cool for 5-10 minutes, until no longer hot. Keep stirring every now and then. Meanwhile, mix salt, soda and flour in another bowl. Add eggs to the butter and spice mixture. Sift the dry ingredients into the butter, syrup and egg mixture. Mix until combined. Let the dough rest in the fridge over night (or two nights if it turns out you end up going for drinks the night you were meant to bake your gingerbread). 

The next day, pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C. Roll out the dough thinly, and use cookie cutters to make patterns. Add some flour onto your working surface if the dough sticks. I like to roll out the dough directly on the parchment paper, so you don't have to move the cookies around, as that tends to distort them, especially if you roll your dough really thin so that it will bake really crispy. Bake for about 5 minutes. The gingerbread will still be soft when you take it out of the oven but will go crispy when it cools off. Make icing in all the colours of the rainbow, and get a lot of colourful candy and sprinkles for decorating the gingerbread. Make yourself a cup (or two, or three...) of mulled wine, and watch the quality of the decorations become better for every mug of mulled wine.
The verdict:
The gingerbread turned out pretty damn good despite the lack of bitter orange peel and the syrup approximation. It made the apartment smell like Christmas, and gave me that traditional pinch in my stomach you get after eating too much cookie dough. Me and best friend got together to have a pre-Christmas gossip and baking evening. We made Glögg (Finnish mulled wine, which by the way is much better than the UK one...), baked Finnish prune jelly puff Christmas pastries (coming soon), listened to Christmas songs on Spotify and baked and decorated gingerbread. I finally got to try out a good fraction of my selection of almost 50 cookie cutters. Hence a few less than Christmas-y gingerbreads, but I think Xmas dinosaurs could be the next big thing!













   

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Heavenly sprouts

I know a lot of people don't like sprouts. I'm not one of those people, I love to eat them steamed or roasted. However, ever since I saw this recipe (from one of my favourite Finnish food blogs called Kauhaa ja rakkautta) I have wanted to try it out as it simply has to be the most amazing way to cook sprouts. And the blog author claims that she never really liked sprouts before she discovered this recipe. And what is there not to like?!? Sprouts cooked in cream with bacon in there for added flavour. If you are not a fan of sprouts, you should try this out, I am curious to know if there is anyone on this planet who can resist this amazingly good dish.

I hardly ever use cream in my cooking, so this was a really rare treat. And I had almost forgotten what a great flavour it brings to food. So soft, so creamy, so full. Obviously with the bacon and cream, there is no way you can try to convince yourself that this is health food. But this would make a nice side at the Christmas table, or some other festive occasion. Such as in my case a weeknight meal in good company.

Sprouts in cream (serves 2):
400 g sprouts
6 rashers of bacon
150 ml single cream
black pepper
(the original recipe also has 3 cloves of garlic)

The howto:
Remove the stems from the sprouts and cut in half or quarters if the sprouts are big. Finely chop the bacon and cook in a skillet. The original recipe said to cook the bacon in olive oil, but I use a non-stick pan, and the fat from the bacon is in my opinion more than enough without adding any oil. If you are using garlic, cook it with the bacon. Add the sprouts and cook for 5 minutes. Add cream and black pepper to taste (and salt if you think it's needed, but I think the bacon is salty enough). Cook on low heat until the sprouts are tender and the liquid from the cream has evaporated.

The verdict:
I had very high expectations of this dish, and all I can say is that it was probably better than I had imagined. I ate it by the spoonful straight out of the skillet. So I really suggest you make a double serving if you want to have anything left to serve someone else, or even make it all the way to your plate. This is a great dish to serve as a side dish, I served it with Man pleasing chicken. However, if you make a good size serving, you could even serve it as a main dish, or have it for lunch. I have to admit I ate the leftovers after dinner and they were quite delicious cold as well.




Saturday, 8 December 2012

Man pleasing chicken


I'm pretty sure the overwhelming majority of recipes in the Pinterest Food and Drink section are for oven baked chicken. Chicken parmesan, chicken with mozzarella, chicken smothered in cream, sesame seed chicken, lemon chicken, chicken with cream, mozzarella, parmesan, sesame seeds and lemon... all of them claim to be something along the lines of "best chicken ever" or "better than x, y or z chicken". I still keep lying to myself that I'm trying to eat healthily, so I never pin any of these recipes, thinking if at some point I really want to make unhealthy chicken, I will always just run across them as they seem to pop up time and time again. 

What irony was it that when I really needed to find some yummy chicken recipe really quickly, I couldn't find any. I was having Y chromosome carrier over for dinner, and wanted to cook something he would like. Which inevitably would involve chicken. Thankfully I happened across this recipe for "Man pleasing chicken" from Witty in the City which I thought sounded pretty much like something I wanted. To enhance the man pleasing aspects of the recipe, I decided to stuff the chicken fillets with parmesan and bacon. What could be more man pleasing?

Man-pleasing chicken (serves 4):
4 chicken breast fillets
4 rashers of bacon
a chunk of parmesan 
ground black pepper
100 g of dijon mustard
3 tbsp golden syrup
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
3 tbsp white wine

The howto:
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Cut four pieces of parmesan and wrap them in bacon. Cut a pocket in the chicken fillets and stuff the bacon wrapped parmesan into the fillets. Place in an oven proof tin and grind black pepper on both sides of the fillets. Mix mustard, syrup, vinegar and wine, and pour on top of the fillets. Bake for 30-40 minutes, depending on how big your fillets are.

The verdict:
Let me just tell you, this dish certainly lived up to its name! Y chromosome carrier seemed very happy with it. And so was this double X carrier as well. The chicken was juicy and moist and soft, and the sauce was nice with lots of flavour. I am not a big fan of mustard, so I was afraid I wouldn't like this recipe very much, but apparently the syrup nicely softens out the sting from the mustard. And then you work your way to the nice core of the fillet with the smoky bacon and the strong flavour from the parmesan. It all just came together perfectly. If you are in a hurry, you can always skip stuffing the fillets, and just smother the chicken in the sauce and into the oven it goes. Talk about fast food. If you have a bit more time, wrap the chicken in bacon, and then smother in sauce. Super quick, super easy and super good.  





















Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Bagels

I absolutely love bagels, as long as they are proper bagels, with a crispy crust and all soft and chewy inside. Every time I go to New York I have to get some bagels. Unfortunately, I don't get to go to New York very often, and it's been a few years since I've been there last. Funnily enough, Prague had a brilliant bagel place as well, although I couldn't for my life remember what it was called as it's so many years ago I went there. A quick google query with the words Prague and bagels immediately came up with it, the place was called Bohemia Bagel. I remember I even bought some to take home with me.  

Having watched the bakers on The Great British Bakeoff make all sorts of super yummy looking bagels, I really wanted to give them another try. I have made bagels once before, and they turned out to be a total disaster. They didn't rise at all and turned out hard enough to kill someone with. So I never dared try bagels again. However, I found this link on Pinterest to a post by a guy who owned his own bagel shop. So I thought he probably knows what he is talking about. The instructions on there are really good. I suggest you click yourself over there and read his instructions if you are not a seasoned bagel baker. At least for me the clearly explained steps made me feel like I can really do this. Also, if you have the time and patience, there are really good tips and tricks in the comments section. I don't know about the accuracy of them as I haven't tried them out, but a few points that raised my interest were the following: add a tablespoon of baking soda in the boiling water to get a deeper colour on the bagels, brush them with egg wash before baking in the oven if you want them to be  a more golden yellow colour. Also you can substitute 1/4 to 1/3 of the flour with other types of flour, such as whole wheat or rye. I will definitely try it with a bit of rye in it some other time. I decided to use parmesan and poppy seeds to flavour my bagels.

Another thing I have never quite managed to do properly is to knead dough. In theory I have always understood the need for proper kneading as I understand that the gluten strands need to build up to make a nice fluffy dough. But it's messy and hard work. A proper mixer with a dough hook would solve this problem, but right now I can't invest in the type of kitchen aid I would like, and I don't want to get a cheap one. But after watching Paul's tips for how to knead a dough properly, I thought I would give it a try. And I think it really paid off, although it's sweaty work, a proper knead resulted in one of the best bread doughs I have ever made. So now I think it's totally worth the trouble. I just wish I had a good work surface instead of having to use my dining table. But using my silicon baking mat makes cleaning up the mess much easier. So I really recommend researching kneading if you don't know how to do it, it really makes a difference to the texture of the dough. 



Parmesan and poppy seed bagels (makes 8):
2 tsp instant yeast
4 cups bread flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp oil
100 g grated parmesan (this was not in the original recipe)
1 1/4 - 1 1/2 cup water (I used left over whey from my cheese making adventures)
poppy seeds and parmesan to sprinkle on top

The howto:
As I said before, I really think you should head over to the original recipe for the instructions on how to bake the bagels. If you are using instant yeast, all you need to do is mix all the ingredients, let the dough proof for 20 minutes, roll out the bagels, let them proof for another 20 minutes, boil them and bake them. 

I did manage to totally mess up the recipe though. Instead of using 2 tsp instant yeast, I used 2 tbsp active yeast. Fortunately my yeast is really old, so I think it didn't do too much damage, but they did obviously overproof a bit and deflate when cooked. If using active yeast, you need to activate the yeast first. Just follow the instructions on your yeast pack. I also didn't find the rolling technique in the original post very successful. In the picture below, the two rightmost bagels are made using the technique described in the post, whereas the rest of the bagels, which look much prettier to me, were made by a different technique that I picked up from the Great British Bakeoff book. Basically, you roll the dough into a ball, then stick your finger through to make a hole, and swirl the bagel around your finger a few times to make the whole a bit bigger. Obviously you should try out both techniques to see which one is suitable for you.




The verdict:
This recipe was very succesful, despite the fact that I messed up the whole yeast bit. The excess yeast does explain why my donuts did collapse on themselves a bit. They did rise quite a lot, but at the stage of boiling they inflated slightly. Nothing too bad, but in the comments section of the original recipe this was touched upon many times. If you overproof your dough it can collapse later (a mistake that some of the bakers in the Great British Bakeoff also made). I think the extra yeast probably has the same effect as overproofing. I also had a bit of a problem with the proofing, as room temperature in my apartment right now is somewhere close to arctic. I was afraid my bagels wouldn't rise in the cold, so I put my oven on for just a few minutes to get it a few degrees above normal RT and left the oven light on, and proofed the bagels in there. Based on the looks of the bagels, this seemed to do the trick.



I absolutely love the size of the recipe, it makes eight rather large bagels, just the way I like my bagels. If for some weird reason you like your bagels smaller, you can obviously divide the dough into ten or twelve. The comments for the original recipe had several people commenting that they only make six bagels from this recipe as that would make them more New York sized. For me, eight was just right, but I guess everything is bigger in America. Also, baking eight was just perfect as me and Best Friend destroyed half of the batch as soon as it came out of the oven. Obviously the bagels were served with cream cheese (the full fat one, not any horrible low fat substitutes) and smoked salmon, the only right way to enjoy bagels. That left two to be frozen and two for breakfast the two following days. There is one thing I would change for future reference though. I'm not sure if my flavouring with parmesan was the most successful one, despite adding quite a lot of parmesan to the dough, I don't think the flavour came through very much. Although I have to admit, I used the horrible pre-grated stuff, so maybe the result would have been much better had I bought proper parmesan. Next time I might try a mature cheddar instead. And of course the flavour combinations are endless. Poppy seed, sesame seed, sea salt, onion, herbs, cinnamon and raisin. Or something more imaginative, like the fig, walnut and  Gruyere bagels in the Great British Bakeoff book. Or blueberry and white chocolate or maybe cinnamon and apple. Or anything else your heart desires. I can't wait to try these again, maybe even using the correct amount of yeast next time.



Sunday, 25 November 2012

Paul I heart you!!!




I might have mentioned in passing my obses... I mean fascination with The Great British Bakeoff. Yes, I know the season ended ages ago (and I was sooo happy for John when he won, he seems like such an adorable and lovely guy). Anyhows, after watching the bakers produce the most beautiful yeasted doughs, I decided I really need to hone my bread making skills. Well, technically speaking, I shouldn't as I'm at least in theory still trying to shed some pounds before Xmas. However, I couldn't resist when I saw Paul Hollywood's book "How to bake" on Amazon's black friday sale. Damn you one click shopping! And damn you Paul for your foxxy good looks, making kneading dough look so sexxy.


The minute I had the book in my hands, I just had to flip through it from front to back. Yes, I was at work. But in my defence, it was my coffee break. The book is absolutely wonderful, with good instructions and beautiful pictures. Quite a lot of it covers yeast doughs, starting from basic breads, going on to flavoured breads and there is even a whole chapter on sourdoughs. When I get back from my Xmas holiday I will set up my own sourdough starter and try that method as well. In addition to breads, there are really good instructions for pastry, brioche, croissants, danishes, and lots of cakes and puddings. The book is just full or wonderful recipes which look absolutely delicious and I want to try them all. Particularly the breads.

I'm a bit bad with yeast doughs as I don't always have the patience for the long rising times. When I bake, I want to see the results immediately. And I have always been really lazy with kneading, I have always found it messy and extra work that I couldn't be bothered with. But at the same time, I absolutely love bread, and there are no decent bakeries at all in Cambridge, so if you want good bread you have to bake it yourself. So I'm looking forward to improving my bread making skills. 

To get me in the bread mood, before attacking the yeasted doughs, I decided to try one of the few non-yeast based recipes for a super quick soda bread. In my local store they sell buttermilk in 300 ml jars, so I slightly modified the amounts of ingredients in the recipe. I included the original amounts in parenthesis for a slightly larger loaf.

Paul Hollywood's Soda Bread:
375 (500) all purpose flour
3/4 (1) tsp salt
3/4 (1) tsp bicarbonate of soda
300 (400) ml buttermilk



The howto:
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. Mix dry ingredients, add buttermilk and mix with your hand or a wooden spoon until the dough sticks together. Shape the dough into a ball, and flatten it a bit with your palm. Put the bread on a parchment paper lined baking tray, and mark it into quarters by cutting deep, but not all the way through. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown and making a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom. 

The verdict:
This is a super quick bread to whip together, I made it for evening tea with Best Friend. We ate it pretty much straight out of the oven with just butter on top with some hot tea and lots of gossip. Perfect Saturday evening.

Preparing the bread takes just a few minutes, so it would also be perfect for weekend brunch. It seems pretty much foolproof, as it turned out absolutely beautiful. It rose much more than I expected. It was soft and tasted really nice. It somehow reminded me of some oat cakes my mum used to make, whether or not they actually had soda in them I can't remember, but the scent of the bread was exactly as I remember the oatcakes. So I think next time I will try to replace some of the flour with oats. 












Saturday, 24 November 2012

My new baby!!


I can't believe my family keeps on growing! Family of kitchenware that is. This fall I was infatuated with my slow cooker, then I fell in love with my cast iron skillet. And now, something I have been admiring from afar for so long, but never thought would become reality. But my mum decided to get me one for Xmas. And Xmas came early this year. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the eagle has landed. I finally have a Le Creuset casserole. It's beautiful and purple and ridiculously heavy. I like to just stare at it, take the lid off, and then put it back on. I have wanted one for so long. Every time I go into a department store or kitchenware store, I just have to stop by to look at (and touch) the Le Creusets. And now I have one all of my own! This is the beginning of something beautiful. I foresee many Le Creusets in my future kitchen. Now I just need to figure out how I will get a job which allows me to afford the kitchen of my dreams. I don't care too much about the rest of my apartment, I'm happy as long as I have a sofa and bed. Would even settle for a sofabed I guess. But I'm dreaming of a huge kitchen. One with the centre island with a cooker, and maybe the sink too, a huge shining metallic extractor fan. Maybe one of those red retro fridges. Or a stainless steel one. A dishwasher (yes, I know most people have one, but I am only dreaming of such luxury). KitchenAid has a pink stand mixer... And maybe one of those alien looking Alessi citrus squeezers. And a huge freezer or two, so that I can finally buy things like meat in bulk when it's cheap. Of course, if I can afford my dream kitchen, maybe I don't need to worry about buying cheap meat.



So one of the many reasons I wanted a Le Creuset is because of all the delicious looking bread recipes I have seen on Pinterest and all over the Interwebs. Apparently, the heavy casserole, when pre-heated, helps the bread get that super crunchy crust. You can find more info about baking bread in a dutch oven here. Some of the recipes I have found have the step of pre-heating your casserole in the oven before putting the bread in, others seem to put the bread into a cold casserole and then putting it cold into the oven. The resulting breads from both methods look great, but for me it makes sense to pre-heat the casserole before adding the bread, as the casserole acts as the actual oven in this case, and it should be hot when adding in the bread. However, the problem was the instructions for my baby said you shouldn't heat it empty. Again, the Interwebs to the rescue. Apparently, you can heat the casserole when it's half filled with water. It's just quite a biatch to pour out, the pot gets really hot, and like I said, it's really heavy. And I'm super clumsy, so I foresee a disaster. I already managed to scald my leg with hot water when I was boiling eggs a while ago. It looks like an alien has tried to crawl through the skin, but luckily it wasn't too bad in the end. So I'm trying to be super careful when using my purple beauty.

The recipe I used here is surprisingly something I ran into on Pinterest. It's from a blog called The Pioneer Woman. Recently Completely Delicious made a similar bread, which was adapted from Joy the Baker. Who had adapted it from the Pioneer Woman. And so the same recipes go round and round through the blogosphere. It spins my head right round... All the recipes featured herbes, but I wanted to bake my bread without having to stop by the grocery store, so I chose to use things I could find around the house for flavouring. I ended up with this bread flavoured with garlic, seeds and goji berries. There is also another great recipe for making bread in a dutch oven, it's from a blog called Simply so Good and I've tried it before, just without the dutch oven. It turned out great, and it's a bit different from the others as you don't need to knead (sic) the dough at all. And the blog post has one of the longest comment sections I have ever seen, so whatever possible problem you have with the recipe, it has most likely been covered. And it looks absolutely delicious as well. So many breads to make... so few calories allowed...

Bread with stuff I happened to have at home:
1 cup warm-ish water
1 tbsp active yeast
1 tbsp sugar
2 cups strong white flour (plus up to 1 cup, depending on the texture of the dough)
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp gluten
1 tbsp garlic manjira*
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
2 tbsp flax seeds
3 tbsp goji berries
Garlic infused olive oil and sea salt to sprinkle on top

*the lable says it contains garlic, coconut, sunflower oil, coriander, coconut milk, chillies, lemon juice, salt, spices. I would imagine a suitable replacement would be a garlic clove chopped and mixed in a tablespoon of olive oil.

The howto:
Mix yeast, sugar and 1 tbsp of the flour. Add water which has been heated to 42 degrees C (it feels a bit warmer than body temperature). Mix briefly, and let the yeast activate for 5 minutes, until it starts to froth. Then add 1 cup of flour, the gluten and the flavourings. Add the rest of the flour, and knead for 5-10 minutes (or if you are lucky and have a kitchen aid, just use that to make the dough). Let proof in a warm place (I had used my oven earlier, so it was still a bit warmer than room temperature so I stuck the bowl in there) for an hour or a bit longer, until the dough has doubled in size. During the last 30 minutes of proofing, preheat the oven to 225 degrees C, and place the dutch oven, half filled with water, in the oven to reach 225 degrees.  Punch the air out of the dough, and shape it into a loaf. Make a cut in the shape of and X in the loaf, and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Carefully take the hot dutch oven out of the oven, pour out the water, place the bread carefully in it, and bake for 25-30 minutes with the lid on. Finish baking for 10-15 minutes without the lid.







The verdict:
Most of the bread recipes I have seen use four cups of flour to one cup of water. Every time I bake, I seem to need much less flour than the recipes state, or the dough becomes really hard. So by feel, I added three cups of flour which I think gave me a nice dough with nice texture. If your dough is horribly sticky after three cups, add flour little by little until you have reached the desired consistency. It probably depends a lot on the type of flour you use. 

Baking in a casserole with a lid is torture, usually I love to peak into the oven and see how my food is doing. I love watching bread or buns rise, sometimes I can just sit down on the floor in front of the oven and stare inside. I know, I know, I'm sooo weird. So I could only manage 25 minutes until I uncovered the bread as I had to see it. Then I baked it uncovered for another 10 minutes. 

One thing the bread truly had was a crispy crust. It was unbelievably beautiful sitting there in the casserole all golden coloured and crispy. I just wanted to tuck in immediately. Waiting for the bread to cool a bit seemed to take forever. Obviously, you want to remove it from the casserole pretty soon to speed up the cooling process. And remember that the dutch oven will be really really hot. I use folded kitchen towels instead of oven mitts as I never got around to buying them. After handling my Le Creuset, I'm seriously considering buying a pair, maybe those fancy silicone oven mitts. So be careful when you are fishing out that bread from the casserole. 

The disappointing aspect was that the bread didn't rise quite as beautifully as I had hoped. This is probably because I shaped the loaf before heating up the casserole. It would have probably been better to heat the oven and casserole, and then punch the dough and shape the loaf and get it into the casserole as fast as possible. It didn't end up a complete pancake, not at all, but I had expected a slightly more domed look.

Looks aside, the most important part is obviously the taste. What can I say. I had a slice and froze the rest for later. Just kidding!! I ate four slices right after  slicing them off the bread. With nothing but a good knob of butter. This bread also solved my problem of what to do with goji berries, as I have had quite a bit left for ages and no good ideas what to use them for. They bring sweetness to the bread, the same way raisins would do. As I have said before, I have a bit of a substance abuse problem when it comes to raisins, and I can't have them at home. However, goji berries are not sweet enough for me to binge on, so I leave them alone. Hence, in the future, I can use them in bread to replace raisins! The contrast of the sweet goji berries, the crunchy seeds and the sea salt on the crust of the bread were a really great combination. I can't wait to continue experimenting with bread making in my Le Creuset.



Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Crumbly strawberry pie

No-one ever pops over unannounced these days. You know, the way they used to do back in 'the old days'. Whenever that was. I can imagine it, a small countryside village, and in the afternoon your neighbour knocks on your door, just to say hi and hear how you are. Well, at least that's how it goes in my imagination. Then of course you invite them in and sit down with a cup of tea, some ginger cookies, scones, tea cakes, jam and clotted cream. Unhurriedly you enjoy the tea and gossip about what has been going on in the village. That just doesn't happen anymore. Obviously most of the time I'm actually glad that doesn't happen, imagine someone coming over to gossip just as you are about to leave for the gym. Or just got back from work and all you want to do is turn on the telly and switch off your brain. As long as I have lived here, I don't think anyone has just knocked on my door unannounced. Well, obviously no-one has knocked on my door as they wouldn't get into the building in the first place. What I meant was no-one has buzzed my door buzzer unannounced. Except from time to time the drunk people leaving the club downstairs at 3am in the morning who find it funny to just press every door buzzer. However, today my door buzzer went off unannounced. I didn't answer as I expected it to be a salesman or TV licence inspector or whatever (just to be clear, I don't have a TV so I don't need a licence!!). Then right after that my phone beeps. 'Is you in?". It wasn't just some random door buzz, it was actually someone I was happy to see. And even more lucky, I had happened to bake these great crumbly strawberry pies right before my surprise visitor appeared. Maybe I should just start baking more often, as it seems to attract surprise visitors!

So the inspiration for the strawberry pies was leftover pie crust from my apple pies I made a while ago (sometimes my blog posts wait for quite a while to get published, don't worry, I haven't stored my pie crust for a month). A strawberry tart recipe on Pinterest has been haunting me for ages, so the leftover pie crust with some leftover strawberries that was my perfect excuse. Given that I already had the crust ready made, my strawberry tart is not exactly like the one in the recipe above, but I thought any strawberry tart or pie would calm my craving a bit. First, I was planning to do a classic tart with custard and fresh berries. But then I remembered how wonderful roasted strawberries taste like, so I thought I would do a baked strawberry tart. I only had enough dough to do the crusts, but I was worried the strawberries would burn without a crust on top as well. So, inspired by another recipe on Pinterest, I decided to put a crumble on top. I mean, who doesn't love a good crumble? Well, at least I do. I love oats, and mixing them with butter and sugar can only make it better. So voila, there it was, my crumble strawberry pie. Funnily enough, when I was doing my grocery order online the other day, it turned out Green&Black vanilla ice cream was on sale. I love Green&Black white chocolate, so I thought I should give the ice cream a try. But of course, only because it happened to be on sale. All these coincidences came together beautifully not only to create a delicious dessert but to top that all up, this was all on the day I had my unexpected surprise visitor.

The pie crust dough I had left over were from my apple pie baking antics the other day, and if you can recall, I actually made two different types of dough. One was a buttermilk and butter crust, whereas the other one had part of the flour replaced with almond flour. There was only a little bit left of the almond one, so I made one crust out of that and the three other using the buttermilk one. As you will see from the pictures below, only one was playing nice...

Crumbly strawberry pie (makes 4 individual sized crumbles):

Almond flour crust (the recipe actually makes enough for at least eight small pies, so you can freeze half for later)

Filling:
200 g strawberries
1 1/2 tbsp light muscovado sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp poppy seeds
1 tsp vanilla paste
1/2 tsp ground cardamom

Crumble:
3 tbsp (40 g) butter
3 tbsp (26 g) whole wheat flour
3 tbsp (26 g) light muscovado sugar
4 tbsp (26 g) oats 
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
The crusts before baking. The one on the
top right is the almond flour one.
The crusts after baking. Only the almond flour
one kept it's shape, the rest ended up on the 

bottom of the pastry tins. Not sure if it the dough
doesn't like to be in the fridge over night, or if it 
was just from baking them without weighing 
down the pastry.
The howto:
Prepare the crust ahead of time, so that it can rest in the fridge for at least an hour, preferably over night. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees. Roll the crust and put into pie tins, prebake for 10 minutes. If you want to do things correctly, you should line the crust with parchment paper and use baking beans to weigh it down. Obviously, I couldn't be bothered to do that, but I think the crust turned out quite nicely despite me being lazy. Well it did for the almond flour dough, whereas the buttermilk dough just didn't keep it's shape in the tin and melted together to a disc at the bottom of the tin (see picture below).  For the filling, hull the strawberries and cut into slices. Mix with the rest of the ingredients. For the crumble, combine all ingredients, and use a food processor to pulse a few times to form a crumbly mixture. Scoop filling into the pre-baked crusts, top with crumble and bake for another 20-25 minutes. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

The verdict:
The amount of vanilla in this recipe is rather generous. For me that worked out perfectly as I love the taste of vanilla and think that if it's the only spice, it should be quite strong. The poppy seeds also bring nice taste and texture to the filling. Baked strawberries just get a great lovely sweet flavour, and the scent coming out of the oven if just amazing. In the summer there is no better way to enjoy strawberries than fresh in a tart, but when it's not prime strawberry season anymore, you get so much more flavour into the strawberries by baking them. And the strong flavour of vanilla is just amazing, with the soft flavour of cardamom to complement the vanilla and strawberries.



I had two types of pastry for the pies, as I wanted to try two different pastries when I was baking my apple pies earlier. One was made with almond flour whereas the other was a buttermilk and all wheat flour pastry. As you can see from the photos, only the almond flour pastry dough behaved nicely, so I recommend you use that one, or some other pastry you know will bake nicely without melting into an unaesthetic mess on the bottom of the pie tin. Not that eating the ugly pies was all too horribly traumatising, they were still good. But the almond flour one made a beautiful pastry which kept the strawberry juices inside the pie. The crumble on top was a nice finishing touch to the pies, and the wholemeal flour and oats nicely complement the soft strawberry filling and vanilla flavour and the crumbly pastry crust. All this served warm, with melting vanilla ice cream on top was quite a treat, and given that my pastry was ready made, very quick to prepare. Fast food to fulfil a sweet tooth craving.