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Thursday, 20 December 2012


I love making truffles and they are so much better made fresh. Most in shops are covered in a hard chocolate shell, and this is hard to do without a machine to temper the chocolate, so for home made ones stick to rolling them in coco powder, dessicated coconut, chocolate shardes or icing sugar, or pipe into cases as I've done. Un-covered the last for about two weeks, if you can resit them for that long!

You will need : 430 grams dark chocolate (if you want to make milk chocolate truffles use 580 grams of milk chocolate, and for white use 730 grams, as these have less coco solids so need more volume to set properly)

180 grams of double cream - to make coffee truffles dissolve four teaspoons of coffee granules into the cream as you heat it. 

60 grams glucose syrup - you can use golden syrup but this has more (lovely) flavour, I'd add vanilla essence with this to create a lovely caramel flavour.

25 grams unsalted butter, very soft but not melted.

30 ml spirit of your choice - or you can use vanilla as mentioned above.

Equipment - one large bowl, one small pan, a round ended knife or metal spoon, pipping bag fitted with a large nozzle, or you can just use the coupler ring with not nozzle if you don't have a big enough icing tube - I use a 1 cm round tube, smaller ones can get clogged up. Weigh everything carefully and get it ready before you start.

Truffle tips - do not refrigerate your truffles, leave them over night to harden at cool room temperature. Refrigeration is bad news for quality chocolate, it's too damp and it will actually shorten their self life and make them bloom.

This is a coco dusted truffle, which I wrapped in gold foil to keep them fresh.

Flavour ideas:

Infuse the cream with spices such as cinnamon, ginger and mace to create spiced truffles. Use 400 grams of dark chocolate and 100 grams of milk.

Black pepper - sounds odd but spices are great with chocolate, I simply grind a large portion of pepper into the cream, and you add pepper to your dusting coco as well.

Christmas puddings - make a brandy truffle then stir in small dried fruits soaked in brandy. Instead of pipping, use a spoon or melon baller to scoop up portions and roll into truffles. Put into petit-four cases and then melt some white chocolate over a bain-maire or in a microwave ( in this case, use cheap and cheerful budget white chocolate) and then drizzle over the Christmas puddings to look like cream. You can even find little cake sprinkles that look like holly leaves and berries and stick them on the top.

These make such a lovely gift for those awkward people who are hard to shop for, buy pretty gift boxes and fill with a mix of chocolates, or use china boxes and pretty cup and saucers bought from charity shops and wrapped up in cellophane and tie with bows to make unique gifts.

The above recipe makes around 70 truffles and it cost me £7, so it's cheaper than buying luxury chocolates, especially if you are a dab hand at making your own boxes from recycled material. If you buy chocolate whole sale and make four or five flavours, you'd spend around £40 but you could make around ten boxes worth, and they would have the personal touch which makes all the difference.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Floaty light Christmas cake

Much as I love traditional Christmas cake, if you're having a Christmas afternoon tea it might be too heavy coming on top of mince pies, cranberry scones and turkey finger sandwiches, so this is an alternative which is just as seasonal. I do usually make it with whiskey soaked sultanas, but I admit on this occasion I didn't put them in as I knew one of my guests didn't like dried fruit and as the cupcakes I was making were also fruity ones, I left them out this time. However, I love them, so if you want to do the cake justice, then take 100 grams of big sultanas and soak them over night in a good slug of whiskey and then fold them into the mix before you add the egg whites. The rest of the method it all the same.

 You will need:
6 oz/170 grams each of unsalted butter, self raising flour and caster sugar.
6 eggs, separated.
Zest and juice of 1 lemon, 1 orange and 1 lime.
100 grams whiskey soaked sultanas.

Line two 20cm spring form tins.
Heat your oven to 160 degrees
sift your flour and separate your eggs.
 Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until they pale and creamy looking and meanwhile, put the butter into a small pan and heat slowly until melted and take off the heat.
 The yolks are at what is called the ribbon stage - read to add the zest of the fruit, followed by the juice.
 The zest of life.....
 The sift the flour over the yolk mix and fold in, that means moving the spoon ( always use a metal one) as if you were folding the edge of the mix into the center.
 When the flour is folded in, add the melted butter in a steady stream and fold in also - it will look a bit weird and oily until the butter is folded in, but keep going and you'll get there!
 See, nice and smooth again! Now whisk up your egg whites until they are super light and fluffy, you should be able to tip the bowl upside over your head and they won't fall out - so until you're confident you won't get an egg white hair mask, keep whisking! If you've got a good hand mixer like the one Bosch do, that's where the extra motor power will save you from an eggy fate!
If you're adding the fruit, fold that in before you add the whites.
 There - like this! Then you fold one spoon full into your yolk and flour and butter mixture, this is to 'slacken' it off and make it easier to get the rest of the white folded in.

 Now fold in the rest of the egg white, again it will look a bit odd but keep going just until all the egg white lumps have gone, using a metal spoon again and a cutting and folding action, you're trying to mix the egg white in but not squash out too much air.
 It should look like this, very pale and fluffy still. Divide the mix between the two tins and put into your oven to bake - this cake needs to be baked at once to ensure the air stays in the mix so don't hang around.
 The cake takes around 40 mins to bake, but check it at 30 mins and if the top looks too brown, put some foil over the top to save it from over browning. To test insert a clean skewer into the center, if it comes out clean your cake is ready.
Set it to cool and then spoon a generous table spoon of whiskey over the cooling cake, more if you like!
 To frost I made my usual butter cream - 250 grams unsalted butter, 500 grams icing sugar - beat the butter for 5 mins until very fluffy, add half the sugar and 100 ml of double cream, beat again then add the rest of the sugar, beat AGAIN and then flavour with whiskey and lemon to taste.
How you decorate is up to you - I filled the center and then coloured the rest of the icing a whiskey colour with coco powder, and then placed some lace over the surface and sprinkled it with icing sugar; though I did find that the icing sugar melted into the icing, this would have worked better if I'd left the top of the cake unfrosted, or done it just before serving.
 But it looked rather nice, and tasted even better!

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Monday, 10 December 2012

Beer bread

 All though the idea of left over beer may sound strange, I did get left with three quarters of a bottle of London black stout at the weekend, after making Jo's Christmas pudding, so I decided to use it for my bread. As I live in a hard water area, my bread can be slow to rise, but the stout really helped with that!
For this large loaf I used 800g of white flour and 200 g of rye, which gives a wonderful flavour along with the yeasty stout. I then activated 30 grams of yeast in 150 ml of tepid water and while it was frothing up, rubbed 50 grams of butter in the flour and added  tsp of salt.
 I made a well in the center to add the yeast water, well away from the salt, and then gradually mixed it into the flour, adding stout little by little until I had a sticky but not wet dough. I then oiled my work surface and hand and kneaded the dough well - the smell with the added stout at this stage is amazing! Then you knead -  if you're lucky enough to have an electric mixer with a dough hook like the lovely Bosch one I was given, then this makes short work of the job, but even hand kneading isn't difficult, keep going until the dough is no longer sticky but silky, smooth and pliable. Then it's time to put it to rise in a large bowl covered with cling-film.
When it had doubled in size, about an hour and a half, I turned it out on the surface again.
 It was a beautiful caramel colour from the stout, and I shaped it into a long loaf, slashed the top into 1 cm sliced to help with cutting, dusted it with more rye flour and set it to prove covered in a plastic bag, sitting on a baking parchment covered tray.
After 40 mins I turned my oven onto 240 and put an empty baking tray under the oven shelf ready for ice-cubes. 20 mins later we were ready to go, so I tipped a handful of ice cubes onto the hot tray, gave them a moment to explode into steam, and popped in my loaf. If I had a proper NEFF oven, I could use their proving setting and not need all this, one day, one day! Either way, do join their Facebook page for baking tips and more.

 After 25 mins I turned it over for another five to make sure the bottom was cooked through, and it's ready - a huge stout loaf with a wonderful malty flavour which is great with savory or sweet.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Oh Christmas tree....

The start of the Christmas baking season is the school Christmas bake sale, so here we go. I use a simple cake recipe with seasonal touches, which is based on the wonderfully versatile cake recipe I was given when I went to the NEFF head quarters with the Bake it yourself experts  :

170 grams of butter, sugar and self raising flour.
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp cinnamon
3 eggs
100 g sultanas
100 g chocolate drops.

Oven temp 160.
Beat together the butter and sugar until they look pale and fluffy, then add the eggs and fold in gently. Sift together the flour, baking powder and spices and fold into your mix, then fold in the fruit and chocolate (dried cranberries and white chocolate work well also) spoon into the cake cases and bake. It should make 12 and they should rise well, which is what you want as the pointy shape helps form the tree.
 When the cakes are cool, make your butter cream - I used 450 grams of icing sugar and 200 grams butter. I whisked the butter really well first, then add half the sugar and a splash of milk and whisk again, flavour as you like ( I just went for vanilla, but lemon is always good, or use brandy if it's for adults) then whisk in the rest of the sugar and colour green with food colouring.
Your need a medium star nozzle on your icing bag, though most will work, experiment with different shapes to get different effects with pleasure!

To decorate - first pipe a ring of icing round the cake like this. Remember to not over fill your bag and squeeze from the top, keeping the bag pointed over your right shoulder.
 Then pipe a second row on top of the first, think of it like building a coil pot, swirling round and round as you go. You might find you create a hollow at this point, with the icing building up higher than than cake. I'd fill this in with icing - give it a good squirt to fill in the hole,  release the pressure but keep the bag in place and when the icing has stopped coming, lift the bag away smartly and you should make a nice point for your tree.
 And there is it, ready to decorate. If I had thought ahead more, I'd have bought some star shaped cake decorations and put one on the top of each cake, but I forgot!
 Here's a whole forest, ready to decorate. I stand them on a baking tray, the one I used to bake the cakes in but I turn it upside down, giving each cake a little plinth to stand on, which makes it easier to pick them up and also catches any fallen sprinkles.
 I dusted each cake with green glitter first - I think we're meant to use luster dust now but hey, I've got glitter to use up! You can also dust with white luster to create a snowy effect.
I topped each swirl with a gold ball and dropped silver balls on the lower parts to look like Christmas balls. If you were being really creative, you could make tiny packages from cubes of fondant with fondant bows, but let's not go mad on your first attempt!
And here we go, a whole forest!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Amazing what you can pick up in hospital

Luckily not MRSA, but while I was doing what it said on the door and waiting in the waiting room, I was forced to pick up a magazine, something I do rarely. I loath all aspects of celeb culture and have no interest in their lives, so as ever turned to the recipe pages for want of something to read, and found this. It seemed to be an upside down cake which uses tinned peaches and golden syrup - to be fair, they had me on golden syrup!
 It also uses buttermilk, which is a great thing; a fermented yoghurt like stuff which is used in American and Ireland more than the UK but is amazing and should be used a lot more.

It has rising properties so makes cakes very successfully and if you like to make pancakes for your Sunday breakfast, especially the American style thick pancakes full of blueberries and dripping with syrup, then it's the ideal thing to make them with.
In case you can't read it, here's the ingredient list.

6 tbsp golden syrup (buy the squeezy bottle)
2 (though one was fine) can of peaches in juice.
150 g butter, melted.
150 g caster sugar
130 ml buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
175g self raising flour
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda.

Method -

First grease your tin, I used a 24 cm loose bottom tin. I thought it might leak, which it did, so I stood it on a baking tray. I'd be tempted to use a fixed bottom tin to avoid leaks but it might be hard to turn out when done.
Butter the tin well, you can brush with some of the melted butter, and then line the bottom with a disc of baking parchment and the sides with a long strip of baking parchment.
Drizzle some of the syrup into the bottom of the tin, I had some stem ginger in syrup so I used some of that syrup also because I love the ginger!;)
Then arrange your fruit in a nice, 1950's style fan, I would imagine any tinned fruit would work well, and you could even add cherries for a really kitsch feel!

Pour your butter into your mixer - if you have a big bowl you can use a hand mixer and on balance, next time I'll use my Bosch hand mixer as this is dead easy to do. Mix in your sugar, whisk for two mins or so, and then whisk in the two eggs.
Add the vanilla to your butter milk and then whisk that in next.
Sift the bicarb into the flour, then sift that into your mix - I took the bowl off the stand to do this and as you don't need to whisk again, this is why next time I'll use my Bosch hand mixer and a bowl for ease.
 Not sure why the pictures are on the side but never mind!

You then fold the flour in by hand, I used my trusty NEFF silicone spatula which is as good as a knife when it comes to folding yet better at scraping the bowl to ensure it's spotless.

Tip your mix over the fruit in the tin, pour slowly so you don't dislodge the fruit and spoil your lovely pattern. 
 Here it is ready to bake, the original recipe said 45 mins at 180 degrees, but mine was still a bit wet so I actually baked it for an hour.

Leave it to stand in the tin for about 5 mins then remove the paper from around the sides and place a serving plate on top of the tin. Count to three and then turn the tin over, keeping the plate in place to catch the cake - it will still be hot so take care, use oven gloves or wait until you can hold it comfortably. It should drop onto the plate. Un-clip and remove the tin and base and peel off the paper.
And there it is, drizzle with the rest of the syrup while its warm, though I didn't use all of it as I thought there was plenty, it looks lovely and can be eaten warm or cold and re-heats fine.

And, as part of my count down to Christmas, I've started the soaking of the fruits for the Christmas Cake, I'll be blogging about how I make mine in the week, but this is where I start.
I'm making a big batch so I can bake two or three cakes, I either use small tins or a big wedding cake tin and divide the cakes when cooked.
The choice of fruit is important, I find that I get the best results choosing fruit with plenty of tartness, the cake is always rich and heavy so a little bite really helps bring it to life.
Here is 2 1/2 pounds of fruit - sultanas (don't use currants, they are small and will over cook and go bitter in a long cook cake like this) - a cherry and berry mix, dried apricots ( do use them, they are divine in a fruit cake) cranberries, cherries, a little crystallized ginger and figs. With figs I hold the stalk and use kitchen scissors to snip them into small pieces, the stalks can be too tough in a cake.
Then add booze - this year I'm using a cup of run and two cups of dry sherry, and leave to soak for at least a week. If nothing else your kitchen smells lovely!

Next week, I'll make the cakes!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Making the most of the toast!

 If you're going to bake bread, most recipes you're give are for one loaf, but you can usually fit two in an oven, so don't waste the heat and make double the quantity and bake two loaves, it's more economic. The don't even have to be the same, here's two bakes I made today, a simple loaf ideal for toast and sandwiches, and a cinnamon and ginger swirl bun loaf.
You make one batch of dough and then divide it into two halves and give each half a different finish.

The basic dough used here is

800g pasta flour ( I find this makes great bread, but strong white is fine)
200g wholemeal bread flour.
50 g butter
600 g tepid water
15 g yeast ( I use the Allison's yeast that you activate in the water first)
50 g brown sugar
8 tsp salt
2 eggs
you'll also need more brown sugar, powdered cinnamon and stem ginger in syrup.

 The usual method I use is to add the sugar to the tepid water, add the yeast and watch it activates (fizz up) and then drop in the butter to soften it. The pour the flour into a big bowl, make a well in the center for the water/yeast mix and a small hole in the flour away from the well for the salt.
Pour your yeast/water/butter into the well and work the flour into it, then add the eggs. You may need a little more water, you want a wet but not too sticky dough.
Put a little oil on your work surface to stop the dough sticking, and kneed for about 5-10 mins until the dough is soft and silky, it should feel so good you want to rest on it for a nap!
Put it back into your bowl, cover with cling film and leave to rise, it should double in size. I discovered the other day that if you have hard water, your dough rises slowly, which explains why mine takes about three hours to rise.
 When it's risen, tip it out and fold the dough, squashing out the air. Now break it into two equal halves. The picture above is the simple loaf I made from one half, a nice, smooth round set on a tray lined with baking parchment and left to prove covered with a plastic bag.
On the right is the bun loaf I made from the other half. I rolled out the second lot of dough with my hands, and then buttered it well on one side. I then sprinkled that side with brown sugar, cinnamon, a piece of grated stem ginger and some of the syrup. Then I rolled up the piece of dough like a Swiss roll, cut it into sections and placed them end up in the tin. The first picture shows them when I'd put them in the tin, the one above right shows them once they'd proved for an hour along side the plain load, nicely risen. Pre heat your oven to 210 half an hour into the proving time (If you have a super NEFF oven, you can speed this bit up with their amazing prove to bake setting, sadly, I do not!)
Bake the two loaves side by side in your oven, they should take about the same amount of time. I brushed the bun loaf with milk and sugar before baking, it probably caught a little on the top but I don't mind that actually! The took 25 mins, and are both ready in time for breakfast tomorrow!

Sunday, 11 November 2012

So, mr Bond, we meet again...

Sorry that's a terrible in joke - let me explain.

Yesterday I got to visit the NEFF headquarters in Wolverton, and become one of their Bake It Yourself experts. I kept thinking on the way up that 'NEFF Headquarters' sounded like one of those crime organizations that James Bond has to fight in their secret bunker - National Evil Fendish Federation or something.
However, they day did not involve shark tanks, high octane escapes or Daniel Craig (sorry to say) but in way of much compensation, I did get a sneak preview of the Daniel Craig of ovens, the most amazing creation with a prove to bake capacity, which if you like to bake is truly amazing.It's a steam warmed oven where you place your kneaded bread dough to rise and then with hardly a second's pause you can shape your loaf and put it right back in, and the oven is ready at 210 degrees and full of lovely hot steam to make your bread rise a treat, no second proving, nothing.
The proof of the pudding as they say is in the eating, so here's my (prize winning) loaf -

It was dead easy to make -

500 g bread flour
7g Hovis dried yeast (shake that into the flour first)
20 g sugar
10 g rock salt
25 g butter
320 g tepid milk.

The basic recipe was thanks to the lovely Jo Wheatley,   last years British bake off's winner, who was there all day to demonstrate and inspire and give out great tips, such as drop the butter into the warm milk to soften and add both to the flour together, which worked a treat.

It was up to us to make the loaves our own, so I added sesame and poppy seeds to the bread and an egg yolk, keeping back the white to glaze. I then kneaded the dough using this -
The new Ergo mixx from Bosch which is not out until next year but we were given one each to take home and test. It's got a dough hook for kneading, and so I put mine to good use kneading my dough.
What did I think? Well, for a single loaf or a wet dough which produces a lovely, aerated bake but can be hard to knead by hand, it worked very well. The issue I have is that I get RSI in my wrists after so much writing so holding the machine got a little tiring even though it's not very heavy. I also felt that if I were making a big batch of bread, I would still stick to my stand mixer, because of the volume I tend to use. Actually, I most often hand knead big batches, but I will give my new mixer a go back at Kappuke-ki headquarters and let you know how it goes - the whisk looks amazing!

Anyway, back to the bread. If you want to make my bread at home, once your dough is nearly ready I then add my pumpkin seeds. I don't put them in at the start of the knead as they are quite large and sharp and the kneading process tends to make them break up a little.

Once all together and silky smooth, the dough goes into rise, and if you don't have the absolutely wonderfully totally amazing NEFF oven with the proving setting, (which I don't at home) you'll need to put the dough in a bowl and cover it with cling film, leaving it somewhere snuggley to rise. This can take between 1 and 3 hours, but you don't have to do anything else to it until it's ready. Then you knock it back, squash out the air and shape your loaf. I made a simple 4 strand plait.

Again, if you have a super NEFF oven you can bake straight away (WHICH IS AMAZING!) but if you don't, then you'll need to let the loaf sit on it's tray ready to bake to prove. Put a plastic bag over it to keep the moisture and warmth in, and leave it for an hour.

Heat your over ready to 210 degrees, and before you put your loaf in, brush it with the egg white you saved from before and sprinkle with poppy seeds and sea salt. Throw a baking tray of ice cubes into the bottom of your oven, count to ten and then pop in your loaf to bake.
(Jo gave me the tip about the ice cubes and it really works.)

Bake for 20 mins and check, it may need a another ten mins if it's not ready, but you should then have a lovely seeded loaf perfect for a bread and cheese lunch or to eat with soup.

So, after a day of baking excellence, I am proud to announce that I am now one of NEFF's official baking experts and will be answering baking questions on their facebook pages - The official launch is on Tuesday, so keep a look out for my ugly mug and for my baking adventures, brought to you from my Kappuke-ki Kidswear blog.