Thursday, 30 June 2011

Plain Old Loaf

I’ve decided to stop experimenting with fancy enriched breads and make a standard, good plain old loaf of bread. I keep meaning to try different shaping and slashing techniques, but normally forget about it by the time the shaping time comes. And its so much easier to quickly shape a loaf on a counter and pop it into a banneton.

I have a large oval one (for 1 kg loaf), one large round one (for 1 kg loaf) and one oval medium (for 750 g loaf) banneton – Mr Ranty told me that he got them all from Manufactum not from BakeryBits as I thought. I very rarely use the medium sized one, only when I am trying to make a small loaf for someone as a gift or have too many loaves on the go. What I would really like, is a mah-ussive banneton, so I can make giant loaves of bread, you know the ones you see when you go to markets somewhere like France. A massive loaf of bread, that you probably wouldn’t even buy as a whole – they sell them by weight – how cool is that? Can I have a chunk on bread, ohhh, about a kilo?

Three-Flour Loaf

200 g white starter (100% hydration)
290 g water
400 g white flour
60 g wholewheat flout
40 g rye four
1 ½ tsp salt

Mix all the ingredients, but the salt on first speed for six minutes in a KitchenAid mixer. Cover the mixer with a tea towel (so it doesn’t dry out) and leave to autolise for 20 minutes. Add salt and mix on speed 2 for two minutes.
The dough was quite sticky, but I decided I was happy with the hydration level – 58% and decided to leave it at that.

A note on calculating hydration – I believe there a few schools of thought on that. Total hydration of your dough is calculated by dividing the total amount of liquids (water, juices, oils, etc.) over total amount of flour. So, in my case – 290 g water / 500 g combined flour = 58%. However, some people include water and flour measures from the starter into that equation. That would make my bread 390 g of liquids (100 g in the starter and 290 g in the recipe) over 600 g of flour (100 g in the starter and 290 g in the recipe), overall 65% hydration instead.
Now that I am thinking about it, 65% hydration is probably a right way of describing the consistency of dough I ended up with, I like my dough to be well hydrated, I like the crumb it gives it.

Anywho, place the dough into an oiled bowl and cover. Do three stretch and folds over the next hour and a half and then leave it to do its thing for further three – four hours. Shape the dough into an oval loaf and place into a heavily floured banneton, cover with plastic and leave for another three hours at room temperature.
I never use extra flour during shaping, unless I am working with super-hydrated dough, like ciabatta or something. I use a dough scraper to help me pull the dough together, and, if it is really sticky, I would oil my hands and the counter surface instead.
Always use rye flour to flour bannetons, the loaf would stick much less if you were to use regular white flour. If you are worried about plastic sticking to the top of your loaf during proofing, sprinkle some flour of top of the shaped loaf, so you don’t tear the surface of the dough when you are taking the cover off.

It was a really warm evening in London – yes, it does happen – and I kind of forgot about the bread, by the time I went to the kitchen to check on it, it was HUGE!! Spilling out of the banneton, a giant doughy dome of goodness.
I managed to get it out of the banneton without too many dramas – had to call in Mr Ranty for help, it was a full on four hands operation, and I didn’t dare to slash it, cause I could just see it deflating like a balloon in front of me. No time to pre-heat the oven either so stuck it as it is, at 210C, with no steaming or anything, just wanted to get it in.

Bake the loaf for 40 minutes, rotating the loaf around half way through. It came out looking quite light in colour, but didn’t lose its shape or anything – much better than I expected. The crumb is not bad either, it is super light in texture and has a nice taste, not particularly sour in flavour.
We’ve make croutons out of it for salad last night, pan fried in olive oil with garlic, salt and peppers, and they tasted delicious!

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Cocoa or Cacao

I am also trying out another cake this weekend – got a friend’s birthday and an engagement party to go to and I’ve offered to make a cake for her. I don’t know why I do this to myself – I would love a nice and relaxing weekend, but I keep getting myself involved in these different “projects”.
I’ve been testing out “Cake” section in “The Hummingbird Bakery” book, and this cake has been tempting me for a while.

Brooklyn Blackout Cake
Adapted from “The Hummingbird Bakery”

100 g unsalted butter, softened
220 g sugar
2 eggs
½ tsp vanilla extract
20 g cocoa powder (Green and Black)
25 g Venezuelan black 100% pure cacao grated (Willie’s Supreme Cacao)
2 tsp baking powder
A pinch of salt
170 g flour
160 g milk

Chocolate custard
290 g sugar
1 Tbsp honey
85 g Venezuelan black 100% pure cacao grated (Willie’s Supreme Cacao)
80 g cornflour
55 g unsalted butter, softened
½ tsp vanilla extract
Chocolate to decorate

Don’t be put off by the fancy cacao – the only reason I am using it, its cause I ran out of cocoa powder and my little Tesco downstairs didn’t stock it. Mr Ranty bough a block of solid cacao a while ago – he loves buying weird ingredients that he is not quite sure what to do with (don’t get me started on a pack of lily bulbs from an Asian supermarket we’ve had going off in the fridge). So, just use cocoa powder instead.

Cream butter and sugar together on high speed (either in a mixer or with a hand mixer) until light and fluffy, add eggs – one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
Add vanilla, cocoa powder, cacao, baking powder and salt and mix (slow speed now) until all the ingredients mixed together.
Continue mixing on low speed and gradually add flour and milk to the creamy mixture, until you get one even chocolate batter.

I only have one round baking tin, so I normally don’t bother making more than two tiers, but this time I decided to follow the instructions and actually make three cake layers, as the recipe states. There wasn’t a huge amount of batter (725 g to be precise), so to make sure that my layers were even, I’ve measured out each layer before baking it (240 g each). Bake each layer for 20 minutes at 200C in a cake well buttered cake tin.
The layers didn’t really puff up much, and shrunk from the sides of the tin. I am used to dealing with fluffy spongy cakes, so this is going to be interesting.
Cool cake layers until completely cold and get on with preparing custard.

This is an egg-free custard, I am not big fan of custard to be honest, and if I do need to make it, I either ask Mr Ranty to prepare it for me or just buy it ready made.
Place sugar, honey, cacao and 400 g water in a medium pot and bring it to the boil over medium heat stirring constantly. In a small bowl, combine cornflour with 100 g of water, make sure that there are no lumps in the mixture.
Pour the cornflour mixture into the chocolate mixture, in one continuous stream, whisking the chocolate mixture constantly, aiming for smooth, lump-free chocolate sauce. Bring the mixture back to the boil, whisking non-stop and boil for a few minutes until you get quite thick custard. Remove custard from the heat and add butter, mix well until all butter is incorporated.
Pour the custard into a clean bowl, cover the surface with clingfilm (to stop custard forming a crust on the surface) and leave to cool and set. I just chucked my bowl outside on the balcony, and it took less than an hour for it to set completely.

Now arrange the cake – place one layer of cake on a plate, cover it with a quarter of custard, spread right up to the edges, repeat with the other two layers. Use last quarter of the custard to cover sides of cake – by now all of the cake should be covered in chocolate goodness. If you want to fancy it up a bit, grate some milk or dark chocolate all over the top and the sides of the cake.
Chill the cake overnight.

I am taking the cake to a friend’s party later this afternoon and will let you know whether its any good. I am a little bit worried about the custard, I would have expected it to be quite rich and chocolaty, but the flavour doesn’t seem to be quite right.
I’ve figured no one is gonna complain about a free cake, and especially if it’s a free chocolate cake. Fingers crossed …

Well, I didn't get a chance to try the cake, I left the party before cake slicing time. Mr Ranty did stck around for a bit longer and took a picture of what it was like inside, according to the other guests it was very tasty and very moist.
I am not that big on chocolate to be honest, so I don't mind missing out on it, as least I got a chance to make it.

Feeling fruitty

Any hope on a lie in went out of the window when Mr Ranty remembered that he is meeting up friends to go go-karting this morning – at 9 am in Slough. 9 am!!! 9 am shouldn’t even exist on a Saturday morning. Alarm goes off at 7, Mr Ranty out of the door at 7:30 and I’ve managed to get another hour of sleep, before the kitties decided that its time to me to get up and feed them – oh well, might as well make myself useful.

While my corn loaf is baking (see previous post), I am gonna make up a fruit loaf. This is another one of my own recipes, I made it up a couple of months ago, and the results have been really good so far, but as usual, I am gonna try and mess up the recipe even more :)
I love the smell of fruity, spicy toast in the morning, slathered with butter with a cup of hot coffee. I haven’t managed to find a bread spicy and fruity enough, so I’ve decided to make my own.

Spicy and Fruity Loaf

250 g starter (100% hydration)
260 g water
40 g whiskey / cognac / brandy
300 g white four
200 g wholemeal flour
2 tsp mixed spice
½ tsp ground ginger
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 ½ tsp salt
60 g orange marmalade
4 Tbsp wholemeal flour
200 g raisings / currants
40 g unsalted butter, softened

Combine starter, water, alcohol, white and wholemeal four together, mix on speed 1 for 6 minutes. Again, I use KitchenAid, but you can mix that dough by hand, kneading on a counter for about 10 minutes. The dough is going to be quite wet, don’t be tempted to add too much flour to it, if you don’t feel comfortable working with such a sticky dough, I would suggest oiling your hands and your kitchen counter with a bit of sunflower or olive oil to prevent the dough from sticking.

I use Armenian cognac – “Ararat” that I’ve picked up during my last trip to Moscow. In Russia they drink this stuff in shots, with a slice of lemon covered in sugar on the side. Do try it – its … interesting :) its kind of thing you would do at the end of the night, when you ran out of all the good stuff and in the mood for something alcoholic – in other words, a perfect drink to use for making bread.

Leave the dough for 20 minutes to autolise, before you add the rest of the ingredients.
Oh NO!!!!! Salt!!! I forgot the salt, didn’t I – aaarrggggghhh!!! Back in a bit …
Right, where was I, add salt, spices, fruit, marmalade and the extra flour.
Cover dried fruit with boiling water to re-hydrate it, leave it for about 5 minutes, drain the water and leave to dry for about 20 minutes, before adding it to the dough.
This is the first time I am using marmalade in this loaf – normally I would just use 60 g brown sugar, but I’ve decided to use up the last of this year’s batch of my home-made orange marmalade and I am adding a bit of flour to the dough to keep the hydration levels in check.
Mix everything on speed 2 for two minutes, add softened butter and mix for another minute, until you get an even texture.
The dough is still going to be sticky, don’t worry, it will come together at the end.

Do four stretch and folds over the next two hours and then leave it to proof for another four – five hours at room temperature.
Shape a loaf – I went for an oval shape this time – make sure that you flour your banneton generously, the dough is going to be quite sticky, cover with plastic and retard in the fridge for five to six hours or overnight.
Take the dough out of the fridge, leave to warm up at room temperature for one to two hours.
Pre-heat your oven to 200C, bake for 40 minutes with steam, rotating the loaf half way through. When I say steaming, I don’t mean proper industrial oven steaming, although I would LOVE to be able to do that. All I do is put a shallow baking pan on the bottom of the oven while the oven is pre-heating. I usually preheat my oven about an hour before I want to bake to make sure that its nice and hot. When I place the loaf in, I also pour half a cup of water in the baking pan at the bottom of the oven and leave it there for the whole duration of the baking process.

I cannot describe the smell of the bread while it was baking – fruity, spicy, zesty and a bit Christmas-y, so SO lovely. The loaf came out dark brown, and very light, even with all the fruit in it.

It is such a beautiful loaf!! It never lasts very long in my house, a very popular choice for breakfast and I give at least half of it away to friends, they love it too. Its quite dark inside too, all the currants giving the colour to the crumb, it would be lighter if you were to use golden raisins, and I have done that before, its amazing how difference in fruit impacts the flavour and the colour of the bread.
Can’t wait to try it, that’s my breakfast for tomorrow sorted.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Tired and corn-y

This is not summer, I am telling you. Today is supposed to be the longest day of the year, and you would expect a little bit of sunshine, but its grey and cold and it looks like its gonna rain any second.

Have tickets to go and see a play at the Globe tonight, but I am so knackered that I’ve decided to stay at home instead. End of the week and my head feels like its going to explode, not the best of moods to be sitting out in the cold, trying to take in the greatest of all bards. But … it is good time to try out a new recipe – shall we?

I am craving sunshine and I’ve decided to add a bit of sunshine in my evening by making a corn loaf. Not a corn bread, not that sunny, buttery, crumbly American cornbread (although it does sound good just as I type it), but a white loaf, lavoured with corn meal and chillies.

I am making this recipe up as I go along, lets hope its gonna turn out okay.

Corn and Chilli Loaf

250 g start (100% hydration)
200 g water
100 g milk
370 g white flour
130 g fine corn meal
1 tsp salt
2 red chillies, chopped up thoroughly (mild variety)
55 g butter, room temperature
1 Tbsp honey

Combine starter, water, milk, flour and cornmeal and mix in KitchenAid for 6 minutes on speed 1. This can also be done by hand, knead on a lightly floured surface for about 10 minutes. The dough will be quite soft and a little bit sticky.
Cover with a kitchen towel and leave for 20 minutes to autolise.
Add salt, chillies and honey, turn the mixer back on, mix for 1 minute on speed 2, add softened butter – in three lots, giving it time to incorporate in. Mix for further 2 minutes, until you get very soft golden dough, brioche-like texture. I am guessing this step can be done by hand too, kneading for 10 – 15 minutes after the autolise.
Ever since I got my wonderful KitchenAid, I hardly ever make my bread by hand, getting very lazy. It is a brilliant mixer and it gets a lot of use in my house – bread making, cake making, cream whisking, pasta making, sausage making (yes, really!), the possibilities are endless!! I am thinking about getting an ice-cream maker attachment, but I do wonder how often I would actually use it.

So, back to the bread – place the dough into an oiled bowl – I am using sunflower oil today, as I don’t want olive oil to affect the delicate flavour of corn in the dough. Cover the bowl with plastic (good old shower cap again, looks odd, but good for the environment, not that I am a tree hugger or anything) – do stretch and fold three times over the next hour and a half, at 30 minutes intervals.
I found that using “stretch and fold” method during first fermentation really improves the quality of my breads. The crumb and the shaping becomes much better, giving me much lighter and fluffier loaves.
To do “stretch and fold”, you can do it in a number of ways - I am sure there are more, try Googling it, I am sure you get hundreds of pages.
But the main two are either do it on a counter or directly in the bowl. If you are doing it on the counter, lightly flour the counter, pour your dough out, pick up side edges, stretch them out a bit and fold them on top of each other in the centre of the dough. Flip the dough over, turn 90 degrees and repeat the same stretch and fold. Return the dough back to the bowl.
I prefer doing my stretching and folding directly in the bowl – its much less messier. Pick up one side of the dough, stretch up, fold it over the main bulk of the dough. Turn the bowl 180 degrees and repeat the process. Pick up the dough with one hand, and flip it over in the bowl, repeat stretching and folding once again.

Three stretch and folds and the dough is still very VERY soft, literally sliding between my fingers, but after the last one its definitely has more tension in it. Leave it covered in the bowl for the next three to four hours, shape the dough into a boule and place in a floured banneton – I am using a round one, a nice round sunny shape.

I’ve got three bannetons, a present from Mr Ranty, and I use them all the time, I prefer rustic shaped loaves rather than tin shaped ones. I am not sure where Mr Ranty got my banneton from, but I have been thinking about getting a couple more and saw a few nice ones on “Bakery Bits” website. They have a few nice bits and pieces, which reminds me, I need to get me a new dough scraper, I’ve melted my last one in the dishwasher – oops …

Cover the banneton and place it in the fridge overnight. Take it out in the morning, leave it to come to room temperature for about 2 or 3 hours. Pre-heat your oven to 200C and bake for 40 minutes, rotating the loaf around half way through.

It came out looking really well, nice round and golden, cant wait to slice it up and see what it looks like inside.

Oooohhhh..... its so so good. Might be a tad bit low on salt, but very soft, buttery and very very tasty - its a keeper!!

Friday, 17 June 2011

Rye adventure

My rye starter is looking nice and healthy, its time to test it out.
Was only going to try making one rye bread, but looks like I’ve got a lot of starter – much more than the recipe requires, means that I can try out two different recipes – yay!!
First one is “Seeded Rye” from “Bread Matters” by Andrew Whitley and second one is “MiniOven favourite 100% rye” from TheFreshLoaf website.

First one, hmmmm, I think I’ve messed something up already. I’ve been feeding my rye starter 1:1 ration (by weight), keeping it at a 100% starter. The book’s sour rye is kept at 200%, with 2 parts water to 1 part flour. The recipe asks for 160 g of sour rye, so, I’ve figure, I could just use my starter and adjust the recipe to fit it. I meant to reduce the amount of flour, but somehow ended up reducing amount of water – muppet!! Tried mixing it all in my mixer, and got something that looks like a crumble topping instead of a dough. More water, hard to tell exactly how much, trying to achieve “a very soft dough” as it is described in the book, and I ended up with a soft-ish dough, quite a heavy one, full of seeds. I’ve used all sunflower seeds instead of sunflower and pumpkin as it describes in the recipe.
This is a very odd recipe, not the type I am used to, but then again, I tend to make white and mixed breads rather than “properly” wholemeal ones. Odd in the way that you mix everything in one bowl, shape it and plonk it straight into a pan to rest and ferment. Lets see ..

Seeded Rye
Adapted from “Bread Matters”

160 g rye starter (100% hydration)
240 g light rye flour
160-ish g water
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dark molasses
100g sunflower seeds
More sunflower seeds for topping

Combine all the ingredients together and mix with your hands until you get a sticky dough, with molasses and seeds distributed evenly in the mixture. Shape the dough into a small log, rub wet hands all over the top and sides of it, and roll in extra sunflower seeds, until all top and sides are covered.
Line a small loaf tin with baking paper, drop dough into the tin, cover and leave in a warm place for two to six hours – mine took the whole six hours, party due to me kindda forgetting about it. The dough did sweel up a little bit, but nothing too major, I think its quite heavy with all the seeds.
Bake for 10 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 210C, turn the heat down to 200C and bake for further 25 minutes.
Take it out of the loaf pan, remove baking paper, cool completely and wrap it in gladwrap for 24 hours before slicing it.
While I was waiting for the bread to be ready for a taste-test, I thought I’d try the recipe again. I’ve mixed the right type of starter – 200% hydration, followed the recipe pretty much exactly (less seeds inside and no coating outside) and baked it again. The result was truly disgusting – very bland, horrid flavour and not much on the texture front either – yuck!!
I am so nearly ready to give up on that book, to be honest – the instructions are very unclear, not many details on shaping, baking temperatures or timings, very VERY frustrating.
I’ve sliced up the first attempt (the recipe above), and its actually not too bad – quite dense, but the flavour is okay – I’ll definitely eat it with a slice of Cheddar and a pickle.
As far as the book goes, I really don’t know if I can be bothered wasting all that time and ingredients again ……

The second recipe, the one from MiniOven, I’ve been wanting to make for a while. I’ve been lurking on TheFreshLoaf site for a few years, and posted a couple of things too. MiniOven’s recipes always look really good, and have lots of followers – time for me to join them.
She is starting with a 100% rye starter – check! And is using 1:3.5:4.16 weight ration for her starter:water:rye flour ration. Meaning that whatever amount of starter you have, time it by 3.5 to get your water measure and time it by 4.16 to get your rye flour measure, with salt being around 1.5%-2% of total flour (total = flour in the starter plus + recipe four).
Again, I’ve managed to mess it up a little bit (living it up to my name already). I forgot to measure how much starter I’ve put in that recipe, and calculated my water and flour measures based on how big I wanted the loaf to be – this is going to be interesting!!

100% Light Rye Bread
Adapted from "MiniOven Favourite 100% rye"

150-ish g rye starter (100% hydration)
400 g light rye flour
335 g water
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp spice mix
To make up spice mix, I’ve mixed together half a tsp of coriander seeds, fennel seeds and caraway – bash it together in a pestle and mortar to mix them up and break the seeds up a bit, but not completely grind them.

I’ve mixed starter, flour and water in my shiny KitchenAid, with a dough hook on speed 2 for a couple of minutes until the dough resembles greyish goo – no other way to describe it, really, and left it for an hour, covered.
An hour later I’ve added salt and spice mix, mixed again for a minute or so – now it is a darker looking good due to the spices, but still goo texture never the less. Cover and leave for three hours.

The next thing the recipe tells me to do is to fold the dough – hmmm, how do you fold a pot of goo? Oh well, wet hands if water, and try to attack that brown-grey mess, I am not even going to try to do an “air fold” – whatever that means – cause that sounds like a disaster, I have images of my entire kitchen being covered in flicks of brown goo. The cleaner only just been and I want to keep my kitchen nice and tidy at lest for the rest of the night.
So, “ fold and shape the dought into a smooth ball” – in reality, its more of a “get a shaggy goo out of a bowl, pat it together into a smooth ball-ish shape goo”. Looks distinctly like an un-healthy cow pat at this stage, this is gotta be worth is at the end, cause so far I am not impressed. I am going to bake it in a loaf mould rather than a ball shape, rye bread in my head is always square share rather than a loaf of a round shape – just one of those things. So, a loaf tin lined with baking paper – I am not taking any chances, in case it decides to stick to the tin or something, a "shaped" log is going in, to be covered and placed in a warm place, the recipe tells me it will double in volume – now, that would be cool!
I’ve just realised that I sound quite pessimistic, but rye bread has always been one of those super advanced, super scary things for me, and I am trying not to get my hopes up too much, in case it all goes pear-shaped.
Well, four hours later, and man, did it double!!! If started exploding a little bit – I covered the loaf tin with a plastic shower cap (note – good tip for breadbakers, saves on gladwrap), and the loaf expansed so much, it actually touched the top of the cap, meaning that the surface of the load got a mangled when I took the cap off. However, I’ve made a little dome out of foil and baked the loaf for 25 minutes as 210C, remove the dome and bake for further 20 minutes, until internal temperature reaches 93C – 96C . I’ve got one of those digital prod thermometers, and I love it – buy one if you can, you can use it for anything you like – bread, cakes, syrups, meat …
Same thing – take the loaf out, remove the paper, cool completely, and wrap n gladwrap for the next 24 hours. The loaf turned out quite light in colour – but that’s light rye flour for you, isn’t it? But also very light, as in weight, and I couldn’t wait to try it. It was meant as a present for someone from Mr Ranty’s work, but I had to slice it to see what it looks like inside and have a taste of it. I must say, I am AMAZED!!! Such a nice flavour, texture, crumb, tanginess, everything about this loaf is perfect. I might play with different flour and different bread spice mix a little bit, but it is definitely going to be one of my favourite breads.
Mr Ranty took it to work, and the girl loved it – she nearly finished the loaf when I spoke to her at the end of the day and is considering putting in a standing order – weekly order of rye loaf.
I am pleased as punch with this recipe, a huge thanks to MiniOven, I cannot recommend it enough, a great loaf.

Three loaves (from the top) : first attempt at Seeded Rye, second attempt at Seeded Rye, MiniOven 100% Rye

MiniOven's Rye, sliced up

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

A "special" day

I am having a very "special" day - poured a cup of coffee twice over myself - twice!!! Grrr, managed to get it all over my desk and keyboard at work and all over myself, cleaned it up, cleaned myself up, dried everything, came back and did it again all over.
Definitely a special day, once of those that you just want to pack everything up and go home.

On a more positive note, I've started feeding my starter last night, converting a first white starter (50% hydration) into a liquid rye one (100% hydration). I've started feeding it 30 g water / 30 g light rye flour every morning and every evening.
I received a request for a 100% rye bread, and am thinking of trying out one of the recipes from Andrew Whitley "Bread Matters" book. I've had that book for a few years now and still yet to make a single bread out of it. For some reason I find that book quite scary - there is a lot of explanation of different ingredients, and I tend to skip through them a lot. Meaning that when it comes to the actual recipe description, it all looks a bit confusing and I give up and go for one of my tried and tested recipes instead. But I do love a challenge, so looks like rye bread baking is on the cards this weekend!!
Might also do a Walnut Bread out of Nancy Silverton "La Brea Bakery" book if I have enough starter for it. I must say, this is THE best book on sourdough, like EVER. I haven't used Nany's instructions for starter, I use my own, but every single bread I made out of this book turned out very very tasty and very pretty too (which is important). I have tried using rye, wholemeal and white starter, regardless of what the recipes say, and all breads turn out great, as long as I remember that Nancy keeps her starter at 125% hydration, and I just add extra liquid to the recipe to make up the liquid for my 100% hydration starters.

Speaking of books - I think its time I got me a new book. Mr Ranty did a bit of research for me and came up with a list of all the new books out there, I just need to choose one - just one, cause I already ran out of shelf space, and would need to do some serious re-arranging even to fit that extra book.
Here are my choices :
I've been obsessed with "Village Baker" by Joe Ortiz for a while, ever since I saw a recipe for Apple bread, adapted from his book. However, its quite expensive, over 30 quid, and I would like to know more about it before I buy it.
A new version of "Italian Baker" by Carol Field is about to come out (or only just came out) and I wouldn't mind getting that one, but I'll wait until I read a few more reviews before I decide.
"Bourke Street Bakery" by Paul Allam looks really good, I have nearly bought it a couple of times, but its more of a generic baking book, rather than a bread book, and I am not sure I want to expand outside bread / cakes territory just yet.
"Dough" by Richard Berninet is a very pretty book, and I love him - his videos, his mixing techniques, would LOVE a course at his bakery in Bath. However, his recipes are mainly yeasted breads, rather than sourdough, and he's only got a couple of dough recipes, the rest is about adding different flavours and creating different shapes.
"Artisan Baking" by Maggie Glezer has very good reviews, and might be a good book to have.
"Tartine Bread" by Chad Robertson is a very popular book at the moment, and I have seen a lot of good reviews of that book. However, I would like to see the actual book before I buy it.

Sounds like I need to get out there and do a bit of research. Looks like I need to get myself down to "Books for Cooks" in Notting Hill again. Its onle of my favourite books in London, its got thousands of cook books - imagine, a shop full of nothing but cook books - bliss!! They have a little cafe at the back as well if you get a bit peckish and feel like a snack, I am telling you, I can spend hours in there!! Thats my weekend sorted

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Coconut galore

Its warm and grey with an occasional shower, a typical London early summer afternoon – a perfect time to make a cake. Here I am, talking about myself as a bread nerd and the very first posting I do is about a cake! The thing is, I went a bit baking mad last week and have made three types of bread. Considering that its only me and Mr Ranty (plus two cats, but they don’t count, as their bread consumption is minimal), I don’t think I can make any more breads this week. But a cake – well, that’s a different matter.

I’ve been feeling very Thai lately and asked Mr Ranty to make me a Thai curry. He dug out his favourite Thai book – “Thai Food” by David Thompson - and we are having Pork and Green Peppercorn curry for dinner. Being an uber foodie, he decided to make his own coconut cream, as you do! We stocked up on coconuts in Chinatown yesterday, and now have a boat full of coconut milk and mountains of shredded coconut. What a girl to do, but make a coconut cake.

I decided to try a recipe from “The Hummingbird Cookbook” book – I bought that book a while ago and have been slowly making my way through it. Most of the things I have tried from it so far have been quite good – a bit too sweet (catering for American taste I think), but that’s easily solvable. As always, I couldn’t leave a recipe as it is, so here is my take on it…

Coconut Cake :

Adapted from “The Hummingbird Cookbook”

For syrup :

60 g light brown sugar

250 ml fresh coconut water

For batter :

120 g unsalted butter, room temperature

300 g caster sugar

500 g plain flour, sifted

1 Tbsp baking powder

50 ml coconut cream

125 ml fresh coconut water

125 ml milk

1 tsp vanilla essence

40 g fresh coconut, grated

3 egg whites

For icing :

3 egg whites

250 g caster sugar

½ tsp cream of tartar

1/8 tsp salt

½ tsp vanilla essence

150 g fresh coconut, grated for decoration

Make syrup by combining sugar and coconut water together, bring it to the boil and leave to cool off. My syrup tasted nice and sweet, with some white goo floating on top of it, due to the use of coconut water, I think.

For cake batter, beat butter and sugar in a mixer (I have a lovely red KitchenAid that I can’t live without) until white and fluffy, about 5 minutes on speed 4. Mix flour and baking powder in one bowl, coconut cream, coconut milk, milk and vanilla essence in another bowl. Add flour and a bit of milk mixture to the creamed sugar – not all at once, gradually, adding a bit of flour, a bit of milk at a time and mixing it after each addition – I added mine in four lots.

Add shredded coconut to the mixture and mix for a few more seconds, until just combined. The batter looked quite thick and pale, but with a lovely light coconut-y smell.

Whisk egg whites in a separate bowl, until stiff, and add to the main cake batter, gently folding the egg whites.

With oven pre-heated to 160 C (fan oven), its cake time. I only have one cake tin – 20 cm one, and decided to do a two tier cake, baking one at a time. I love my springform tin – easy clip outside means nothing sticks to the sides of the tin, and the bottom is easy enough to take off.

Grease the tin with butter and pour half of the cake mixture – the mixture is still quite thick, so its more like blob half of it into the tin and smooth it out before putting it into the oven. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, turning the cake around once, half-way through.

Once the cake is out of the oven, cool if off slightly in the tin, and turn it out onto a cool rack, until completely cold. My two layers domed up quite a bit in the oven and I had to somehow even them out. While warm, I flipped them upside down on a cooling rack and pressed down on them very gently. Do not apply too much pressure, as the cake is very fragile and already showing cracks on the surface.

When cakes feel cool to the touch, and still sitting on a cooling rack, pour half of the syrup over each cake. Pay special attention to the edges of the cakes, I pricked my cakes with a toothpick first, to make sure that the syrup goes all the way through the cakes. Leave the cakes to absorb all the moisture – for half an hour or so.

Icing is made using double-boiler method – pour an inch of water to a pot and bring it to boil, turn it down, so its steaming, not even simmering. Place egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar and salt in another pot / bowl. When choosing a pot / bowl for your icing, make sure that its big enough to sit on top on the first pot with water, but it does NOT touch water in the first pot.

Put second pot / bowl with the icing mixture over first pot with water and beat the mixture, using electric mixture on the highest setting, for about 7 minutes. Take top pot / bowl off the heat, add vanilla essence and beat for another half-a-minute to a minute. The icing will be still and glossy.

To arrange the cake, place one cake layer on a cake stand or a plate, cover it generously with icing, sprinkle with 50 g of grated coconut (if using) and place second cake layer on top and press down gently. Cover top and sides of the cake with the remaining mixture, until all top and sides are covered. Sprinkle top and sides with the rest of coconut, until completely covered.

Here is what mine looks like :

I am not going to eat it tonight, Mr Ranty is going to take it with him to work tomorrow and I am going to ask him to do a shot of it when its cut, so I can see what it looks like inside.

Next day ...

The cake looked pretty good, even if I say so myself - the icing didn't go as hard as I would have thought, it was still soft when I packed it this morning for Me Ranty to take it to work. I did ask him whether his work colleagues thought it was odd that I was making these cakes and sending them off without even having a taste, biut no, apparently they just think I am great :)

Here is what it looked like inside, and I got really good comments on it - not too sweet, lots of people thought it was really light, and I even got a "its magnificent" comment - things people say for a slice of a free cake, huh?

Mr Ranty thought it could have been a bit lighter, but everyone else thought it was just right. My Mr Ranty is very fussy when it comes to food, makes a good judge, but to be honest I don't think he is used to soaked cakes, and I've decided I am happy with hiw this one turned out.

If I was to make it again (and I think I will), I would probably look for younger coconuts and toast them a bit to enhance the coconut-y flavour, and use all coconut water instead of coconut water and milk. I saw some recipes use coconut essence to make the coconut flavour more pronounced, but I am not a big fan of essence other than vanilla essence, so I think I'll skip that. Might increase the amount of fresh coconut in the cake, and see what that'll do.

Starting afresh

I've created this blog a while ago, thinking that it would be a good way of documenting my learnings and share my baking experiences. And, of course, it didn't go any further than that :)

Don't get me wrong, I still bake, and I have had (and still have) a fair share of mess ups and a few really good results. My problem is that I just throw things together as I make things up, and then struggle to understand what went wrong or what worked really well.

So, thats it - from now on I will be posting my creations, hoping to share them with you my dear readers, and learn about myself along the way