Monday, 25 November 2013

Christmas pudding reviews

I have a confession – I don’t like Christmas cakes and Christmas pudding, don’t like any heavy fruit cakes for that matter. As any good baker, I decided the only way to change it is to make my own Christmas cake, which I have done for the last couple of years. Some of them turned out better than others, but I am more pleased with them than shop-bought ones.

This year my mother in law, Mrs Ranty Senior is making us a Christmas pudding and bringing it over all the way from NZ. She is a very good baker, and I am sure her pudding is going to be amazing, and it removes any fruit cake baking responsibilities from me this year. I am still going to be doing Christmas baking this year – Gingerbread house and Christmas Panetonne, but more on that in later posts.

If I WAS baking my own cake, I would be buying a lot of booze – brandy and port – to “feed” my cake. But seeing as I am skipping on the baking, I shall STILL be buying the alcohol but for my personal consumption :)
With all that in mind, Mr Ranty Man (aka Mr Messy Baker) had a brilliant idea – we should buy a whole load of Christmas puddings, try them all, rate them all and choose the best one. Now you see why I married him!!

The rules are :
-          It has to be a traditional Christmas pudding – no chocolate or mint or any other rubbish
-          It has to be a supermarket-own brand (a few exceptions might sneak in)
-          It has to be cooked according to manufacturer instructions (in a microwave, who has hours to steam it?)
-          It has to be served the same way – warm, with custard

So, here it is ….

Christmas pudding “Christmas” by Sainsbury’s
Price : £3.00
Weight: 450g
Score : 3/10

The pudding is quite rich in sultanas (33%), with a handful of raisins (2%). I could see mixed peel, but couldn’t taste it. There are no nuts in that pudding, which makes the texture very gloopy and bland – its definitely missing a bit of a crunch, something to add to the texture.
The pudding is overwhelmingly sweet – two hours later I could still taste the sugar on my teeth! I had to load up my plate with custard to take away the sugar-ness of the pudding. The actual crumb is quite light and orange-y in colour, very stodgy in texture.

Overall notes: don’t bother

This is what Mr Ranty Man came back home with - we have our work cut out for us!!


“Snowy Lodge” 6 month matured Christmas pudding
Price : £2.99
Weigh: 454g (serves 4)
Score : 7/10
 The pudding is less fruity than the previous one – only 27% fruit, but a good mix of sultanas, raisins, currants and glace cherries. It also has big chunks of nuts – almonds and walnuts that create great texture as well as adding to the overall look of the pudding.
It has a healthy 13% of booze in it – a combination of cider sherry, brandy and rum. The alcohol flavour is very pleasant and leaves a lovely lingering taste in your mouth.
The crumb is dark red, and the darker the better in my books when it comes to puddings.
The only shortcomings I would think of is the texture and spice ratio – the texture is very soft, doesn’t hold well, it pretty much crumbled when we tried cutting it; and it could do with a touch more spice, it’s a bit on the bland side
Overall notes: great value for money

Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference Orange & Cranberry Christmas Pudding
Price : £14.00 (currently half price at £7.00)
Weigh: 900g (serves 8)
Score : 5/10
Now, if you like your puddings on a boozy side, this is a pudding for you – this pudding would make Mary Berry very happy J It has an astounding 17% of alcohol in it, combination of stout, orange liqueur, cognac and sherry
It is a VERY chunky pudding – containing whole fruit (29%) and whole nuts (6%), as well as some marmalade (10%) that give it an intense orange flavour. I could appreciate the flavour a bit more if it wasn’t for all that booze in it, it borders on being unpleasant (and normally I am not the one to complain about too much booze – that’s how bad it it).
I can’t say much about the crumb – its very glue-like in texture, and its rather orange in colour, but it holds the pudding together very well.
I would not call it a pudding, its fruit and nut mix stuck together with orange glue.
Overal notes: buy it if you are an alcoholic

Aldi Specially Selected 12 months matured Luxury Christmas Pudding
Price : £6.99
Weigh: 750g (serves 6)
Score : 4/10
 What I do like about the pudding is the colour, is has a very deep dark colour, I would say down to Demerara sugar and molasses. The molasses flavour is quite strong, leaves almost an artificial taste in my mouth.
The texture is okay – a few nuts, a few fruits, but nothing special, even though it claims to have over 30% of fruit.
The actual flavour is very unremarkable, you can’t taste the booze or spices or fruits. I had to taste it again the next morning just to remind myself what it was like, and it was just as dull the day after
Overall notes: Ed Miliband of the pudding world – boring

Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference Cognac Laced Christmas Pudding 6 month matured
Price : £12.00
Weigh: 900g (serves 8)
Score : 6/10
The pudding is absolutely crammed with nuts, big BIG chunks of nuts and its well fruity with fruit making up nearly a third of its weight.
Don’t get too excited about the actual flavour though – its not boozy enough (“sprinkled” with cognac rather than “laced”, more of “sprinkled”), its not dark enough (very light brown colour), its not spicy enough, its just not good enough.
The best thing about the pudding it is texture, it holds well, it soft without being glue-like, its what pudding texture should be.
Overall notes: Taste is okay, but poor value for money


M&S Intensely Fruity Black Forrest Christmas Pudding
Price : £14.00
Weigh: 907g (serves 8)
Score : 7/10
            9/10 (for chocolate lovers)
Now, this pudding only JUST made it through, according to the strict pudding criteria we set at the beginning of the tasting. For start, it has chocolate – CHOCOLATE!! In a Christmas pudding!! Now, it could be a good thing of a bad thing, depending whether you are a fan of chocolate or not. As you might have guessed, I am not a fan of chocolate, so that’s taken away a point from the score for me.
Another score point was lost due to cherries – don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against cherries, but I have a thing against any kind of fruit and chocolate in the same dish – weird, I know, but that’s me.
As for the actual pudding notes – it lives up to its name, it has a very intense fruit flavour – fruit make up 50% of the total weight! Hard to determine booze percentage, its only about 10% of the actual alcohol mix, but some of the fruit has been soaked in brandy and kirsch.
The texture is lovely and moist – cherry sauce is adding a great flavour – and nuts and chocolates add a slight crunch, which is a nice touch.  
Hard to judge the spice level, as cherry flavour is incredibly strong, overpowering everything else, but other than that its pretty much a perfect pudding.
Overall notes: Perfect pudding for chocolate lovers
Mr Ranty is addicted - he just cannot stop buying puddings - I am going to be much heavier and more ... well, pudding shaped, by the time we are finished with this 


Aldi Specially Selected Champagne Christmas Pudding
Price : £9.99
Weigh: 907g (serves 8)
Score : 9/10

Now, the first think I have to say about this pudding, that its GOLD – yes, you heard me correctly, a gold Christmas pudding. Everything about it gold – the box is gold, its covered in golden (or “blond” as the box says) cherries and golden almonds and it even comes with a bag of edible gold. I imagine it’d be a best-seller in Essex J
Other than that, it’s a bloody good pudding - its rich in fruit (45%) without being too heavy, almonds and pecans (8%) have been lightly roasted, which makes a real difference – the flavour really stands out. Its one of less boozy puddings we tried so far, with alcohol making up only around 10% of the total weight -I get subtle notes of champagne and it really makes a difference.
The crumb is a deep brown colour, the colour mainly coming from the fruit rather than molasses or any other flavourings.
Its is a winner so far!!
Overall notes: If it wasn’t for the naff presentation, it would have been perfect

Tesco Finest 6 Month Matured Cherry Topped Christmas Pudding With Courvoisier Cognac
Price : £6.40
Weigh: 454g (serves 4)
Score : 8/10
This is a very good little pud – full of fruit and chunks of nuts with an intense colour and a nice long finish. Its well fruity, with 30% of the usual fruit mix as well as nearly 25% of cherries in it (on top as well as in the pudding).
The cognac flavour is quite pronounced, without being overpowering. The spice mix on this pudding is one of the best one yet, and you can really appreciate it, as its less sweet than your standard Christmas pudding, which makes a real winner in my books.
Which is why the texture of this pudding is really disappointing, its quite sticky and gluppy, and sticks to your teeth and not In a good way.
If you can look past that, it’s a lovely tasting pudding
Overall notes: a surprisingly good pudding and good value for money

Asda Chosen By You Christmas Pudding
Price : £2.00
Weigh: 454g (serves 4)
Score : 1/10
DO NOT BOTHER! I was actually considering giving it a 0 out of 10 – this is the first pudding we didn’t finish, and threw the rest out. Its rubbery, its greasy, its sickly sweet, with the cheapest fruit you can buy. I can’t even be bothered looking up the content of the pudding, but if I did, it would say something like that : 99% shit, 1% preservatives
Overall notes: the worst of the worst

Snowy Lodge Cherry and Pecan Topped Christmas Pudding
Price : £9.99
Weigh: 907g (serves 8)
Score : 4/10
This is a good looking pudding, deep dark, almost black colour, with glistening red cherries on top and covered in marmalade orange slices.
But that’s about all its got going for it – the cherries are very sweet and compete with the overall sweetness of the pudding. Not sure what is the point of these orange slices other than the look – they taste of absolutely nothing, which could also be said about the pudding itself. Its sticky sugary sweet, with no distinguishing taste – no strong booze flavour, no spice flavour, nothing remarkable
Overall notes: All looks and no substance

Duchy Originals by Waitrose Organic Christmas Pudding
Price : £8.00
Weigh: 454g (serves 4)
Score : 7/10
This pudding has the most unusual smell – burn caramel, almost molasses-like, a bit too strong for my liking, I actually thought we over-cooked it.
The actual pudding is quite nice – good colour (molasses), good texture (good amount of breadcrumbs), good amount of fruit (36%) and nuts (walnuts) –  but it just doesn’t come together. All the individual ingredients look good and sound good, but something is missing, something that brings it together – and I think it might be the booze.
It’s one of the less alcoholic puddings we have tried so far – only 5% of cognac, and it really shows. A good pudding should have a good whack of booze in it, and without it, its just a funny shaped brownie.
Overall notes: lacking in oomph

M&S Intensely Fruity Christmas Pudding
Price : £7.00
Weigh: 454g (serves 4)
Score : 8/10
Ahhh, its definitely the booze that was missing from the last pudding – this one does have a good doze of it (15%) – not overpowering, its just the right mix. The pudding definitely lives up to its name – its properly fruity – 43% of sultanas, raisins and currents as well brandy soaked glace cherries and chillean flame raisins (another 9%) – fruit soaked in booze – you can’t go wrong.
The only reason the pudding doesn’t come up higher on the pud chain is the sugar content and the texture. I guess you can’t have all that fruit without the pudding bordering on being too sweet, and there is just a little bit too many bread crumbs for me, but other than that it’s a great little pud.
Overall notes: one for fruit lovers

Waitrose Richly Fruited Christmas Pudding
Price : £5.00
Weigh: 454g (serves 4)
Score : 4/10

This is Waitrose trying to do budget, and they don’t do it well. Waitrose is all about name and quality – this one has the name, but of a very poor quality.
The colour is wrong – orange with dark spots – whatever they are. The texture is wrong – it has single cream in it – it has no place in it. The taste is all wrong – % of palm oil outweighs % of breadcrumbs , which is never a good thing.
Overall notes: shit quality with a good name

Asda Extra Special Champagne Glitter Topped Christmas Pudding
Price : £10.00
Weigh: 907g (serves 6)
Score : 3/10
The only good thing about this pudding it’s the looks – golden almond and cherries, with silvery sparkly powder on top.
The first listed ingredient in this pudding is demerera sugar, followed by glace cherries  - now that just tells you everything you need to know. It lacks in colour, taste, texture, fruit and nut – and what else is left I ask you? I don’t know where they get off calling it champagne pudding, when champagne only makes up 4% of the weight – they should call is Special Greasy pudding, cause it feels like grease is the main ingredient in the pudding. Its been two days and I can still taste the grease – yuck!!
Overall notes: shite with sparkles on top




Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Pumpkin Bread

Its November, the autumn has well and truly settled in and in case you have missed it, its Halloween season!! I swear, the shops have started selling Halloween tat back in July, but now I can give in an buy as much cra.. I mean decoration as I feel like. Plus Mr Ranty just informed me that he has ordered a smoke machine, strobe lights and horror sounds – so you can see, it’s a family event in our household
Plus, Ms Rantlet is two now and is much more interested in the holidays, so I am really looking forward to introducing her to Halloween and might even have to dress her up in a silly costume or two :) 
Anyway, where was I? Right, Halloween, autumn … I love autumn, I love American word for it – “fall” – because that it exactly what it feels like. The leaves are turning copper colour, the days are getting shorter, but still mild with a ray of sunshine or two. And the best thing about autumn is pumpkins – not the huge orange decorative things they sell all over the place (although I shall be making good use of those for Halloween lanterns), but good old tasty grey pumpkins. My local farmers market – Telegraph Hill market – has them for £2 each, such a bargain!! We bought a HUGE pumpkin last week and will be buying more, while the season lasts.
We managed to get four meals out of that massive pumpkin, you can see how incredibly versatile it is:
-          Thai pumpkin curry
-          Smokey pumpkin and bacon soup
-          Roast pumpkin as a side serving for a steak and kidney pudding (recipe to come)
-          Pumpkin frittata
-          Pumpkin bread
By the time I decided to make pumpkin bread, I only had a small slice of roast pumpkin left, but it turned out it was more than enough. Don’t roast a pumpkin especially for this recipe, just look at it as a way to use any left over pumpkin you might have. PS: I think it would work well with roast potatoes as well
Pumpkin Bread
250ml water, luke warm
25g sugar
2 tsp active dried yeast (I use Allinson or Hovis)
400g white flour
100g wholemeal flour
1 tsp salt
125g roast pumpkin, cut in large cubes
Place water, sugar and yeast in a free standing mixer, leave for about 5 minutes for the year to do its magic. Again, with active yeast you don’t really need to activate it, as they should be good to go as they are, but I do like to see the yeast bubbling away before I start mixing in the rest f the ingredients.
Add flours, salt and pumpkin to the liquids and mix on low speed – speed 2 on KitchenAid – for 6 minutes. The dough will look quite well for the first five minutes or so, don’t be tempted to add any extra flour, it will come together at the last minute. The dough will be quite soft and slightly sticky, lovely orange colour with some bigger pumpkin chunks showing through.
I contemplated adding some butter to the dough, but the pumpkin adds enough flavour and creaminess, so I don’t think it needs it.
But I think the dough could take some spices – maybe cumin or ginger, if you want to make it a bit more interesting.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm (or shower cap as I do it) and leave in a warm place for 2 to 3 hours (depending how warm your house is), until the dough has doubled in size.
I think the texture of the dough is robust enough to stand up to a free shaped loaf, but I decided to bake it in a loaf tin. Line the tin with baking parchment, shape the dough into a batard, place it in a tin, cover it with clinfilm (shower cap) and leave in a warm place for another hour or so, until well risen.
Preheat the oven to 180C and bake for 35 minutes, until deep golden brown on top. Leave the loaf in the tin for about 5-10 minutes, take it out of the tin and leave to cool completely on a cooling rack.
The bread is very soft, with a hint of sweetness from both the sugar and pumpkin, and its absolutely gorgeous with a good spread of salted butter on it.

I didn't have time to take a photo of it before it has disappeared - Ranty Man managed to snapped a photo, so I will upload it soon

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Easy-As WholeMeal Oat Loaf

With all the goings on lately – finishing off work, prepping the house and Rant-a-Baby arrival (yay!!!), I have neglected my starter and it has died on me.
But not to panic, I always have a jar of mother starter sitting in the fridge, so not all is lost. However, that starter would take a few days to come alive and become the lovely bubbly bread making mess and I am out of bread. Can you believe it? No starter, no bread and not much time to spare – the only thing to do is to make a yeasted bread.
I always wanted to find an easy fool-proof recipe, something that takes very little effort and works every time. Well, I think I have cracked it – o far I’ve made it three times and it turned out great every time – good volume, great texture and it toasts really well.
Easy-As WholeMeal Oat Loaf
320ml water, luke-warm
2 tsp dried active yeast (I use Allison or Hovis)
1 Tbsp honey
320g white flour
150g wholemeal flour
30g oats
1 tsp salt
40g butter, room temperature
Place water, honey and yeast in a standing mixer – leave for a couple of minutes, giving the honey time to dissolve and for the yeast to activate a bit. Technically you don’t need to do it with active or fast acting yeast, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt, right?
Add flours, oats and salt to the liquids and mix of slow speed – speed 2 on KitchenAid – for 6 minutes.
Add soft butter and mix for another 2 minutes on medium speed – speed 4 on KitchenAid.
You are looking for soft dough, slightly on the wet side.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm(or showercap in my case) and leave at room temperature for 2-3 hours. You want the dough to double in volume, so judge yourself how long it would take, depending on how warm your house is. In summer I would wait for about an hour and a half, but as it is coming into autumn now, I leave it for a bit longer.
This bread has the right texture to spring up high, so I find a bread tin makes the best loaf rather than a free-form loaf, but feel free to experiment.
Prepare loaf tin – if you are using a non-stick one, you won’t need to do anything to prep it. I always line my loaf tins with parchment paper, just to be on the safe side and to ensure that the bread comes out nice and easy.
Shape the dough into a loaf shape and place it in the prepared tin. Cover the loaf loosely with a clingfilm (or even better, a showercap) and leave for an hour at room temperature, until the dough has increased in volume by about 2/3.
Preheat the oven to 180C and bake the loaf for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown on top and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.
Take the bread out of the tin and leave to cool for about an hour or so before cutting.
Unfortunately I don’t have any photos today, but trust me, this recipe makes a one good looking loaf, and I sure am will be making it again, so will add some photos later.
Hope you enjoy the recipe, it really is easy to make and it has the most delicious flavour

Monday, 30 September 2013

Autumn Apple Pie

My name is Messy Baker and I am an apple pie addict – there, I’ve said it. The weather is getting cooler and there are so many apples around, people are giving them away for free – literally!! The other day a neighbour left a bag of apples outside of their house with a note “free to a good home” – seriously – a bag of apples! giving away for free! In London!! Miracles do happen.

Well, this particular pie was made from shop-bought apples, Bramley apples, the best kind of apples for cooking in my view. I had a look at a number of books for inspiration and ended up with a mish-mash of different ideas, as always :) I wouldn’t be called a “Messy Baker” after all.
Pastry recipe pretty much follows Jamie’s Home Cooking Skills recipe, and the filling is my own creation.
Mr Ranty did declare this to be the best apple pie ever, but he is a bit biased after all

Autumn Apple Pie

Pastry :
250 g plain flour
50 g icing sugar
pinch of salt
½ tsp ground ginger
zest of 1 lemon
125 g cold butter, cut in cubes
juice of 1/3 lemon
1 large egg, lightly whisked
caster sugar for dusting

Apple filling
1 kg Bramley apples, peeled, cored and cut in chunks
100 g caster sugar
100 g raisins
1½ tsp cinnamon
juice on 2/3 lemon (whatever is left from pastry above)
3 Tbsp brandy or cognac 3
 Tbsp ground almonds
1 tsp corn flour
couple of pinches of flour

Place flour, icing sugar, salt, ginger and lemon zest in a large bowl. Add cubed butter, and rub it with your fingertips until the mixture resembles rough sand. Add lemon juice and MOST of the egg – reserve a little bit (about a quarter) for pie glazing.
Mix the pastry together until it just comes together – take care not to over-work it, it literally just needs to come together in a ball, and its ready. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve over-worked my shortcrust pastry, so these days I pay a lot more attention to it, and never ever use a food processor .
Wrap the pastry in clingfilm and place in the fridge to rest for about half an hour.

While the pasty is chilling, start on your filling. You can use any apples you want, of course, but I do like how Bramleys hold their structure rather than turn to mash when they cook. Plus, if you use a different variety of apples, you might need to adjust the amount of sugar you use. But I say, use that as a guidance only – play around with different apple varieties, different amount of sugar (I prefer my pies on a tart side, but you might like it sweeter), and even different types of sugar – I would normally use brown sugar in an apple pie, but I ran out. I think soft brown sugar or even muscovado sugar add a lovely warm flavour to an apple pie.
Peel and core apples and cut them in cubes or quite large chunks – if you like me prefer chunky filling – or thinner slices if you like more of a pure-type filling.
Add sugar, raisins, cinnamon, rest of the lemon juice (the rest f the lemon left over from pastry) and brandy/cognac. Mix everything together and place over a medium heat, cook for about 10-15 minutes, until apples just starting to soften up.

Drain the apples, reserving the cooking liquids – I use a slotted spoon to pick the apples out in a separate bowl.
Place the apple cooking liquids back in the pot and heat it over a low heat for another 10 minutes or so, until it starts caramelising a bit. Keeping the pot on the stove, add the corn flour and whisk it in very quickly, to avoid any lumps, cook for another 5 minutes or so.
What you are trying to get to is a think caramel-like texture – apples will release more liquid as they bake in the oven, so you really don’t want to add any extra liquid to the filling, for the fear of all dreaded soggy bottoms :)
Add the caramel to the apples, add almonds, mix it together and leave to cool completely.

Pre-heat the oven to 180C (non-fan)

Take the chilled pastry out of the fridge, cut 2/3 of it to make the base, the rest will make pie lid. I am into Dutch-style deep apple pies at the moment, and have a deep round tin that I use (19cm in diameter, 5cm deep), but you can use any pie tin you have.
Butter the pie tin, roll out pastry and line the base. A handy tip – cover your bench top with cling film prior to rolling out the pastry to stop it from sticking. Also, use a bit of flour to stop the pastry from sticking to the rolling pin. Take a couple of pinches of flour and dust the bottom of the pie – just in case any additional liquids do come out during cooking, that extra little bit of flour will absorb it. Pack the filling in the pie – reasonably tightly, you want the texture of the filling pretty consistent and well packed.

Brush the edges of the pastry base with beaten egg (what you have reserved from the pastry making) – this will help the pie lid to stick to it
Roll out the lid, cover the pie and press the edges together, to seal the lid to the base. Brush the top of the pie with the beaten egg (decorate it as fancy as you like), give it a light dusting with caster sugar. Make a small opening in the lid of the pie to allow steam escape as it cooks.
Bake in a preheated oven for 40-45 minutes until golden colour.

Leave to cool completely, serve cold or warm, with custard or ice-cream

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Lemony Birthday Cake Treat

What better treat can a girl have for her birthday than a home made lemon cake? I did consider making a chocolate one just for a minute, but decided it was far too hot, but a nice tangy lemon cake would but just perfect.
You wold think that it would be easy enough to find a recipe for a Lemon cake, but I checked all the usuals – Marry Berry, Delia, Paul Hollywood, even Gordon Ramsey, but they were all either too bland or too fancy (three guesses who was the fancy one J)

So I went with my all-time favourite – Hummingbird Bakery cookbook. This is a book I keep coming back over and over, it has such a good collection of recipes, something for every mood and occasion, and the recipes are very easy to follow. I do play with the recipes, of course, as I find Hummingbird US recipes way too sweet, and I have had a couple of duds from the book, but its all part of a learning baking cycle.

Lemon and Poppyseed Cake
Adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook

100g unsalted butter, softened
200g caster sugar
Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
50g poppy seeds
170g milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
240g flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
3 egg whites
Lemon syrup
Juice of 1 lemon
50g caster sugar
Lemon glaze (optional)
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
200g icing sugar

Pre-heat the oven to 160C (fan  oven)

Place butter, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest and poppyseeds in a large bowl and beat is all together using a handheld electric whisk, until the mixture looks light and fluffy.

Add milk and vanilla essence and carry on beating - if the mixture is looking a bit curdled, that means you are doing it right – it’s the lemon juice reacting with the butter, keep at it.

Sift in flour – straight into the same bowl, add baking powder and salt. Beat for a couple of minutes until the flour is all mixed in.

In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites to hard peaks and add them to the cake mixture. Mix in the egg whites using a spoon – DO NOT use a whisk, you want to retain as many of the lovely egg white bubbles as possible. I find the best way of mixing egg whites in cake batter is by drawing a figure of “8” in the batter, turning the spoon over and rotating the bowl as you go. If this doesn’t make sense, just try to mix distribute the egg whites through the batter, disturbing as little of egg white bubbles as you can.

The book recommends you bake the cake in a ring mould. I did have one in the kitchen that I haven’t used yet, but I think it would work just as well as a regular cake shape. Line the mould with baking paper and pour in cake batter. My batter was quite thick, and I decided to stick with that consistency, as all the butter and egg whites would release additional liquids later.

Bake for 20 minutes, turn the heat up to 180C and bake for further 10-15 minutes, until the cake is starting to brown on top and feels spongy to touch.

While the cake is baking, start on the syrup – place 100ml of water, juice and sugar in a small pot, bring it to boil and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the liquid has reduced by half. No need to stir it, just give the pot a little shake once in a while.

Leave the cake to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, turn it out on a wire rack placed over a baking tray (to catch any syrup drops), remove all baking paper.

Pour hot syrup all over the cake and leave to soak in. I normally bake this cake in the evening, and then leave it to soak overnight, to absorb all the lemony goodness.   

Next morning whisk lemon juice, lemon zest and icing sugar together to make lemon glaze – if you decide to make it. Pour the glaze over the cake, leave for about an hour to set.
Personally I am not 100% sold on the glaze – it does add a bit of extra lemon tang to the cake, but also gives is some extra sweetness I am not all that keen on.

I must say, I did wonder what a cake without egg yolks would be like – a first for me – but I must say,  I am super pleased with it. It’s a wonderfully fluffy and moist at the same time with a great crumb. It also keeps exceptionally well – I made it on Sunday evening and tonight, Thursday night, its still moist and tasty. Although I am a bit worried about the state of our household, that any cake can survive at our house for so long J
I didn't have the time to get a shot of the cake in its full glory, so just posting a photo from the book. Just a quick note, I reduced the amount of icing sugar in my recipe, so my glaze was more transparent than in the picture below

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Chocolate Biscuits

I've been obsessed with the idea of chocolate biscuits all last week. Its not that I even like chocolate (I know, I know, I am weird in that way), but the idea of making biscuits with little Ms Rantlet got stuck in my head and it wouldn't go away. 

So on Friday I got my weekly grocery delivery with everything that one would need for making biscuits, so all was left to do is find a recipe I like. A friend from Oz sent me a recipe from Edmonds, a classic - but it required condense milk, one thing that I did forget to order, so it was back to the drawing board. I've been following Jo Whatley on Twitter for a while and her recipes always look very inspiring, I am even considering buying her book - A Passion for Baking. I found her recipe for Chocolate Chip cookies online and decided to follow it (with a few variations) before making a final decision on the book

Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from "A Passion for Baking"

100 g unsalted butter at room temperature
100 g dark brown sugar
70 g caster sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
200 g plain flour, sifted 
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp white vinegar
a pinch of salt
100 g dark chocolate drops

Preheat the oven to 150C in a fan oven or 170C in a conventional oven. 

Cream the butter and sugars in a bowl until light and fluffy - I used electric hand mixer for the job. Add eggs and vanilla and beat again until all the egg's been incorporated. 

Add flour, baking powder, baking soda and vinegar. Normally recipes never mention vinegar, but I find if you add soda without "activating" it, the taste of soda comes through too strong. Place the soda in a teaspoon, and poor vinegar over it to "activate" it - it will fuzz away. 

Mix everything on slow speed until the dough resembles cookie dough - won't take a minute. Add chocolate drops and mix in with a spoon until all the chocolate is evenly distributed. 

Hand-roll the dough into little balls - about the size of a small apricot. Line cookie tray with parchment paper and place the cookie balls on the tray - leave plenty of space between the balls, they spread quite a bit. I did three rows of four balls on each baking tray. 

You might want to use two cookie trays, so you can pre-roll next batch one while one is baking it. Not essential, but speeds things up a bit.

Bake the cookies in batches on the middle shelf of the preheated oven for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and sharply bang the baking tray on the work surface a couple of times to deflate the cookies, then return to the oven for a further 8 minutes until light golden colour.
Allow the cookies to cool on the tray before transferring them onto a plate.

I think I got about 60 - 65 biscuits from this recipe, hard to say cause Ms Rantlet kept stealing them off the plate. She wasn't that interested in helping me make them, much more interested in tasting them. She has a particular technique of taking a bite of a cookie, dropping it on the floor and reaching for another one, while the cats are swooshing in to pick up her left overs. As you can tell, baking is fun in our household ...

Well, what can I say, the cookies turned out okay, but I am not wild about them. Firstly, they are waaaay too sweet for my taste, and I was after a different texture completely. I was craving something more shortbread-like with some melted chocolate chunks, but what this recipe produces is a light crunchy, snappy biscuit. 
Don't get me wrong, the recipe still makes nice biscuits and they are incredibly easy to make, however I will carry on searching for that chocolate biscuit of my dreams

Friday, 17 May 2013

Books Review - Bread: baking by hand of bread machine

One would think that a new house bigger house would also mean more space, more space for cookbooks. Apparently it means more space to unpack all the boxes we had sitting in storage for years and years. And unsurprisingly most of these boxes contain cookbooks that Mr Ranty and I have collected over the last decade or so.
Our cook books are very much split into “his” and “hers”, with not much cross over in the middle :
- anything to do with spice (Thai, Mexican, Georgian), anything weird (Molecular and Methodical) or Kiwi is in “his” pile
- anything to do with bread and preserving is in “hers” pile
And to be honest, Mr Ranty has been experiencing with some spicy and odd combinations preserves, so that is slowly migrating into “his” pile, and all I have left is bread - which suits me just fine.
So, I am going to do a review of some/all books I have, starting from easy, beginner style books to more advanced sourdough books, with some cakes and cupcakes thrown in for entertainment purposes.
First on the list is “Bread:baking by hand of bread machine” by Eric Treuille.
This is a DK book, and I must say I absolutely love DK cooking series – find their travel guides a waste of time, but they have really nailed it with the cook books.
If you are an absolute novice, you will love this book, I can guarantee it. But even if you have been baking for a while you may still find the book very interesting.
Section 1 – Gallery of Breads
Really, its bread porn under a different name. Nice, if a little bit old-fashion photographs, they will definitely get you going/drooling – great ideas for breads for all occasions
Section 2 – Baking Essentials
A punchy chapter, covering different types of flours in a very non-technical way with plenty of pictures to show what different flour looks like and what is brings to the table. Also includes other ingredients – yeast, liquids, salt, sugar, enrichments and a couple of pages on basic equipment you will need for bread making.
Section 3 – Basic Techniques
This is proper for dummies section, but I remember reading it religiously when I just started baking, and still like to flick through it now and then.
It even includes a sourdough starter page, and a small “old dough” section – something I am yet to try.
Kneading covers hand kneading, mixer kneading and food processor kneading – I must say I would only use food processor for pasty, but each to their own.
A few pages are dedicated to shaping, and as I mentioned, some really good basic techniques.
Glazing and Toppings are my favourites, as they give you a really good idea on different ways of finishing off your bread.
It also has a page on bread machines, but honestly, if you are using a bread machine, you don’t need this book
Now, the exciting part Recipes (Section 4)
It starts off nice and easy with Basic Breads, covering Pain Ordinaire, Country Oatmeal, Victorian, Baguette, Bagels and a few other English and European traditional breads. The beauty of this book is that it has at least a couple of variations at the end of each recipe, which gives you many more recipes that are listed in the book and makes you look like a baking pro from the work go.
For example a recipe for Baguette also tells you how to make Pain d’Epi (Ear of Wheat), which just looks super cool.
Plus, once you have mastered the basic recipes I encourage you to experiment with the mix of flours in the recipes – try making a Wholemeal Baguette of White with a bit of Rye Baguette, or White Baguette with Sesame or Poppy coating. Same simple recipe, but a lot of different versions you can try out.
Next recipe area is Sourdough or Breads Using Starter.
Now, they are saying “starter”, but what they really mean is yeasted “poolish” – don’t worry if you don’t get the difference. Pretty much I would only call “starter” something that has started from “wild yeast” – no actual yeast, just a combination of flour and water. Anything that has started as four, water AND yeast (even a tiny amount) in my head in not a “proper” starter, and I would refer to it as “poolish”. But that’s probably more to do with me being arsy about definitions rather than the book. If this is the first time you are making a sourdough bread from this book and it turns out half-decent, you should give yourself a pat on the back, and stick to fingers in my direction :)
The very first recipe in this area is Pain de Campagne and it is still one of my favourite recipes, also this is the first time I saw dough proving in a basket – crazy I thought at the time, now I have no less than 5 bannetons (a fancy basket) and am still looking to buy more.
San Francisco sourdough is an absolute classic, and a recipe that I am yet to master even after years of baking – sometimes it turns out okay, sometimes less so, but I will keep on trying.
I have had 100% success with the Ciabatta recipe, its one of the most satisfying and also one of the hardest to make if you haven’t got a standing mixer. I remember Mr Ranty going mental with a bowl of dough and a wooden spoon for nearly half an hour – his arm was dead after that. However, once the bread was ready and we dipped it in a rather large bowl of grassy olive oil with some balsamic vinegar, it was all worth it. Man, just the memory of that makes me salivate and makes me want to make a batch of Ciabatta.
The section also includes a few more European sourdough breads which I haven’t had a chance to try but do look quite tasty.
Flavoured Breads come next.
Assuming that you feel comfortable with the basic recipes, this is just a nice to have from my point of view, but still makes a good idea-generation section of you get bored with your every day breads. I recommend you experiment with the basic breads before you move into flavoured breads – use 50/50 milk and water, or juice and water as see what it does to bread’s flavour and texture first.
Pumpkin Bread, Pain aux Noix (Walnut Bread) and Dark Chocolate Bread look particularly appetising. Focacia Farcita (Filled Italian Hearth Bread) is not for faint-hearted – it’s a vision of goodness, willed with blue cheese and herbs!!
You will find a lot of inspiration in this area of how to make your breads look and taste better.
Once you are comfortable adding flavours to your bread, Enriched Breads is the next step for you – requires you to have more confidence in handing wetter, more complex dough. Brioche, the first one in this section is a classic, and I do love it, I prefer it baked as a loaf, lightly toasted, with lots of pate on top. These are a few other breads that look very interesting – Pane Di Ramerino (Rosemary Raisin Bread), Zopf (Swiss Plaited Loaf, a bit like Challah), PartyBrot (German Party Bread – you gotta love it just for the name :)
I had great success with Cinnamon Raisin Bread, and Prune & Chocolate Bread – really nice toasted, with chunks of chocolate melting slowly.
Flat Breads is probably my least favourite section, as I find small flat breads tend to get dry quickly and lack in flavour. I did try make Naan, Ekmek (Turkish Country Bread), Pain Tunisien (Tunisian Semolina and Olive Oil Bred) , Pide (Turkish Seeded Bread Pouch) and they make a very nice quick-ish afternoon snack or accompaniment to dinner.
Quick breads is the smallest and probably the least explored part of this book for me, I just didn’t find it particularly exciting. But it does have some classics – Irish Soda Bread, Muffins, Classic Corn Bread, and Yoghurt Bread and some others.
I like the Festive Breads section, it is very pretty and full of possibilities, but I must confess that I only tested a couple of recipes from this chapter. Christmas Stollen is a traditional, but I find it too sweet for my taste. I do want to try making Fougasse one day after seeing a whole pile of then at a French market. Personally I like Challah, but Mr Ranty is not a fan, so I don’t make it as often as I like. You will find  nice looking recipe for Panettone here as well, but I much prefer flavour of sourdough Panettone, its much lighter and keeps better.
Recipes Using Bread is a nice addition, with a few good ideas on how to get rid of slightly stale bread – Bread & Butter Pudding is a personal favourite
All in all it’s a great book, if you are looking for a book to guide you through your first bread baking experience, look no further!