Monthly Archives: February 2013

Cheddar Crisps

This is one of those fantastic recipes that is amazingly easy to make and tastes delicious. You take one ingredient – mature cheddar cheese with a good, strong flavour – and just grate it and bake it. That’s it. The cheese will melt and turn golden, and leave you with crisp, lace-like crackers which have the pure flavour of, well, toasted cheddar cheese. Clever, eh?

When you make these, they will at first look like they are swimming in oil. But you can deal with that easily – just lay some kitchen paper on top, and it will soak up all the oil. This makes for a healthier snack, but also means you can also pop them back in the oven to ensure they are properly crisp. Just think of whenever you’ve picked the toasted bits of cheese from an empty dish of mac’n’cheese. Yes, these things are that good!

cheddar_crisps

To make cheddar crisps:

• roughly grated mature cheddar

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Place handfuls of the cheddar onto the greaseproof paper and put the tray in the oven.

2. Bake for around 10 minutes until the cheese has a lace-like appearance and golden colour. Remove the tray from the oven, and lay some kitchen roll on top to soak up the oil. Carefully peel off the kitchen paper.

3. Put the tray back in the oven for another minute or so to crisp up the cheese them up. They are done when just golden. Remove from the oven, allow to cool, then serve!

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Cinnamon Buns for Busy People

I’m a mega fan of a good cinnamon bun (as well as their cardamom cousins). But much as I love to make buns using yeasted dough, but there is one problem – these are recipes that taste great when they’re fresh, but if you need to allow several hours of proving time to get a nice, puffy dough, then it’s not really compatible with the idea of a lie-in at the weekend when you want to munch on cinnamon buns for breakfast. So what can you do?

I’m aware that some folk have mastered the technique of slow-rising the dough overnight in the fridge. I’ve tried it in the past, but with less than stellar results, so it’s something I still have to perfect. In the meantime, I’ve come up with a solution (of sorts). The technique is pretty much identical to the “traditional” method, but uses baking powder in place of yeast. This means that you don’t need to leave the dough to rise, and can get them done is less than an hour. It also means the recipe is foolproof, and you still get a decent amount of lift, and in the case of one bun, a rather spectacular amount!

So, how do they compare to the buns made with yeast? In fairness, this baking powder version is not quite as as light and fluffy, but I think that this is a reasonable trade-off when you need to whip up a batch in a bit of a hurry. However, they do look good and you’ve got my word that they still taste utterly delicious. That, and you get those extra hours in bed at the weekend rather than having to get up at 6am to prepare a fresh batch…

Cinnamon_no_yeast2

Cinnamon_no_yeast

To make cinnamon buns (makes 12):

For the dough:

• 180ml milk
• 60g butter
• 1 medium egg
• 50g caster sugar
• 280g strong white flour
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 generous teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
• 4 teaspoons baking powder

For the filling:

• 60g butter, soft
• 60g caster sugar
• 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Line a baking tray with white bun cases.

2. In a saucepan, bring the milk to the boil. Take off the heat, add the butter, then leave until the butter has melted and the mixture is lukewarm.

3. Make the filling – beat the sugar until soft, then add the sugar and cinnamon. Mix until very soft and smooth. It should be easily spreadable.

4. Whisk the egg and divide in two (you need half for the dough, and half for the glaze).

5. Put the flour, sugar, salt, cardamom and baking powder into a bowl. Mix, then sieve well. Add the milk mixture and half of the egg, and mix to a soft dough. If needed, add more flour, and knead lightly until you have an elastic dough.

6. Turn the dough onto a floured surface. Roll into a large rectangle until the dough is about 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) thick. Spread with the filling, then roll up into a sausage. Cut into 12 slices with a sharp knife, and lay each piece, cut face up, on a bun case.

7. Take the remaining egg (remember that?) and mix with a tablespoon of water. Brush the buns with the egg wash and sprinkle with pearl sugar. Bake the buns for about 12 minutes until puffed up and golden.

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Sally Lunn Buns

You may well be sitting there wondering who, exactly, is this Sally Lunn lady?

Well, before we get to the “who” part, we’ll deal with the “what” part, by which I mean her buns. What is undeniable is that these buns are made from an enriched yeast dough, similar to brioche, and are an utterly delicious teatime treat with a strong association with the fine city of Bath in Somerset. In addition to these buns, Bath is famous for its remarkable Georgian architecture hewn from honey-coloured Bath limestone and its Roman thermal spas which give the city its name (as well as a more modern spa drawing on the same warm thermals, complete with a warm rooftop spa pool).

It was that thermal source that was a major draw for the British aristocracy during the Regency period, where society ladies and gentlemen would descend upon the city to take the waters. I’ve been to the modern spa, and it’s great fun to bob around in the pool, especially when you can see the spires of the old town while floating in the open-air naturally heated pool. I’ve also tried the waters, and they were, frankly, disgusting – clean, but with a lot of minerals. I can imagine Regency ladies in their fancy costumes drinking this stuff and expressing how well they now felt, all the while dreaming of something that tasted, well, nicer….such as a slice of hot, toasted and buttered slice of Sally Lunn bun!

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In the truest traditions of British baking, the real story is shrouded in some mystery, with various tales claiming to be the real deal. The first story claims the buns were created by a French Huguenot lady in the late 1600s called Solange Luyon (hence Sally Lunn), who whipped them up based on her knowledge of French brioche. The next is that the name is a corruption of “soleil et lune” (sun and moon) due to the shape of the buns. The third suggestion is that this is just rhyming slang, with Sally Lunn being a term for buns. Of the three, I like the first story most. It’s rather charming to think of Mademoiselle Solange arriving off the boat, making her way to Bath, the locals being unable to pronounce her name, re-naming her Sally and taking her to their hearts on the basis of her tasty buns. Whatever the story, these are now a firm part of the British baking landscape.

However, Sally Lunn buns are not one of those traditional recipes that comes from a particular place but which has since gone generic. Oh no, for when I visited Bath a couple of years ago, although I knew the name, I had never tried Sally Lunn buns, so we went to the original Sally Lunn shop where they bake them to a recipe that they claim to trace back to Mademoiselle Solange herself.

Well, I had something different in mind when I came to try them! It turns out I was expecting something known as the “Bath Bun” which is a completely different sort of bake. The Bath Bun is sweet, with the original versions using sugar and caraway and more modern versions featuring currants and pearl sugar on top, whereas the Sally Lunn bun is a rich bread to take with tea. Very confusing for visitors! Just in case I have whetted your appetite for British baked goods, we’ll be tacking Bath Buns another day. However, back to my experience, and I was rather taken aback when I was presented with a large (size of a head) bun, split and toasted, with various topping options. And by “options” I mean lots of butter and jam. On a cold, crisp winter day, there are few things as wonderful as a rich toasted snack with a cup of Earl Grey tea. The outsize sliced and toasted bun only adds to their charm.

The recipe I have used below is an older one that I found, and reasoned that it was a fair bet that it should work, but I must add that this isn’t the original (the one from the Sally Lunn Teashop is known to only six people, and I’m not one of them). I’ve converted the recipe to more modern measures which are the ones I used when baking it, so rest assured – the recipe has been properly tested!

Now, I’ve also seen various references to these buns as a Regency treat and a Jane Austen favourite. However, I’ve also read that Miss Austen was not entirely partial to Sally Lunns, believing them to be rich and heavy, and that they were bad for her digestion. Whatever Miss Austen used to fuel her narratives across those two inches of ivory, it must have been something other than these buns (too bad Mademoiselle Solange!).

The versions I’ve had in Bath were large – I recall around 20cm in diameter – but I’ve also tried making some into smaller buns and they work an absolute treat. While the larger buns are undeniably impressive, the smaller versions might be more practical if you’re looking to serve these to a group of people for breakfast. If it’s just you, then feel free to make the large one and devour alone!

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To make Sally Lunn (or Solange Luyon) buns:

Makes two large buns or 12 small buns:

• 450g strong white flour
• 280ml whole milk, scalded
• 60g butter
• 40g caster sugar
• 2 eggs, beaten
• 1 teaspoon instant yeast
• 1 teaspoon salt

1. Put the milk in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, then remove from the heat. Add the butter, and leave until lukewarm.

2. Add the lukewarm milk mixture to the beaten eggs and mix well.

3. If using a bread machine: throw everything into the machine and run the dough cycle. If working by hand: pour everything into a large bowl, and mix to a dough. Knead for around 10 minutes until elastic (it will be very sticky). Cover and leave to prove until doubled in size.

4. Once the dough has risen, knock it back. Either divide between two round cake tins (18-20cm diameter) or divide into small balls to make individual buns (line the tins with greaseproof paper). Cover loosely with cling film and leave somewhere warm until doubled in size.

5. Bake at 190°C. Allow around 12 minutes for smaller buns, 30-40 minutes for larger buns. If the buns are browning too quickly, cover with tin foil during baking.

6. Once the buns have been baked, remove from the tin and put in a plastic bag to cool. This will make sure the crust is soft.

Worth making? This is a lovely and very easy recipe. The result is rich like brioche, but the simpler shape makes it easy to slice and pop into the toaster. The flavour is excellent hot, spread with butter and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.

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Oh Mon Amour! The Stolen Heart

Ah, ’tis once again Valentine’s Day! In previous years I have treated you to pink and romantic treats, but this year I felt that a little bit of a twist was in order. Everyone is all about hearts, so let’s take that idea and run with it.

I’ve drawn my inspiration from the cold and snowy weather we’ve had in olde London Town for the last few days (even if today has warmed up rather nicely). I was in the City earlier in the week, and was fascinated by those medieval buildings that are still clinging on in the face of advancing glass and steel monsters. In the icy mist, they give you brief glimpses of times long forgotten, but still not quite gone. I passed one church that looked like something from a fairy tale, but more like one of the darker true Grimm tales than anything more recent and sugar-coated. It was striking how the cool weather seems to be able to strip a scene of almost all colour, leaving it eerie and silent.

Against this atmospheric scene, this dish is a tribute to those old tales, where key characters encountered  unexpected things in the woods. There might be a happily-ever-after, but there could equally be a grisly end in the dark forest on the snowy ground at the teeth of the big, bad wolf. Yes, you guessed it, I’m going with the latter. And you can guess how that heart was stolen – basically, it’s a crime scene on a plate!

Stolen_Heart

In coming up with this, I had something rather like Snow White in mind. There had to be lots of red and white – which are, after all, the key elements that go into making the most romantic colour of all, pink – but they are presented in a way which I’ve called The Stolen Heart to suggest that some beast has just “stolen” someone’s heart in the most literal sense. Rather than lovely fluffy pink macarons or cupcakes with love hearts, this is intended to look shocking.

The idea is that this is a snowy scene, achieved with a mixture of yoghurt and mascarpone. Roasted figs are added (a fruit that is so often linked with romance and passion) to represent something that has been left behind by the miscreant. The scene is dusted with snow-like sugar, and then finally splattered with a red fruit sauce with a dash of pomegranate molasses, this latter ingredient bringing in the fertility associations of pomegranate as well as adding sharpness. The result is strange, in turns both pretty and unsettling, and perhaps the complete antithesis of all the chocolate hearts and sugared rose petals that seem to be everywhere else at the moment. That said, perhaps this is not the most suitable thing to serve your special someone on Valentine’s Day, but then, that wasn’t what I was going for.

So what do you think? Taste-wise, it’s actually delicious – rich roasted figs, heady with the perfume of spice and lemon in red wine, chilled mascarpone with just a light hint of sweetness – so it does make a lovely late winter pudding. But it might just freak you out too…

Finally, just one little tip – it’s wonderfully great fun to splatter the red sauce in a dramatic fashion, but either do it over a sink or in the garden – otherwise you will find your Jackson Pollock frenzy makes the kitchen look like a crime scene. And serve it straight away – the sauce will start to bleed (ha ha!) and dissolve the sugar snow. You want it to look like the crime has just been committed, and someone’s heart really has just been stolen. Perhaps too literal an interpretation of Valentine’s Day?

To make The Stolen Heart (serves 2):

For the figs:

• 4 large ripe fresh figs
• dash of lemon zest
• 3 tablespoons red wine
• 1 tablespoon honey
• 1 tablespoon brown sugar
• pinch of allspice

For the snow:

• 100g natural yoghurt
• 100g mascarpone cheese
• icing sugar

For the blood:

• 100g raspberries (frozen work best)
• sugar (to taste)

1. First, roast the figs. Cut the figs into quarters, then mix with the zest, wine, honey, brown sugar and allspice. Put into an over dish, cut side up, cover with tin foil, and cook at 200°C (400°F) for 20 minutes (you might need to check from time to time and spoon the wine sauce onto the cut figs). Remove the tin foil, spoon the sauce into the figs again, and cook for another 10 minutes. Put the tin foil back, turn off the heat, and leave until cold.

2. Make the “blood”. Heat the frozen raspberries in a saucepan until quite liquid. Mash, then pass through a sieve to remove the seeds. Sweeten to taste with sugar. If you want, you can add any left-over wine syrup from the figs to add flavour and deepen the colour.

3. The prepare the dish, mix the yoghurt and mascapone cheese until smooth. Spread onto two large plates.

4. Chop the figs into large chunks. Drop onto the plate in a rough manner.

5. Dust everything liberally with icing sugar for a snow-like effect, and immediately “splatter” the plate with the red fruit sauce (you might not need all of it – just enough to create the dramatic effect). Serve straight away.

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Oh Mon Amour! Bitter and Sweet

It’s that time of year when it is simply de rigueur to think pink. Heart-shaped chocolates, cupcakes, biscuits and desserts about. Heck, even emails at work are festooned with cherubs, hearts and flowers to persuade us that getting on top of our administration is somehow wonderfully romantic (is isn’t).

However, I’ve decided to depart from the usual Valentine treats (i.e. sweet and sugary) and instead to try something a little different. As an antidote to all those chocolates, this is just a simple salad to make us feel healthy during these cold, wintery days. And yes, obviously, it is in part hot pink.

ValentineSalad1

ValentineSalad3

To make this salad, I’ve used ingredients for both colour as well as flavour. It would be easy just to walk around and throw everything that is red into a bowl and suggest it conveys the essence of romance, but I wanted to be more subtle than that.

Most obviously, I’ve used red endive, which add a rich pink colour, but also have a little bitterness to them. What’s love if not occasionally bitter? Then there are pomegranate seeds and segments of blood oranges. Don’t read too much into the “blood” part, but I wanted some fruit that would add sweetness, the oranges providing some citrussy tang and the pomegranate seeds some crunch. In all honestly, I must say  that I was a little disappointed that these oranges were not, well, more “bloody” when I cut them open, but they did turn out to have very pretty orange and red mottling, which actually looked great on the plate. I also put in some aromatic fennel (I’ve been eating a lot of this recently) as well as some crumbled cheddar. I could say the cheese somehow symbolises strength and smoothness, but the reality is – strong cheddar is just brilliant with fennel, and there’s not too much more to it than that!

I finished this off with a simple dressing of olive oil, honey and red wine vinegar, which again balance sweetness, sharpness and smoothness. Finally, the sauce gets a little kick in terms of flavour and colour by adding some oil from a jar of harissa paste. It ended up more orange than pink or red, but the effect was still great.

So that’s really it! This salad is by turns sweet, bitter and sharp, so it has interesting tastes and textures as well as looking quite stunning. You can, of course, tweak the ingredients depending on what you have to hand and your own preferences, but I think the red quality from the endive and fruit is pretty much essential.

Whatever you have planned for tomorrow – dinner à deux or a fun-filled evening with friends – have fun!

ValentineSalad2

To make a Bitter and Sweet salad (serves 2, of course)

For the salad:

• 2 red endives
• 2 blood oranges
• 1 small fennel bulb
• 50g cheddar
• 2 handfuls pomegranate seeds

For the dressing:

• 1 tablespoon honey
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
• 1 teaspoon oil from harissa paste or sun-dried tomato paste (optional)

1. Break the endive into leaves, and cut each one into two lengthways. Peel the orange and cut into segments. Slice the fennel into very thin pieces. Slice the cheese and crumble.

2. Build up the salad on two plates – start with the endives, then the fennel, then the oranges, then cheddar and then scatter over the pomegranate seeds.

3. Make the dressing – whisk everything until smooth, then drizzle over the salad.

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