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Independence Day Cake

It’s the Fourth of July, so here is a little cake in honour of US Independence Day! It’s my take on a recipe for the late 1700s – based on a bundt cake, and finished with gold in honour of the big day.

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There is a little bit of a story behind this recipe. I found the original in one of my cookbooks, which features cake recipes from around the world. Among them all was a gem of a recipe of Herculean proportions and with little by way of directions. The limited information was all down to the fact this recipe originated in the late 1700s. Rather than just updating it, the author cleverly presented in all its glory, with original directions as follows:

Independence Day Cake by Amelia Simmons (1796)

The Cake:

• 20 pounds flour
• 15 pounds sugar
• 10 pounds butter
• 48 eggs
• 1 quart wine
• 1 quart brandy
• 1 ounce nutmeg
• 1 ounce cinnamon
• 1 ounce cloves
• 1 ounce mace
• 2 pounds citron peel
• 5 pounds currants
• 5 pounds raisins
• 1 quart yeast

Topping

• crushed loaf sugar
• box cuttings
• gold leaf

Sadly, the temperature of the baking oven was not given, but I would imagine it would need to be cooked slowly. If you do try and succeed do let me know.

And you know what? It was that last sentence that got me. This was not a “tested” recipe of the sort we’re all used to…but…what if I were to take that recipe…convert into measurements that are not so voluminous, and try to make this into a cake? With that, a challenge was set.

Before I could convert this lot, I was faced with a few decisions that were going to test my culinary knowledge. First off, I had to get the types of ingredients right. The butter was pretty easy (it’s a safe bet that the butter we have today is not unlike the butter available back in the 1700s), but the sugar was less clear. Should it be white or brown? While I like to use muscovado sugar in baking, this was supposed to be a celebratory bake, so I opted for sparkling white caster sugar. Next, the flour. In cakes, it should be plain flour. However, when making yeasted doughs, I use strong white flour that gives a light, springy texture. I didn’t know which to go with, so given this was more cake than bread, it would be plain cake flour. Luckily the spices, citrus peel and dried fruit did not require much thinking, otherwise I would have been in the kitchen all day fretting!

The method also presented something of a challenge. I started by weighing everything out into bowls, and then I was own my own – pure guesswork territory. I creamed the butter and sugar, added the eggs, then the flour and the yeast mixture. After that, the fruit was worked into the batter, and I left the cake to rise for a few hours.

Sadly…the cake had other ideas, and decided that it didn’t really want to puff up as I had hoped. Instead, it remained dense. All in all, a bit of a failure.

I was deflated but not defeated. A few days later, I had another go at the cake, but this time embraced the fact that the world of baking has moved on since the 1700s, and we now benefit from a magic substance called baking powder. I could skip the whole yeast thing, and instead rely on the white stuff to do the job. And this time, the cake worked like a dream. The crumb is tender and moist, and the cake has a rich, velvety texture that works very well with the spices, citrus peel and dried fruits.

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Now, we also need to keep in mind that this is a cake to celebrate Independence Day. The original recipe suggests loaf sugar, box cuttings and gold leaf. I’ll freely admit that I have no clue was is meant by box cuttings (leaves from the box hedge plant?), and I didn’t have loaf sugar to hand. So again, I improvised – a simple glaze, drizzled in loops on top of the cake, and then finished, as was intended, with some flakes of gold leaf. Very celebratory!

So what do you think? Suitably impressive for the Fourth of July? I’d like to think so, and I hope that Miss Amelia Simmonds would too.

To make an Independence Day Cake (modern version!):

• 4 tablespoons rum
• 60g citrus peel, chopped
• 90g currants
• 90g sultanas
• 190g butter
• 280g sugar
• 2 eggs
• 350g self-raising flour

• 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
• 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon cloves
• 1/2 teaspoon mace
• 150ml milk

For the glaze

• 85g icing sugar
• 4-5 teaspoons double cream
• gold leaf

1. Put the rum, raisins, sultanas and citrus peel into a bowl. Mix, cover and leave to sit overnight (or if you’re in a hurry, heat quickly in the microwave and leave to sit on the kitchen top for an hour).

2. Prepare a cake pan. If using a bundt pan, brush with melted butter, then dust with plain flour. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).

3. Cream the butter and sugar, then add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition, until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the spices and mix well.

4. Combine the flour and the baking powder. Add half of the flour mixture and half of the milk to the batter, and mix until smooth. Repeat with the rest of the flour and the milk. You should have a smooth batter that drops slowly from the back of a spoon.

5. Finally, fold in the currants, sultanas and citrus peel.

6. Spoon the mixture into the cake pan and bake for around 45-60 minutes until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Once baked, remove from the oven, allow to cool slightly, then turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

7. To finish the cake, make the glaze by combining the icing sugar and cream. Mix until smooth – it should be soft, but not runny. Drizzle on top of the cake, then add flakes of gold leaf to finish the cake.

Worth making? In spite of all this history and the fact I’ve had to convert this cake into modern quantities, this is a great cake – spicy and fruity, but not heavy. This would make a great and lighter alternative to traditional fruit cakes.

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Midsummer Cardamom Twists

If you’re in London right now or have visited recently, it may come as something of a shock to learn that it is midsummer. Sure, we’ve had a few warm days, but the skies are still leaden, with oppressive dark clouds threatening rain at the drop of a hat. However, the threat of bad weather on a summer’s day is never enough to stop us enjoying the Great British Summer – I’ve just spent the day at a garden party in Primrose Hill where we spend most of the day rushing between the house and the garden depending on whether the rain was falling or some rays of sunshine could be spotted.

Given the state of the weather, midsummer is not a huge event in Britain, but in honour of this point in the year, I’ve made cardamom twists as a nod to our Scandinavian cousins, for whom the middle of the summer season is a very big deal indeed. And when you have warm, sunny days by the sea with little (or no!) night like the do in Sweden, Norway and Finland, you can understand why.

This is a variation on my recipe for cardamom buns, but rather than rolling the dough into a sausage and slicing it, you cut it into strips, twist and form into a bun, then hope for the best as the yeast gets going and they expand into all manner of strange shapes. Not one for those obsessed with getting even-looking buns, but I think they’re pretty fun to make and eat.

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twist3  twist1

To make cardamom twists (makes 12):

For the dough:

• 2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 50g sugar
• 60g butter
• 150ml milk, scalded and cooled
• 1 egg
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg or mace
• 325g strong white flour
• pearl sugar, to finish

For the filling:

• 60g butter, soft
• 60g caster sugar
• 2 teaspoons ground cardamom

1. Whisk the egg and divide in two. You need half for the dough, and half for the glaze.

2(a). If using a bread machine: put one portion of the egg and the rest of the ingredients into the mixing bowl. Run the “dough” cycle. Simples!

2(b). If making by hand: put the flour and butter into a bowl, and rub with your fingers until the butter has been incorporated. Fold in the salt, sugar, nutmeg/mace and yeast. In a separate bowl, combine the milk and one portion of the egg, then pour into the dry ingredients. Stir with a spoon, then work with your hands until you have a smooth, stretchy, silky dough (at least 5 minutes). Leave the dough a warm place for an hour until the dough has doubled in size. Knock back and knead again for 2-3 minutes.

3. Once the dough is ready, turn it onto a floured surface. Roll into a very large rectangle getting the dough as thin as you can. Make the filling by mixing all the ingredients until smooth, then spread across the dough. Fold the dough in half. Use a sharp knife to cut into 12 strips.

4. Take each strip and start twisting the edges in opposite directions until you have a spiral. Form into a coil, tucking the ends underneath, and place on a bun case. Cover with cling film or a damp tea cloth and leave to rise for at least an hour until doubled in size.

5. Preheat the oven to 200°C. 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 10-12 minutes until golden.

6. When done, remove from the oven and cover with a clean tea-towel (this will catch the steam and keep the buns soft).

Worth making? These buns are amazing. It’s a very unusual flavour in terms of baked goods, so it’s nice to have something different. They’re buttery, zesty and fragrant. They also last for a few days if stored in a sealed container, so can see you through several breakfasts, mid-morning snacks and afternoon treats.

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Cheese and Herb Scones

Yesterday I had some friends round for afternoon tea. Chocolate tartlets, coconut macaroons, jam tarts, tarte au citron, Victoria sandwich, currant scones and chocolate clusters all magicked up in the morning. While cakes and sweet treats are all well and good, I think it is essential to have some savoury items as well. Otherwise, well, all that sugar gets too much!

I made a selection of the famous cucumber sandwiches, but I also wanted to try my hand at something more substantial. The result was these scones – flavoured with strong cheddar, fresh chives and herbes de Provence, as well as a dash of nutmeg and mustard to complement the cheese.

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These scones are soft and fluffy, and perfect while still warm – split them, and all the cheese is still melted and delicious! They are also an absolute, utter breeze to make. All you have to do is rub some butter into the flour, stir in the cheese and spices, then all some milk, which really makes them ideal if you’ve got unexpected guests or you need something a little special for breakfast. Ten minutes to make, fifteen minutes to bake and a few seconds to devour!

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To make cheese and herb scones (makes 8):

• 225g plain flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 50g butter
• 75g strong cheddar
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
• 1 teaspoon dried herbs
• pinch of nutmeg
• 1/4 teaspoon mustard
• 150ml milk

1. Preheat the oven to 220°C (420°F).

2. Put the flour, baking powder and butter into a large bowl. Work with your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs and there are no lumps of butter. Add the grated cheddar, chives, herbs and nutmeg. Mix well with your hands.

3. In a bowl, mix the milk and mustard. Add to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined – the mixture should hold its shape but still be fairly wet.

4. Put lots of flour onto a kitchen worktop. Turn out the dough and roll lightly. Use a cutter to shape the scones – aim to get eight from the dough.

5. Bake for around 15 minutes until the scones are puffed and golden. Serve while still warm, and best eaten the same day.

Worth making? These scones are amazingly easy to make and taste spectacular. Highly recommended!

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Hey Hey, it’s 17 May!

I’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus recently, which has been due to a perfect storm of holidays (yay!) sandwiched in between busy days at work (boo!), and an increasing busy social life as finally summer appears to be creaking into action. We’ve been tantalised by soft, warm days only to have the frost reappear and slap us on the face as a reminder not to take the good times for granted. Anyway, I’m back and, confirming the old saying that travel broadens the mind, I also have a few new sources of inspiration that should be popping up over the next month or so.

That said, I’m going to go back to my occasional series on Norwegian goodies. I’ve got some good Norwegian friends, and usually make something in honour of their national day. For today is 17 May, and that means today is the day that the good folk of Norway like to make sure that you know, just in case there is the slightest smidgen of doubt, that they are extremely, utterly, passionately exited and proud about being Norwegian, rather than Swedish or Danish. That also means they go big in terms of food, drink, partying and flags. I’ve joined in one of those celebrations in Oslo a few years ago, and its tremendous fun. Thousands of people are wearing traditional costume, and it’s very strange to ride the metro in a modern city surrounded by people dressed as simple country folk from a rural idyll. Yes, a bottle of wine is eye-wateringly expensive, but the city is lovely, the people are outgoing and welcoming and the food is fantastic, in particular the traditional baking.

In previous years, I have made lefse (potato flatbreads) and marvposteier (almond tartlets). This year, it’s really a repurposed Christmas recipe called kingler (Norwegians – is this the correct plural spelling?). These are rich, buttery pastries that are shaped into loops, and then formed into a figure of eight shape (or the infinity symbol if you prefer).

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The traditional flavouring is vanilla, which goes well with the butter and cream that make these a real treat. You could go traditional, but I’ve tweaked them by keeping the vanilla, but I’ve also added a dash of freshly-ground cardamom. This is rapidly becoming one of my favourite spices, very popular in Nordic baking, and absolutely delicious in baked goods. It adds freshness and a delicate aroma, and takes these from being delicious to being something quite special indeed.

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While they look a little complex to make, there is an easy trick. You form the dough into balls, roll it into long strips, then join the ends to make a loop. Then twist two sides in opposite directions, and there you have it – the figure of eight shape, and if you’re been cunning, the seam is hidden where the pieces of dough overlap. One little trick to think about is how big you make them – you actually want a thin strip of dough, and as large a loop as possible – the closer things are, the greater the chance that the loops will close during baking. This isn’t a problem, as they still have a charming S-shape, but if you’re making loops, you want loops.

The texture of kringler is interesting – it’s not quite a biscuit, it’s softer and lighter, and more like a scone. You could certainly serve them with butter and jam if that’s your thing, but I think the best way to eat them is to enjoy their pared-back Norwegian elegance by munching on a couple alongside a cup of coffee. They are wonderful while still slightly warm, when you can enjoy them in all their buttery, cardamom-perfumed glory.

To so all the Norwegians out there – gratulerer med nasjonaldagen!

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To make kringler:

(makes around 30)

• 125g butter
• 175g caster sugar
• 1 egg
• 125ml milk
• 125ml double cream
• 450g plain flour
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

• 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
• 3 teaspoons baking powder

1. Cream the butter until soft, then add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla and cardamom and whip until thoroughly combined.

2. Combine the milk and cream in a bowl and mix well.

3. Put the baking powder into the main bowl, and add the flour and the milk mixture to the butter/sugar mixture, a little at a time, and mix until you have a smooth dough. It will be firm but sticky, so don’t be tempted to add more flour unless essential. Cover the bowl in cling film and chill for at least 4 hours (or cheat – 30 minutes in the freezer, the two in the fridge) or overnight.

4. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Line some baking trays with greaseproof paper.

5. Take lumps of the dough and form into rough balls (about the size of a walnut – a tablespoon worked for me as a guide measure). As the dough is sticky, don’t worry about getting them smooth at this stage.

6. Once all the dough is in balls, lightly sprinkle the worktop with a little plain flour (as little as you can get away with). Start to roll the balls into long strips, adding a dash flour as needed,  until they are around 20cm long (the strands might seem very thin, but they will expand in the oven – and the bigger the loops, the more defined the shape will be). Join the ends to make a loop, and then twist in opposite directions so you have a figure of eight shape. Try to have the pieces cross on top of the join for a neat finish. Put on the baking sheet. Repeat until all the dough is used up.

7. Bake the kringler for 10-15 minutes until an even golden brown colour (turning half-way if needed). Remove from the oven, sprinkle with a little caster sugar, if desired, and enjoy either warm or cooled with coffee.

Worth making? This is an incredibly easy recipe, and ideal if you need something to serve fresh from the oven – the dough can be made the night before, and the kringler shaped and left (covered in cling film) until baking. The inclusion of the cardamom makes them extra-special and a little usual with your morning coffee.

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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…

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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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Making Paneer

If you’ve ever had cause to wonder exactly what Little Miss Muffet was eating on her tuffet on that fateful day that the spider came along and sat down beside her, then you’re about to find out. For it turns out that curds and whey are…well, basically paneer! Frankly, I’m surprised. Really – I had no idea!

Paneer is common in Indian cooking, and it’s one of my favourite ingredients. If it’s on a menu, then that’s usually the dish that I go for. A good paneer and spinach curry is a thing of joy.

I’ve got friends who have in the past been known to get rather snobbish when they try to make a curry. What? You’re not making your own paneer? Well, it’s just not the same. I always thought they were probably right, but let’s be honest – there are a lot of things we could all be making at home but don’t. Paneer always seemed like a job too far. I’ve always just bought the blocks as it makes things so, so much easier. Who actally has the time to make the stuff themselves? Well, it turns out that it’s actually a heck of a lot easier than you might think.

First, get several pints of whole milk. Heat it, then add some lemon juice diluted with hot water. The milk splits, and that’s bascially it! Then just strain it, rinse the curds, and then weigh down the paneer to drive out the excess water. You are left with a large, flat block of paneer that can be cut into pieces and then fried until golden, and then added to whatever dish you’re in the mood for making.

The flavour of the fresh paneer was different to the stuff you buy. It tastes fresher and lighter. The texture is different too – it does not cut as cleanly into squares, but it keeps a slightly crumbly, almost fluffy texture. When you come to fry the paneer, I noticed this time that it has a distinct aroma of buttery caramel as it cooks, which the commercial stuff does not.

So that’s my attempt at paneer, and I was completely thrilled when it was fried and produced this plate of golden deliciousness. It ended up in a spicy tomato and ginger sauce, enriched with a little natural yoghurt. A nice way to finish a Sunday!

To make paneer:

• 4 pints whole milk
• juice 1 lemon
• cup of hot water

1. Gently heat the milk in a saucepan until it just comes to the boil. Watch it doesn’t boil over – otherwise your hob will be a pain to clean!

2. In the meantime, mix the lemon juice with the hot water. Once the milk is just boiling, turn off the heat and add the lemon juice mixture. Stir until the milk curdles – this is the curds and whey separating. Leave to cool for around 15 minutes, gently stirring from time to time.

3. Line a metal sieve with muslin or cheesecloth. Pour the milk mixture into the cloth, and allow to drain. Gently run cold water through the cheese to remove any remaining lemon juice.

4. Gather the ends of the cloth then squeeze out as much water as you can.

5. Place the cheese (still wrapped in the cloth) on a tray and put something very, very heavy on top (I used a metal pan filled with  weights). This should flatten the cheese into a firm block. Leave to sit for an hour or two, and the excess water will be squeezed out.

And there you have it – paneer! Now use in your favourite Indian dishes. Like this or this.

Worth making? Making paneer is actually really easy, and the result is a bit nicer than the stuff you buy. If you’ve got the time (or need to occupy some children for a while) then it’s worth trying. However, I suspect I’ll keep buying it as it’s easier to have it ready for use in the fridge when I want it. Sorry guys!

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Cardamom Buns

I’ve recently been into making a big old batch of buns at the weekend, which then serve for breakfast and mid-afternoon snacks for several days afterwards. I’ve mostly made them with cinnamon, with a brief flirtation with vine fruits and citrus over Easter, but much as I love cinnamon, it can get a little bit same-y. So what could I use instead? Simple – cardamom!

I recently saw a recipe for buns that replaced the cinnamon with ground cardamom, which is mixed into the butter/sugar filling. The moment I saw this idea I was convinced – I love the flavour of this spice. It has a lovely citrus-like aromatic flavour that complements the yeasty dough and butter filling very nicely. So I had a bash, and just adapted my kanelbullar recipe.

However…much as I like cardamom…it’s a real pain to use. You’ve got lots of little pods, usually rock-hard, that need to be picked apart by hand, and then you need to scape out the seeds and crush them. I’ve got a nifty little marble mortar and pestle that is perfectly suited to this, and it get the spices so fine that you can sieve then through a tea strainer, and get a very fine power that is ideal for this recipe (means no bigger “gritty” pieces). However, if you’re busy or don’t fancy the home grinding process, just use pre-ground. Our little secret…shhhh!

As you can see, I’ve played around with the appearance of these buns too. Rather than baking them on muffin cases on a flat try, I used arty squares of greaseproof paper pushed into a muffin tray. It looked a little like a tray of paper tulips! Certainly adds a little something when you present a tray of them, still warm, to breakfast or bunch guests. However, I made these on my own, thus lacking an audience to experience the brilliance of my creativity.

I noticed, too, that recently I have tended to veer towards pictures of finished items only. Of course, sometimes it is either interesting or helpful (or both) to see the intermediate steps in the baking process. Also, you do end up with such interesting patterns when things are formed into spirals and cut, and I love how the patterns of the buns of the tray looks.

As is usually the case for yeast doughs, you’ll think that the buns are way too small when you cut the dough and put into the tray. However, fret not, as they will expand considerably if you leave them somewhere warm.

As you can see below, they nearly tripled in size over an hour! It did help that it was a freezing day outside, and so the heating was on inside and that meant the yeast was happily bubbling away.

To finish the buns, I followed the usual steps – brushing with a little beaten egg and sprinkling with pearl sugar. Then into the oven to bake until golden-brown.

These buns were sensational. The dough is very light, and the flavour of the cardamom does indeed make them seem fresh and slightly zesty – it’s sweet, buttery, fragrant and had a note of citrus to it. They also bake in such a way that they can be easily unpicked as you’re eating them with a coffee, so good for breakfast while reading the papers. And in their little paper jackets, I’m going to be so bold as to suggest that they’ve got a little bit of the “wow” factor too.

To make cardamom buns (makes 12):

For the dough:

• 2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 50g sugar
• 60g butter
• 150ml milk, scalded and cooled
• 1 egg
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg or mace
• 325g strong white flour

First thing – whisk the egg and divide in two. You need half for the dough, and half for the glaze.

If using a bread machine: put one portion of the egg and the rest of the ingredients into the mixing bowl. Run the “dough” cycle. Simples!

If making by hand: put the flour and butter into a bowl, and rub with your fingers until the butter has been incorporated. Fold in the salt, sugar, nutmeg/mace and yeast. In a separate bowl, combine the milk and one portion of the egg, then pour into the dry ingredients. Stir with a spoon, then work with your hands until you have a smooth, stretchy, silky dough (at least 5 minutes). Leave the dough a warm place for an hour until the dough has doubled in size. Knock back and knead again for 2-3 minutes.

Once the dough is ready, turn it 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. Use a sharp knife to cut into 12 slices.

Lay each slice, cut face up, on a bun case. Cover with cling film or a damp tea cloth and leave to rise for at least an hour until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 200°C. 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 10-12 minutes until golden.

When done, remove from the oven and cover with a clean tea-towel (this will catch the steam and keep the buns soft).

For the filling:

• 60g butter, soft
• 60g caster sugar
• 2 teaspoons ground cardamom

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl until smooth.

Worth making? These buns are amazing. It’s a very unusual flavour in terms of baked goods, at least in London, so it’s nice to have something different. They’re buttery, zesty and fragrant. They also last for a few days if stored in a sealed container, so can see you through several breakfasts, mid-morning snacks and afternoon treats.

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Koninginnedag: Ontbijtkoek

I’ve already featured a fancy recipe if you’re in the mood to celebrate Dutch Queen’s Day, so today I’ve gone to the other end of the spectrum and made something super-easy. It’s called ontbijtkoek which literally means “breakfast cake”.

You can think of this as a very simple gingerbread recipe, but one that’s on the healthy side. Yes, there is some sugar in there, but no eggs and no butter (just milk to bind it), so it’s low in fat. Heck, there is even rye flour in there! This does mean, of course, that it’s actually rather well-suited to being spread with butter and topped with jam or honey. I realise this defeats the object of making such an otherwise healthy loaf, but then – if you’re going to celebrate Queen’s Day by jumping up and down on a canal boat while dressed from head to toe in orange, all that energy is probably essential.

This is something that I used to buy a lot when I lived in Belgium, as I went to the Netherlands rather often. This is something that people tend to buy rather than make these days. However, given how simple the recipe is, there is no reason not to give it a try, especially if you don’t have easy access to the commercial versions or you want to be free-and-easy with the spices.

The only real “prep” work is to scald the milk and then let it cool before mixing for a more tender loaf (and even this step can be skipped if you’re in a rush). Then you just mix everything together until you have a smooth – but still thick – dough, scrape into a loaf tin and bake. You’ll be rewarded by a rich, spicy aroma during baking, but if you want to dive right in, you’ll sadly need to hold off – this needs to be left to cool, then stored for a day. This means the loaf will be soft and slightly sticky on top. It also cuts easily and keeps really well, so it is perfectly suited as something to nibble on during the week for breakfast, but it’s also tasty enough on its own to enjoy with a cup of tea or coffee as an afternoon snack.

I’ve mentioned the spices, and here I’ve gone with a rather traditional mixture that includes a lot of cloves, plus cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. However, you can tweak them to your heart’s content, adding more of what you love and less of what you’re not so keen on. You might like to try other Dutch spice mixtures like speculaaskruiden used in traditional biscuits, or perhaps omit the cloves and use more cinnamon and nutmeg. You can also add nuts, dried fruit or preserved ginger. I think these could all work really well, even if they would mean that you’re getting a little away from the traditional recipes. But by all means – experiment away!

So I hope you’ve enjoyed these little Dutch delights! If you’re still curious about the cuisine of the Netherlands, you can have a look at my recipes for poffertjes (mini-pancakes) or apple tart, as well as aniseed sprinkles and aniseed milk.

To make Ontbijtkoek

 • 120g self-rising flour
• 130g rye flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 100g brown sugar
• 1 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon ground ginger
• 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
• 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

• 1 pinch salt
• 80ml golden syrup or other syrup

• 1 teaspoon treacle or molasses
• 240-300ml milk, scalded and cooled(*)

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F). Line a loaf tin with paper and grease with butter.

Put the flours, baking powder, sugar, spices and salt in a bowl. Mix well. Add the syrup, treacle/molasses and enough milk to make a smooth batter (it should be soft but certainly not runny). Add any dried fruit, nuts, ginger etc. if you’re using that.

Pour into the tin, and bake for an hour. Once baked, cover loosely with a clean tea-towel. When cool, wrap in cling film.

(*) This means bring the milk to the boil, then let it cook. I makes for a softer loaf. You need to let it cool because if you add the hot milk to the mixture, the baking powder will get to work before you can put the mixture into the pan. If you’re in a hurry, just use cold milk.

Worth making? This is a nice, easy recipe that gives you a lovely spicy cake. I think the flavour is spot on, but of course tweak the spices to taste. This is also a good one to make with kids, as the recipe is quite easy, and the lack of eggs means that they can lick the spoon and the bowl as much as they want to.

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Hot Cross Buns…with a twist!

OK, first things first – I have a set of chicken-themed salt and pepper shakers, so given its Easter, I have to showcase them. So here they are:

This is in honour of my most recent endeavour at Easter baking. Last year I made a few batches of hot cross buns, but this year, I was looking for something different.

I have recently been making a lot of Swedish cinnamon buns – not only are the delicious, but a batch lasts for a few days to cover off both breakfasts and afternoon snacks. The home-made stuff knocks the socks off a lot of the buns you can buy, so perfecting the art of making my own has become a bit of a mini-obsession.

And this got me to thinking…what if I could make some sort of Anglo-Scandinavian fusion and combine them with the good old hot cross bun? You get a hot cross bun Easter Twist, that’s what!

The trick is just to replace the cardamom with mixed spices (I used the remains of my festive spice mix), and add candied peel and raisins to the filling. The texture is not the same as a fluffy hot cross bun, but the flavour is all there. Well, that was the theory. How was I going to achieve it?

First, I’ve been trying to vary the flour I use, really just to see what the results are like. A lot of folk have been recommending spelt flour, mainly because it give a lighter, fluffier bun. Thus far, I’ve been quite happy with it – it does seem to rise faster than wheat flour, and while it does not puff up to the same extent that strong wheat flour does, it also remains softer and fresher for longer (wheat seems to dry out more quickly). It’s also apparently a better flour for those that are keen to cut down on the amount of wheat in their diets. So frankly, I was almost making a health food!

I was also keen to get away from the spiral shape of the cinnamon buns for my Easter creation, when I saw the recipe on Scandilicious for cardamom twists. They were made from spelt flour (tick!), and were made using a nifty trick to cut the dough into trips, twist it into a spiral, then form into a coil. This looked perfect – it would mean that the buns would look rather funky, but would also help to keep as much of the peel, raisins and spicy filling in the finished buns as possible.

For the dough, I stuck to the same recipe I use for cinnamon buns, but with a teaspoon of mixed spices in place of the cardamom, and the white sugar swapped for light brown sugar. For the filling, I used two teaspoons of cinnamon and a teaspoon of mixed spice (I’d toyed with using just the mixed spice, but the flavour was a little too strong – it needed the cinnamon to balance it), then added chopped candied peel and currants. To keep the filling tender, I left the peel and currants to soak in a little hot water – but there is no reason you couldn’t use a little cold tea or rum. Et voilà – the hot cross bun Easter twist was created!

Well…not quite that simple. For I ended up making two batches. The first, on Good Friday, was a breeze, until I realised I was running late to get to Kew Gardens to see the spring plants. To get the dough moving, I warmed the oven for a minute, put the tray of buns in there to give them a boost, and covered with a damp tea-towel. Bad idea! The oven was too warm and the butter melted and oozed out (rather than being absorbed into the buns) and the tea-towel stuck to the tops! So I ended up with a tray of buns that looked like they had been scalped, so all my careful twisting and shaping was for the wind. After a bout of swearing and generally being rather annoyed, I baked them and I got a tray of tasty, albeit not picture-perfect buns. I was all the more annoyed that I’d promised to send the lady behind the cardamom twists a picture of the finished buns….what to do?

Clearly, make more. And these are the buns you can see above and below!

During my visit to Kew, I picked up another bag of spelt flour, and when I got home that evening, I made more dough. Except…it turned out I had bought wholemeal spelt instead of white. So I sieved it to remove the bran, and ended up with sligtly-less-wholemeal-but-still-quite-wholemeal spelt flour. So I dug out the finest sieve I have – a tea strainer. I then spent about half an hour sieving the flour to end up with something that looked like while spelt flour, and a bowl of fine spelt bran for bread. The lesson? Read the packet carefully, and don’t buy according to the picture on the front.

As it was rather late by this stage, I left the dough overnight to prove. It’s not something I’ve ever done before, but it seemed to work alight. I’m not sure I will do this often, as the chilled dough seemed to take a while to get moving. The next day, the dough was rolled, filled, sliced, shaped, left to prove, baked and glazed. All according to plan, and even with my flour wobble, I ended up with a tray of golden, sticky delicious Easter buns, rich with spice, citrus and juicy fruit. A good thing that I like them…as…eh…I now have a large plate containing 24 of them!

So in the spirit of these Anglo-Scandinavian buns, wishing you all a Happy Easter and Glad Påsk!

To make Hot Cross Bun Easter Twists (makes 12):

For the dough:

• 2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 50g sugar
• 60g butter
• 150ml milk, scalded and cooled
• 1 egg
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 generous teaspoon ground mixed spice
• 325g white spelt flour or strong white flour

First thing – whisk the egg and divide in two. You need half for the dough, and half for the glaze.

If using a bread machine: put one portion of the egg and the rest of the ingredients into the mixing bowl. Run the “dough” cycle. Simples!

If making by hand: put the flour and butter into a bowl, and rub with your fingers until the butter has been incorporated. Fold in the salt, sugar, spice and yeast. In a separate bowl, combine the milk and one portion of the egg, then pour into the dry ingredients. Stir with a spoon, then work with your hands until you have a smooth, stretchy, silky dough (at least 5 minutes). Leave the dough a warm place for an hour until the dough has doubled in size (or overnight, in the fridge, loosely covered). Knock back and knead again for 2-3 minutes.

Once the dough is ready, turn it onto a floured surface. Roll into a large rectangle until the dough is about 1/4 cm (1/8 inch) thick. Spread half of the dough with the filling mixture, and scatter over the peel and currants. Fold the other half of the dough on top of the filling, and press down lightly. Use a sharp knife to cut into 12 strips.

Taking each strip in turn, start to twist one end, five or six times, until you have a spiral. Form the twisted strips into coils, and then place onto bun cases on a baking sheet.

Cover loosely with lightly oiled cling film and leave to rise until doubled in size (around an hour, depending on how cool or warm your room is, but go by eye rather than by time).

Preheat the oven to 210°C. Take the remaining egg (remember that?) and mix with a tablespoon of water. Brush the buns with the egg wash. Bake the buns for about 10-12 minutes until golden  (again, go by eye, and if they are getting too dark, open the oven door for a moment to let out some heat, and reduce to 190°C).

When the buns are done, remove from the oven, brush straight away with the hot syrup. Leave to cool.

For the filling:

• 60g butter, soft
• 60g caster sugar
• 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon ground mixed spice
• 50g candied citrus peel, finely chopped
• 100g currants

Mix the butter, sugar and spices in a bowl until smooth and fluffy.

Put the candied peel in a bowl, add a tablespoon of boiling water, and mix. Put the currants into another bowl, add two tablespoons of boiling water, and mix. Allow to soak for at least half an hour.

For the syrup:

• 3 tablespoons white sugar
• 3 tablespoons water
• 1 teaspoon honey

Put everything it a pan and bring to the boil – cook until all the sugar has dissolved.

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