Jam Doughnuts

This is it. The big one. Perhaps the pinnacle of my baking ambitions at this moment in time. Yep, doughnuts. It isn’t as if they’re the most difficult or fiddly recipe I’ve ever seen, but since watching the jam doughnut technical challenge a few series ago of The Great British Bake Off, it’s just become something I really want to master.

 So how did they turn out? Well, as you can see from this photo, they look smashing. Round, equally sized, plump balls of dough with raspberry jam ensconced in the centre, ready to slide down your chin as you inevitably bite into the wrong end.

The old adage 'Don't judge a book by it's cover' was proved right again on the first tasting. Still quite proud of their appearance though.

The old adage ‘Don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ was proved right again on the first tasting. Still quite proud of their appearance though.

When they were all sugar-coated (in the best and worst sense of the phrase, as it turns out), my boyfriend took a sizeable bite out of the first doughnut. And promptly spat it right back out again. Oh the disappointment! Now I begin to understand Ian’s reaction to the recent #bincident or #bingate scandal, as some tweeters named it, on last week’s GBBO. They were all, without exception, completely raw inside. If you’ve never eaten a mouthful of raw dough, don’t. Especially if it contains jam. Very slimy and unpleasant. I comforted myself by nibbling round the edges of the offending articles – about a 1cm margin was the only edible section of the whole thing.

Well, we live and learn. Tomorrow or Friday I plan to stage a second attempt – my dough, as far as I could tell, was pretty much spot on as it proved nicely both times and was the right elastic consistency. I’m 99% sure that the problem was the oil temperature – I don’t have a cooking thermometer so was dropping cubes of bread into the oil and counting how many seconds it took to brown, according to Mary’s instructions (I am referring of course to Ms Berry’s Baking Bible with which regular readers will be very familiar by now) which was quite an inexact science…see what I did there?

So, tune in sometime in the not-too-distant future to hear a glowing account of how my second batch of jam doughnuts were the food of the gods, fit for a king, fit for Paul Hollywood even. Or not. Only time will tell… Til next time x

 

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The Best Chocolate Fudge Cake

Hello hello hello – I have returned at long last to the bloggosphere with a new recipe offering and a short précis of my life as it stands at the moment. You lucky lot!

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In pride of place on the kitchen table

I am aware that my last post was in March; you know how all those things that you have to do end up getting in the way of things that you like to but don’t have to do? That’s pretty much what happened. Not to say I haven’t baked at all in the last few months – I have – but not as frequently as before and without the time really to turn the results into halfway decent blog posts. But now it’s August, it’s sunny, I’ve graduated, I don’t currently have a job but I do have a lovely little kitchen of (half) my own in the splendid flat my boyfriend and I have recently settled in. The plan is to do a Creative Writing MA, still in Sheffield, this coming year whilst I try and decide what path I think I want my real, grown-up life to take. Scary stuff. But exciting! I’m really starting to look forward to it actually – the decision has been a long time coming but the more I’ve thought about it (and these sessions have been extensive and involved drawing up lists of pros and cons) the more right it feels.

Meanwhile, I’ve had rather a lot of time on my hands since I finished my temporary job at the end of July. Luckily, August has turned into holiday month for me – I’ve been away camping with my dad, next week I’m camping with my mum, the week after that I’m visiting one of my best friends for her 21st and then getting to go to Harry Potter World – yeah!! – and THEN to a hotel in Devon to celebrate my Grandma’s 80th birthday. Phew! I honestly would be crazed with boredom if this wasn’t all in the pipeline – how do people live without going to work of some kind and/or being in education?! It seems that I certainly thrive best on a healthy diet of things-to-get-done rather than endless hours of choice and freedom – how strange. You always crave one whilst living on the other don’t you?

Yesterday I watched a very good film called The Magdalene Sisters, about a convent for ‘fallen girls’ – you know, the ones who get harassed by their male cousin and it’s obviously all their fault, or when they look at a boy, God forbid. It was quite harrowing, especially the ending, but well worth a watch as it’s actually based on a true story and, upsetting though it may be, I think it’s important to know about past atrocities so you can be aware of them re-occurring in the present. As you can probably tell, after it finished I felt like I needed a bit of comforting, so I turned to – yes, the only possible solution – cake. Delicious, icing-smothered, glossy, rich chocolate cake. Mmmmmm.

The recipe is from Mary Berry’s Baking Bible, appropriate seeing as The Great British Bake Off has returned to our screens (Hurrah! Who are your favourites?! I’m already rooting for Martha and Chetna, and Norman is just great – so devil-may-care. I love it) and the first episode was based around the timeless delights of cakes in their many guises.

It’s actually an incredibly easy, simple cake – perfect to whip up when you want the comfort of the calming process of weighing out ingredients and gently melting ingredients together but not the stress and rigour of a difficult or fiddly recipe. Plus, you get a fantastic treat at the end; who doesn’t like a lovely, big, round chocolate cake (except my brother – a vegan AND a chocophobic) that you can nibble a slice of at work, after tea or even in bed (as we did last night after I finished icing)?

A pair of slices mysteriously disappeared as soon as I finished icing it...

A pair of slices mysteriously disappeared as soon as I finished icing it…

 

Here is the recipe; I hope you enjoy making and eating it as much as I did 🙂

Ingredients

  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 6 tablespoons boiling water
  • 3 large eggs
  • 50ml milk
  • 175g self-raising flour
  • 1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
  • 100g softened butter
  • 275g caster sugar
  • 3 tablespoons apricot jam
  • 150g plain chocolate (the best quality you have – there isn’t much, if anything, to disguise the flavour in the icing)
  • 150ml double cream

Step 1. Preheat the oven to 180C/Fan 160C/Gas Mark 4 and grease two deep 20cm sandwich tins, lining the base with baking paper.

Step 2. Blend the cocoa powder and boiling water together in your mixing bowl, then plonk all the other ingredients in* and beat thoroughly until you have a smooth, thick paste. I used a wooden spoon and then a whisk (an old-fashioned manual one, but you could use electric if you wished of course) to achieve this. *I whisked the eggs up in a separate bowl first to make it smoother

Step 3. Pour the mixture into the two tins, dividing it evenly between them. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until well risen and springy to the touch. When done, cool slightly in the tins then turn out onto a wire rack. Don’t forget to remove the baking paper bases before icing!

Step 4. Make the icing/filling. Heat the apricot jam a little (short bursts in the microwave worked for me) until runny and when they are cooled completely, brush over the top of both cakes with a pastry brush. This is to stop any crumbs getting in the icing. TIP: If your cakes have a bit of a peak in the middle, like mine did, it’s a good idea to slice off the top so you have a flat surface to place your top layer on. The cook gets the offcuts!

Step 5. Break the chocolate into small pieces and place in a bowl with the cream. Either heat in short bursts in a microwave – if you do this stir after every 10-20 seconds as it will burn otherwise – or place over a pan of simmering water to melt the two together.

Step 6. When the mixture is properly combined and melted, leave to cool until almost set, then spread over the top of both cakes, sandwiching them together with the filling and smoothing the icing over the top with a palette knife. (If you put the icing on when warm it will run off and look messy, as well as making the cake too moist.) Keep in a cool place – I put my cake on the lid of a large tin, then placed the tin on top so it’s basically upside down. It makes it much easier to cut the cake and take it out the tin when you need to. Serve on the day, or it will keep in the tin for 3-4 days I reckon without losing too much yumminess. Tuck in!

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And that’s it! I’m going to stop making promises I can’t keep and just say I don’t know when I’ll post again next, but I hope you liked this one. Happy Baking 🙂

Afternoon Tea Scones

Warm scones - the best and most homely tea time treat!

Warm scones – the best and most homely tea time treat!

Has anyone been watching Mary Berry’s new cooking programme, Mary Berry Cooks? The episodes are quite short and sweet, with a different occasion to cook for every time and the recipes are quite simple and family-orientated. The afternoon tea episode instilled an instant craving in me for a lovely fluffy scone, so I whipped some up that very afternoon, and had afternoon tea on my own (in the afternoon, in case you didn’t get that) just to fulfill that craving.

Ingredients ready to go.

Ingredients ready to go.

I prefer my scones with sultanas in, but of course you can leave them out – in fact Mary’s recipe is for plain scones – and I think they probably rise a little better without the fruit weighing the dough down. That’s not to say these aren’t light; they are, and so delicious still warm out the oven with a bit of butter and strawberry jam. IN the episode Mary makes her own jam to go with the scones; feel free to do that if you have a lot of time and strawberries on your hands!

Ingredients

  • 250g self-raising flour
  • 1 heaped tsp baking powder
  • 40g softened butter
  • 25g caster sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • about 100ml milk

Step 1. Pre-heat your oven to 220C/Gas Mark 7. Sift the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar.

Step 2. Break an egg into a measuring jug, beat together and make it up to 100ml with milk. Set aside a tablespoon of the milk and egg mixture to glaze the scones later.

Step 3. Gradually add the liquid to the dry ingredients, stirring until you have a soft, slightly sticky dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and pat out to a thick round (I think mine were a couple of cm deep). Cut rounds out of the dough, being careful not to twist the cutter or the scones won’t rise evenly. Keep gently pressing the trimmings together and cutting out rounds until the dough is used up.

Step 4. Pop the scones on a non-stick or greased baking tray, brush the tops lightly with the egg and milk glaze and bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes until light golden on top and well risen. TIP: when glazing the scones, don’t let the liquid drip down the sides of the scone – it stops them rising as well.

Step 5. Cool on a wire rack then serve with jam, butter, cream and a lazy sunny afternoon!

Mmmmm.

Mmmmm.

 

**Notes**

This is such a simple recipe, I don’t really have any notes! Ooh, except if you want to add glace cherries or sultanas, I put in about 100g I think (a couple of small handfuls) and make sure you wash the syrup off glace cherries and pat them dry before including in a mixture so they don’t all sink to the bottom. Catch ya later alligator x

Source: Mary Berry Cooks…Afternoon Tea (written recipe on BBC Food, ‘Mary’s tea time scones’)

Call myself an English Literature student…

It has come to my attention (thank you mum) that I referred to my rounded chopping board and knife as a ‘mezzanine’ in my last post…I have since realised that a mezzanine is not, in fact, a kitchen implement, but an architectural term meaning an intermediate floor, usually in the form of a balcony, between the main levels of a building. What I actually meant was mezzaluna. I’m pretty sure I’ve done that in an earlier post as well, possibly the Cardamom Loaf one…I will go back and edit those prontissimo. Excuse my ignorance, dear readers! There’s your food fact for today, anyway; I can’t distinguish between cooking aids and parts of a building. Hope you all had a lovely weekend x

Banana Chai Cupcakes

I love using these pretty cupcake cases - they make the cakes look even more appealing!

I love using these pretty cupcake cases – they make the cakes look even more appealing!

Good morning! I hope the transition from February to March (and from winter to spring by the looks of things here!) has been very pleasant and appropriately filled with baked treats for you all – apologies for the lack of communication lately! I haven’t been very well, nothing serious, but it did take it out of me for a while, plus I think I’d underestimated how hard my final term was going to be. I will be awash with deadlines very soon so I can’t promise to post frequently, but when I get a bit of time to bake I will certainly share the results here 🙂 Oh and the Foodie Facts will be making a re-appearance too, not daily for the moment, but as and when I find useful/interesting/wacky tidbits I’ll pop them up.

So, Banana Chai Cupcakes, sounds pretty exciting right?! The idea, I have to disclaim, was not mine, but the recipe sort of is. Yesterday that rare and beautiful thing happened where I experimented with patchworking different bits of recipes together and the result was actually a resounding success! It will depend on personal taste of course, but I love the subtle mix of spices along with the sweet banana flavour in these cakes. The texture is really wonderful as well; the cupcakes are so light and fluffy, despite the mixture being quite wet, with a perfectly risen and crusted sugary top.

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I also tried this as a loaf, which worked absolutely fine. I do prefer the cupcakes personally, however, just for their size and the contrast between the fluffy insides and crispy muffin top! Please don’t be put off by the amount of spices the recipe calls for. You can decide what spices you want to include anyway; I browsed lots of chai tea and spiced cake recipes to create my blend, and will probably make alterations next time I make these to find the perfect combo. My other tip is go to a wholesale oriental foods store! I found one ages ago and bought masses of spices – they’re so much cheaper in bulk, and if you store them carefully (airtight containers, dry cupboards) they do last. Plus its fascinating to look around stores like that, and I picked up a bamboo steamer for £1.50, so look out for bargains!

Grinding up spices on the mezzaluna.

Grinding up spices on the mezzaluna.

Sorry again for the long silence before now, and I hope this delicious recipe is to your taste – slightly unusual, but all the more impressive for that when it eats as well as this do!

Ingredients

For the spice mix:

  • 4 cloves (or ¼ tsp ground cloves)
  • 2 black peppercorns, ground
  • ¼ tsp ground star anise OR fennel seed
  • ¼ tsp ground cardamom seeds (about 3 pods worth)
  • ¼ tsp grated nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

For the cake mixture:

  • 2 overripe bananas
  • 10 oz sugar (¼ brown rest white)
  • 4 oz butter
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup
  • 2 tbsp strong black tea
  • 10 oz self-raising flour
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

*I realise this recipe is in ounces; its an old one my mum was given and I haven’t tried it with metric measures as my scales can weigh in ounces as well as grams. If yours don’t then you can easily convert the measurements here:  Metric Conversions (They’re not all whole numbers which is why I didn’t put the grams up – will test at some point and see what gram measurements work best!)

Step 1. Grind up all the spices together. If you don’t have a pestle and mortar (I don’t) fear not; you can chop the cardamom, fennel seed/star anise, peppercorns and cloves down to a fine sand with patience and a good knife. I used a mezzaluna (see photo above) but a large sharp knife and a good chopping board will work similarly well. Or you can buy them ground, but whole spices do keep better – they don’t dry out and lose as much flavour as pre-chopped or ground spices do.

Step 2. Mash the banana in a bowl (not the mixing bowl) til soft then combine thoroughly with your spice mix. In a big mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Then, one ingredient at a time, beat in the spiced banana mush, eggs, vanilla essence, golden syrup and tea. I usually add a tablespoon or so of flour with the eggs so the mixture doesn’t curdle.

Step 3. Add the flour and bicarb of soda and mix thoroughly into the wet ingredients. Now either drop into cupcake cases (fill them about three quarters full) or turn into a loaf tin. The tin needs to be non-stick, or greased and lined with baking paper. This mixture made 6 cupcakes and 1 loaf for me.

Step 4. If making cupcakes, bake for 30-35 minutes at 170C/Gas Mark 4. For a loaf, bake at the same temperature but for 40-45 minutes. When the top is springy to touch and a skewer (or a piece of uncooked spaghetti) inserted into the thickest part of the cake comes out with only a few tiny moist crumbs on – if its completely clean the cake may be too dry – the cake(s) are ready. Leave to cool on a wire rack then store in an airtight tin. Banana cake usually keeps well for a good few days as its quite moist.

**Notes**

The ingredients list says to use a quarter (i.e. 2.5 ounces) brown sugar to three quarters white – this was the ratio I happened to have in my cupboards as I was running out of brown sugar. I’ve made banana cake with all  brown and all white sugar before and its been fine; use whatever ratio you prefer, though the 1/4 brown to 3/4 white did work well for the cupcakes. I think that’s everything really; as I said before, use trial and error for your own spice mix to see what suits your tastes. Hope you enjoy these cupcakes as much as I did!

Sources: Betty Crocker ‘Chai Cake’ recipe, my mum’s banana cake recipe, various chai tea and spiced cake recipes.

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Til next time x

Banana and Honey Teabread

Since Saturday or Sunday I’ve developed a horrid sore throat, and as I’m going to be rehearsing for a very full-on musical up to three times a week for the next two months, I thought I’d better do something about it asap. Consequently my new hot drink of choice is honey and lemon, which is the nicest way to soothe my poor croaky voice (in the mornings it drops about an octave – I sound like Arnie Schwarzenegger without the accent) and is by far preferable to Lemsip or anything similar – yuch.

I don’t often have honey in the cupboard so I thought I had better make the most of it by baking Mary Berry’s lovely Banana and Honey Teabread. As always, there were drastically overripe bananas in the house waiting to be taken pity on, and other than that this is a very simple recipe using standard (baking) cupboard ingredients. And if I can have cake that will ‘help’ my sore throat, why not?! Coincidentally, I was also reading a sequence of poems about bees today…it must be fate.

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The loaf takes quite a long time to bake because the mixture is so wet, but the process beforehand is so quick that if you have ten minutes to spare then jobs to do, this is the bake for you! I’m coming over all poetic now, too much Yeats. For the topping Mary uses nibbed sugar, but apparently that’s quite hard to get – I’d never heard of it – so she suggests using crushed sugar cubes instead. Nick them from a tearoom, or alternatively leave your bag of sugar in a kitchen cupboard in a student house; it should clump up nicely in the damp. The other thing I really like about this cake is the addition of nutmeg – the flavour really comes through just enough for it to complement the honey but not overpower the banana. Yum!

Ingredients

  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 100g butter
  • 225g bananas (I used about 1 and 1/4 bananas)
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 tablespoons thick pale honey

Step 1. Sift the flour and grate the nutmeg into the mixing bowl. Rub in the butter with your fingers til the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs.

Step 2. Peel and mash the bananas separately, then add these, the sugar, eggs and honey to the flour and butter and mix it all together thoroughly. ??????????

Step 3. Turn into a loaf tin (greased and lined if not non-stick) and bake in a pre-heated oven at 160C/Gas Mark 3 for about 1 and 1/4 hours, or until a skewer poked into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Step 4. Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then turn out and finish cooling on a wire rack.

Step 5. If you want to add a topping, warm 2 tablespoons of honey in a pan then brush over the teabread when cold. Sprinkle with the nibbed/crushed/damp clusters of sugar and serve. This should keep for a good five days I reckon in an airtight tin.

**Notes**

I would almost be tempted to add a teaspoon or so of baking powder to this recipe as the cake didn’t rise much at all, making it denser than it needs to be – its already quite a heavy cake with the moisture from the banana and honey. I think I’ll be making this again fairly soon though, as I didn’t quite get the actual baking part right, starting off at too high a temperature. In that case I’ll edit the post and let you know of any improvements, or on the flip side, if adding baking powder is really disastrous advice. The other thing I should mention is that Mary’s recipe includes the grated rind of one lemon; I omitted this because I didn’t have a lemon whose rind I could grate, but also wasn’t sure if the citrus here was really necessary. I have a sneaking suspicion that Mary is somewhat biased towards them; lemon drizzle is reportedly her favourite cake, and lemon zest or juice does seem to make an appearance in a considerable number of her recipes in the Baking Bible. We’re onto you, Mary!

That’s all I think, as I said the recipe may be tweaked in the next few weeks so if you’re planning on making it do comment with your suggestions/hang on til I’ve done some trial and error! Back tomorrow with a food fact for the day, thanks for reading 🙂

Soda Bread

My fridge is full of takeaway leftovers and the veg draw has been untouched this week – a sorry state of affairs indeed for someone who calls herself a cooking enthusiast. I have, in my defence, had a manic weekend (I know I’m always saying this but my life is just a whole lotta busy at the moment!) that consisted of twelve hours of dance rehearsals over two days, plus a night out in the middle of those days. My university’s performing arts society are putting on West Side Story this semester – its going to be amazing, but to ensure that we have to put in a lot of rehearsal time, obviously. So this weekend particularly the show has kind of taken over my life (my iPod has even been choosing WSS tracks to play first in its shuffle queue – spooky), leaving little time for recreation in the way of baking and cooking.

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An antidote to all this, however, comes in the form of my recipe for soda bread, made a few days back before the dance-rehearsal-Pop Tarts-social-muscle-murdering-marathon that this weekend brought. A resolutely wholesome and thoroughly rustic loaf, my homemade soda bread is a sort of mish-mash of various versions of the  traditional Irish bread that I settled on after a couple of attempts (the first was so salty you could have shriveled a slug with it).

It is SO simple, easy and quick to bake – no proving necessary!! – and can be knocked up in under an hour. Great with soups and stews; my favourite way to eat it so far is toasted and spread with butter. Unless you are toasting it, the bread is absolutely best eaten the day, even the hour that its made. Soda bread doesn’t keep too well, but this loaf is pretty small – with a bowl of soup one person could easily have a quarter of it for a meal.

Ingredients

  • 150g wholemeal bread flour
  • 100g white bread flour
  • 10g bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 35g butter
  • 180-200ml buttermilk

Step 1. Sift both types of flour and the bicarb and salt into your mixing bowl. Rub in the butter with your fingers until there are no big lumps of butter left.

Step 2. Be prepared to do this QUICK. The reaction between the bicarb and the buttermilk is what creates the rise in the loaf, so if you muck around with this stage for too long you’ll have a denser, smaller loaf. Pour in the buttermilk and use a round bladed knife to mix the ingredients well, then use your hands to roughly bring the dough together. It should be quite wet and sticky to touch – a dryer dough will make a denser loaf, as will a dough that has been handled too much; keep it short and sweet with the mixing and shaping.

Before baking. Not the most attractive loaf in the world, but what it lacks in finesse it makes up for in flavour.

Before baking. Not the most attractive loaf in the world, but what it lacks in finesse it makes up for in flavour.

Step 3. Cut a cross into the top of the ball of dough and pop it on a baking tray, either non-stick or lined with baking paper. Bake at 200C/Gas Mark 6 for 30-35 minutes. The loaf should sound hollow when you tap it on the base and the top nicely browned. Leave to cool under a clean tea towel so the crust doesn’t harden up too much, then store in an airtight bag when cool, or devour when still warm, depending on your resolve!

**Notes**

As I mentioned earlier, the first loaf I made was far too salty for my taste. I know soda bread is a salty bread, but I cut down the amount considerably because I couldn’t eat more than a morsel or two without dehydrating! If you can’t get buttermilk (I found it in a wholefoods shop near me – its Beanies if you’re a fellow Sheffielder) then milk with a tablespoon of lemon juice will do fine, or if you need to use up sour milk that also works. Other recipes added oats, honey or treacle to the bread; its such a simple bake that experimenting with ingredients should be easy 🙂

Wheaty grainy goodness, still warm and crumbly from the oven. Yumma yumma yumma.

Wheaty grainy goodness, still warm and crumbly from the oven. Yumma yumma yumma.

Embrace the wholesomeness, that’s the best bit! And you can assuage any takeaway-related guilt by making and eating this bread, just like me in this post. I might not be back here til Tuesday as I’ll be away from home tomorrow, so you’ve got plenty of time to make soda bread and report back before then!