The Warm Embrace of Nostalgia

Malt loaf

Malt loaf

Last night was a very special Band of Bakers event – the first of its kind.  Due to my inept scheduling, I had accidentally planned the event for the same night as The Great British Bake Off final, so we decided that, instead of cancelling the event or forcing everybody to miss the show, we would instead create the ‘Band of Bakers/GBBO Final Mash-up’.  Our venue, The Clockhouse, kindly allowed us the use of their television and we all sat down together to watch it.  Congratulations to Nancy, a very worthy winner and my favourite all along.

The theme for last night’s event was ‘Childhood Favourites’, so we invited our bakers to delve into their memory banks and bring something along that is a part of their past.  Since starting Band of Bakers a couple of years ago, I have always found nostalgia to be a really big part of baking – people will often bring along old family recipes, or something that reminds them of a particular time.  The things we loved as children may not be the best tasting or most accomplished bakes, but they are often those that give us the best memories.  It is also interesting to see how bakers of different age groups work with this theme – those who grew up in the 1970s, for example, will have a different repertoire to those who grew up in the 1990s.  What is also interesting is the influences in the baking of those with parents of other nationalities.

My bake for this event is something that has been a favourite of mine ever since I can remember: malt loaf.  And there is, of course, a bit of a backstory.  I spent a lot of time at my Nan’s house growing up in the late 80s and early 90s.  Like many grandmothers, she would often allow us more treats than we would get at home.  She would also allow us to eat our lunch in front of the television, something we were seldom allowed to do in our own house.  She would make us sandwiches of corned beef or polony, cut into eight tiny triangles, and would give us slices of malt loaf, thickly spread with butter.  It sounds fairly ordinary, and I suppose it was, but the memory of it always makes me smile.  Nan passed away a couple of years ago and I would trade any of the beautiful food in London for a corned beef sandwich and a slice of malt loaf in front of her old television.

Despite being an excellent baker and home cook, it would never have occurred to Nan to make her own malt loaf.  Having such a large family, she baked more for necessity and sustenance than for pleasure; desserts for Sunday lunches, tea loaves to give to visitors and pies for weeknight suppers.  Malt loaf came in those yellow packets from the supermarket, and that was the way she liked it.

I love those too, but I wanted to try my hand at making my own for the first time.  This recipe by Paul Hollywood looked like the most authentic and straightforward.  This recipe is very simple to do and, if you allow the usual time for proving, is fairly quick to make.  The biggest difficulty was finding malt extract, an ingredient I had never used before.  I had heard that some supermarkets do stock it, but seemingly none that I went to.  Luckily, the wonderful bakers of Twitter pointed me towards Holland & Barrett, who did indeed have a jar.  It’s very thick, a bit like honey and after the first use, you will forever have a sticky jar in your cupboard.

This malt loaf does not look much like the ones you get in the supermarket – it is far lighter in both colour and in texture, however the nostalgic taste is there.  Glaze it with honey, slice it up and spread thickly with good Irish butter.

Notes:  I made this malt loaf in a freestanding mixer as, to quote last night’s GBBO winner Nancy, I don’t have the strength to pummel it around.  You can make it in by hand if you wish, just knead it for a bit longer.

Malt Loaf

1 tbsp demerera sugar
3 tbsp malt extract
2 tbsp black treacle
25g butter
350g strong white bread flour
100g strong wholemeal flour
Pinch of salt
2 x 7g packets instant yeast
225g sultanas
250ml warm water
1 tbsp honey, to glaze

Prepare a 1lb loaf tin by greasing it with butter or spraying it with cake release spray.  Set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat together the sugar, malt extract, treacle and butter over a medium-low heat until the sugar has dissolved and the butter has melted.  Set aside to cool.

Combine the flours, salt, yeast and sultanas in the bowl of a freestanding mixer.  Add the warm water and cooled malt extract mixture and mix using a dough hook until the dough comes together.  Continue to knead with the dough hook for an extra couple of minutes.

Scrape the dough into the prepared loaf tin, it should come up to about ¾ inch below the edge of the tin.  You may not need all of the dough.  Place the tin in a plastic bag and leave to prove in a warm place for a couple of hours.  The dough should rise up just slightly above the tin.  Preheat the oven to 190ºc.  Smooth off the top of the dough to the top of the tin and bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes until browned and risen.  Leave to cool a little in the tin before transferring to a wire rack.

Heat the honey in a small saucepan over a low heat until it loosens in consistency.  Brush over the warm malt loaf using a pastry brush.

One Year Ago:  In Praise of Banana Bread

Pastel de Nata

Pastel de nata, or Portuguese custard tarts

Pastel de nata, or Portuguese custard tarts

The first time I had a Portuguese custard tart, I was hooked.  This was some time ago and, unlike now, they were a rare find.  We use to trek all the way to the Lisboa Patisserie on the Goldborne Road and have one as a treat, and you can imagine how much of a mission that journey was from south-east London in the pre-Overground days.  I would buy one to have there and then, and one to keep me awake on the Hammersmith and City line as it trundled, painfully slowly, towards my connecting station.

Now, of course, times have changed and you can buy them in more or less every London neighbourhood.  The boom in street food markets has made them even more available, and now it seems that all of London is enraptured with the pastel de nata.  Londoners’ love affairs with certain baked goods are well-documented: we went nuts over the cupcake, briefly flirted with the cronut (or whatever you’re allowed to call them without infringing copyright) and now it seemed that this little treat from Lisbon is king.

I have heard that the best example of the pastel de nata can be found in its birthplace, more specifically in a bakery called the Fabrica de Pasteis de Belem.  Apparently, these tarts are so good, people go on pilgrimages for them.  With no trip to Portugal on the horizon, I instead decided to make my own.  I’ll be honest, these are not the easiest thing to make.  Flaky pastry is always a bit temperamental and requires a lot of time and care to get right.  The custard is relatively straightforward, but as with anything that combines hot milk, hot sugar and eggs, there is often a potential for it to go wrong.  You could, of course, use shop-bought pastry to save time and effort if you wish.  I have tried these tarts with both shop-bought puff pastry and the homemade flaky pastry in the recipe below; and, of course, the latter is better, but it also takes a considerable amount longer.

The recipe below is the most straightforward of those I’ve tried.  The key is to chill the pastry overnight, anything less and it will be difficult to work with.  If you have better skills than me, you could replace the pastry below with an all-butter puff.

Pastel de Nata

For the pastry
225g plain flour
¼ tsp sea salt
200ml water
225g unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the custard
3 tbsp plain flour
310g whole milk
265g granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 strip lemon peel
1 strip orange peel
165ml water
½ tsp vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks

Start to make the pastry the night before you want to finish the tarts.  Combine the plain flour, salt and water in the bowl of a freestanding mixer.  Using the dough hook, mix until the dough forms a smooth ball, about 30 seconds.  Place the dough on a floured surface and pat into a six-inch square.  Cover with clingfilm and let it rest for 15 minutes.

Roll out the dough until it forms a large square – it should be about half a centimetre thick.  Take one-third of the butter and spread it across the left two-thirds of the dough, leaving a border of 1inch around the edges.  Neatly fold over the unbuttered part of the dough, then fold over the left third in an envelope fold.  Pinch the edges closed using your fingers.

Turn the dough 90 degrees so that the long edge is facing you.  Repeat the buttering and folding process again.  Pinch the edges closed using your fingers and turn the dough 90 degrees once more.

This time, roll the dough out into a rectangle with the shorter edge facing you.  Spread the butter over the whole surface, again leaving a border at the edges.  This time, roll the dough away from you in a tight log.  Cut the log into two halves, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge overnight.

To make the custard, whisk together the flour and 65ml of the milk in a large bowl and set aside.  Place the sugar, water, cinnamon, lemon peel and orange peel in a small saucepan and bring to the boil without stirring.  At the same time, scald the remaining milk in a separate saucepan.  Keep an eye on both.

Whisk the hot milk into the flour mixture.  Remove the cinnamon, lemon peel and orange peel from the saucepan and slowly pour the sugar syrup into the bowl, whisking constantly.  Add the vanilla and let the mixture cool for a few minutes before whisking in the egg yolks.

Preheat the oven to 250ºc and grease a 12-hole muffin pan.  Remove the chilled pastry from the fridge and roll out to the thickness of a £1 coin.  Using a large cutter, cut out circles of the pastry, removing a small section so that they can be pushed into the muffin tin without any excess.  This should look like a pie with a wedge missing or like ‘pac man’.  Push the pastry into the muffin tin and seal any gaps.  The pastry should reach the top of the hole.

Fill each cup ¾ full with the warm custard.  Bake in the oven for about 10-12 minutes until the pastry has browned and the custard is puffed up and a little coloured on the top.  Allow to cool in the tin for half an hour and then transfer to a wire rack.

Lemon Curd Layer Cake for Band of Bakers

Lemon curd layer cake

Lemon curd layer cake

Last night, after what seemed like an eternity, the bakers of south east London were out in force again, bringing their cake tins to Camberwell, celebrating risen cakes and lamenting soggy bottoms.  Band of Bakers was back from its summer break.  The theme: anything goes.  Literally anything.  Bake what you like.

Much to my surprise, many found the lack of constraint to be a burden rather than a freedom.  I, myself, made several u-turns on what I would bake in the lead up to the event and almost ended up driving myself mad.  It seems that a more specific theme gives a lot more focus.

Now, I know that my blog does not really need another lemon cake.  It has two lemon cakes already, one with poppy seeds and one with prosecco, but this is such an extra special lemon cake that I could not help but make it for the Band of Bakers event.  It comes from the gorgeous Ginger and White cookbook, with recipes from the Hampstead cafe of the same name.  It is one of those books that you leaf through, marking almost every page with a little tab as you want to bake everything.  The idea of delicate lemon cakes squidged together with homemade lemon curd was the perfect treat for the end of summer.

The cakes are incredibly easy to make and use few ingredients.  Similarly, the lemon curd, although time-consuming, is also very simple.  Zesting five lemons may be the death of your wrists for the evening, but it is worth it: after all, who really enjoys a cake with just a hint of lemon?

Lemon Curd Layer Cake

For the cake
225g unsalted butter, softened
280g caster sugar
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
4 large eggs, beaten
220g self-raising flour
Icing sugar, for dusting
Blueberries, for decoration

For the lemon curd
3 egg yolks
115g caster sugar
Finely grated zest of 3 lemons
80ml lemon juice
55g unsalted butter, softened

To make the lemon curd, beat together the egg yolks and the sugar in a glass bowl (you can use either a balloon whisk or a wooden spoon – it doesn’t really matter).  Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and beat in the lemon zest, lemon juice and butter.  Continue to stir over the heat until the curd thickens.  This will take about 15 minutes.  Remove the bowl from the heat and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180ºc / 350ºf / gas 4.  Butter three regular sandwich tins and baseline with greaseproof paper. 

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a freestanding mixer, beat together the butter, sugar and lemon zest until light and fluffy.  Whilst beating, or with the motor of the mixer still running, add the beaten eggs a little at a time.  If it looks like the mixture is curdling, add a tablespoon of the flour to bring it back together.  Finally, fold in the flour, being careful not to overmix.  The batter will be quite thick, but this is OK.

Scrape into the prepared tins and bake in the centre of the oven for approximately 15 minutes until risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.  The cakes are very pale anyway, so do not be tempted to overcook to make them darker in colour.  Cool in the tins for 10 minutes and then turn out on to wire racks, removing the greaseproof paper from the bottoms.

Once cool, spread one layer with half of the lemon curd, going right up to the edges, and place a second cake on top.  Spread this with the other half of the lemon curd, and then top with the final layer.  Decorate with blueberries and icing sugar and serve.

Adapted from a recipe from the Ginger and White Cookbook

From the Band of Bakers Archive: Pecan, Chocolate and Rum Pie

Chocolate, pecan and rum pie from the Band of Bakers 'Baking with Beverages' event, April 2013

Chocolate, pecan and rum pie from the Band of Bakers ‘Baking with Beverages’ event, April 2013

This week marks the second birthday of our little south east London baking club, Band of Bakers.  Our first event was held on 2nd May 2012 in the wonderful little Nunhead cafe and deli Bambuni.  About 25 or so bakers had pledged their interest, although despite this we were worried that nobody would show up.  We breathed a bit more easily as a steady stream of bakers walked in off the street with their cake boxes, got themselves a glass of wine and began chatting to each other.  Band of Bakers was born.  Two years on we have grown beyond anything we could have expected – we have an enormous waiting list, a number of popular and oversubscribed events and have had the opportunity to work with some great people including Dan Lepard, Paul Hollywood and the excellent team from delicious. Magazine.  Most importantly, we have created a community in our little corner of London that reached beyond baking and into people’s everyday lives, forming friendships and support networks, both online and in real life.

I talk about Band of Bakers an awful lot as I am so proud of what Naomi and I have achieved.  Nobody has told me to shut up about it yet, although I expect one day they will.

I started thinking back over our many events and the enormous number of bakes I have had the opportunity to try, and what I liked the most.  It is really difficult to narrow it down from the many, many that have graced the Band of Bakers tables, but here are a few I particularly loved:

Rhubarb and Ginger Cake from the Band of Bakers 'Your Favourite Bake' event, May 2012

Rhubarb and Ginger Cake from the Band of Bakers ‘Your Favourite Bake’ event, May 2012

Rhubarb and Ginger Cake by Charlie.  This caused quite a stir at our first event, not least because it turned up warm from the oven.  It is, quite literally, the most perfect cake on earth.  A gingery cake with a slightly coarse texture due to the use of spelt flour, topped with stems of tart rhubarb.  I have made it at least 100 times, and based both my fig, ginger and spelt cake and my orange, stem ginger and spelt cake on it. SO good.

Little Sticky Toffee Pudding Cakes by Chloe.  My reaction to the first bite was “what f***ing genius made these?!”  Chloe brought these along to our Winter Warmers event back in November 2012 and I immediately wanted to eat a hundred of them.  Beautifully sticky spiced caked with a decadent toffee frosting.  No recipe to share, sadly, as the baker herself says that “it will be a miracle the day I write a recipe down, let alone a blog!

Blueberry and Almond Tart from the Band of Bakers 'Inherited Bakes' event, January 2014. Photo by Naomi Knill

Blueberry and Almond Tart from the Band of Bakers ‘Inherited Bakes’ event, January 2014. Photo by Naomi Knill

Blueberry and Almond Tart by Naomi.  This is Naomi’s mum’s recipe and one of my favourite things that she has ever baked (and I can tell you that there is stiff competition!)  A gorgeous tart of pastry with a frangipane filling, dotted with little jammy blueberries.  I took a slice home for Ollie and he was enamoured.

Black Pudding Scotch Eggs by Jon.  Jon can always be relied upon to bring something utterly decadent to the table and, luckily for me and sadly for the vegetarians, it is often of the carnivorous variety.  These black pudding scotch eggs were among the best scotch eggs I had ever tried. I’m pretty sure Ollie even managed two. Extra kudos for the yolk being soft. Amazing.

Pumpkin and chipotle bread from the Band of Bakers 'Autumn Harvest' event, October 2013

Pumpkin and chipotle bread from the Band of Bakers ‘Autumn Harvest’ event, October 2013

Pumpkin and Chipotle Bread by Lauren.  There are few bakers that do bread better than Lauren, especially bread of the sourdough variety, which she writes about frequently on her blog.  She also has a fascination with chilli, and the combination of the two always produce something delicious.  This bread was made for our Autumn Harvest event back in October 2013 and didn’t last long on the table.

There are so many more, but I fear that I would write the longest blog post on earth if I listed them all.

Having attended every event, I have baked many things for the Band of Bakers table, with varying degrees of success.  One of my favourite creations was a chocolate, pecan and rum pie that I made for the Baking with Beverages event back in April 2013.  This event was originally supposed to be called ‘Baking with Booze’, but we decided to widen it to include other beverages as we were expecting around 35 bakers in attendance.

The pie is based on a recipe by the excellent David Lebovitz and went down really well at the event.  It is basically your average pecan pie, perked up a little with some dark chocolate chips and a few shots of spiced dark rum, which turn it from a standard American dessert to a very grown-up treat indeed.  Of course, the rum is interchangeable with other alcohol, David Lebovitz’s version used bourbon, and I always thought Amaretto would work well – or you could leave it out altogether.  The most interesting thing about this recipe is that the pastry is not blind baked prior to the addition of the filling.  When I first read this, I was like Say Whaaaaa, but then I realised that the idea was to for the pastry and the filling to merge a little, rather than have separate textures as in the case with most other tarts.  I did try it with a blind baked case once, and it was nowhere near as good.

Sweet, nutty and boozy – what more could you want? Much better too if you make your own pastry, obvs.

Chocolate, Pecan and Rum Pie

For the pastry:

  • 175g plain flour
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 tsp icing sugar
  • 115g cold unsalted butter, cut into 1cm cubes
  • 1 egg yolk

For the filling:

  • 3 large eggs
  • 150g dark soft brown sugar
  • 200g golden syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 30g melted butter
  • 2 shots (50ml) dark spiced rum
  • 200g pecans, roughly chopped
  • 150g dark chocolate chips

Start by making the pastry.  Combine the dry ingredients in a food processor, add the butter and pulse until the texture resembles fine breadcrumbs.  With the motor running, add the egg and blitz until the mixture comes together in a smooth dough.  If the mixture is too dry, carefully add some cold water, a couple of drops at a time, until it comes together.  Press the dough into a disc, wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 minutes, or until needed.

Once the pastry has chilled, remove it from the fridge, roll it out and use it to lie the inside of a pie dish or tart tin.  Crimp the edges if necessary and return to the fridge until ready to fill.

Preheat the oven to 190°c / 375°f / gas 5.

To make the filling, place the eggs, brown sugar, golden syrup, vanilla, salt, melted butter and rum in a large bowl and whisk by hand until smooth.  Stir in the pecans and chocolate chips and scrape the filling into the pie dish.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 35-40 minutes, until the tart has risen and has a slight wobble in the centre.  Let the pie cool completely before slicing.

Adapted from a recipe by David Lebovitz.

Two Lemon Cakes

Spring has sprung?

Spring has sprung?

If there’s one thing I like to keep a constant supply of in my kitchen, it’s lemons.  I just bloody love their versatility – a slice is equally at home in a cup of hot water to start the day and in a large gin and tonic to end the day, and their juice livens up everything from cakes to curries.  Honestly, without lemons the world would be a very dull place.

Despite the fact that I love baking and run a baking club, I’ve been trying not to make too many sweet treats of late in an attempt to control my weight prior to my wedding in June.  I kid you not, I have actually been having anxiety dreams where my beautiful wedding dress, that is currently hanging in the shop storeroom, does not fit on the day.  So you may notice that there haven’t been as many cake recipes as there were last year, which makes it all the more strange that there are two today.

This week has been a bit of an exception; although I managed to get through the oft-calorific Easter weekend succumbing only to half a Lindt chocolate bunny and a slice of the chocolate and raspberry tart I made to follow the Easter lunch (more on that later); I did have too occasions on which I had to dig out the cake tins. 

Lemon and poppy seed cake.  Photo by Naomi Knill.

Lemon and poppy seed cake. Photo by Naomi Knill.

The first was a mercy mission and entirely necessary:  delivering cake to my friend Naomi, housebound after having a gorgeous new baby boy.  Going right to the back of my baking cupboard, I found an unopened bag of poppy seeds that had slipped down the back, so decided to make the lemon and poppy seed loaf from Skye Gyngell’s excellent cookbook, How I Cook.  It is a gorgeously robust loaf, made lighter with the addition of some whisked egg whites and made decadent with a syrupy glaze.  Quite a snack for a sleepless night. 

Lemon and prosecco cake.  Straight from the oven, pre-glaze.

Lemon and prosecco cake. Straight from the oven, pre-glaze.

The second was simply that we are having another Band of Bakers event this evening, this time with a ‘springtime’ theme.  I haven’t made an actual cake for Band of Bakers for a while – so far this year I have made a tart (chocolate and salted caramel), scones (cheese, chive and mustard) and miscellaneous puffs (caramelised onion, Gruyère and London Pride) – so it is long overdue.  This cake is from a recipe by Gennaro Contaldo and caught my eye a while ago due to the inclusion of some booze:  a lemon and prosecco cake.  What I love about it is that it contains a mere 150g of flour but six whole eggs, with the yolks and the whisked whites added at separate stages, which means that the texture is more akin to a flourless cake than to a traditional sponge.  The dominant flavour is definitely lemon, with the prosecco providing something of a fuzzy backnote, but it is totally delicious.  As a pudding with a drizzle of fruit coulis (and a glass of bubbles, obvs) it would be perfect for any springtime lunch table.

Lemon and Poppy Seed Cake

For the cake: 

  • 115g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 175g caster sugar
  • Zest of three large lemons
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 35g poppy seeds
  • 275g plain flour
  • 2½ tsp baking powder
  • 230ml whole milk
  • 4 egg whites (from large eggs)

For the syrup:

  • Juice of two lemons
  • 2 heaped tablespoons of icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 170°c / 340°f / gas 4.  Grease a medium loaf tin and line with baking parchment.

Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Stir in the lemon zest, vanilla and poppy seeds.  Sift together the flour and baking powder and beat this into the mixture.  Pour in the milk and stir again.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form.  Gently fold a third of the egg whites into the batter using a metal spoon, then repeat with the remaining egg whites.

Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf tin and bake in the centre of the oven for around one hour, until risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.  Leave to cool in the tin for ten minutes.

In a small bowl, mix together the lemon juice and icing sugar until you have a smooth syrup.  Whilst the cake is still in the tin, spoon the syrup over the top.  Leave to soak in for 20 minutes or so and then turn out on to a wire rack.  Using a pastry brush, brush any remaining syrup on the top and sides of the cake.

From Skye Gyngells’s ‘How to Cook’.

 

Lemon and Prosecco Cake

For the cake:

  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 100g caster sugar
  • Zest of 3 large lemons
  • Juice of 1 large lemon
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 150ml prosecco
  • 150g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder

For the glaze:

  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 tbsp icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180°c / 350°f / gas 4.  Grease a 24cm springform cake tin and line with baking parchment.

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until they are light and creamy.  Beat in the lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil and vanilla extract.  Gently beat in the flour and baking powder.

In a separate bowl, or in a freestanding mixer, whisk the egg whites until stiff.  Gently fold a third of the egg whites into the batter using a metal spoon, then repeat with the remaining egg whites.  The batter will be quite loose.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 25 minutes.  Reduce the oven temperature to 150°c / 300°f / gas 2 and bake for a further 20 minutes.  You will be able to tell that the cake is ready as it will have risen and the edge of the cake will have shrunk away from the sides of the tin.  Leave to cool in the oven with the door slightly open.

The cake will collapse and condense a little, but this is fine.

Once cooled, mix together the ingredients for the glaze (it will make a very small amount) and brush lightly over the top of the cake.

Adapted from a recipe by Gennaro Contaldo.

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart

 

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart

I’m not really sure that my blog needs another chocolate recipe, but as chocolate is the theme for tonight’s Band of Bakers event, there is one.  In any case, it is good to get this one in before Easter gets any closer and the blogosphere is awash with chocolate recipes.

It seems like a very short time since our last Band of Bakers gathering, when we were all at The Crooked Well eating far too much cheese than is healthy to eat in one evening.  Tonight’s event is a rather special event as we will be hosting it at The Chocolate Museum in Brixton.  Yesssss, there is a whole museum devoted to chocolate.  It’s run by the lovely Isabelle who also brought gourmet chocolate to the streets of Peckham in the form of her chocolate shop, Melange.  If you haven’t been over there yet, do go, their hot chocolate is to die for.

My offering for tonight’s event is a chocolate and salted caramel tart with chocolate pastry.  The filling comprises a layer of firm salted caramel, topped with a decadent dark chocolate ganache.  Both layers are chilled rather than baked, so were it not for the pastry having gone in the oven, I wouldn’t be able to bring it to the event (we aren’t called ‘Band of Assemblers’, after all).  Adding salt to chocolate and caramel is kind of old hat, heck, there probably a salted caramel product in every cafe and supermarket in the land.  Twinings have even brought out a salted caramel green tea, which I am highly skeptical of.  When done right, though, the combination of sweet and salt can be wonderfully tantalising and appeals to those who claim not to have an overly sweet tooth, my boyfriend included, who has already snagged a slice of this tart for later.

There are about 25 bakers attending tonight, all bringing chocolate bakes.  Something tells me that the combination of caffeine and sugar might lead to a sleepless night indeed.

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart

For the pastry:

  • 175g plain flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 140g cold unsalted butter
  • 2 egg yolks

For the salted caramel:

  • 225g caster sugar
  • 100g cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 100ml double cream
  • 1½ tsp sea salt

For the chocolate ganache:

  • 225g dark chocolate
  • 250ml double cream
  • 65g chocolate malt powder

To make the pastry, sift together the flour, baking powder, cocoa powder and icing sugar and pour into a food processor.  Cut the cold butter into cubes and add to the food processor.  Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.  With the motor running, add the egg yolks, one at a time, mixing until the mixture comes together in a firm dough.  Turn out on to a floured surface, and gently knead for a few seconds.  Form the dough into a disc and wrap in clingfilm.  Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Roll out the pastry on a well-floured surface and use to line a loose-bottom tart tin.  Gently push the pastry into each of the grooves, but do not trim the edges.  Return to the fridge and chill for a further 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200ºc / 400ºf / gas 6.  Line the pastry case with baking parchment and baking beans and bake blind in the oven for 15 minutes.  Reduce the heat of the oven to 150ºc / 300ºf / gas 2, remove the baking parchment and baking beans and bake the pastry case, uncovered, for a further five minutes.  The bottom of the pastry case should be dry and cooked through.  Trim the edges and allow to cool.

Whilst the pastry is cooling, make the caramel.  Put the sugar and 75ml water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved.  Increase the heat to medium and add the butter, stirring until it melts, then let it bubble away until it turns a light toffee colour, about 10 minutes.  Add the cream and the sea salt flakes and boil for a couple more minutes until thickened.  Allow to cool for 10 minutes or so before speading over the base of  the cooled pastry case and setting aside to cool completely.

To make the ganache topping, break the dark chocolate in a glass bowl and set aside.  Heat the cream in a saucepan until it almost reaches boiling point, remove from the heat and whisk in the chocolate malt powder.  Pour the boiling cream over the chocolate and stir constantly until the chocolate has melted and you have a smooth ganache.  Leave to cool for a few minutes before pouring over the cooled caramel.  Place the tart in the fridge for one hour to set the ganache before serving.

Gruyere, Mustard and London Pride-Caramelised Onion Puffs

Puffs

Last Thursday was the eagerly anticipated Band of Bakers ‘Baking with Cheese’ event at The Crooked Well in Camberwell.  There is often a push to get more savoury bakes on the table, not only so that we can all kid ourselves that we’re eating dinner rather than platefuls of cake, but also to limit slightly the sugar rush we all experience upon arriving home.  I have had many a sleepless night after gorging myself on sweet treats at Band of Bakers.  This was the event for that to happen; for the first time we had more savoury bakes on the table than sweet.  It took all of my self control not to do a complete sweep of the table and retreat to the corner to eat my spoils.

Before I go on to what I made for this event, I have a couple of favourites that I need to mention.  Jamon and manchego scones by Ben; feta, ricotta and cheddar filo pies by Mandy; and little cheese buns with gruyère, smoked salmon and dill by some unknown genius (make yourself known please!)

Initially, I was intent on making brownies:  a hybrid of my salted caramel brownie and my cheesecake brownie, which would end up as the incredibly rich combination of chocolate, salted caramel and vanilla cheesecake, however after making the impromptu chocolate-coconut brownie earlier that week, I changed my mind and went for savoury instead.  A while back, I found a recipe for Joy the Baker’s French Onion Soup Puffs, using gruyère cheese, and decided to adapt it slightly to make a London-inspired version for this event:  the gruyère, mustard and London Pride-caramelised onion puffs were born. 

Despite the fact that I do not drink beer at all (I have tried to learn to like it for about 15 years and have so far failed), I am a big fan of using it in all forms of cooking.  Its versatility means that it lends itself to everything from beef stew to chocolate cake, and a slosh in an onion soup is nothing short of heaven.  Guinness, obviously, is my cooking stout of choice, however when something a little lighter is required, I almost always opt for London Pride (it would be rude not to, after all).  The onions used in the puffs in this recipe are caramelised simply in butter for 45 minutes or so until soft and broken down, and then boiled rapidly in a generous amount of London Pride which, when it reduces down, gives it a dark silkiness and a malty beer flavour.

These little puffs, one bite or two at the most, are a tangy mixture of these onions, gruyère and a little smear of wholegrain mustard, encased in crispy puff pastry.  They are incredibly quick to make, especially if you use shop-bought pastry, and make a great vegetarian party snack.  Using pre-rolled pastry is the easiest way to go as the thickness is just about right, if you’re using a block of pastry or home-made, roll it out to about half a centimetre.  If I were making them for carnivorous friends, I might also include the smallest smidge of shredded beef brisket. 

image

Gruyère, Mustard and London Pride-Caramelised Onion Puffs
Recipe makes about 15 puffs

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 large onions
  • Salt and pepper, halved and thinly sliced
  • 125ml London Pride ale
  • 2 sheets ready-made puff pastry, or make your own (see above)
  • 4 tbsp wholegrain mustard
  • 150g gruyere cheese, finely grated
  • 1 egg, beaten

Start by caramelising the onions:  heat the butter and olive oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat until the butter has melted.  Tip in the onions and stir so that they are evenly coated in the butter mixture.  Turn down the heat to very low, put on the lid and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are very soft and broken down – this should take about 45 minutes.  Once the onions are soft, turn up the heat and pour in the London Pride, gently stir the onions, scraping off any bits that have stuck to the bottom and continue to cook until the liquid evaporates.  Leave to cool in the pan whilst you make the pastry puffs.

Preheat the oven to 190ºc / 375ºf / gas 5.  Line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper.  Using a 5cm cutter, cut 30 rounds from the two sheets of puff pastry and arrange half of them on the prepared baking sheets, putting the other half to one side – these will be the lids.  Brush the rounds on the baking sheets with egg wash and top each one with a small smear of wholegrain mustard.  Add a pinch of gruyère, followed by a teaspoon of the onion mixture. 

Brush the remaining rounds with beaten egg and place, egg-side down on top of the cheese and onion mixture.  Pinch the edges of the pastry together to seal and crimp with a fork.  Make two very small holes in the top of the sealed parcel and place on the baking tray.  Brush with the remaining beaten egg and bake in the oven for approximately 20 minutes until risen and golden.

Any leftover onions are fabulous in a sausage sandwich.

Adapted from a recipe by Joy the Baker

Inherited Bakes

Cheese, Chive and Mustard Scones

Cheese, Chive and Mustard Scones

The weather in London is bloody awful at the moment.  Barely a day goes by when I don’t get caught in a rainstorm and, as a result, my motivation to go out in the evening has somewhat diminished.  After being caught in a torrential downpour on Saturday I managed to drag myself out for a few drinks in Peckham.  After a couple of delicious Kir Royales at the Peckham Refreshment Rooms and some late-night cocktails and hilarious people-watching at Peckham Springs, I was very glad I did.  Since then, however, I have been coming straight home from work, changing into my pyjamas and hibernating.  Today is the most dismal day of all – the rain has not stopped all day and a slightly regrettable trip out on to the soggy streets of Fitzrovia has left me with damp jeans.  A most unpleasant feeling.

Tonight is the first Band of Bakers event of 2013, which means leaving the warm bosom of my couch yet again.  I am lucky to live so close to the venue and am looking forward to seeing everybody as it has been a while since our last event, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to force myself out.  The theme for this evening’s event is ‘Inherited Bakes’, meaning a recipe that has either been passed down through the family, or given to you by somebody else.  I was fortunate enough to have a grandmother who taught me to bake, so I have many items in my repertoire that were handed down to me.  Her tea loaf, for example, is something I truly treasure.  I toyed with the idea of making the bread pudding that was handed down from her own mother, but as the recipe was never written down, it will take me a while to figure it out completely.  Instead, I decided to make scones, which we would often bake together when I visited her house.  My job was always to rub the butter into the flour, never to add the liquid as I always seemed to add too much and ruin the batch.  Most often she would make savoury scones with cheese and sweet scones with currants which would always be spread with some amazing salted butter bought from the farm shop down the road that, sadly, no longer exists.  For my ‘Inherited Bake’, I have updated these two recipes and have created a savoury cheese, chive and mustard scone and a sweet currant and fennel seed scone.  The recipe for the former is below.

Cheese, Chive and Mustard Scones

  • 250g low-fat plain yoghurt
  • 25ml whole milk
  • 15g caster sugar
  • 400g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • ½ tsp fine salt
  • 1½ tsp mustard powder
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 50g salted butter
  • 300g strong cheddar, grated
  • 3 tbsp snipped chives
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Twist of black pepper

Preheat the oven to 220ºc / 425ºf / gas 7.  Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

In a small bowl, mix together the yoghurt, milk and sugar and set aside.

Sift the flour, salt, mustard powder, cream of tartare and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl.  Rub in the butter with your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Stir in the cheese and chives.

Using a palette knife, stir in the yoghurt mixture until a sticky dough is formed.  Use the moisture in the dough to pick up any loose bits of flour from the bottom of the bowl.  Turn out on to a floured work surface and pat into a round approximately 4cm thick – try not to knead the mixture as this will create a tough texture.  Cut the scones out using a metal cutter and place them on the baking tray.  This mixture should yield about nine scones, but it will depend on the size of the cutter you use.  Brush with the beaten egg and grind a little black pepper on the top and bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes until golden brown and risen.

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Yule Log

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Yule Log

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Yule Log

The more eagle-eyed among you will recognise this as a bit of a flashback from last year.  Some time in the summer of 2012, Band of Bakers was approached by delicious. magazine to provide some recipes for their Christmas issue. The nature of publication schedules being as it is, I spent two weeks of the summer developing this recipe and then a blisteringly hot early September day in a studio, wearing winter clothes and pretending to drink mulled wine.  As you can imagine, it was very difficult to get into the spirit of Christmas when your photographer is wearing shorts and you can see people sunbathing in a car park through a window.  The magazine came out that November and we were very excited to see our recipes in print.  Naomi made the mince pies; a delicious cranberry and orange version on an almond pastry, Charlie made an excellent rum and raisin Galette des Rois, Juliet made beautiful little Italian riciarelli biscuits (see also my post on some favourite Christmas recipes) and Jassy made an unusual and scrumptious Christmas cake made with walnuts and an obscenely generous amount of sloe gin (her blog is called Gin and Crumpets, so it is hardly surprising).  My recipe was the dessert for people who hate Christmas pudding (and there are many!), a chocolate and salted caramel yule log.

I have yet to sit down to a Christmas dinner where there are not two desserts:  the traditional Christmas pudding and an alternative option for those that refuse to eat it.  In my house, it is the men that have an aversion to it.  The women, myself included, adore Christmas pudding and eagerly anticipate the time of year when it is acceptable to eat one.  My favourite recipe is Dan Lepard’s Simple Christmas Pudding from Short and Sweet, served hot with an enormous dollop of extra-thick double cream (the kind you have to extract from the tub with a spoon).  When a dessert is required to please the naysayers, it is difficult to go wrong with chocolate.  This chocolate and salted caramel yule log can be sliced up and served on its own, with cream or with some hot custard.  The leftovers are robust enough to be kept and sliced up with tea for any afternoon guests.  It does keep for a few days longer than a regular yule log as the filling is a meringue buttercream, rather than fresh cream which has an extremely short shelf-life.

The recipe has a lot of processes and can look daunting on first glance, but it need not take too long to make.  When you consider the length of time it takes to prepare, bake, ice and decorate a traditional Christmas cake, you are scarcely worse off.  Last year, not counting the ones I made when developing the recipes, I managed to churn out four of these: one for my colleagues, one for my family, one for Ollie’s family and one for some pre-Christmas visitors who scarfed a whole yule log in an afternoon.  Salted caramel was the big flavour that everybody was going gaga over in 2012, so that was the inspiration for the filling, but any other flavoured buttercream would work just as well – you could add booze or even make a chocolate buttercream for ultimate decadence.  Or, if you’re feeling lazy, just fill it up with fresh cream and a jar of Nutella.  If you’re really pushed for time, you could even omit the ganache and finish off the log with a mere sprinkling of icing sugar.

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Yule Log

For the sponge

  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • ½ tsp cream of tartar
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 30g cocoa powder
  • 30g plain flour
  • ¼tsp fine salt
  • Icing sugar, for dusting

For the salted caramel meringue buttercream

  • 120g caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup
  • 120ml double cream
  • 1 tsp Maldon sea salt
  • 2 large egg whites (about 75g)
  • 150g granulated sugar
  • 200g unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the chocolate ganache frosting

  •  200g good-quality dark chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 100ml double cream

Preheat the oven to 180ºc / 350ºf / gas 4.  Grease and line a swiss roll tin (approx. 25cm x 35cm) with baking paper.  To make the sponge, whisk together the three egg whites in a clean bowl until soft peaks form.  Add the cream of tartar and whisk until stiff.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the caster sugar and egg yolks until thickened and pale yellow.  Add the milk and whisk again until just combined.  Sift the cocoa powder, plain flour and salt on to the egg yolk mixture and, using a metal spoon, fold together until just combined.  Gently fold in a third of the egg whites, being careful not to knock too much of the air from them as you fold.  Once fully combined with no streaks of egg white, repeat with the other two-thirds of the mixture. 

Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 15 minutes until the top is springy and the sides have shrunk away from the edge of the tin.  Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.  Whilst still warm, roll up the sponge from the short end with the baking paper still on.  Leave to cool completely then carefully unroll.  This will help when rolling the cake.

To make the buttercream, combine the caster sugar, golden syrup and 120ml cold water in a heavy based saucepan.  Stir with a wooden spoon over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved, then simmer for 3-5 minutes until it becomes a dark caramel (watch it closely to make sure it doesn’t burn.)  Immediately remove from the heat and carefully add the cream and salt, stirring until smooth.  Transfer to a bowl and leave to cool completely.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the two egg whites with the granulated sugar.  When soft peaks form, place the bowl over a pan of simmering water (don’t let the water touch the bowl) and stir until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture begins to resemble a runny marshmallow.  Remove from the heat and whisk with an electric mixer until the bottom of the bowl feels cool.  Add the butter, about 25g at a time, whisking continuously until thick.  Add the cooled caramel to the buttercream and whisk until just combined.  Transfer to the fridge and chill until needed.

For the frosting, break the dark chocolate into a heatproof bowl.  Heat the cream in a saucepan until it is just about to boil and pour over the chocolate.  Stir with a wooden spoon until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is thick enough to spread.  Allow to cool completely.

To assemble the cake, peel the baking paper from the sponge and place, smooth side down, on a fresh piece of baking paper dusted with icing sugar.  Spread the buttercream across the sponge and gently roll up from the short end, as before. Place on a serving plate and chill in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Spread the ganache on to the cake, leaving the ends bare, and use a fork to create a bark-like texture.  Dust with more icing sugar and serve.

Bread Heaven

What a week it has been!  Wednesday was both the start of my new job and the Band of Bakers Christmas party.  Forgive me for not providing the usual photo round-up of the bakes, but I was embroiled in far too much chaos to remember to dig out my iPhone.  Luckily, the lovely Harley managed to get quite a few snaps which you can see on her blog Running, Cakes and London: A Beginner’s Blog.

One of the most exciting things that happened in 2013 was our appearance on Paul Hollywood’s Bread.  Naomi, Jon and I were lucky enough to get the chance to bake with the Silver Fox himself before he joined a big group of our bakers for an event celebrating enriched breads.  A couple of weeks later we were invited to Paul’s studio kitchen to try a range of enriched breads that he had made during the episode, including a very special brioche couronne filled with parma ham, mozzarella and basil.

Naomi, Jon and I making lardy cakes with the Master Baker

Naomi, Jon and I making lardy cakes with the Master Baker

The couronne was one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten, so I decided to recreate it for our Christmas party.  Honestly, if you only have time to make one loaf of bread over the festive season, make this. Your family will love you for it.  The recipe can be found on the BBC Food website here.

The inside of the pre-rolled brioche: parma ham, mozzarella and basil

The inside of the pre-rolled brioche: parma ham, mozzarella and basil

The finished article (photo by Harley Beecroft)