Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Chocolate Terrine

In preparation for celebrating New Year's Eve, I made a chocolate and vanilla terrine. A terrine is so called after the earthenware dish is it cooked/made in, and is not a specific type of dish. I've never made a terrine before, although I have made a layered chocolate mousse, and would be quite interested to make a meaty one that needs to be cooked.

The technique for the terrine was fairly straightforward, and was nothing I hadn't done before. As I had a lot going on, it was a bit chaotic in the kitchen, so I messed up some stuff that I really shouldn't have.

The tin wasn't lined too well, so the outside of the terrine had lots of wrinkles and cracks in it. Luckily once it was sliced these didn't show up too much. The second accident was while making the white chocolate mousse, I accidentally let the pan boil dry under the melting chocolate, which melted the side of my mixing bowl! Luckily I caught it before the plastic got through to the chocolate, so the damage to the bowl is only cosmetic. I had to reheat half the dark chocolate mix to top off the terrine, and I did it in the microwave as the mixing bowl was in use elsewhere. I think I must have overheated it a bit, as when I ate a slice this evening it was grainy. It wasn't too bad, but when you compared it to the other dark chocolate layer it had a noticeably different texture, despite being from the same original bowl of chocolate. Lastly, I forgot to bring a whisk with me, and T's kitchen is (in my opinion) not the best equipped! I think if I'd been able to whip the cream rather than just pouring it in straight from the carton it would have been a more stable product.

Despite these setbacks, the final dish was quite tasty and I've eaten a couple of slices already!

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Christmas Pudding

Happy Christmas!

Way back in October I made some Christmas puddings, and today they finally get to be tasted! (Although I made one for my flat which my flatmates and I cracked open last week.)

At T's we had a 1 pint pudding, which we microwaved for 10 mins. It was a little too moist in the middle, so I reckon it should have had another 10 minutes. The one I'd made for the flat had been steamed for 2 hours and that was perfect, but in the chaos of Christmas dinner there was no room on the hob for another pan, so we had to chance it in the microwave.

I still have loads of dried fruit in the cupboard, so perhaps a Christmas cake is in order? If I make it soon then it can mature for a year! Having said that, I don't know many people who like Christmas cake anymore (apart from maybe my dad) so maybe I would be better off making some more puddings.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008


I am spending this Christmas with T and his family, and last time they came to visit us in Edinburgh I made some cupcakes for them. Word had got around that I make a good cupcake, so I agreed that I would bake a batch while I was visiting.

We made chocolate cupcakes with vanilla buttercream adapted from the much missed Cupcake Bakeshop, and carrot cakes with lemon mascarpone adapted from Jamie Oliver's "Cook with Jamie", an online version of which can be found here.

I also took this opportunity to get T baking. I really just supervised him while he did all the hard work! My main adaptions to the chocolate cupcakes is to not include the strawberries, because British strawberries are only in season for about a month and the rest of the year they are imported, taste bland and are really expensive. I also recommend making about 3/4 of the ganache filling as there always seems to be too much left over when you make the full amount. I think some water got in to this batch, as when we put the leftover ganache in the fridge pools of water formed on the surface, and the texture didn't seem quite right. It was fine for cake filling, but I wouldn't have used it for a decorative topping. We then topped the cakes with a piped swirl of buttercream. I now have a reputation in T's family for being overly prepared as I brought my own piping set along! At least I didn't bring a kitchen sink...

The carrot cakes are a little trickier, as they require the yolks and the whites of the egg to be added separately, and folded in to keep the air in the whisked whites. T picked up the knack of folding quite quickly, and the mascarpone topping was tasty as usual. By making them in to cupcakes instead of a full cake, they only need about 30 mins in the oven, but check on them regularly, when they are brown they are probably done, but check a skewer comes out clean to be sure.

Annoyingly I forgot to get some photos but I make these quite frequently so will get some next time.

Sunday, 21 December 2008


For Christmas, I decided to make boxes of truffles to give to people. I made some a while back, but they were plain ones just coated in cocoa. I was ready to be a bit more adventurous this time. I decided to make 5 flavours: Baileys, champagne, cappuccino, praline and plain.

After gathering a rather large quantity of ingredients (including 12 bars of chocolate!) and raiding the cupboards in my mum's house, I got to work. The first job was making the praline. I used this recipe although I only followed the praline section and used other recipes for the final truffles. It was pretty simple, and was a basic caramel of sugar and water with chopped hazelnuts added at the end. However, since the caramel cake the other week had suffered from crystallized caramel which I had to separate, I was super careful this time about not stirring it too much and regularly brushing down the sides of the pan with cold water.

Making the caramel syrup

Once the caramel started to turn brown, I added the nuts and poured it in to a lightly oiled tin to cool.

The praline as it cooled

Next up was making the basic truffle mix. I combined several recipes, and even then did my own thing for the flavourings. I used a recipe from Green and Black's for the ganache base, and then used this recipe from Suite 101 to get a guide on how to flavour them.

825g of chocolate!

I was planning to make 4 large boxes, one for my mum, dad, next-door neighbours and T's parents. The Green and Black's recipe made 36, so I tripled the quantity to get enough (plus a few extra for me to sample...)

Melting the chocolate over a pan

I melted all the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. This took quite a while as there was so much! Once that was done, I added the cream, and split the mixture into 5 bowls, one for each flavour. For the Baileys one, I added a whole Baileys miniature, as adding a small amount didn't seem to give much taste. Similarly, the champagne truffle mix (strictly it was Cava but who can really taste the difference in this context?) didn't seem to take on much flavour. Reading up about it since, I think I should have used Marc de Champagne as well as fizz to give it a more intense taste. The coffee truffles were fairly simple to do, and only a couple of teaspoons of espresso gave a good flavour. For the praline one, I whizzed up the praline in a blender until it was very finely chopped, and added a few spoonfuls of this until the melted chocolate had some taste as well as a bit of crunch in it.

Chilling the 5 flavours

Once all the flavours had cooled, I attempted to shape them into balls. This was not easy and my hands seemed too warm. Everytime I tried to shape the ganache it seemed to melt away. I also tried using a melon baller. In the end, my mum helped me , using a combination of hand rolled and melon baller, as we worked out that the only way to do it with such a large quantity was to work in batches and constantly return the mixture to fridge once it become too soft. Eventually we ended up with 5 trays of vaguely spherical truffles.

My original plan was to dip the truffles in melted chocolate, but I didn't have enough to be able to submerge them fully and quickly remove them. This meant that I had to roll them in melted chocolate, which wasn't ideal as they would start to melt instead of taking on a shell of hard chocolate. Instead, I lined them up on a tray and poured the melted chocolate over the top. This wasn't perfect, as there were gaps in the enrobing, and it would have been better to do it on a wire rack so excess chocolate could drip away. However, I eventually managed to complete all the chocolates. I decorated each type differently so they could be identified in the box.
  • Plain - Piped in to swirl shapes with cocoa dusting
  • Cappuccino - White chocolate coating with cocoa dusting
  • Champagne - White chocolate coating with sugar dusting
  • Baileys - Milk chocolate coating with dark stripes
  • Praline - Milk chocolate coating with crushed praline topping
Baileys truffles

Praline truffles
Champagne truffles being trimmed

The problem with doing the coating on a baking sheet was that when it was time to pack them in the boxes they were a bit messy around the base, so I had to trim each one with a knife to get a smooth edge. I packaged them all up in petit fours cases, and packed them into three layered chocolate boxes.

Packing the chocolates (Cappuccino and a plain truffle)

For a first attempt I was quite happy with how they turned out, although they weren't as pristine looking as I hoped. I would try these again, and would quite like to go for some more adventurous flavours next time.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Birthday Food Presents

For my birthday, I got a lot of food related items. Maybe I talk about food too much instead of confining it all to here! I though I would review all the books initially and then review again once I have actually used them. I find buying cookbooks can be a bit overwhelming as they look good when you buy them, but when you try to use them they aren't always clear.

Rachel Allen: "Bake"
This has some nice pictures about how things are meant to end up, always useful! The tips section at the back also had some stuff that I didn't already know about, so I think it could be a fairly comprehensive guide. I also think it is interesting that it has sweet, savoury and meal items, not just cakes and biscuits. Some of the pies look very good. I have book marked the white chocolate blondies and the chocolate lava cakes to make when I get back to Edinburgh after Christmas.

Dorie Greenspan: "Paris Sweets: Great Desserts from the City's Best Pastry Shops"
This doesn't have any photos, just illustrations, so there is more need for your own presentation skills and creative thinking with this book. Another problem is that a lot of the measurements are in American units, although I have measuring cups so this is not so much of a problem. I also like that the book is interspersed with anecdotes and histories of the dishes, so you get a feel for the culture as well as just the baking. I made the Opera cake from this book a while back, as I found the recipe online, and it was pretty spectacular. I think this is probably more of a special occasion book than "Bake", but I might try out some of the recipes for D's wedding cake in the summer.

Heston Blumenthal: "Further Adventures In Search of Perfection"
In terms of practicality, this is probably the worst cook book ever! One of the recipes involves digging a pit in the back garden. However there are a couple that wouldn't require too much extra equipment, as I am planning to get a temperature probe after Christmas, and this seems to get used in every recipe. The really great thing about this book is that each recipe has 10-20 pages explaining every single method, ingredient and technique, and why it is done. For example, when investigating how to make the perfect chicken tikka masala, Blumenthal uses an MRI scanner to test different marinades, and to work out which is the best way to get flavour in to the meat. Although it is not a practical cook book in many ways, it is fascinating to find out the science behind a lot of food, and how minor alterations can make a big difference to the final taste.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

The Dogs

For my actual birthday dinner T and I went to The Dogs, a fairly new place that has only been open since the start of this year (sadly replacing T's favourite Mexican restaurant). The owner is David Ramsden, who has also be waiting tables every time we've been, which I think shows much more commitment than I would have if I owned a restaurant. I'd be sat in the corner drinking the free wine and sampling the chef's latest ideas!

For starters, I had sardines with red cabbage slaw, and T had mushrooms and brie on toast. Both of these came out the kitchen lightening fast, which was good as we'd had a strenuous day walking around Edinburgh Zoo and were pretty peckish. For someone who is not a cabbage fan, I seem to be ordering it a lot lately, and what is more, liking it! The slaw was crunchy and had a good amount of sauce, and worked well with the cured sardines. It was also presented slightly oddly, with the sardines buried underneath a heap of cabbage. However, my main complaint with this dish that there was too much cabbage for the amount of sardines. It was also pretty hefty for a starter, although to some extent The Dogs doesn't have starters and main courses, it has small, big and sharing.

T was happy with his mushrooms on toast, and it seemed a much more suitable sized starter than mine. There wasn't much brie in the dish, and we weren't sure if this was intentional or not. Luckily, T had ordered it for the mushrooms on toast element, so wasn't really bothered about the lack of cheese. We also had some bread to go with the starters, which was good, especially to mop up some of the excess coleslaw with!

For the main course, we shared a crispy pork belly, with roasted carrots, parsnips and butter beans. We also got some chips as the were advertised as "cooked in dripping" and we couldn't resist. The vegatables were all very good, and I particularly liked the parsnips. The beans also matched the pork belly and homemade mustard very well. I thought the pork belly was a little tough in places, and the skin could have been crispier. You'd take one bite that was perfect, melting meat with a crunchy topping, and the next would be tough with chewy skin. I don't know whether we were just unlucky or if it could have been done with being cooked in a different way. T is quite fussy about his meat, and won't eat it if it is too chewy, rare, dry or fatty. He seemed to enjoy his half, so I am tempted to think that I was just unlucky with my half.

My other complaint was again portion size. We got a massive slice of belly meat, and plenty of vegetables, and it was far too much. I much prefer to have small portions of several dishes than a massive plate of one thing, although when I cook myself I tend to give out generous portions! I felt a bit overwhelmed by the size of the dish, and felt the pressure was on to finish it. I think if it had been T and one of his male friends eating just a main course, they would have been very happy, but with a starter and a girly appetite there wasn't enough room!

Concerning the chip thesis, The Dogs furthered supported my theory. The chips were fat cut, but perhaps a little too fat in places, the crispy:soft ratio was sometimes a bit off. Cooking them in dripping meant the outsides were very crunchy, and the insides soft and fluffy, with an overall hint of meatiness about them. T and I fought over the crunchy scraps at the bottom of the bowl! Like the starter and main course, the chips were very good but not quite perfect.

Despite this, there is always room for dessert. I went for the lemon and lime posset, although I was sorely tempted by the mince pie parfait (I've also been thinking about making brandy ice cream with bits of Christmas pudding in it, but that's another story). This was refreshing after such a big meal, and possibly a contender for one of my favourite foods. T had ice cream with toffee sauce. The sauce was dark and treacley, and not too sweet.

Overall I really like The Dogs, as I like being able to get good local food in a fairly relaxed atmosphere, and with a reasonable price tag. I also like that they bring you a jug of tap water as standard, and that you can get wine in a 500ml carafe. We've also been here with my parents and siblings, so it is good for a meal for two as well as a family gathering. Many reviews I have read online of The Dogs complain about the service, which is a bit brisk. For us, this was fine as we didn't mind being left alone during the meal and didn't feel we had to wait too long for our order to be taken, or for food to arrive. Another issue here is that the staff, particularly David Ramsden, have a bit of an individual sense of humour that you either get or don't. Kismot is another Edinburgh restaurant that suffers from this. Personally I like a bit of banter, although I have been out to dinner with others who have interpreted the comments as rude or inappropriate. The mismatched furniture and china reminded us of Monster Mash, which a bit of googling suggests was founded by David Ramsden as well. He also used to run the Outsider and the Apartment, which I also like, so I think we are obviously on a similar food based wavelength!

Monday, 15 December 2008

Scouse and latkes

Last night I made scouse for dinner. T is from Liverpool so this is his local dish. Liverpool used to be a major shipping port, and scouse is a product of all this immigration and multiculturalism. It's similar to Irish stew, although there are also suggestions that it originates from the Baltic states.

We'd had some roast lamb the other week, and I'd used most of the leftovers in a shepherd's pie. There was still some left in the freezer though, so we phoned T's aunt (whose recipe is apparently world famous!) and she told us how to make scouse.

As our lamb was already cooked, we stewed a couple of potatoes, three leeks and three carrots with some chicken stock (just enough to cover the veg) and seasoning for an hour. T's aunt told us a secret ingredient, but we couldn't find it in the shops so we used curry powder instead to warm it up a bit. We added the lamb, put the lid back on the pan and stewed it for another 30 minutes. It was a nice end to a chilly day in Edinburgh, and I mopped up all the all the juice with buttered bread.

Tonight T had the left over scouse, and I went back to mine for some left over pheasant stew that I had frozen a while back. There wasn't much left, so I made some latkes to go with it. I had seen an interesting looking recipe on Sassy Radish. My last attempt at potato cakes was disastrous, and they fell apart, so it was time to give it another go. I did the icy water element, and was really surprised by the amount of starch in the bottom of the bowl. As I used smaller potatoes than the recipe recommended, I wan't sure how much egg to put in, but the consistency seemed good and they worked out fine.

The latkes were crispy on the outside, and cooked through, so softer in the middle but it was still possible to feel the individual strips of potato. I dipped some in the stew and ate the rest with some creme fraiche. I made two portions, and ate them both...

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Birthday Cake

Last night we went out for dinner for my birthday. We went to Howies for dinner, which I like as it is reasonably priced and pretty reliable (plus in the summer they do gin and tonic jelly for pudding!) They also change their menu every month which I really like, I find it odd that you should want to go to restaurant and have the same thing every time. I know some places have a signature dish that can't be beaten, but generally I think a changing menu is an indicator that the chef and restaurant care about food seasons and being creative.

For dinner, I had sweet potato and ginger soup followed by lamb with cabbage. The soup was delicious, as the starch in the sweet potato made it almost velvety, and there was plenty of kick off the ginger. It was a great winter soup and I'll definately try to recreate it at home at some point. The lamb was less memorable, although I ate all the cabbage which I don't normally do. The lamb was also quite rare and tender, whereas at home I tend to go for a bit of slow roasted shoulder, so it was a bit of treat to have a decent cut that could just be seared round the edges rather than a cheaper cut that needs lots of work done before it is edible.

The end of the meal was a cake I had baked myself. I'd been working on it since about 10am, when I went to the shops to get all the ingredients. I planned to spend about an hour doing this, including travelling time. Instead, I spent over an hour in supermarket! Normally I shop locally, in places that I can walk to. I only really go to the supermarket when I need lots of different things, or rarer ingredients that local stores won't have. I got distracted by the smoked fish section. Although there are a couple of great fishmongers near my flat, the smoked fish selection can sometimes be a bit limited. (Also, being poor, it makes more sense to buy smoked salmon when it is 2 for 1 in the supermarket.)

I started baking at 12, and made a double size mix of Delia's Austrian Coffee and Walnut cake. I had already noted how much the bowl weighed before the ingredients, so I was able to work out the weight of the mixture, which was just under 1.5kg. Annoyingly, my sandwich pans are only 7 inches, so not really big enough to feed the 14 people who were coming to dinner. Instead I used a springform tin, that was 9 inches. I only had one tin, so I put in 500g of mixture and baked it for 25 mins, as Delia's timings were for 2 pans of 375g, spread over 8 inches. Although my tin had more mixture, it would be in the oven on its own so the heat wouldn't drop as much as two tins at once. I checked at 20 minutes and it was nearly there so I gave it 5 more minutes to be sure.

After I turned out the cake, I washed up and relined the tin and put in the next 500g of mix. Eventually, after another quick wash and line, I had three 9 inch coffee and walnut sponges. I put the coffee syrup over them, although in hindsight I should have flattened them first. Later on when I was trying to cut off the domed part it was a bit tricky as they were quite moist. I left them to cool and went out to the baking shop by uni to get a cake board and a cake box, as I didn't have any tupperware big enough!

When I got back I made up the filling. I couldn't find 8% fat fromage frais, so got a 0% one instead. I think I should have gone for cream cheese instead as the fromage frais was quite runny and made the filling too loose. I thickened it up with some icing sugar. Luckily the coffee I was using was quite bitter so the filling wasn't overly sweet. Although I love buttercream, I quite like the sour tang you get from mascarpone and other soft cheeses.

Even though I had made double the quantity of cake mix, I only made one unit of filling. I used the filling to sandwich the three cakes together, and then smoothed a bit around the sides (I also bought a pallette knife since the caramel cake incident) to ensure that when I glazed it the sides would be smooth instead of having overhangs and dents where the filling didn't go to the edge of the cake.

I refrigerated the cake to let the filling harden up a bit while I made the ganache glaze. This was just melted dark chocolate with double cream. I heated the chocolate in a double boiler and then added the cream. Although I had to heat it for some time to get a smooth, glossy texture, I was careful not to let the chocolate get too hot and spoil. I put a small amount of the glaze in to the freezer, and used the thickened ganache to fill in a couple of spots where the filling didn't quite reach the edge of the cake, and also the top of the cake, which had cracked slightly. By this point the cake looked pretty bad, a mottled sponge with white and brown smears all over it! Once the cake had hardened up in the fridge, I heated the rest of the glaze to be super runny, the consistency of cream. I put the cake on a wire rack over a tray, and poured the glaze over it, making sure it ran evenly down the sides by directing the drips over any bare patches. The tray caught the excess glaze, although luckily I didn't have to scrape it up and reuse it as the cake had been coated by the first pass.

I then returned the cake to the fridge to chill. Earlier in the day, I'd melted some white chocolate and created swirls, dots and "happy birthday" on a sheet of greaseproof paper. This had now solidified, so once the glaze had set, I peeled the set white chocolate shapes off the paper and used them to decorate the cake. As I was expecting 14, I arranged the lettering so each letter represented a slice, so that when the cake was brought out I could slice it easily without worrying whether the slices were equal or not.

The finished product!

I think everyone liked the cake, although some people were put off by the walnuts. I used slightly less than Delia suggested, although if I were to make the triple-decker-beast again I would probably only use 50-75g. 2 people didn't show up for dinner, so we only used 12 of the 14 slices. My friend D, who has asked me to make her wedding cake, had 2 slices, plus took one home with her, so it all got eaten in the end! Unfortunately before she got her hands on it we decorated it with plastic toys that had come out the Christmas crackers we had over dinner.

Monsieur gateau.

I haven't baked a European style cake in a while, as a lot of blogs I've been reading lately are American. I grew up making this type of sponge though, so it was good to get back to a bit of Delia!

Monday, 8 December 2008

The Tower Restaurant

Today I went to the Tower Restaurant for lunch. I've wanted to go for a long time, and they had a special lunch menu for a student friendly £12.95.

The restaurant itself was very well laid out, on the 5th floor of the Museum of Scotland. The view north over the roofs of Chamber Street and to the south face of the castle was spectacular, and watching the sun set* behind the castle was a real treat. I've seen this before from some of the tutorial rooms in the David Hume Tower, but this was a much more comfortable surrounding.

The choice of food was quite limited seeing we could only afford to stick to the set menu. The starters included spinach and apple soup, egg salad with lyonnaise sauce, and boudin of fish with lentil salad. I went for the boudin. A boudin is a blood sausage, so basically minced meat held together with blood, that is boiled in a skin, then sliced and served hot or cold. I was intrigued by the prospect of this done with fish. It was fairly tasty, and had I made it myself I would have been pleased. However, it was blander than I would have liked (especially since the waiter had told us it had salmon as the main ingredient) and the lentils were similarly unispiring. It was also surprisingly hard to eat, as the minced fish fell apart on the fork and the puy lentils were too tough to spear. Googling returns very few results for fish boudin, so although it was interesting, I don't think delicate fish works well in a boiled sausage, which should be made from a more robust meat. The others who tried the boudin seemed similarly puzzled by the dish. One of us had the soup, and said it was surprisingly filling. The starters also came with a bread selection, featuring a delicious date bread, and a fairly ordinary pesto foccacia.

The choice for the main course were tagliatelle with tarragon pistou, shellfish bisque with a crab mayonnaise crouton, and spicy pork belly with beans and cabbage. Three of us got the pork, someone else got the bisque and two of the others got the tagliatelle. The pork was three small slices of belly meat, resting on a bed of beans and stewed cabbage. On top was a perfect triangle of crackling. Given that I had paid approximately £8 for this dish, I was pleased with what I had got, although if the portions for the "real" menu (main courses priced between £15-25) were similarly stingy I would perhaps be slightly peeved. Again, while the food was good, it wasn't the greatest food ever, and given the prices for those not on the special set menu, I would have expected more. The shellfish bisque apparently "smelled like Sri Lanka" and had a good flavour of shellfish, although it had a tomato rather than cream base. Again the portion was fairly small and would have been a starter in many other restaurants. The tagliatelle was an enigma, with one friend describing it as filling, but the other being rather disappointed with the portion size as well as the taste.

The desert menu sounded good, and I was particularly intrested in the "chocolate five ways", which included chocolate mousse, chocolate glaze, chocolate biscuit, chocolate sorbet and chocolate creme brulee. However, at £6.50 a go and most of us in 5 figures of debt, we gave it a miss.

We had a bottle of house white and house red. Both were nice but not anything special. The service was also very slow, particularly considering there were only two other tables. The bottles of wine were placed on another table, and glasses not topped up often enough. This meant that at the end of the meal we had half a bottle left that we had to either down or let go to waste. I would hope that the service in the evening would be quicker, especially since there is a pre-theatre menu. It took us over 2 hours to have two courses, and we waited a long time for our orders to be taken as well inbetween courses.

Overall, I would recommend the Tower for the atmosphere, especially if you get the special set menu and have some money to spend on some good wine. Although the food was good considering we paid under £13 per head, (wine took the bill to £20 each) I would have expected much more from the main menu. If I was a restauranteur, I would consider the set menu a showcase for my chef's skills, and use it as a advertisement for the full price menu. Based on what I saw today, I would return for lunch, but probably not for a full meal (unless someone else was paying!) The Tower was on the short list for graduation dinner with my parents, but I think I would prefer somewhere with more focus on the food and less reliance on a stunning view to carry it.

*sunset over lunch? We had a late lunch and it gets dark at 4pm here in the frozen north.

Tower on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Caramel Cake

This weekend I made a caramel cake as featured on the Daring Bakers' challenge the other month. When I first read through the recipe, I thought it sounded pretty manageable, although I freaked out a bit when I saw comments!

I tried to follow the recipe as carefully as possible, although this was a bit tricky at times as it is in American measurements. I had to google how much a tablespoon of butter weighed! The first thing that went wrong was the caramel syrup. From the pictures on the Bay Area Bites site, and other comments on other blogs, I guessed that it should have the texture of golden syrup, and be quite thick. It also says in the recipe that the caramel will spit when you add the cold water, but mine took it quite placidly. I think I would have done better with a sugar thermometer, as I wasn't sure if I'd heated it enough, but I didn't want it to burn either as burnt sugar is a b*tch to wash up. In the end, although it tasted pretty caramelly, it was quite runny. Also it split a bit, and was quite lumpy, so I left it to settle and then poured off the top.

Next came the cake. I am not totally convinced by the dry wet dry wet dry method, as I find that if you stir the mixture too much after the flour is added it can go tough. Generally I add flour last. I have made a couple of American cakes using DWDWD method, so I followed the recipe but mixed it quite slowly and with the minimal number of strokes once the flour was in there. I also turned it after half time in the oven, which did make it a bit more evenly browned. I moved flats in September and am still getting used to the vaguearies of the new oven. I tested the cake and it seemed cooked after 50 mins, although when we ate it later I noticed that there was a small patch in the middle that was slightly undercooked. It didn't taste different, but there was a slight change in texture and colour that was discernable.

The icing went well, and I loved the salty kick that contrasted with the sugary sweet caramel. I used vanilla salt (a jar of salt with vanilla pods in it that has been maturing about 6 months) and omitted the vanilla extract. I don't have a palette knife so the icing was no where near as precise as I wanted it, and the caramel syrup wasn't thick enough to use it as decoration.

The mistakes were not that noticeable (to the uniniated at least!), and I don't think the taste was affected. It was quite an unusual cake, and my flatmates loved it. All 12 slices were gone within 24 hours. Personally I didn't find it that challenging to bake, although I do bake quite a lot and can spot when something cakey is amiss (although not so much with icing).

I would post a picture but presentation is an area I definately need to work on. I've signed up to cake decorating classes at adult ed next term so hopefully my presentation skills should soon match my baking skills!

More German Delights

Yesterday my flatmate and I went to the German Christmas Market in Edinburgh city centre. Every year a bunch of Germans come to Edinburgh and set up a traditional market as part of the city's Christmas celebrations. We just went for the food, but next week once exams are over I'm going to go again for the ice skating and the chair-o-planes.

There were quite a few stollen stalls, although all the stollen had marzipan in, which I don't really like. I think my hatred stems from eating it as a child when I thought it was just icing. I might try to make some stollen if I have time this Christmas, I've already made Christmas puddings (that are currently maturing in the cupboard) so it is really down to how much food we can eat! I am torn between stollen and panettone as my favourite Christmas themed baked good.

We went round the market and ate something from most of the food stalls. We got some pork steaks with garlic mayonnaise. The pork was very succulent, and the mayonnaise was very garlicky. I think they must have boiled the pork steak as well as grilling it, as it had a similar texture to a frankfurter rather than a standard pork chop, which can be a bit dry.

What it lacked in looks it made up for in taste. You can also see the fried potatoes we got, they were a bit bland in my opinion but the little bits of crispy bacon mixed in with them livened them up a bit.

The potatoes and the steaks were cooked in a giant skillet, with the fresh stuff cooking on one side while the stuff that was ready was kept warm on the other. I find there is something very appealing about eating from a massive dish, it makes you feel like you are part of a big event rather than one rather cold student eating their dinner in freezing weather.

We also got some wheaty German beer that I thought was called "Paula" but it turned out that the sign was just half hidden. It is incredibly cold in Edinburgh at the moment so taking off our gloves to eat the pork and the drink the beer meant our hands were frozen. So we headed over to the Glühwein stall and stocked up on mulled wine and ginger biscuits.

It came in these little jugs, complete with a pouring lip. It wasn't bitter but it wasn't too sweet either. In the market, anything that comes in proper glass or on a proper plate (such as the wine and the beer) means you have to pay a deposit that you get back when you return the glass. I was quite tempted to take the beer stein but the mulled wine jug was a little too tacky for me.

Finally we finished the night with one of my favourite things: Poffertjes. These are tiny Dutch pancakes that come with butter and icing sugar. Other sauce options are not authentically Dutch! They are probably hideously bad for you, but they are super delicious and remind me of when I went to the Netherlands to visit a friend who was studying there, and the whole weekend was the quest for the perfect poffertjes. I have only seen them in the UK at Glastonbury and the continental market that sometimes pops up in Edinburgh, although you can buy the pans to make them on ebay, so maybe that is something to investigate further!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

The Chip Thesis

As a student with not much money, I am forced to eat in some pretty poor places. While I love a good lunch, the places near uni that are a) cheap and b) cheap aren't always the most inspiring. There are exceptions, and I have a theory for how to find (some of) them.

A lot of the places we end up in serve burgers. I do like burgers, but the combination of mince and lots of sauce means it is easy to disguise poor quality ingredients and bad cooking. Burgers usually come with chips. Chips are theoretically quite easy, as you just chop up some potatoes then fry them. However, bad chips are very common and possibly one of the most disappointing things ever. I'm thinking of on the way home after a few drinks, and you buy a bag of chips and tuck in... and they're so bad.

The perfect chip, in my opinion anyway, should be chunky. That way you get more of a contrast between the crispy outside and the soft centre*. No matter how fat the chip is, it is imperative that the outside is crispy and the centre is soft and smooth. Also, you can nearly always tell if the chips have been frozen as they go floury inside, and have an almost metallic taste. If they are not crispy then the oil wasn't the right temperature. Chips represent a bellwether for the rest of the food. If they can be bothered to use fresh chips in the right oil, then they've probably got good meat in the burgers and won't disguise it with rubbish sauce.

So the moral of this story is always steal one of your dining partner's chips before you commit to lunch...

*I will devour a plate of shoestring chips if necessary.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

German Delights

Falko Konditormeister, although only established in 2006, is already a bit of a Edinburgh (well, Bruntsfield at least) institution. While his stall at the weekly farmers' market always has long queues, those of us luckily enough to live nearby can savour freshly baked bread, incredible cakes and authentic brezel all week. One of the first bonding activities with my new flatmates earlier this year was a trip to Falko's, where we bought a variety of calorific cakes and took them home to savour with a cup of tea.

I was mildly excited to see Falko's bread paper in the window of another shop in Bruntsfield, although slightly baffled as to why he should be opening another branch so close to his original shop. All was revealed last week, when the paper came down and the shop was revealed. While the (now closed) old shop was "cosy" this one had a large seating area, thus removing the need to go home before tucking in! Bruntsfield is perhaps a little lacking in coffee shops, so a bakery with drinks and comfy seats is a welcome addition in itself.

T and I went this weekend to sample the wares. Usually I go for the breads as I find the cakes a bit too creamy. However, after reading Heston Blumenthal's recipe for the perfect Black Forest Gateau, I thought I should try one made to the original German recipe, which apparently stipulates that the cream should be 10% Kirsch.

Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte

(Apologies for the rubbish photo, I forgot my camera and had to use my phone)

Individually, the components were delicious, although I found the cream to be overwhelming. I generally find most European patisserie too heavy on the whipped cream, although the contrast of the sweet cream with the bitter chocolate and sour cherries reminded me quite a lot of the cakes my Polish next-door-neighbour would bake when I was child. I am also not fond of whipped cream, as I don't really like the texture. I think if I was making this myself I would use a thin layer of clotted cream, or thickened double cream to create a similar effect without the mouthfeel of whipped cream.

I was particularly intrigued by the base of the cake, which was a thin layer of sponge. I wasn't sure if this was to add to the taste, or merely to help support the cake when it was being moved from the tins to the serving plate, and then on to the dining plate.

T had a chocolate mousse cake, which was very lekker as well as featuring the spongey base layer. I also enjoyed that the cakes were served on small dinner plates with dessert forks, it made the whole experience feel much more of a treat than normal!

I am torn over whether to invest in a Falko cake for my birthday next week. If not I think I will bake a coffee and walnut sponge, layered with kahlua buttercream and a dark chocolate glaze.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Other Websites I Like To Read

I read a lot of food related website and blogs, all in the name of "research". However, when you have been away for a week and see 400 new posts in Google Reader, it's time for action.

My favourite sites are permanently linked on the right. These sites are well written, well designed and I will always go out of my way to read one of their postings. Recipes posted on these sites are generally trustworthy and unlikely to be a complete disaster! When I have a 400 post overload, these are the sites I'll read first.

Below are my RSS Subscriptions. They are mostly food but you'll find the odd lifestyle blog in there too.

If you have a blog or website you'd like to suggest, leave a comment and I'll check it out!

Here are some other sites I like that aren't blogs but are mostly about food.

Monday, 1 December 2008

My Name is Jenny


My name is Jenny, and I have a borderline unhealthy interest in food...

I grew up in London, and cooked a fair bit as a child and teenager. I also studied a little bit of photography at school (check out my City & Guilds, distinction!). However, I never really went much further than taking stupid photos of my friends acting out Greek myths, and the pinnacle of my culinary success was chicken fajitas and the odd sponge cake. I did once ice a cake to look like an American flag though.

In 2005, I moved to Edinburgh to start my degree. I lived in catered halls, and when I didn't fancy industrial portions of pasta bake, I had to improvise with a kettle, toaster and microwave. Moving in to a proper flat the next year, I rediscovered my love of cooking and (more importantly) eating.

Over the past year, I have been increasingly ambitious and prolific in my cookery projects. I started this blog in December 2008 as a personal diary about what I'd been up to, but mainly because I needed a reason to spend 40 minutes setting up camera equipment to get a half decent shot of a muffin.

I tend to blog about baking, as my "fun" projects tend to be sweet things. I am trying to write about more savoury subjects (not that baking is unsavoury as such...) but I usually eat these items before I can take a picture. I also write a few reviews and rants, usually about places I've eaten in, but sometimes about shops or markets I've visited. Generally I don't post recipes as I usually follow someone else's, and these are usually linked to in the post. I have made a few concoctions of my own recently, so hopefully more recipes will be appearing in the future.

Thanks for reading my site, and let me know your thoughts... Most posts allow comments, and if you have a question I'll definitely get back to you!