Saturday, 27 February 2010

Tiramisu - Daring Baker's February Challenge

Another month, another challenge!

The February 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking. They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month. Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession.

I can't say I was overly thrilled by this month's challenge. I'm not a major fan of tiramisu (or Italian food in general. Shock Horror.) and the baking element was rather minimal. I did enjoy making the pastry cream though.

First up, the ladyfinger biscuits. This step was pretty straightforward, although my batter didn't make as many biscuits as the recipe said it would. I was really impressed with how professional the biscuits looked (if you squinted a bit and ignored the wonky bits). So impressed, I forgot to take any pictures.

Next I made the mascarpone cheese. This was an absolute nightmare. I heated cream in a double boiler, trying to get it to 88C. It got to about 70C and stopped. Long slow heating of cream makes clotted cream, and I could see the yellowy crust forming on my cream. I love clotted cream, but this was not the right occasion! The recipe said I would see small bubbles forming as the cream reached just below simmering point. Instead, the cream suddenly thickened and went very very stiff. I added the lemon juice just in case the process was still salvageable. There was no curdling, and I couldn't see any whey in the mixture. I strained the cream in cheesecloth. After leaving it overnight, there were two drops of whey underneath the cloth, and the cream was as solid as butter. It tasted like mascarpone, but the texture was too firm. I left it out to soften at room temperature.


The zabaglione was next on the list of components. This thickened up nicely, although the lemon zest made it look lumpy even when it wasn't. I would have added the lemon at the end to give flavour but without making the texture so lumpy.

Moving on, it was time for the pastry cream. I'd made this once before for chocolate eclairs, and it had been a bit of a disaster. I was determined to get it right this time, and kept the heat so low that it took ages to thicken up and cook. It came out really well and I finally felt like something in this recipe challenge had gone right!

Finally, I made up the sweetened whipped cream, and assembled the tiramisu. The recipe said you needed a pint of coffee. I used about a quarter of that to soak the ladyfingers. I have absolutely no idea who is getting half a litre of coffee in to 25 sponge biscuits. The recipe said to use an 8inch square dish. Mine was 8.5 inches, so I thought it would be fine. After putting a few of the biscuits down in the first layer, I realised I'd be lucky to fill half the dish.

Finished Tiramisu

It tasted pretty good, and it was so rich that even though I'd only made a half size portion, I still got 6 platefuls out of it. I served it up to T's parents, who were in raptures over it, and were ridiculously impressed when T told them I made the ladyfingers and the mascarpone.

(As a side note, the next morning I was ill, and the sight of that tiramisu in the fridge turned my stomach so much I hid it in the freezer. Even typing this now is given me memories of nausea, so I think that it will sit in the freezer until I give in and throw it away. It's not bad, it just has negative connotations now.)

I didn't rate the recipe at all. Every stage seemed inaccurate or poorly explained, and the quantities were either too large or too small. So for that reason, I'm not going to link to it or write it out here. Hopefully next month's challenge will be a bit more inspiring!

On the plus side, I now have a bottle of marsala to swig every time the ironing gets too much.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Salted Caramel Macarons

My first three attempts at macarons were pretty disastrous. Even looking back at the photos is making me cringe at how bad they were! My first go at a recipe from the Ottolenghi cookbook also entered into the "FAIL" category. I saw a few other blogs having success with the Ottolenghi macaron recipes, so I decided to remedy two fails with one baking session.

I had some egg whites already aging in the fridge, but I enjoyed weighing out 60g of them. I love doing everything by weight, mainly because I can't be bothered to get jugs and spoons out and create extra washing up. I don't know how Americans cope with cups. Have you ever tried scraping out peanut butter from the corners of a measuring cup so you can use it to scoop out another ingredient? It's lame. Buy a scale! Then you can just dump everything in one bowl!

A major problem with my last bunch of macarons was the lumpy mixture. They tasted ok, but macarons are meant to look a little bit pretty too. I don't have a food processor, so I gave the ground almonds and some of the icing sugar a bit of a bash around in a pestle and mortar before sifting them through a fine sieve.

I was also more confident about what the batter was meant to look like. It should be sturdy enough to pipe without running in to one big puddle, but soft enough that it will smooth down in to domes when left. After very carefully folding the sugar and almonds in to the whipped egg whites, it was obvious that the mixture was too stiff, so I got to give it a couple of good beats to get it down to a softer consistency.

After I'd piped all the macarons and topped them with some chopped peanuts, they sat by the radiator for a bit to form a skin while the oven preheated. In they went for 8 minutes, when I checked them to see if they were browning too fast.

Salted caramel and peanut macarons

YAY! While they were still underdone, every single macaron had a smooth topped dome, and some impressive looking feet. Another 4 minutes in the oven had the shells nicely starting to brown, and me dancing around the kitchen in triumph.

Finally with feet and smoothness!

Although I think that cooking is about making something that tastes good, there is always an element of presentation that I've struggled with. I don't have the patience to spend hours making things look perfect when all I want to do is eat them! So although my macarons had good feet and smooth tops, some of them were more ovoid that circular, so not a complete success, but good enough for me.

Once the shells were cool, I sandwiched them together with dulce de leche spiked with crushed peanuts and sea salt. I should have chopped the peanuts smaller and thickened the caramel more, as it was a bit oozy, and some of the larger peanuts made the macarons sit wonkily.

The smell when I opened the tin I'd stored them in was amazing, although I was a little disappointed that the peanut flavour wasn't that strong when it came time to taste them. However, after leaving them for 48 hours the flavours intensified, but the macarons lost a bit of their crunchiness. I would probably use more peanut next time to get the flavour and the texture.

The recipe is copied out here for your delectation.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Spiced Apple Compote with Buttermilk Pancakes

I am possibly the least sporty person ever, and I can name the sporting events I follow on one hand: The Boat Race and the Winter Olympics. (I don't think Dancing on Ice counts as a sporting event.) I've been to a rugby game at Murrayfield a couple of times, but I just don't get sport.

I attempted to stay up for the opening ceremony of this year's games in Vancouver, but there was no way I was going to make it. So instead, I decided to watch the highlights while tucking in to a Canadian themed breakfast.

Buttermilk makes all things better and pancakes are no exception. That magical acidity reacts with the heat, flour and eggs to get things really light and fluffy. Buttermilk is traditionally the leftover liquid from churning cream in to butter, but most stuff you can buy on the high street is made by adding bacterial cultures to milk. You should be able to get buttermilk at any large supermarket, farm shops, delicatessens or healthfood stores. However, if you can't find it, you can substitute it for milk soured by 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar per 250ml of milk. I've also subbed plain yogurt diluted with milk to a thick pouring consistency, with similar results.

Buttermilk Pancakes with Spiced Apple Compote

Normally I'd want these pancakes with berries and yogurt, but fresh berries just don't seem right in February. Instead I made simple spiced apple compote to go with my pancakes. The spices give it a warmth, and I used vanilla sugar to give the apples a bit of extra oomph.

Spiced Apple Compote
Serves 2

2 eating apples
A good lump of butter
2tsp cinnamon
0.5tsp cloves
4tbsp vanilla sugar (alternatively use caster sugar and a dash of vanilla extract)

1) Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat, and peel, core and roughly chop the apples.
2) Add the apples to the melted butter, along with the spices and sugar. Stir everything up, and cover with a lid.
3) Gently cook the apples for around 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The butter should start to brown, and the apples will be soft enough to cut with a spoon, but still retain their shape.

Spiced Apple Compote

Canadian Buttermilk Pancakes Makes about 12 medium pancakes

150g plain flour
130ml buttermilk
0.5tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
3 eggs

1) Sieve the flour, baking powder and salt in to a large bowl, and make a well in the middle.
2) Dilute the buttermilk with 75ml water and pour this in to the well. Gently whisk in to the flour.
3) Add the eggs one by one, whisking until you have a thickish smooth batter.
4) Heat a large non-stick frying pan on a medium high heat, and coat with vegetable oil or butter.
5) Pour a small ladleful of batter into the pan, and cook for around 1 minute on each side. The pancake should puff up and be nicely browned.
6) Serve immediately.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Goat's Cheese & Onion Tartlets

I've been doing a cake stall in the evenings at a late night shopping event, and have found the savoury items go down just as well as the sweet. Although I love the bacon scones, I wanted something vegetarian too.

Goat's cheese seemed like a good idea, as did caramelised onions. I couldn't find a recipe I liked, so I winged it a bit. I thought this was one of the simplest recipes I make for the stall, although having typed it all out, it begins to seem quite complex! There are quite a few steps, but they can be done in stages over several hours.

Goat's Cheese & Onion Tartlets

I think they taste nicest served fresh out the oven, but they've had good feedback on the stall when I've been serving them at room temperature. They also keep well and will happily be reheated.

Goat's Cheese & Caramelised Onion Tartlets
Makes about 24

170g plain flour
55g butter
30g lard (use vegetable lard if making this vegetarian)
2 onions
150g goat's cheese
A little olive oil
Salt & Pepper to season

1) Begin with the pastry. Rub the butter and lard in to the flour along with a pinch of salt, until the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs.
2) Add in 2-3 tablespoons of cold water, and gently mix to form a dough. You may need to add a bit more water, but the pastry dough should be quite flaky and dry.
3) Wrap the pastry in clingfilm, and chill it in the fridge for at least 2 hours. Overnight is better.
4) Once the pastry is suitably relaxed, flour your work surface, and preheat the oven to 180C.
5) Roll out the pastry to about 3-4mm thick. You might need to knead it a little before it rolls properly.
6) Using a large biscuit cutter, cut out circles of pastry. Gently push these into a non-stick muffin tin, to form the tartlet cases. Reroll any scraps until you have 24 cases. (If the kitchen is warm, or the dough is getting too soft, chill the formed shells in the fridge for 30 mins or so.)
7) Place a small square of foil or greaseproof paper over each tartlet shell, and fill it with baking beans. Bake it blind for 7 minutes, remove the beans, and bake for a further 5 minutes. Remove the shells from the tin and cool on a rack.
8) Meanwhile, finely chop up the 2 onions. Cook them with some salt and pepper in a covered pan on a very low heat for about 30 minutes. Stir occasionally.
9) Once the onions are cooked, put 1 tablespoon of onion in to each tartlet shell. Thinly slice the goat's cheese and top off each tartlet with a slice of cheese and a sprinkle of black pepper.
10) Put all the tartlets on a tray, and bake for a further 15 minutes at 180C.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Banana & Peanut Butter Smoothie

Like a lot of food bloggers (and certainly a lot of Scots) I like to start my day with a pint. Luckily for my liver, it's usually a pint of banana and peanut smoothie.

Bananas are probably one of my few textural phobias. I don't mind when they are ripe, but if they are over or under ripe they set my teeth on edge. Just thinking about that starchy mushy stuff is making me shudder.

Despite this, I can't bear to throw them out, and there's only so much banana bread you can make. Instead, I blend them up with milk and peanut butter to make a rather delicious smoothie. (Prepare yourself for some of the dullest photos I have ever published.)

Banana & Peanut Butter Smoothie

While this is a bit of a fatty combo, it does make for a pretty healthy start for the day. The banana is one of the 5 a day, plus it's a great source of potassium. The peanut butter has lots of vitamins and minerals, including selenium. One of the few interesting facts I still remember from my dissertation is that low selenium consumption in a population can be linked to the prevalence of HIV within that population. As I am not really a big consumer of dairy products, I also like having the milk in there, it's probably the only calcium I get.

The banana's sweetness really comes out in this drink, but it's balanced by the saltiness of the peanut butter. Putting it through the blender makes it very foamy, which adds a creamy richness that shouldn't really be there with semi-skimmed.

Mmm, foamy.

Banana & Peanut Butter Smoothie
Makes 1 pint/550ml

1 banana
1 generous tbsp of smooth peanut butter
350ml milk

Put everything in a blender and mix thoroughly.

For an extra twist, add ice cubes or chop and freeze the banana before blending.