Baking

No knead bread

no knead bread X

Why does modern life seem to involve so much unnecessary labour? Is it because we have a deep need as humans to feel useful? Work = purpose, whereas idling = useless.

But as life is so busy these days surely we should take the easy option when we can – especially when it produces the same or similar results.

I have long been a fan of the no iron clothes washing method, whereby I take garments out of the dryer before they’re completely dry and hang them on coat hangers for the wrinkles to fall out with no effort.

And in recent years we’ve been trying the no dig gardening method at the allotment and so far it has produced equivalent and in some cases better results for much less work.

Than last week I was listening to Nathan Myhrvold, author of ‘Modernist Bread’, on Radio 4’s Food Programme and he said that you really don’t need to knead bread to produce a good loaf.

I can’t tell you how excited I was to hear this (that’s how sad I am). I just had to put it to the test.

So I made Ben’s standard loaf but just skipped the kneading part. And what do you know, it worked just fine. The finished loaf looked a little bit rougher but the texture and flavour were excellent and possibly even better than usual.

Now this method does mean that you need to leave the dough to rise for a lot longer (8-10 hours) but this fits in more conveniently with a standard working day. Bung all the ingredients together quickly in the morning (without kneading) and the dough will be ready for its second proving (and baking) once you return from work.

PS. I can vouch that it works on pizza dough too (basic recipe here) just skip the kneading part and leave to prove for 8-10 hours.

PPS. Of course the really easy option would be to buy a factory made loaf from the supermarket or a pricey, artisan one from your local deli, but nothing beats homemade, especially when the effort to reward ratio is so high.

Ben’s bread (the no knead version)

Makes one large loaf

  • 900g of strong bread flour (mainly white with 200-300g of spelt or wholemeal if you like)
  • 12g of salt
  • 6g of easy bake yeast
  • 550ml of water
  • (Optional) A small handful of seeds of your choice e.g. sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, poppy

Add all the ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Bring together with your hands until well mixed together (use a wooden spoon if you prefer).

Leave in the bowl covered with cling film to rise. How long this takes will depend on the temperature in your house but it is likely to need at least 8 hours if it’s just sat on your work surface, although longer is fine and may well be necessary if it’s a cold day.

Once it has at least doubled in size, briefly knock back the dough with your hands and tip the mix into a greased bread tin (ours is 28.5cm long, 13.5cm wide and 7cm deep).

Leave to rise in the tin for about another hour. It is difficult to be precise here but the dough needs to reach just above the top of the tin.

Preheat the oven to 220oC or 230oC if, like me, you like a really golden crust and put a tin of boiling water in the bottom of the oven to create some steam (this also helps with the crust formation).

Bake for 18 minutes at 220oC/230oC.

Then remove from the tin and bake for 17 minutes at 180oC.

Leave to cool before slicing.

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Simple bread rolls (cobs)

bread rolls

I love bread almost as much as pasta but recently I’ve been eating less because I would rather eat no bread than bad bread.  For me the only place for a Chorleywood white sliced is in a fish finger sandwich or a chip butty when all culinary snobbery is abandoned in any case.

But life is busy and there is not always the time to make bread from scratch. Admittedly I often resort to a bag of cobs from Bird’s when the children need a packed lunch.

When I do have the time I like to make these simple bread rolls. They are easy to make but they do take time to knead, rise and bake so you need to be in the house for a day to oversee the process. It’s a nice thing to do with the children at the weekend when it’s freezing cold and rainy.

The original recipe came from the Hairy Bikers via the BBC website. By coincidence, I was in the middle of writing this post when it featured on the BBC online front page under the title ‘12 easy recipes for baking better bread‘. I can vouch for the recipe being pretty foolproof (I’ve been using it for years) although careful comparison (which I’m sure you’re all far too busy to be bothered with) will reveal some alterations by me.

Basic bread rolls (or cobs if you’re from Nottingham)

Makes 8 rolls

  • 500g of strong white bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 teaspoons of dried yeast (I use Allinson’s Easy Bake Yeast – in a green tin)
  • 30g butter, softened
  • 75ml milk
  • 225ml warm water
  • Semolina, for dusting

Measure the flour into a large mixing bowl.

Then add the butter and rub this into the flour with your fingers until it is completely mixed in (there should be no large lumps of butter left).

Now add the yeast and salt and mix lightly with your hands.

Mix the milk with the warm water and add this to the bowl.

Mix everything together with your hands until it comes together into a rough dough.

Tip the dough onto a clean work surface and knead for at least 10 minutes until elastic and smooth. Although it’s tempting, don’t cheat with this bit or you will have very dense rolls.

Return the dough to the bowl and cover with a tea towel or cling film. Set aside for 1 ½ -3 hours until the dough has doubled in size. It is hard to give an exact time here because it will depend on the temperature of your room and other inexplicable factors like the age of your yeast and brand of your flour.

When the dough has risen, return it to a floured work surface and knock it back by kneading it on the work surface for around 30 seconds.

Separate the mixture into eight parts and roll each into a ball. Flatten each slightly with your hand and transfer the rolls to a baking tray dusted with semolina. Cover the tray with a tea towel and set aside for another hour, or until the rolls have doubled in size again.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 230 degrees C.

When the rolls have expanded, dust them with flour or semolina and transfer them to the oven. I like to slash the tops once with a sharp knife.

Bake for 15 – 20 mins, or until golden-brown and cooked through. A hollow tap on the bottom of a roll is a sign that they are done.

Leave to cool for at least 30 minutes. These rolls are best served warm but not hot.

bbcbread

Tea bread

Tea bread

Yes, it’s yet another cake…or is it a bread?

This recipe was kindly forwarded to me by one of my followers last year. I was thrilled that someone had engaged so directly with my site and me. I have baked this tea bread several times now and have tinkered with the amount of sugar in the recipe but it remains largely the same.

It’s a nice old-fashioned tasting cake/bread which makes a perfect elevenses or mid-afternoon treat with a nice cup of tea. There is hardly any fat in the recipe itself but feel free to slather slices of it with butter to make up for this fact. It is lovely by itself too though.

The cake is ridiculously easy to make and keeps very well – it actually seems to get better with age.

I like the idea of experimenting with the flavours of the tea the currants are soaked in – Earl Grey seems an obvious candidate (I think Mary Berry has a recipe that does this), but Green Tea or Theresa May’s favourite Lapsang Souchong could also be interesting.

Tea bread

  • 1 cup/140g of currants (not sultanas)
  • 1 ½ cups/330 ml of strong hot tea
  • 2 cups/260g of self-raising flour
  • ½ a cup/110g of demerara sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon of mixed spice

Start by soaking the currants overnight in the tea.

The next day, when you are ready to bake, heat your oven to 160oC.

Line and grease a medium-sized loaf tin (mine is 11cm wide, 22cm long and 6cm high).

In a large bowl measure out the flour, sugar, egg and mixed spice. Then tip in the currants along with their tea marinade. By now they will be all puffed up and tea flavoured.

Stir well with a wooden spoon then tip the batter into the prepared tin.

Bake for around an hour (or until a skewer comes out clean when poked through the middle).

Cool in the tin and store in an air tight container until you are ready to eat.

Two chocolate cakes

malted chocolate cake

I’ve spent most of January feeling ghastly and ill and it seems that everyone around me has been sick too, struck down by flu, hacking coughs, head colds etc. etc.

But it’s February now and I’m feeling much better. I even managed two glasses of white wine last night – having not touched a drop since the New Year (enforced, I might add, through illness not a dry January resolution).

To celebrate this more positive mood I’d like to offer you two more chocolate cake recipes to add to your collection.

The first – a Malty Chocolate Loaf – is elegant and velvety with a subtle hint of malt. It’s from my trusty Peyton and Byrne ‘British Baking’ cookbook. I don’t look forward to my trips to St Pancras Station as much now that they have closed their bakery there. Why did it go, it was such a joy?

The second is a hot, Magic Chocolate Pudding which creates its own sauce in the baking process. It’s a bit clumsy but comforting and delicious all the same – very school dinnerish. It’s my own concoction (with the aid of a little research on google).

Malty chocolate loaf

  • 125g of softened butter
  • 70g of light brown sugar
  • 110g of dark brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 140g of self raising flour
  • 1 tablespoon of Horlicks (or equivalent)
  • A pinch of salt
  • ½ a teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 110ml of milk (should be whole but semi skimmed seems to work just fine)
  • 50g of dark chocolate
  • 65g of milk chocolate chopped into small pieces

Preheat your oven to 170oC.

Butter and line a small loaf tin (mine is 11cm wide, 22cm long and 6cm high) with baking parchment.

Take a large bowl and tip in the butter, sugars, flour, Horlicks, egg and vanilla extract. With an electric hand whisk (or food processor) beat until light and fluffy.

Melt the dark chocolate in a microwave (on half power in short bursts) or in a heat proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Add this to the mix.

Add the milk and beat to combine.

Finally, stir in the milk chocolate pieces.

Tip the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 45-50 minutes or until a skewer in the centre comes out clean.

Let the cake cool in the tin. Store in an airtight container until ready to serve.

Quick magic chocolate pudding

If you need a quick pudding then this is very easy to whip up with bog standard store cupboard baking ingredients and it doesn’t need any accompaniments (although a dollop of ice cream would not be out of place). Perfect for a Sunday night in front of the TV. This recipe serves four very generously.

Sponge

  • 110g of self-raising flour
  • 110g of caster sugar
  • 110g of margarine (I use Stork)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder

Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
  • 60g of light brown sugar
  • 200ml of boiling water

Preheat your oven to 180oC.

Take a small baking or glass loaf dish (as pictured below) and butter well.

Measure out all the ingredients for the sponge in a large mixing bowl and mix quickly with an electric mixer until just incorporated, try not to over mix.

Tip the cake batter into the loaf tin.

Mix together all the ingredients for the sauce until the sugar and cocoa have dissolved and pour over the cake mix. This looks a bit wrong but don’t worry it will all turn out alright once it’s baked.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until just set and eat with greed and relish.

Ginger cake

ginger cake

Happy New Year!

Why does saying this seem so inappropriate in damp and dismal January?

If you’re struggling with the January blues (I am a little bit) then you might like to treat yourself by baking (and eating) this warming ginger cake.

The original recipe comes from Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries (the first one). It is a comforting, old fashioned ginger cake (tasting rather like the shop bought McVities Jamaica Ginger Cake, only better) and is very easy to make. To prove this point my daughter made the one pictured all by herself. She will not however be photographed for this blog anymore – she is nine and well aware of her rights.

The ginger flavour is quite subtle so if you want more punch then I suggest doubling the quantities of powdered and stem ginger. It is a very sturdy cake that keeps well for a week or so wrapped in foil. It actually tastes best after maturing for three or four days. Cut off a square and zap for 20 seconds in the microwave. It’s lovely by itself but even better served with ice cream, clotted cream or custard.

Ginger cake

Serves 9-12

  • 250g of self raising flour
  • 2 teaspoons of ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
  • A pinch of salt
  • 200g of golden syrup
  • 2 tablespoons of syrup form the stem ginger jar
  • 125g of butter
  • 55g (about 3 lumps) of stem ginger in syrup, diced finely (or leave larger if you like a good hit of ginger)
  • 2 heaped tablespoons of sultanas
  • 125g of dark muscovado sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 240ml of milk (semi-skimmed works fine)

Set your oven to 180oC (fan).

Take a 20 x 20 cm tin and line with baking parchment. I like to take the baking parchment all the way up the sides of the tin with extra to fold over the cake when storing. When I doubled the ingredients once for a large party I used a 22 x 33 cm tin.

Sift the flour with the powdered ginger, cinnamon, bicarbonate of soda and salt.

Put the golden syrup, ginger syrup and butter in a saucepan over a low heat until melted.

Then add the diced stem ginger, sultanas and sugar. Turn up the heat and let the mixture bubble gently for a minute, stirring often so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom and burn.

In another bowl add the eggs and milk and whisk with a fork.

Pour the syrup and butter mixture into the flour and stir with a metal spoon, then add the milk and eggs and mix until everything is well incorporated.

Tip the mixture into the lined cake tin and bake for 35-40 minutes (45-50 if you’ve double the quantity).

Leave the cake to cool in the tin and then wrap it up in the baking parchment and store in an air tight container. Leave to mature for a couple of days if you can.

Vegan chocolate cake

vegan chocolate cake

A very honest (and bad) photo!

I hosted my book group this week. We talked about Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Heart Goes Last’ which divided opinion and prompted a good debate. I thought it was rubbish.

I have only recently entered the Book Group World and always imagined it to be just an excuse to drink white wine on a school night. Whilst this may be true of some, ours is more a decaff tea and cake affair. This makes a nice change as most of my other social groups only seem to function when accompanied by copious amounts of alcohol.

One of our members is vegan which set me a welcome challenge to find an edible cake recipe that used neither eggs or dairy. A quick google search bought up thousands of options but I had to search hard to find one that used regular (albeit dairy free) store cupboard ingredients (no agave syrup, medjool dates, coconut butter or flax eggs here please!).

My supplies of vinegar and bicarbonate of soda have dramatically decreased since the children started using them in their ‘Kitchen Science’ experiments. But it’s the same reaction between the vinegar and bicarb that propels plastic rockets and creates mini volcanoes that makes this cake rise in the absence of eggs.

The cake is disappointingly bland until you add the silky, sticky glaze which transforms it into something rather delicious. I would serve it quite happily to non-vegans who I don’t think would complain. It’s not a looker though (as the photo above demonstrates). You could work the presentation if you like with rose petals. Nigella does this in her version.

Vegan Chocolate Cake Recipe

For the cake

  • 180g of plain flour
  • 200g of caster sugar
  • 40g of cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ a teaspoon of salt
  • 215ml of warm water or coffee (I used decaff coffee)
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 70ml of vegetable or sunflower oil
  • 1 teaspoon of white or apple cider vinegar

For the glaze

  • 100g of caster sugar
  • 60g of vegan/dairy free margarine
  • 2 tablespoons of soya milk
  • 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 180oC.

Line a 20cm x 20cm (8 x 8 inch) square baking tin with parchment and grease with vegetable oil or vegan margarine.

Into a mixing bowl add the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt and stir with a fork until there are no lumps.

Measure the warm water/coffee, vanilla extract, vegetable oil and vinegar into a jug and pour into the dry ingredients.

Mix the ingredients together with a metal spoon until incorporated.

Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 30 minutes.

Cool on a cooling rack while you make the glaze.

For the glaze, in a small saucepan melt the sugar, margarine, soya milk and cocoa powder and bring to a boil stirring all the time. Simmer for 2 minutes then remove from the heat and stir for an additional 5 minutes until the mixture is cooled and thickened. Stir in the vanilla extract.

Pour the glaze onto cake and put in the fridge to set.

vegan chocolate cake 1

Unglazed

Chocolate peppermint bars

chocolatepeppermintbars

I don’t often buy magazines but this one shouted ‘buy me’ from the rack in WHSmiths. Take a look at the headings at the bottom and you’ll see why.

Simplethingsmagazine

It’s quite a sweet magazine which I enjoyed reading. I do appreciate the simple things in life so this idea appealed to me greatly – although there was still a heavily consumerist angle which seemed to contradict their ethos somewhat (although I accept that this is how magazines survive). Printed media is having a huge resurgence (rather like vinyl) and there are some really beautiful publications around at the moment.

Anyway, I spied and saved this ‘hand-me-down recipe’ to try (which I believe was from Rachel Allen – in cutting it out I lost the reference).

If you like the peppermint/chocolate combination (think After Eights, mint choc chip ice cream etc) then you’ll love these. I would describe them as a cross between millionaire’s shortbread and Kendal mint cake. However, unlike millionaire’s shortbread these are pretty easy to make.

I’m the only one in my family who is not a mint choc chip fan so I thought I’d be immune to temptation with these. Memories of making vile peppermint creams at primary school has put me off the smell of peppermint essence forever.

However, having tried a small bite of one (for the sake of research) I have to say they are surprisingly delicious – which is both good and bad at the same time.

Chocolate peppermint bars

Makes 12-18 bars depending on how big you cut them

For the shortbread

  • 225g of plain flour
  • 75g of sugar
  • 150g of butter

For the peppermint cream

  • 75g butter
  • 300g of icing sugar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of milk
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of peppermint essence

For the chocolate topping

  • 150g of dark chocolate

Line a 20 x 20 cm square tin with baking parchment.

Preheat your oven to 180oC fan.

To make the shortbread, measure the flour, softened butter and sugar into a bowl and rub through your fingers until well incorporated and breadcrumb like. Press the mixture into the tin and bake in the oven for 25 minutes until golden. Leave to cool completely (you can speed this up by putting it in the fridge if necessary).

To make the peppermint cream, add the 75g of softened butter, icing sugar, milk and peppermint into a bowl and beat with a hand held electric mixer until fluffy. Spread the mixture onto the cooled shortbread using a palette knife dipped in warm water to get the surface as level and even as possible. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Melt the dark chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, or in the microwave. Tip this over the top of the peppermint cream and level off with a palette knife and place in the fridge until hardened.

Cut into squares with a very sharp knife as neatly as possible. You’ll notice that mine are a bit messy but this didn’t seem to ruin the taste.

chocolatepeppermintbarsandcoffee

A random photo of my first crop of homegrown basil which has just been whizzed up into pesto. Try to ignore the slug holes.

basil

Bread and ice cream

bread

We’ve had a really tough week. Ben’s dad died. We knew it was coming (he had cancer) but this didn’t make it any easier.

My first instinct is to turn to food for comfort (I think it’s the only way I know). And for our family ‘happy’ foods would be ice cream or perhaps a home baked loaf.

So on Sunday we had a sugar-crazed ice cream ‘mash up’. I made vanilla ice cream and presented it with a selection of sauces, with sweets to garnish, in true ‘Pizza Hut Ice Cream Factory’ style. This was reminiscent of sleepovers when I was 14 where we would eat pizza and ice cream until we felt sick and then watch naff horror films like Nightmare on Elm Street or Child’s Play.

The ice cream ‘mash up’ was fun and temporarily took our mind off things. Only just like my teenage self we got over excited and ate so much that we felt ill and had to lie down and listen to audio books (in lieu of television) for the rest of the day.

In the end it was the next morning’s freshly baked bread that won through. Slathered with real butter this was the stuff of true, wholesome, everyday happiness.

With Ben away watching over his ailing father, it has fallen on me to make the daily bread. I had to ask for his current recipe which has been updated since the one I posted back in September 2013 (the main change being the larger size since our children now eat more than we do).

So please find below four recipes for ice cream sauces and one for a good loaf of bread.

Peace be with you David Shelton (1950-2017).

Ice Cream Mash up

icecreammashup

For my homemade vanilla ice cream recipe click here. Or just buy some ready made.

Each of the sauce recipes below makes a jam jar full. More than you’ll need for one session but they will keep well in the fridge for a couple of weeks, or you could freeze any leftovers.

Milk chocolate peanut sauce

  • 175ml of double cream
  • 100g of milk chocolate
  • 100g of peanut butter (smooth or crunchy it’s up to you)
  • 3 tablespoons of golden syrup

Heat all the ingredients slowly in a saucepan until everything is melted and amalgamated. Best served warm.

Hot chocolate fudge sauce

  • 80ml of double cream
  • 60ml of golden syrup
  • 40g of dark brown sugar
  • 30g of cocoa powder
  • A pinch of salt
  • 85g of good quality dark chocolate
  • 15g of butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Heat all the ingredients slowly in a saucepan until everything is melted and amalgamated.

This creates a thick sauce. Add a little more full milk or double cream if you want it thinner.

Salted caramel sauce

  • 175g light soft brown sugar
  • 300ml double cream
  • 50g butter
  • ½ tsp salt (I prefer a bit more but start with ½ tsp and see what you think)

Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan set over a low heat, and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Turn the heat up and bubble the sauce for 2-3 mins until golden and syrupy. Leave to cool for 10 mins before serving. Can be made up to 3 days in advance and chilled – gently reheat to serve.

The other option is to open a tin of caramel condensed milk and add a good pinch of Maldon sea salt.

Raspberry sauce

  • 350g bag of frozen raspberries
  • 50g of icing sugar

Heat the raspberries (straight from frozen) with the icing sugar over a low heat in a saucepan on the hob. Let it simmer for a few minutes (3-5). I like a smooth texture with no pips so I sieve the mixture before serving but this is a total pain and does take ages (plus nightmare washing up to get the pips out of the sieve). If you don’t mind pips then just skip this step.

Or, alternatively, whizz up a tin of raspberries in syrup and sieve (or not).

Best served chilled.

sauce

Sumptuous sauces (clockwise from top left, raspberry, milk chocolate peanut, salted caramel and dark chocolate).

sweets

Sprinkles

 

Ben’s bread (current version)

  • 900g of strong bread flour (mainly white with 200-300g of spelt or wholemeal if you like)
  • 12g of salt
  • 6g of easy bake yeast
  • 550ml of water
  • (Optional) A small handful of seeds of your choice e.g. sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, poppy

Add all the ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Bring together with your hands and knead for at least 10 minutes.

Leave in the bowl covered with cling film until it has at least doubled in size – usually 2 hours but this may take a bit longer if it’s a cold day.

Knock back the dough with your hands and knead gently for another minute. Grease a large bread tin (mine is 28.5cm long, 13.5cm wide and 7cm deep) and  press the dough into the tin. Leave to rise in the tin for another 30-60 minutes. The dough needs to reach just above the top of the tin and this for me usually takes around 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 220oC or 230oC if, like me, you like a really golden crust and put a tin of boiling water in the bottom of the oven to create some steam (this also helps with the crust formation).

Bake for 18 minutes at 220oC/230oC.

Then remove from the tin and bake for 17 minutes at 180oC.

Leave to cool before slicing.

Nigella’s dairy free olive oil chocolate cake

oliveoilchocoatecake

These are the things I haven’t given up for Lent.

Cake, coffee and a good book.

How can I not be happy with those marvellous things still in my life?

For me Nigella is the queen of cakes – even better than Mary or Delia – and this dairy free chocolate one is delicious and very simple to make.

There are a few members of my family who don’t eat dairy so this is a useful recipe to have in my ever expanding collection of chocolate cakes (this is the fifth one on this blog and that doesn’t even include chocolate brownies, muffins and fondants!).

oliveoilchocoatecake1

Nigella’s dairy free olive oil chocolate cake

Makes a big cake which cuts into 12 large slices

  • 150ml of regular olive oil, plus a little to grease the tin
  • 50g of cocoa powder
  • 125ml of boiling water
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • 125g of plain flour (or, if you want a gluten free cake, use 150g of ground almonds instead, although this will result in a heavier cake best served warm with cream)
  • ½ teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
  • A pinch of salt
  • 200g of caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 170°C.

Line a 23cm diametre spring form tin with baking parchment and grease lightly with olive oil.

Sift the cocoa powder into a small bowl or jug and stir in the boiling water until well combined and without lumps. Add the vanilla extract and leave to cool a little.

In another bowl, measure out the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt and stir to combine.

In a large bowl add the eggs, olive oil and sugar and whisk with an electric hand whisk on a high speed for about 3 minutes until light and fluffy. Nigella uses a free standing mixer with a paddle attachment but I don’t have one of these.

Add the cocoa mixture and mix briefly on a low speed until just incorporated.

Then add the flour and mix on low again until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 40-45 minutes until the cake is just set. Mine was perfect after 40.

Let the cake cool in the tin on a wire rack for 10 minutes and then turn out and leave to cool. Or, eat warm with cream or ice cream.

This cake keeps well but if my family is anything to go by it won’t last more than a day or so.

Macarons (or is it Macaroons?)

macaroons1

Dainty, pretty and staggeringly expensive macarons seemed to be everywhere in Belgium. We only had them once (as a treat) but this prompted the children to ask when I was going to make macarons again. I vowed that on our return home I would dig out my Mary Berry recipe, defrost the egg whites in the freezer, and rustle some up.

This week I finally kept my promise.

It was then that I remembered why I don’t make macarons very often.

The recipe (which is described as easy) seemed straight forward and all went swimmingly until the part which says very neatly (in soft and calm Mary Berry voice).

“Spoon the macaron mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 1cm round nozzle. Pipe 5cm circles onto the baking tray”.

Now what this doesn’t say is that it is almost impossible to hold the piping bag steady with one hand and fill it with the other because the extremely sticky mixture won’t come off the spoon and you’ve run out of hands. And whilst you’ve been faffing about trying to fill the bag from the top the runny mix is dripping straight out the bottom of the nozzle. You just about manage to pipe messy circles but then, when you have to refill the piping bag, you can’t prise it open because it’s stuck together with syrup. And your hands stick to everything they touch because they’re covered in bright green macaron mix…as is the work surface…the sink…and the floor.

Perhaps I needed one of these piping bag stands that they sell in Lakeland.

 

piping-bag-holder

But I don’t like Lakeland – who sell pointless gadgets to the desperate (in this case me) and gullible.

You can also buy this.

pipping-set

 

Now this does look like it would work but I’m not sure I’m that devoted to the art of macaron making to invest in specialist equipment.

Anyway, I battled on and once the rough looking macarons were baked and sandwiched together they didn’t look too bad. I picked out the best ones for the photograph above and placed them on a beautiful James Hake dish which helped.

The thing is I don’t even like macarons. But I do like making people happy and the smile of anticipation on my children’s faces when I showed them the results of my labours was well worth all the fuss and washing up.

I pretended not to hear when they asked “Mummy, when are you going to make macarons again?”

PS. I still don’t know whether it’s macaron or macaroon.

Mary Berry’s macaroon/macaron recipe

Makes 9-12

For the macarons

  • 125g ground almonds
  • 200g icing sugar
  • 3 egg whites
  • 2 tablespoons of caster sugar
  • ½ teaspoon of cream of tartar
  • Food colouring (whatever colour takes your fancy)

For the butter cream filling (my recipe)

  • 100g of dark chocolate
  • 50g butter
  • 200g of icing sugar

For the macarons, first mix together the icing sugar and ground almonds and try to get rid of any large lumps by crushing with the back of a spoon (you’re meant to blitz in a blender but this makes too much washing up for my liking).

Using an electric whisk beat the egg whites in a scrupulously clean large bowl until stiff peaks form. Then slowly whisk in the cream of tartar and caster sugar until the mixture is smooth and glossy.

With a large metal spoon, gently fold in the food colouring, icing sugar and ground almonds.

Take a piping bag fitted with a 1cm round nozzle. Fill the bag with the mixture (as best you can) and pipe 5 cm circles of mixture onto flat baking sheets lined with baking parchment. I draw around a 5 cm round biscuit cutter onto the baking parchment to make a guide but it is worth noting that the mixture does spread so if you want your macarons to be 5 cm then don’t pipe all the way to the edge. It’s a good idea to leave plenty of space between each macaron in case they spread more than you hope.

If a peak forms on top then flatten it down with a damp finger. Tap the trays sharply onto the work surface to expel any air bubbles and then let the macaroons settle for about an hour, or until the surface is no longer sticky.

Heat the oven to 160oC and bake for 15 minutes.

Leave to cool for 10 minutes before removing from the baking parchment with a flat knife and transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Make up the butter cream filling by melting the dark chocolate and mixing with softened butter and icing sugar until smooth. You could also fill the macarons with standard butter cream, or lemon curd or whipped cream.

Use the filling to sandwich the macarons together. Then chill in the fridge until the butter cream has set before storing in an air tight container at room temperature.