Category Archives: baking

Weekend focaccia experiments

A long, lonesome weekend often leads me to culinary experimentation and this weekend I was particularly bold. Seeing as I’d never cooked focaccio before, I don’t know what led me to try out focaccia with toppings. The first was chick peas, tomato and rosemary – as inspired by this photograph by Parla Food.

The second was inspired by a bread-based flamiche I tried at The Bertinet Kitchen (a cookery school in Bath that has a bakery open on Saturday mornings).

Now, the chickpea looks good but didn’t taste very special. Could have done with a lot more garlic and, I suspect, an obscene amount of oil. I’ll leave that one. The leeky, cheesy focaccia on the other hand was DELICIOUS. I hereby dub it ‘foc-quiche-a’. More space for toppings would improve it immensely. I will definitely be trying this again, very soon, and aim to give a proper recipe!

I’ve written this on my lunch break, having just polished off a couple of slices of the cheese and leek foc-quiche-a with tomatoes and cucumber. I think it would be utterly lovely for a picnic!

Naan Bread – Grilled

This is my brand-spanking new naan recipe, that has blown my old baked naan bread recipe out of the water. With this recipe, you first dry fry on the hottest hob and then finish off under the blazing grill. It is a very sticky dough, only really suitable to make with the help of a mixer, and you ideally need a gas oven to get the heat needed to cook it. However, it has a brilliant texture, with crispy risen bubbles and thick spongy edges. Perfect to go with a curry.


This recipe makes 4 large naans (that perfectly fit a 23 cm frying pan).

Ingredients

  • 1 sachet (7 g) yeast
  • 125 ml lukewarm water
  • 125 ml natural yoghurt
  • 30 g melted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Nigella / black onion / kalonji seeds (these are all the same thing, but known to different people by different names)
  • 150 g strong white bread flour
  • 150 g plain white flour

How to make it

First, combine all the ingredients (except the flour) in a small jug. Now, if you have a mixer then you simply put the flour into the mixing bowl, add the jug of wet ingredients and leave it to knead for about 5-10 minutes until the dough becomes silky. If mixing the dough by hand, then put all the flour onto a surface and create a well in the middle, big enough to accommodate all the wet ingredients. Pour the wet ingredients into the well you’ve made. Then drag the flour to the centre and combine it quickly, before it starts to run down the surfaces and into your shoes. You will have to knead for a good 10 minutes, so the dough goes from just mixed (it’ll look sort of messy and shaggy) to combined, and then as you knead more it’ll start to relax and get silky and spongy.

When your dough is kneaded, lightly coat it in oil and place in a bowl. Cover the bowl with a plastic bag and leave the bowl in a warm place until it doubles in size. I leave mine on a windowsill and it takes about an hour and a half. When it has doubled, punch it down and leave it to rise again. If you can do this three or four times it helps improve the dough but it’s not strictly necessary.

When you’re ready to go, get a work surface floured and get your dough and cut it into four pieces. Roll each into a ball and roll out until it’s half a centimetre thick. Once you have your dough ready, place it on a baking tray and cover in plastic and leave in a warm place for 20 minutes. The naan will rise a little. This is a very important stage and should always be done, no matter how many times you punched down the dough.

Preheat your frying pan and your grill. Place one of your naans into the frying pan and let to cook over the highest heat possible for about 5-7 minutes until the bottom becomes quite charred. At this stage, the bubbles should have started to form on the surface of the bread.

Finish the bread off under a hot grill and watch as the naan rises even further. It should take less than 5 minutes to cook through under the grill.

To serve, paint it with a little melted butter. Yum.

Naan Bread – Baked

It took a lot of experimentation to get this baked naan bread recipe right. I also have a recipe for grilled naan bread. The pros of baked naan bread are that it’s easier to make without a mixer (the dough isn’t as wet) and you can cook more than one at a time. They’re also good to freeze after being cooked. The down side is that you don’t get the large air bubbles & associated crispiness that happens with grilled naan. So the texture isn’t quite as good. But, it’s still a fair bread to go with curry.

This recipe makes 4 large naans.

Ingredients

  • 1 sachet (7 g) yeast
  • 100 ml lukewarm water
  • 100 ml natural yoghurt
  • 30 g melted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Nigella / black onion / kalonji seeds (these are all the same thing, but known to different people by different names)
  • 300 g strong white bread flour

How to make it

First, combine all the ingredients (except the flour) in a small jug. Now, if you have a mixer then you simply put the flour into the mixing bowl, add the jug of wet ingredients and leave it to knead for about 5-10 minutes until the dough becomes silky. If mixing the dough by hand, then put all the flour onto a surface and create a well in the middle, big enough to accommodate all the wet ingredients. Pour the wet ingredients into the well you’ve made. Then drag the flour to the centre and combine it quickly, before it starts to run down the surfaces and into your shoes. You will have to knead for a good 10 minutes, so the dough goes from just mixed (it’ll look sort of messy and shaggy) to combined, and then as you knead more it’ll start to relax and get silky and spongy.

When your dough is kneaded, lightly coat it in oil and place in a bowl. Cover the bowl with a plastic bag and leave the bowl in a warm place until it doubles in size. I leave mine on a windowsill and it takes about an hour and a half. When it has doubled, punch it down and leave it to rise again. If you can do this three or four times it helps improve the dough but it’s not strictly necessary.

Preheat your oven to 200 Celsius

When you’re ready to go, get a work surface floured and get your dough and cut it into four pieces. Roll each into a ball and roll out until it’s half a centimetre thick. Pull at one end of the dough as you roll it if you want the classic teardrop shape. Once you have your dough ready, place it on a baking tray and cover in plastic and leave in a warm place for 20 minutes. I find that on top of the oven is quite a good idea as it’s warm from the preheating. The naan will rise a little. This is a very important stage and should always be done, no matter how many times you punched down the dough. If you want to add garlic (as shown in the picture), then do so at this stage.

Bake your naan bread in the middle of the oven for around 15-20 minutes or until golden and risen (I like mine very golden as you can see!)

To finish off, paint it with a little melted butter. Yum.

The Naan Bread Saga

I have had many many problems with naan bread (not least because I have to sing the first verse of ‘Here Comes the Hotstepper‘ every time I make it). For over a year now I’ve been trying all sorts of naan recipe and they’ve had varying degrees of success. Mainly clustered around the ‘unsuccessful’ end of the spectrum. Whether thin and hard or flabby and doughy they were all disappointing and I began to wonder, “just how do you make naan bread?”.

Through much tinkering and many failures I have come up with two versions that seem to work in my oven – the baked naan isn’t quite as spectacular as the grilled naan but it is a bit easier to make.
First is a baked naan recipe, which you cook in a moderate oven.
PROS: dough is easy to make without a mixer; you can cook more than one at a time; good to freeze.
CONS: don’t get the large air bubbles & associated crispiness.

Second is a grilled naan recipe, which you first dry fry on the hottest hob and then finish off under the blazing grill.
PROS: brilliant texture, with crispy risen bubbles and thick spongy edges
CONS: can only cook one at a time; sticky dough which is difficult to make without a mixer; need a very hot stove & grill (so preferably gas).

Car Birthday Cake

When you will go and make an outlandish, rainbow-coloured UN-birthday cake for your own party, it seems only polite to oblige when your beloved asks for something equally as ridiculous and time consuming for their birthday.

My brief was simple: a red car cake. With jam.

I scoured the internet for car cake tins (thought I could cut a corner – ho ho – here) but was thoroughly unimpressed at the 20-odd-quid price tag. They would also mean no jam, unless I were to start slicing it up which would sort of defeat the point of buying a cake mould. With a bit of inventiveness surely I could do it with what I had in already?

Using a remote-controlled car as a template and two slightly differently sized loaf tins I set to work. I used the same recipe as the UN-birthday cake, but only used 1/2 the sponge batter and 3/4 of the icing.

I poured 2/3 of the sponge batter into the larger loaf tin, and 1/3 into the smaller one. (Pictured below is the ‘squodging‘ stage where I pressed the larger cake down when it was nearly cooked so it would be flatter to work with).

While I waited for my sponge to cool, I assembled my icing accessories (lights, number plates, wheels, wing mirrors, car badge), cake board with finishing line, chequered flags (made from cocktail sticks), trophy and candles (for the exhaust pipe).

I sandwiched the sponges with jam (only the top sponge needed a little cutting with a very sharp knife).

Then smothered the whole thing in a LOT of red icing, and started to add the pre-coloured roll-out icing accessories.

And TLM had three slices of it for birthday breakfast.

Croissants, by the light of the silvery moon

TLM has been working some extremely unsociable hours recently (two months down, two to go) and we often pass like ships in the night. We live in a perpetual time-delay, asking how the ‘day’ of work went some 18 hours after it happened. He arrives home after I’ve left for work and I wake him at 6pm as I return. We make the bed for each other, leaving the corner turned down and PJs for the other person folded up neatly (and, of course, Dr Cuddles who takes the place of the ‘spoonee‘). It’s only right when the bed is in near 24-hour use.

When he’s not working nights, he’s working all weekend as long days (7am-10pm) and so I am left to my own devices. For a while I spent some fantastically self-indulgent days sitting in the park, cycling, getting my hair cut, shopping, wedding-scheming… and then I decided to try new, labour-intensive recipes that are not possible when you have to think about other people.

So I made croissants, using the recipe from the new River Cottage Bread Book. Lordy. They were everything they promised to be (waiting for dough in large bin liners, pounding butter between cling film, endless rolling, precise isosceles-triangle cutting) and more. They tasted fantastic, and I was overwhelmed with pride that they actually looked like croissants. They were soft, moist, crackly and endlessly giving. One was filling enough (TLM usually eats three, and a few pain au chocolat to boot). They really rewarded the effort that went into them.

Will I be bothered to do them again? Probably not. I just don’t see how so much attention can be lavished on any meal, let alone a breakfast pastry. Also, I’m clearly terrible at cutting them as I had about 200g of wasted pastry (this I cannot tolerate) and so it’s probably more economical to buy them. But to have a croissant with substance was a pleasing change. And they did work lovely as a 7pm dinner/breakfast for me/him.

Rainbow UN-birthday Cake

My heart skipped a beat when Heston Blumenthal, experimental chef extraordinaire, brought out a completely edible insect-filled garden and vibrating absinthe jelly at his Alice in Wonderland themed feast. My own Mad Hatter Tea Party had been planned for some time and now the bar had been raised and I had to do something special. My head was filled with images of psychedelic, towering, toppling cakes exploding with colour… but it had to be achievable. And it had to give up a special secret at the last minute.

So I made a cake, smothered it in pink icing and stuck cards all around the base. And I kept the surprise all to myself. So as the cake was brought out to me and people sang me a happy UN-birthday, I was sniggering inside knowing I had my Heston Blumenthal moment to come. With great mischievousness, I cut the tall cake open to reveal…

Rainbow Birthday Cake


Rainbow UN-birthday Cake | a zillion calories per serving | Serves 20-25


It was incredible to see the astounded faces of my guests. I can now completely understand the feeling Heston gets when he makes someone fill with childish smiles over the food they’re about to eat.

It was completely worth the effort, especially as it was straight-forward to make, and I recommend it to anyone. It was just a Victoria sponge, a WHOLE jar of jam to stick it all together and a slathering of butter icing to hold it all together and make ‘operation: wonderment’ complete.

Admittedly, there was some special food-paste dye (which can be bought online and is worth the investment as it is vivid and doesn’t alter the texture of the cake mixture) but there was a lot of washing up… Luckily my mock-turtle kitchen assistant took care of that 🙂



Ingredients – for the cake

For the cake

  • 450 g self raising flour
  • 450 g unsalted butter or margarine
  • 450 g caster sugar
  • 8 eggs
  • food dye

For the layering & icing

  • 1 jar of raspberry jam for sandwiching the layers together
  • 250 g unsalted butter
  • 500 g icing sugar
  • dash hot water
  • food dye

[Lots of people have asked me where to get the food dye from. I got mine from a local kitchen shop at a hefty £2.50 per tub, but you can get all the colours you need for a rainbow cake in this Set of 8 Wilton Food Colours.]


How to Make the Rainbow Cake

  1. Cream the butter and sugar together until soft and white.
  2. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl.
  3. Alternate adding the beaten eggs and the flour in to the butter and sugar mixture.
  4. Mix until combined, but not totally smooth.
  5. Separate between six large bowls, add the relevant food dye and mix/beat until smooth (if you beat till smooth first and then added the food dye and beat again you’d probably get rid of all the air).
  6. Pour into sandwich tins (I think mine are 23cm).
  7. Cook the sponges, two at a time, in the middle of an oven preheated to 190 Celsius. Cook for 15-20 minutes, depending on the amount of mixture (you’re bound to have somehow misjudged the batter for one of the layers).

Leave the layers to go absolutely cool before sandwiching together with LOTS of jam. Don’t worry if it’s a big mess, it will be fine once covered in icing.

To make the icing, beat the butter and sugar together, adding a little water if needed and the food dye of whatever colour you like. Ice the cake from the bottom up using a knife. Don’t get too neat.

Decorate the outside however you like and then wait out the moment of the big reveal!

p.s. A special mention should be made of my mother who, though she can’t cook, is an outstanding seamstress (a skill that sadly eludes me) and made me a fantastic costume:

rainbow-unbirthday-party

Also thanks to dad who scared the rain away by spending hours putting up tarpaulin, and a big hello to people visiting because I outed my blogging habit after a little too much sparkling wine (and absinthe?!) drunk from teacups!

Malta-eser Cake

Every year I watch Eurovision and every year I flounce out of the room at around midnight, fed up having wasted three hours of my life watching it.

This year we’re going to friends’ for dinner and to watch the show, hopefully in better humour. I will be taking a Malta-eser cake (geddit, geddit?) in honour of the country that always gives us some points. [[it’s the Chocolate Malteser Cake from Nigella Lawson’s Feast book]]. I’ve been wanting to make it for some time and had a practise during the week and it was so good – I’ll definitely be making it again! I promise to make it for my dad who is such a fan of Maltesers (Whoppers, apparently in the US) and will find this not at all too chocolatey!

Black Forest Fairy Cake

Today I discovered a truly delightful side-effect of my blogging. After a long day at work, followed by a hard slog in the gym I came home to TLM who presented me with the cake pictured above. What has this got to do with blogging? Well, he has just come off nights (so has a short reprise before getting back on the wards) and, unable to sleep, pootled on my food blog. Spotting these, he decided to go to town making a full-sized and thoroughly him version…

To paraphrase the method he described:

He started by doubling the chocolate sponge recipe which produced six (muffin-sized!) fairy cakes. An unsuccessful foray to the local supermarket meant he decided to make his own cherry jam (wow!) to, and I quote, “smear inside the hole”. He then divided some cream, leaving some plain and combining the other half with “mashed-up” cherries. The pink cream went into the hole, followed by some more cherry jam, topped off by the excised sponge lid. A dollop of cream, a cherry and a sprinkling of chocolate – et voilà!

I am so ridiculously impressed! They were delicious and, knowing he might get a spot on my blog ;), beautifully presented. What a winner!

Festive Fanices

I got the recipe a few months ago, and have made them every couple of weeks since – for my work colleagues, for his work colleagues, for our parties, to take to parties – and they are by far my most successful offering. Having cooked them about 6 or 7 times means that I’ve finally got the recipe and method to work perfectly. Everyone comments on how lovely they taste and, after much tweaking, they now look the part too! The cakes themselves are cooked in the teeniest of petit four cases so noone can get away with the old ‘you’re going to make me fat!’ quip. If you eat 10, it’s not my fault. They are quick to make, but do require a piping bag but I think that’s a price I’m willing to pay. This recipe makes about 30ish.

Ingredients
for the cakes
  • 55g butter
  • 55g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 55g self raising flour
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp milk
for the icing
  • 100g plain chocolate
  • 100ml double cream
  • a couple tbsp icing sugar 
How to make it
After much experimentation, this is the best method. Preheat the oven to 190 celcius.
Start by making the icing so that it has plenty of time to cool. Microwave the chocolate and cream together on a low heat for a couple of minutes. It’s best to have it under-melted and leave it to melt a little than to have it zapped to death. Leave to one side to cool.
Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl. Beat in the egg, then fold in the sifter flour and cocoa. Stir in the milk. This should be quite a sloppy batter.
Lay out your mini petit four cases on a baking tray (you don’t need anything fancy) so they’re easy to handle. I used a silicone tray first time. Not recommended!
Spoon the batter into a piping bag with a medium sized nozzle (it can be plain or fluted, it doesn’t matter)  and pipe a little mixture into the cases – they should be about half full. Cook the cakes in the top of the oven for 10 – 14 minutes. No longer. After cooking, put them on a rack to stop them cooking any further. The secret about these delicious cakes is that the sponge is not dry at all. Leave the cakes to cool.
Using a whisk, beat together the cold chocolate and cream mixture for a good 5-8 minutes until it starts to thicken. As it starts to thicken, add the icing sugar as needed until the mixture becomes very stiff. The reason I add icing sugar and make the icing very stiff is that I’ve made it slippery before and it fell from a glorious glossy pile on the mini-cake to a flat ganache. It was most disheartening.
Once the cakes have cooled (it won’t take long but they must be cool otherwise the icing will simply slip off – voice of experience here!) you can pipe the icing on top.
Now I’ve used mini-smarties, fancy dragees and even crunchie nuggets to go on the top of these, but a raspberry is the perfect topping. It cuts through the rich cake and really is the best topping (even if out of season at Christmas…)