Friday, 29 October 2010

Spicy Thai Salad

Four years ago I went on holiday to Ko Lanta in Thailand and it stole a little piece of my heart. It's one of the only places in the world I would seriously consider moving to. In stressful moments my husband and I fantasise about giving it all up and opening a little guest house over there. I'd be a dive instructor by day and feed my guests by night and he would make us rich beyond our wildest dreams by playing online poker.  Actually, I appear to be getting a fairly poor deal there, but diving and cooking for a living would be fun!

On our second visit we indulged in some Thai cooking classes at Time For Lime, a fabulous cooking school run by Junie Kovacs, a Norwegian who has dedicated her life to Thai cooking. I had always liked Thai food but learning about the flavour combination of spicy, sour, salty and sweet through the medium of mien kaam, in a training kitchen on a beach, turned a mild interest into an obsession.

Here in the UK it's not always easy to get hold of ingredients, although more and more towns now have good Chinese, Thai or more generic Asian supermarkets. And of course online shopping sites are very useful. I'm lucky enough to have a fantastic shop just 10 minutes walk from my house but as this is not the case everywhere this is a derivation of som tam (green papaya salad) using more readily available ingredients.  Som tam is traditionally made in individual portions in a mortar and pestle. Not everyone has one to hand though so I suggest using a large bowl with a rolling pin to bruise and mix all the ingredients together.

Vegetarians can replace the fish sauce with light soy and leave out the dried shrimp. Bird's eye chilis can be found in most supermarkets and a good rule to follow is: 1 chili for moderately spicy, 2 chilis for spicy and 3 chilis for very spicy. As a time saver I tend to pre-roast an entire bag of shelled peanuts and store them in a large jar. I also pre-grind the dried shrimp. As skinning peanuts is a thankless task I recommend you buy large bags of shelled and unsalted peanuts from a health food shop like Julian Graves.

Spicy Thai Salad (serves 2 as a side portion)
  • 100g grated raw carrot
  • 50g green beans, cut into 2.5cm pieces
  • 50g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 shallot, finely sliced
  • 1 garlic cloves crushed to a paste
  • 1/2 tbs ground shrimp (this can be omitted if you can't get hold of it)
  • 25g peanuts, unsalted
  • 2 red bird's eye chilis
  • 1 large (milder) red chili
  • 25g bean sprouts
For the dressing
  • 3 tbs lime juice and a small piece of rind
  • 1 tbs fish sauce
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  1. Roast your peanuts in a dry frying pan over a hot heat. This only takes about 2 mins in a hot pan so keep an eye on them and remove them from the pan the minute they are ready or will they will burn
  2. If you have whole dried shrimp use a food processor to grind them into a coarse dust. Don't worry if there are larger chunks left in, it adds a nice chewy texture.
  3. Combine the lime juice, rind, fish sauce and sugar in a small bowl and stir to dissolve the sugar. Taste is very important here, add more of any of these ingredients if you think the dressing is too sharp or salty etc.
  4. Slice the bird's eye chili into thin rings
  5. De-seed and slice the large chili length ways into long thins strips
  6. Mix all the ingredients except the dressing in a large bowl and lightly pound with the end of rolling pin or back of a large spoon. (Don't pound too hard unless you are using a real pestle and mortar as the bowl will not withstand too much)
  7. Now add the dressing to the salad and pound gently to thoroughly mix all the ingredients together. Add the dressing immediately before serving as the longer the chili sits in the dressing, the spicier it will become

Traditionally served with grilled or barbecue chicken and a bowl of sticky rice but it's also great with tod man pla (fish cakes) and sweet chili dressing (recipe posted soon).

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Halloween Treats

As already mentioned I make cakes once a week for my husband and his writing team over at the games design company.  This week it's Halloween and I'd originally thought of a lovely pumpkin cake but since my husband doesn't believe vegetables belong in desserts (the freak) I had to have a rethink.  I consider Halloween to be an American holiday and thought it would be a appropriate to make something that is the epitome of Americana - peanut butter cup cakes covered in chocolate.  I've returned once again to the Primrose Bakery book and this time have not been disappointed.

The cakes themselves have a mild flavour which is important considering the 'stick to the roof of your mouth' texture of peanut butter. The chocolate icing sets hard so as you bite into it you get a satisfying thick layer of chocolate followed by soft peanutty sponge. The overall effect is one of a home-made (and much nicer) Reece's Cup.

Please feel free to admire the much improved (but still not perfect) photography.

Mini versions of these with less icing on top would be perfect for kid's parties.

Peanut Butter Cupcakes
  • 75g butter, at room temperature
  • 130g smooth peanut butter
  • 190g dark soft brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 120g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 60 ml semi-skimmed milk (room temp)
  1. Preheat your oven to 160 degrees
  2. Line a bun tray with cases - this batter made 18 fairy cake sized buns 
  3. Cream the butter, peanut butter and sugar together in a large bowl.  (My tool of choice was an electric hand whisk, but a large bowl mixer would be even more effective)
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, blend after each addition
  5. Blend in vanilla extract
  6. In a separate bowl sift flour, salt and baking powder
  7. Add a third of flour to the main bowl (I sifted it again for added lift) and blend
  8. Add a third of the milk to the mix and blend.  Repeat these steps until all flour and milk is added
  9. Fill cases to approx 2 thirds full and bake for 20 mins or until a cake skewer comes out clean
  10. Remove from oven and leave to cool for 10 mins before turning out onto a cooling rack
  11. Let the cupcakes cool completely before icing

Milk Chocolate Icing
  • 60ml double cream
  • 30g unsalted butter, (room temp)
  • 300g quality milk chocolate
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (Primrose recipe specifies 1/2 but I found a little extra brought the chocolate taste out a little more)
  1. Heat the double cream and butter in a saucepan over a very low heat. Do not allow it to boil and stir continuously until all the butter has melted
  2. Once the butter has melted remove from the heat and break in the chocolate
  3. Stir continuously until all the chocolate has melted.  You may need to place the pan back onto a low heat to melt all the chunks
  4. Once the chocolate has melted add vanilla extract
  5. In order to ice the cakes the mixture needs to be at room temperature. (NB It will thicken up as it cools but a quick whisk before use should loosen it enough to ice. If not, 1 min on a low heat will return it to a usable consistency)
  6. Decorate while the icing is still soft with pieces of fudge, butterscotch, broken peanuts or even the little peanut butter drops you can get from specialist American delis

Happy Halloween

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Lazy evenings and chicken wings

The other evening I tweeted about having lazy chicken wings for dinner and a good friend requested the recipe. Get Lippie writes a popular beauty blog that regularly reviews hair and beauty product as well as providing a makeover and advice service. I was lucky enough to be one of her models just before my wedding and she taught me how to apply the make-up I wanted for my low-key day. I still use the eye make-up tips she showed me. So this is for her.

The original inspiration came from Nigel Slater Kitchen Diaries but I've added and experimented with many different ingredients over time. There is no marinade and it doesn't require hours in the fridge. Just 10 mins prep time and an hour 20 in the oven. The length of cooking time results in a lovely crisp skin and crunchy wing tips but you could easily cook them for 50 mins to an hour if you prefer them less crispy. Be aware that if the oven is too hot it can result in dry meat as the wings are so small.

It can be difficult to find organic/free-range chicken wings. Sainsburys are frustrating by only stocking wings in their basics range. I now get mine from a lovely local butcher where they are cheap and fat and full of flavour and I've seen organic wings in Tesco recently. The wings pictured above are lemon and garlic, which I'll outline in the first recipe before giving you three or four different flavour combos that we've tried and tested in at Casa Hungry.

Lemon and garlic chicken wings
  • 12 chicken wings
  • 1 head garlic broken into cloves
  • 3 tblsp olive oil
  • 2 lemons, cut into 4 lemon wedges each
  • coarse sea salt
  • pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees 
  2. In a large shallow roasting pan scatter all the ingredients except garlic and lemon and make sure the wings are evenly coated with oil and all ingredients 
  3. Squeeze each lemon quarter over the chicken and scatter in the pan with the rest, tucking lemon between and under the wings
  4. Turn all wings skin down in the pan
  5. Roast in preheated oven for 40 mins
  6. Remove from oven and add garlic by tucking it under the wings.  Shake pan to make sure garlic now fully coated by oil and lemony goodness.
  7. Turn all wings skin side up and return to oven for final 40 mins

The results will be succulent chicken meat, crunchy wing tips and soft, pungent garlic eaten straight out the garlic paper. The lemon wedges will carbonise and can be removed before serving. Serve with anything from a light salad, to fries or eat them all by themselves. My personal favourite is skinny french fries, ketchup and an ice cold Peroni, with an episode of Doctor Who.

Anything too delicate will carbonise if left in the oven for the full hour 20 mins and should therefore be added at the half-way point when you turn the chicken. If I use herbs I will finely chop some to add with oil at the beginning but then tuck whole sprigs into the pan after the initial 40 mins.

Let me know your favourite flavour combinations to add to my list.

  • Chilli flakes and lemon
  • Honey and thyme
  • Mixed herb and lemon
  • Paprika and finely sliced chorizo

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Italian Soirée: White Chocolate Pannacotta and Wine Jelly

This beautiful and (compared to the main course) easy dessert is originally by Lizzie Kamenetztky in Delicious Magazine. It is easy to prepare and looks absolutely beautiful. Also it can be prepared the night before leaving you with more time to relax on the day of your big dinner (ha!). I amended the recipe according to availability of produce and substituted half the double cream with single to lighten the texture but very little of this superb dish is mine. The only thing I really must stress is that good vegetarians do not eat gelatine. Oh well. At least I had a coffee cupcake to hand so my poor guest didn't have to sit there with an empty plate while the rest of us wolfed down our dessert.

Rose Wine Jelly
  • 7 fine gelatine leaves 
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 250ml rosé wine
  • 250g berries, hulled (I used blackberries, raspberries and blueberries)
White Chocolate Pannacotta
  • 250ml double cream
  • 250ml single cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 75g white chocolate, broken up into chunks
  • 3 fine gelatine leaves
  1. Soak the 7 gelatine leaves in cold water for 5 minutes to soften. In a pan, bring 300ml water and the lemon juice to the boil. Add the sugar, stir until dissolved, then remove from the heat. Squeeze the water from the gelatine and add to the syrup. Stir until dissolved, then stir in the wine.
  2. Leave jelly to cool to room temperature. Divide the  berries between 6 x 300ml dariole moulds or bowls (or a 1.3 litre loaf tin), then pour over the cool jelly to half-fill the moulds/tin. Set in fridge for at least 2 hours.
  3. Once jelly has set, make the pannacotta. Heat cream in a pan over a medium heat. As it starts to boil, reduce the heat, then stir in the vanilla bean paste and white chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has melted, then remove from the heat.
  4. Soak gelatine leaves in cold water for 5 minutes to soften, squeezing out the excess water and place in a bowl with 4 tbsp boiling water, stirring to melt. Add to the cream and chocolate mixture and allow to cool a little. Pour the pannacotta mixture into the dariole moulds or loaf tin on top of the set jelly and berry layer. Leave to set overnight in the fridge. Turn out by standing moulds in hot water for 1 or 2 seconds, holding a plate on top and flipping over. Serve with berries. Also lovely with a sprig of mint.

Italian Soirée: Red Pepper and Ricotta Tortelloni

I spent hours scouring the internet for inspiration on this one. I planned a red pepper filling for the pasta but wanted to compare a couple of recipes to adapt and recreate one of my own. Astoundingly I couldn't find any at all. Plenty of spinach and ricotta, plenty of pumpkin or squash and ricotta but no red pepper. So this is all mine.

Pasta is a very satisfying thing to make as it combines the relaxation of kneading with creativity and origami. There is something to be said for pootling in the kitchen with the heat from the oven and Radio 4 on in the background as you create all manner of delicious treats.  Pasta needs to rest for 20 mins before using it so make the dough first, then move on to the filling and accoutrements.  My pasta dough recipe is a basic egg pasta from The Silver Spoon. It's quick and easy to make and providing you roll it out thin enough the end result is always silky and light.  It is much easier if you have a pasta machine but you can roll by hand if not.  Pasta is very elastic and springs back stubbornly so factor enough time into your preparation if you need to do this.

I finished the pasta with a light tomate concassée with a parmesan crisp as I didn't want anything too complex to overpower the taste of the filling.  The effect is delicious, although the lemon didn't come through the cooked tortelloni so I have added more to this recipe to address this.

I really must get something done about picture quality as well. The light in the kitchen is very yellow so any photo taken after dark has a tendency to look very dark and odd.

Basic Egg Pasta
  • 200g 00 grade flour (available from all major supermarket chains or Italian delis)
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • salt to taste
  1. Sift the flour and a pinch of salt into a mound on the work surface or in a large bowl
  2. Make a well in the centre and add beaten egg mixture
  3. Using fingers, gradually incorporate the flour , then knead for about 10 minutes.
  4. Extra flour or water can be added at this stage if the mix is too wet or dry.
  5. Knead the dough by pushing down with the heel of your hand, folding the squashed dough back on itself and repeating the process. The dough will feel grainy at first but the more you knead it will lose the graininess becoming smooth and silky to touch. The kneading process will take approximately 10 minutes.
  6. Once the dough has the required texture, form a ball and place in a bowl and rest on the work top for at least 15 mins. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth to prevent the dough from drying out.
  7. At this stage you can make a start on the filling:
Red Pepper and Ricotta Filling
  • 3 red peppers, quartered and de-seeded
  • 100g of ricotta cheese
  • 50g grated parmesan
  • 6 basil leaves, shredded
  • rind of 1 lemon
  • salt and pepper to season
  1. Place the quarters of pepper on a grill pan or griddle.  Your aim is to scorch the skin so if you use a grill place them skin side up, or if you use a griddle place them skin side down.  Grill/griddle for approximately 20 mins or until the skin has scorched and blistered away from the flesh of the pepper. The pepper will also start to soften, this is OK.
  2. Once the pepper has blistered sufficiently enough to peel remove them from the heat and leave to cool down.  They will carry on cooking from the residual heat. Once they are cool enough to handle peel off all the blackened skin and place in a processor, discarding the skin.  If you don't have a processor you can finely chop the pepper and stir in all the ingredients until completely mixed.
  3. Spoon ricotta, parmesan, lemon rind and finely shredded basil into processing unit and pulse until incorporated but not so much that it is a fine paste.  
  4. Season to taste.
Rolling the pasta
  1. First divide the dough into two balls and leave one in the bowl covered with the damp cloth to prevent drying.
  2. Roll the first ball out until it is approx 1cm thick and will go through the machine
  3. Send the pasta through the machine on the widest setting, holding the pasta in one hand and turning the handle with the other. Then send the pasta through on the second setting and repeat 3-4 times taking the setting down each time.
  4. Fold the strip of pasta back on itself and send it through the machine on the first setting again. Repeat 3-4 times taking setting down each time.
  5. Now cut the strip in half and place one piece under a damp cloth to prevent drying.  Fold the other length in three by bringing one side in and then layering the other side over the top of that.
  6. Now send it through the machine on the first setting, this time width ways not lengthways. Do this 3 t0 4 times reducing the setting each time.
  7. Now fold the pasta back on itself and put it through the machine on each setting, one after the next until you have a thin sheet of pasta (1.5mm) with a lovely sheen.  It will be thin and fragile so handle with care and use each sheet as it is ready so it doesn't dry out and become brittle.
  8. Note: any pasta that you do not use can be wrapped in cling film and frozen. Just make sure you defrost thoroughly and re-knead again before use.
Making the parcels
  1. Now cut each strip into squares approximately 5cm x 5cm.  I make a paper stencil to do this and then cut around it with a sharp knife
  2. Place a teaspoon of your filling mixture in the centre
  3. Fold the squares corner to corner to form a triangle and seal the edges with a dab of water
  4. Wrap each triangle around your index finger, press points together and gently push the rest of the dough back to make the classic tortelloni shape.
  5. Place on a large plate or tray sprinkled with flour to prevent sticking. Approximately 8 per person would be a generous serving.

Making the parmesan crisp
  • 100g parmesan, grated
  1. Lay out a sheet of backing parchment on an oven tray 
  2. Use a biscuit cutter to sprinkle grated parmesan in a round shape on the parchment.  Repeat for as many crisps as you require
  3. Grill under a hot grill until complete melted and golden brown
  4. Remove from heat until they cool and then carefully lift off the parchment and place somewhere safe until required.
Making the sauce (a basic tomate concassée)
  • 1 shallot diced
  • 1 clove garlic crushed
  • 3 large beef tomatoes peeled, seeded and finely diced
  • 1 tblsp olive oil
  • salt to taste
  1. Lightly sauté the onion and garlic in the oil on a low heat for approximately 10 mins or until soft but not discoloured
  2. Add the finely diced tomato and stir over low heat until soft and breaking up into a sauce.  I don't want this too smooth as I need the texture on the pasta.
To compile the dish
  1. Cook the tortelloni in a pan of boiling water for 5 mins, or until they start to float in the pan, drain well and plate
  2. Lightly cover pasta with tomato sauce
  3. Position parmesan crisp and garnish with basil if you like.
  4. Serve

Reading back now I realise why I nearly had a nervous breakdown while preparing this.  In direct contrast to Jamie Oliver's latest show I suggest you give yourself at least 3 hours for this one.  It's not fast food but it certainly is delicious.  I do wish this final image was better as it really doesn't show it off at its best. 

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Italian Soirée: Pumpkin Souffle Tart

Italian food seems like the perfect choice for a dinner party as the nights are cooling down and the sun sets earlier every day.  Pasta is warming, fun to make and goes down a treat with a nice bottle of chianti so I raided my recipe collection for inspiration for last Friday's dinner with two good friends. I thought it would take about three hours to prepare the entire meal and luckily I gave myself the day as 7 hours later (7 hours and a minor panic about vacuuming) I was just finishing up as the first guest arrived.  How on earth the Masterchef contestants make pasta dishes in 1 hours 30 is beyond me.  To be fair they probably don't have access to Twitter or 6Music and don't take hourly coffee breaks just because they fancy it but in future I need a little more planning.

The menu was chosen to feel autumny and warming as the nights are drawing in, with chianti and pinot grigio ready to accompany the meal. The first course was a Sformato di Zucca (Pumpkin Mould) from the Silver Spoon - my favourite cookbook, to which I added sage which is perfect with pumpkin/squashes. The main course was a red pepper and ricotta tortollini devised entirely by me after an hour of googling failed to turn up a good recipe online. All followed by a dessert of white chocolate pannacotta and jelly adapted from a marvellous recipe in a summer issue of Delicious.  I must stress however that if anyone else plans this dessert try to remember in advance that vegetarians don't eat gelatine.  That way you look less of a moron.  The first of three blogs will look at the pumpkin dish: I'd never made it before and was slightly concerned that the tart wouldn't turn out of the tin very well, but it was perfect.  I'm a huge pumpkin fan anyway and the sage really brought out the sweet unctuousness of the squash flesh.

Pumpkin and sage souffle tart (I really cannot bring myself to use the term 'mould')
  • 25g butter
  • 1onion, sliced
  • 500g pumpkin, peeled, seeded and diced
  • 150ml water
  • 6 stems of sage
  • 1 quantity bechamel sauce
  • 50g parmesan
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 40g toasted pine nuts
  • salt and pepper

Bechamel Sauce
  • 25g butter
  • 25g plain flour
  • 500ml milk
  • pinch nutmeg
  • salt and pepper
  1. Melt butter for bechamel in a saucepan over a medium heat
  2. add sifted flour and stir until mixed with butter. NB you should have a paste consistency that appears to expand in the pan as the flour cooks through.  It is essential to cook the flour before adding the milk.
  3. Add milk incrementally whilst continuously stirring to prevent lumps.  My tip here is to use a whisk as it will help alleviate lumpiness
  4. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and continue to stir until the sauce starts to boil
  5. Once bubbling turn the heat as low as it will go, cover the pan with a lid and leave to cook for 20 mins, stirring occasionally.
  6. The sauce should be thick in consistency and smooth
  7. Preheat oven to 160degrees
  8. Grease and line an 18cm tart tin
  9. Melt butter in saucepan on a medium heat and add onion, stirring occasionally on a low heat until softened
  10. Add pumpkin, 4 whole sage stems and 150ml water and cook, stirring and mashing until pumpkin is very soft. Be careful not to damage the sage as it can then be lifted out and discarded before adding remaining ingredients.
  11. Remove from the heat and stir in the bechamel sauce, parmesan, egg yolks and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  12. Pour into the prepared tart tin and cook in preheated oven for 1 hour.  If the top looks like it's starting to burn cover with a disc of baking parchment
  13. After the first hour, increase the oven temperature to 180degrees and cook for a further 10 mins
  14. Remove from oven and place tart tin on a cooling rack
  15. Once the tin has cooled a little (about 15-20 mins) turn out on a plate
  16. Fry 2 remaining sage stems and leaves in butter until crisp and drain on kitchen paper
  17. Garnish tart with sage leaves and a few extra pine nuts and serve.
Serve hot or cold, also perfect as the accompaniment to a spinach salad.

Thursday, 14 October 2010


Making bread is one of the most satisfying ways I can think of to relax.  It took me a while to perfect it but I'm glad I persevered.  I've tried many different ways of making dough: the magimix, bowl mixers, hand whisks with dough hook etc but the truth is the best dough is produced by hand.  You can feel when it's ready, you get a sense of whether or not the dough is too tight or too dry and you can amend accordingly. You have to get the oven hot in advance which makes your kitchen cozy and warm and the entire procedure is calming and relaxing.

I can highly recommend Dough by Richard Bertinet. It is a clear guide to bread-making and includes pictures and a DVD so you can see how he forms the shapes.  The white dough recipe he uses couldn't be simpler and it's almost impossible to mess up.

 Richard Bertinet's White Dough
  • 10g fresh yeast
  • 500g strong flour
  • 10g salt
  • 350g water (or 350ml but weighing is more accurate)
  1. Preheat the oven to 250C.
  2. Use finger tips to rub yeast into flour in a large bowl. The same method as making crumble.
  3. Add the salt and mix evenly.  Never add the salt at same time as the yeast as direct contact will kill the yeast.
  4. Add the water and mix in the bowl with your hand
  5. Once dough has come together transfer to work surface.
  6. At this stage do not be concerned if dough seems very wet.  The more you work it, the more the air will firm the dough up.  Adding too much flour at this stage will completely alter the consistency of the dough. By all means add a little flour to surface but not to the dough.
  7. Work the dough by pulling front part of dough up and away from mass and then fold back on itself trapping air inside.  Repeating this over and over again will dry the dough and firm it up.
  8. Keep working the dough until it feels smooth and silky in your hands. It should take approximately 5 minutes.
  9. At this stage place the dough back into the bowl for the resting stage.  Cover with a damp cloth and leave in warm (but not too dry) place.  I place mine next to the oven and if the dough looks like it is drying out I just spray water on the cloth covering it. Rest for 1 hour until the dough has doubled in size.
  10. Take the rested dough out of bowl and place on work surface.  Gently flatten it and fold the edges of the dough back into the centre.  Turn and repeat the process a few times to knock it back. 
At this stage I am going to refer to the techniques I learnt at college to shape the dough.  The above information may seem like a lot of processes but I  wanted to make it easy to follow.  Bread is just 5 techniques and you can think of it as knead, rest, knock back, form and prove. Once you have the above method it's easy. 
  1. Before shaping divide the dough into 16 pieces by halving and then halving each mound in turn until you have 16
  2. Lightly grease an oven tray.  
  3. Whisk one egg in a small bowl and add 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  The salt will break down the protein in the egg so when you glaze the finished rolls it will be easier to apply and less streaky.
  4. Now form the dough in any way you like, there are some ideas listed below
  5. Glaze the rolls with the egg at this stage before it has risen again, otherwise it will squash and damage as the brush touches it.
  6. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, cracked pepper, poppy seeds etc
  7. Cover again with cloth and leave to prove and rise for 30 mins
  8. Once risen cook in hot oven for 10 mins.  The rolls should be golden and not too dark and if you turn them in your hand and tap the bottom should sound hollow.
  9. Turn out on cooling rack and get your butter ready
Plain bread buns
  • Form a ball of dough in your cupped hands and they place the dough on the surface and roll it around in a circle with your 'clawed' hand on top of it.  
  • As you move the dough round in a circle it will take on a perfect sphere and smooth all the joins and imperfections out.  Remember and imperfection in the raw dough will translate to the baked version
  • Carefully place rolls onto oven tray.
    • Form the perfect sphere as before.  
    • Roll the sphere with the palm of your hand in order to form a rope.  
    • Once rope of dough is approx 15-20com long fold in half and twist four times
    • Curl each end towards each other and tuck under the base of the bun on oven tray
      • Form the perfect sphere as before.  
      • Roll the sphere with the palm of your hand in order to form a rope
      • Tie loose knot in dough being careful not to squash the air out.
      • Place carefully onto oven tray.

      Next time I make these I will take some photos of the shaping methods to make those instructions easier to follow.

      VRQ1, NVQ2 and a bunch of kids

      I'm three weeks into my course now and I'm delighted to inform that after a shaky start things are going really well.  The first week was hell. I discovered on the first day that not only was the VRQ1 full time course far too basic, but that I would have to share it with a bunch of 16 year olds, straight out of school clutching their shiny Ds in GCSE maths and English.  24 hours of worry about my course fees later I discovered that I could change onto the part time NVQ2 and am now surrounded by lots of lovely catering professionals who are eager to progress and do well. It means I have to study for 18 months rather than one year but other than that it's perfect.

      So far we have spent a lot of theory time studying bacteriology, health and safety and work flow in a professional kitchen.  More interesting than it sounds to be honest.  From a practical perspective we've made a number of different classic veg dishes. All individually easy but as we had to perfectly cut, cook and serve 6 dishes simultaneously it became a little fraught.  And then this week we learnt how to fillet different types of fish.  My fellow students are lively, funny and dedicated and at least half of them are just as competitive as me so we will no doubt have some fun vying with each other in the future. 

      Sunday, 10 October 2010

      Strawberry Cupcakes and White Chocolate Frosting

      I'm going to be honest, baking is not my favourite thing. At the moment I am doing more baking than anything else. I'd rather make pasta or a nice main course, but I need to practice. I'm using my husband's games design company as guinea pigs for my experiments and am learning about flavour combinations and consumer expectations as a result. For instance...the strong liquorice taste of black treacle in a heavy ginger cupcake doesn't necessarily go well with a light lime frosting. (I still think it does, but the writers have spoken). I've also discovered that the Primrose Bakery book is light on flavour. Sure they look pretty as a picture, but that's no comfort if they don't taste of strawberries.

      On the plus side this recipe requires the use of a food processor so I get to use the magimix!

      Strawberry and White Chocolate Cupcakes
      • 225g caster sugar
      • 210g self-raising flour
      • 1 teaspoon baking powder
      • 25g cornflour
      • 125g crushed strawberries
      • 225g unsalted butter (room temperature)
      • 4 large eggs
      • 3 tblsp strawberry jam
      White chocolate buttercream
      • 100g good quality white chocolate
      • 3 tablespoons of double cream,
      • 60g unsalted butter at room temp
      • 60 ml semi-skimmed milk
      • 250g icing sugar
      • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
      1. Preheat oven to 160C
      2. Line 12 hole muffin tray with bun large bun cases
      3. Put sugar, flour, baking powder, cornflour and crushed and hulled strawberries into a food processor and pulse evenly for roughly 4 seconds.
      4. Add butter and eggs and pulse in processor for approximately 10 seconds.NB if you don't have food processor you can blend with a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together first and then beat in the eggs one by one. Once this is done add the rest of the ingredients and beat well.
      5. Fill the bun cases 3/4 full and bake in preheated oven for 25 mins or until golden brown.
      6. Place on cooling rack and once they are cold use a knife to make a small well in the centre of the bun.
      7. Heat approx 3 tablespoons of strawberry jam for 30 secs in a microwave and then spoon into the holes
      8. Now make the buttercream icing by using a hand whisk to butter, vanilla essence, semi-skimmed milk and (sifted) icing sugar in a large bowl (or the icing sugar goes everywhere)
      9. Break the chocolate into pieces and heat in bowl in the microwave for 30 secs, remove and stir, then reheat for a further 30 secs.  Keep an eye on the chocolate in case it burns.
      10. Add the chocolate and the cream to the buttercream icing and keep whisking with the hand mixer until smooth.
      11. Ice the cupcakes by adding a teaspoon of the icing and smoothing in a circular motion until the top of the cupcake is covered
      12. Decorate with a half a strawberry
      I made this icing a bit softer than book suggested by adding less icing sugar in order to give it a 'melted' texture to imitate melted white chocolate.  As mentioned at the start, whilst the overall taste of these is sweet, this is purely down to the jam filling and frosting.  I think a good test of a sponge is if you would happily eat the sponge by itself.  Sadly this recipe fails on that score as the sponge is more like a muffin sponge and it's not sweet enough. Next time I plan on putting the white chocolate in the cake batter and the berries in the frosting. Let's see if I have more luck that way.