Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sunday Tea: Victoria Sponge

Before I try my hand at making a classic cake, I do a lot of research first. This pleasant Sunday (it was muggy, but I was so glad it wasn't scorching like it was during the week) I decided to make the classic Victoria Sandwich, also known as the Victoria Sponge, for tea. 

I read at least a dozen recipes and incorporated tips from the best of them to make my own version of the dessert - Mary Berry, Dan Lepard and Felicity Cloake had my three favourite recipes. I was sure I'd end up with a superb cake. 

I did. It was very, very fine. So fine that I actually had a sit-down tea - just me, my tablet, my cake and a cup of freshly brewed spiced tea. 

The husband? Sleeping upstairs. You snooze, you loose, buddy! 

The key to making a great Victoria Sponge is getting the sponge cake right. Since Felicity Cloake (in her 'How to make the perfect ...' column in The Guardian) had already done the hard bit by testing various techniques out, I followed her recipe ... almost to a T. You can view her recipe here.

The secret? You have to measure the eggs (in their shells) first. Then, using the weight of the eggs as a guide, you measure equal portions of flour, sugar and butter. My three eggs weighed 192gms and so I measured 192gms (or thereabouts) of self-raising flour, sugar and butter. 

For the method though, I referred to master baker Dan Lepard. I was intrigued by his technique which I'd never come across before.

The usual method I use when making most cakes is pretty straightforward: first cream the butter and sugar till light and fluffy; then add the eggs one at a time till incorporated and then fold in the flour, baking powder and salt (sieved and whisked together). 

Lepard uses a different method. 

He creams the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. But ... BEFORE adding the eggs, he adds 1/3 of the flour (minus the baking powder and salt). This, he says, is an old baking technique that makes the cake a little more moist. Once the flour is mixed into the butter and sugar mixture, you add the eggs and then the remaining flour + baking powder + salt.

More moist? I had to try it. 

My cake turned out super moist! Lovely.

The next step to a fabulous Victoria Sandwich is the jam. Traditionally, raspberry jam is used. I used strawberries - they're cheaper and just as delicious.  

To make the jam, I washed and hulled the strawberries and then combined them with some sugar and a little water and cooked them over low heat until the fruit and it's juices become one gooey, sweet mush. 

Now Lepard's Victoria Sandwich has only jam as a filling. Some versions use cream. I decided to use jam and buttercream because ... well, I had some leftover buttercream from a cake I made a couple of days ago and also because buttercream lasts longer than cream. 

I may like the cake but I wasn't going to eat the whole thing in a day. Not even two. So, it needed to keep.

Just a little buttercream. A thin layer of sweetness to counter the tart jam (my strawberries were not all that sweet).

And there you have it. A lovely cake that's perfect for a lazy Sunday!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Seeded Sourdough Bread

Have you ever seen anything so beautiful? Well, when you're nervously trying to culture your own leaven and make your first sourdough loaf, this is indeed a sight to behold. This leaven was alive and active and ready for action. 

This is my second attempt at making sourdough bread. 

Six months or so ago I started making my own leaven but because I neglected to care for it and feed it regularly, it kind of died. I threw it out and put off trying to make one again.  

So when Jane, the sourdough expert in my circle of friends, offered to give me some of her well-matured leaven, I accepted without hesitation and promised to care for it and feed it well.

I did. I fed it for three days and used it on the fourth day.  

[If you want instructions of making and feeding your own leaven, I suggest you read Jane's very detailed post on her blog, The Wayward Oven].

[A sourdough starter isn't difficult to make but it requires time and attention. All you need is a clean jar with a lid, some flour and water. And some patience for you have to feed and replenish it daily for six days or seven before it is ready for use. As it develops, the starter will collect the spores of airborne yeast which is what gives the starter it's character and flavour.]

I was very nervous, making sure I read the recipe (I adapted Jane's recipe for a seeded Sunflower Bread which she adapted from a Dan Lepard recipe) carefully and followed it closely.

I'd only ever used commercial yeast before and while I am confident when making breads with dry, active yeast, this was my first go at using a leaven. I wasn't sure what to expect - how would the dough rise, how long should it take to rise, how should it look when it's risen enough?

So, yeah, I followed the instructions of the recipe to the T.

[Of the started you create, you use only a small portion - about 100g or so, depending on the recipe - for the bread. The remaining 100g or so you keep and feed for future use]

I had to knead the dough briefly in two ten-minute intervals before leaving the dough to rest for an hour, to rise.

After an hour, the dough barely rose and I was panicky. Was it not working? Worried, I decided to just continue on - I was to shape the dough into a round and place it in a proofing basket or a floured kitchen cloth and place it in a deep bowl to rise further, for 1.5 hours.

I waited. Anxiously. Peeping in every 30 minutes or so. Yeah, I was a Nervous Nelly alright.

[I must mention that I woke up at 5am to start on my bread. It was 8am and I couldn't wait to see the dough after the second rise.]

I peeked inside the cloth again and was pleased to see it had risen. Not as much as I'm used to with the dough that uses commercial yeast, but it had risen. Surely that was a good sign. Perhaps leaven takes longer to rise, allowing the flavours to develop slowly?  [I consulted Jane later and she confirmed that for a bigger rise, more time is needed. So I made the loaf again later in the day and let it rise for longer - about 4 hours - and true enough, the rise was significantly more and the flavour superior.]

Pleased with the moderate rise (or rather, because I couldn't wait to taste this bread), I proceeded to bake it.

I preheated my oven to 220C. Instead of placing the shaped bread on a baking sheet, I decided to bake it in my saucepan (I've done it before and it comes out lovely). So I placed the saucepan (stainless steel) in the oven to heat up. 

After 10 minutes, I removed the pot and carefully transferred the shaped dough into the pan, seam side down. I put it in the oven and waited. It took about 30 minutes for the bread to be baked. 

Whoooopp! Yup. I think I half-yelped as I took the pot out and saw the lovely crusted dome in the saucepan. What do you know! It looked beautiful. Nice and crusty [the sourdough crust is part of what makes it so popular and sought-after - nicely crisp and crunch] ... and it smelt divine. I couldn't wait to cut it open and peer ... no, gaze ... no gawk at the inside of my bread.

I cut it while it was still hot (after photographing it, of course) and it was glorious. It was still steaming and it smelt .... yes, once again, divine. Delicious. I knew it would taste great too. I just knew it would.

And it did. The pumpkin seeds (the original recipe called for sunflower seeds but I love pumpkin seeds and decided to swap) were a yummy addition and added crunch and flavour to the already tasty bread.

For the recipe and the very detailed instructions, head on the The Wayward Oven.

I called Jane immediately (well, a little later as I didn't think she'd appreciate a call from a howling, screeching me so early) and thanked her profusely for her starter and her recipe.

Even Mojo, my 12-year-old dachshund kept sniffing at the bread on the dining table and though he's on a strict diet (the vet says he's 1.5 kg overweight - for a small dog, that's a LOT) I gave him a tiny piece of the bread. He loved it (but then again he loves anything edible. Or even inedible).

The bread didn't last a day - I let a few friends and colleagues sample some and I ate the rest for dinner. It was too good to keep!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Garlic Twists and then some Empanadas

Sometimes the best things happen by chance. Like these garlic twists. They were the result of some extra dough from a batch of empanadas I made for a tea party (read: Chinese New Year gambling do) later today. I didn't make quite enough filling and so I ended up with some dough left over. Not a lot, just enough for about seven twists.

And they were delicious.

I first made empanadas more than a year ago. It was one of the Daring Bakers' challenges and I tried one of two recipes for the dough that was provided by that months' host, Patri (she blogs at Asi son las cosas).

It is an oil based yeasted-dough that's flavoured with salt and chilli flakes. It's crispy on the outside (even without the egg glaze) and slightly chewy inside. And it stays that way even after a couple of days (when you take it out of the fridge and re-heat it). 

For my vegetarian filling, I combined two types of mushrooms with brussel sprouts and hazelnuts with some garlic, parsley, chilli flakes and cream.

For the empanada dough recipe, click on this link, please.

Now for the garlic twists.

I set the dough aside as I prepared the garlic for the twists: cut off just enough of the top of a head of garlic so the cloves are exposed.

Pour 1 tbsp oil in small oven-proof bowl and coat the bottom with the oil. Place the head of garlic, exposed side up, in the bowl and sprinkle some salt over. Cover the bowl with aluminium foil.

Bake in a preheated oven (180C) for about 45 mins.

When the roasted garlic has cooled, squeeze the flesh out of the skins (it will be like squeezing toothpaste from a tube!) into a bowl.

Roll the dough out into a rectangle and spread the garlic on the top surface. Fold the dough in half, lengthwise, and roll it thin (about 3mm).

Cut 1cm strips and twist the dough - hold both ends of a strip and twist in opposing directions.Bring both ends together and seal them by pressing the ends together tight. The look like cute little wreaths.

Lay them on a baking sheet (line it, I didn't and I had a hard time scrubbing it later!). Brush some olive oil on the tops of each twist and sprinkle some salt and/or grated cheese on each one.

Bake in a preheated oven (180C) for about 20 mins.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Fruit and Nut Shortbread

Fruit and Nut shortbread? I couldn't believe it.

When I saw pictures of these pretty shortbread cookies on the online food log, Tastespotting last week, I knew I had to rush home and get right down to it. I love shortbread and the thought of yummy, colourful fruit and crunchy, delicious nuts in the melt-in-your-mouth treats just fired my engines right up.

I read through the recipe from Tasty Kitchen and decided to experiment a little with the basic shortbread recipe on the site. I'd read columnist for The Guardian, Felicity Cloake's post about "How To Make Perfect Shortbread" some time back and was inspired to try some of the different techniques she explores in her quest for the best shortbread.

I tried four different mixes:

The first was the straight forward blend of butter, sugar and plain flour along with the fruit and nut, chopped roughly. It was delicious. Nice and short. I could have stopped right there but I was curious. If there was the perfect shortbread, I wanted to know how to make it. 

The second was a blend of plain flour and corn flour, butter, sugar and the fruit and nuts. The corn flour altered the texture of the cookie. It was crunchy still but it also melted in the mouth as I bit into it. I liked that it did and was quite pleased.

But wait. There was another recipe with rice flour.

The third mix combined plain flour with rice flour, salt sugar and the fruit and nuts. This time, the shortbread was a little more crispy and a tad grainy. Nice but I much preferred the corn flour version. However, I did like the generous pinch of salt from this recipe.

So, for the final batch, I incorporated the second and third mix: plain flour +corn flour, salt, sugar, butter and the fruit and nut. Perfect. 

Aside from me being curious and trying four different recipe, shortbread is actually the easiest cookie to make from scratch. Because the dough should not be handled much (to keep the lightness and shortness of it), there is very little time spend handling the dough. In fact, most recipes advise you not to roll the dough but rather pat it into shape or into a sheet before you cut it. 

Or, you could just shape it into a log and cut circles. Really rustic and rather cool.

Fruit and Nut Shortbread
200g plain flour
70g corn flour
1 tsp salt
200g butter
85g sugar
1/4 cup dried cranberries, chopped roughly
1/4 cup candied lemon or orange peel, chopped roughly
1/4 cup  pumpkin seeds, chopped roughly
1/4 cup  walnuts, chopped roughly
1/4 cup  sunflower seeds, chopped roughly

Whisk the flours and salt together. Set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar together till light and fluffy. Gently fold in the flours and the nuts and fruits and bring the dough together with your hands. 
Divide the dough in two and shape into logs. Wrap tightly in cling film and refrigerate overnight or for a couple of hours, at least.
Pre-heat the oven to 150. Cut the logs into 0.5 cm slices and lay them on a lined baking tray. Bake for 15 mins or until the sides just start to brown. Remove and cool. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Daring Bakers: Whoopie Pies

The December Daring Baker's Challenge had us all cheering. The lovely and talented Bourbonnatrix of Bourbonnatrix Bakes was our hostess and challenged us to make fun, delicious and creative whoopie pies! Delicious little cake-like cookies sandwiching luscious filling in any flavours we choose... what else is there to say but "Whoopie!".

Incidentally, that was exactly how this cake-biscuit treat got it's name. Apparently, according to the ever reliable (?) Wikipedia, Amish women used to sneak this into their husband's lunch boxes every now and again. When the men opened their lunches and discovered the treats - after a long morning's work - they let out a "whoopie"!

This is my first attempt at making whoopie pies. I've eaten them before but have never gotten around to actually making them. I like me a big old cake rather than mini cookie cakes ... they just require so much more work. 

But this was fun because while I chose the very basic chocolate for my pies, I experimented with the filling a little and settled on this yoghurt, lemon and coconut cream cheese filling. Whoa, that's a mouthful.

Chocolate and coconut go together well, no doubt about that. I didn't want a really rich filling like buttercream or marshmallow simply because I don't have a sweet tooth. Yoghurt, though, I love. And lemon? Double love. 

The filling was definitely luscious but also a little too soft. It didn't hold together all that well which proved a little messy when handling the pies. I chilled them and that made it a wee bit better.  I think perhaps it could be because I opted for low fat cream cheese which is a little softer than the full fat version. 

Also, because the tops of the pies are curved, they are a little wobbly when set on a plate or surface. Oh heck, let me just say they toppled. Well, some of them did. I should have consulted the daring baker's forum for tips because only after I'd assembled my pies did I see Agos of Sabor Pastel's top of weighing half the pies down with a baking tray once they're out of the oven so they'll have a flatter base. Genius! 

Nevertheless, loved the challenge and the pies. Especially the filling!

Chocolate Whoopie Pies
2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa
11/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
1tsp vanilla extract
113g butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp instant espresso (optional)
1 egg

Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda together and whisk in the salt. 

Mix the vanilla extract and buttermilk.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and mix till incorporated. With the mixer on low, add the flour and buttermilk, alternating between the two until the batter/dough (it's a thick batter) is well combined.

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Using a table spoon, drop mounds of dough on a lined baking sheet, about 1.5 inches apart as they expand slightly.

Bake for 11-12 mins. 

1 cup Greek yoghurt
113g cream cheese
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup dessicated coconut

Cream the cream cheese, yoghurt and sugar till light and well combined. Add the coconut and mix. Chill until the pies have cooled and you're ready to fill them. 
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