Saturday, 24 October 2015

Beating the Breakfast Blues: Jamie's Granola Dust

OCD Panic Rating: 1/5
Handwashes: 1

I've never been great at having breakfast.  First thing in the morning, the last thing I want to do is cook anything elaborate.  Some mornings I don't even feel like I can manage anything more than a cup of tea.  What makes this annoying is that I always feel better if I have a proper breakfast, whether it's something on toast, some fruit, or the occasional bowl of cereal.  It sets me up for the day, soothes my often-unsettled stomach, and stops me having a sugary midmorning snack.  And, yes, the evidence is really on breakfast's side too.

My need for a proper breakfast has increased recently.  I've been doing shift work for a while, meaning that my meal schedule has been haphazard, differing from day to day.  Now, I work five mornings a week, with no break before 1 pm, making a good breakfast essential.  Seriously essential: I missed breakfast one day and was making sharp comments at staff, students and passing strangers until I was fed at lunch.  Not a great way to spend a morning and not a particularly professional way to appear to my new bosses.

Thankfully, Jamie Oliver's new Everyday Super Food book has a big section on breakfast.  Most of the recipes are a bit labour-intensive for first thing, but his granola recipe looks healthy, easy to throw together, and has the advantage of lasting for weeks.  

The recipe simply involves roasting some oats, nuts and seeds, before blending them together with fruit, a bit of orange peel, cocoa and ground coffee.  It makes a rough dust that you can use for cereal, smoothies, with fruit and yoghurt, all sorts.  

I had a large glass container to tip it into but halved the recipe to ensure it would all fit in.  This is a wise move, as the recipe makes a very large amount of the dust.  Although the recipe doesn't specify it, I found that it's best to let the roasted oats cool before you whizz them up.  I didn't think about this and ended up putting them into the jar hot.  This is fine, but they need to cool off before closing the airtight seal or you're going to end up with moisture affecting the texture and prematurely spoiling the mix.

The smell is great: the cocoa and orange give it an appetising sweet smell that lifts its rather drab appearance:



By itself, it's not great to eat.  I stuck a finger into the pot to try it out and almost choked.  The taste is fine but the texture is not pleasant on its own.  It's like nicely-flavoured dust and is definitely more appealing when you have a slightly coarser grain to it.  I think I'll only blend it very briefly next time, just to get everything to mix properly.

My first breakfast with it involved sprinkling it over raspberries and yoghurt.  Still not a massive success.  It's a bit claggy, imparting the flavour but spoiling the texture.  You need to add some milk to stop it sticking to the roof of your mouth.

I was starting to worry that I had a lot of gross (and reasonably pricey) dust to get rid of.  Thankfully, there are ways that it is really nice!  The husband has tried it as porridge and was pleased with the results.  Apparently, the nuts give it a bit of texture and you still get the gentle chocolate orange taste coming through.  Top with some fruit and it makes for a very nutritious breakfast.

Personally, my preferred way to have it is as part of a fruit milkshake.  This morning, I blended it with some raspberries, milk, yoghurt and a drizzle of honey, and it made a thick milkshake that was surprisingly filling.  Considering the nuts, seeds, fruit, oats and calcium in it, that's not a bad quick breakfast, particularly for those mornings when the thought of consuming actual food is just too exhausting.  It works with blueberries, strawberries and bananas too, so I imagine you could enjoy a different smoothie every morning for a month without too much effort.

Apparently, it also works in pancakes and as a hot drink, so there are other ways to use it up.  I don't think it has the right texture to just be used with milk as a cereal replacement, but it makes a great accompaniment to other things.  I'll make it a bit coarser next time, maybe not even blitzing the seeds, to give it a better texture.  After being unimpressed, it's something I can see having a ready supply of in the kitchen.

Key Points:

  • This is a great recipe for using up leftover bits and pieces.  I put some desiccated coconut in mine, and will be bunging in some leftover ground almonds when I top up the pot next time.
  • Let the mixture cool before whizzing.  Heat leads to moisture, which will not create ideal storage conditions.

Win Rating: Depends how you have it, but generally it's a solid 3/5.

Monday, 19 October 2015

My GBBO Challenge #10: Iced Buns

Yes, I know it was a couple of weeks ago but I'm still happy about Nadiya's much-deserved win.

The final wasn't much of a nailbiter as Nadiya was the best baker in each challenge by a mile. The haters just don't have a leg to stand on. Although I guess Tamal's showstopper was quite the eyecatcher:


I'm not sure that it works as a piece of art, but you have to admire the sugar work.

It was interesting that it was a relatively simple set of challenges for the final. I think the idea was that the contestants had to produce perfect bakes, and sometimes the hardest thing to do is a simple thing perfectly. On that note, let me introduce you to my iced buns…

OCD Panic Rating: 1/5
Handwashes: 4

As the judges mentioned in the episode, there is no reason for iced buns to be as amazing as they are. It's pretty much a bread roll with icing on it, yet they are one of the most satisfying bakes you can get.

I'd never attempted these before and didn't have a recipe to hand. After a bit (a lot) of enjoyable Googling for recipes, I found this one from former GBBO contestant Ruby Tandoh. I liked the idea of making buns with a lemony flavour. Also, aside from giving them a reasonable amount of time to prove, it didn't look too time-consuming a recipe.

The dough starts off quite sticky. The fifteen minutes of rest specified in the recipe is crucial for allowing the liquid to mix into the dough better, making it substantially easier to knead. You don't need to flour the surface or your hands. I was slightly worried that I had killed the yeast (I poured the salt straight onto it like an utter idiot) but it proved reasonably well when left under a hot light. I separated the dough into six sausages and gave it a bit longer to rise again.

Before I put the buns in the oven, I tried to space them out enough to be distinct buns but to be touching like a proper batch bake. This did not go so well. It turns out that they need to be a lot closer together than I had anticipated. It also turns out that you need to shape them much more carefully than I did:



There's some serious deformity on show here, as well as my weird shadow! They had a soft, springy feel though, so I was confident that the bake was a reasonable one.

Once cooled, it was time to decorate. This is not my strength. I cut the buns through horizontally and spread some lemon curd liberally over the base. Then I made some lemon-flavoured icing with a bit of orange colouring in for effect. I think it was too runny…



So it's the aesthetic part of the bake that is the real challenge, I see! I soldiered on, adding some whipped cream before serving. Despite the dodgy icing and shape, the cream pulled it all together into something very appealing:



(Yes, I do have a plate with a tapir on it. It's awesome)

Not too bad in the end, I don't think. It was virtually impossible to eat without making a complete mess, a situation not helped when I dropped half of it on my lap. I regretted adding squirty cream at that point, although it did taste bloody good. The lemon icing is a bit tart by itself, although it's ok in small quantities.  Overall, it's a well-flavoured iced bun, just not up to the standard of the ones you'll get from a proper bakery. In fact, and this is awful to say, there's something about the artificial-tasting mass-produced ones that is unbeatable.

I'll get my coat.

Key Points:
  • Shape the buns carefully before baking or you'll end up with rejects like mine.
  • As they're only cooked for twenty minutes, the buns won't grow much more in the oven. If you want the batch bake look, make sure they're quite close together.

Win Rating: 3/5

Looking back at the bakes I've done as part of the GBBO Bakealong challenge, I can definitely say that they have not all been successes but I've learnt something from each one. Sometimes it was a lesson as simple as making sure you have the right equipment to hand; sometimes it was a reminder that the decoration is often the most difficult part of a bake.

The mokatines were my least successful bake of the series. My biscotti and, in particular, my chocolate tart were good enough to warrant inclusion in my usual repertoire. I'm certainly more willing to experiment with what I make, and am confident that I can rescue most failing bakes. That level of knowledge and confidence needed to adapt a recipe and to make it your own can only be acquired through experience.

I won't be challenging Nadiya's crown any time soon though.  If you think you could, you can start the application process here.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Delicious Magazine's Apple Cinnamon Crumble

OCD Panic Rating: 1/5
Handwashes: 2

My parents visited last weekend and were kind enough to bring a bag of homegrown cooking apples with them.  Of course, this could only mean apple crumble.  There are other things that I could have made with the apples, but I can't think of anything more satisfying and delicious than a humble crumble.  After all, with the apples provided, I already had every other ingredient to hand in my kitchen.  Always a great start to a recipe.

One of the other fab things about making a crumble is that there aren't many rules to follow.  If you look up 50 apple crumble recipes, you'll get 50 different versions: varying amounts of apple used, different spice blends, additional sultanas and other fruits, oats in the crumble, etc. etc.  You can work it however you want.  I used this recipe as my starting point.  I used to have a Delia recipe but gave that book to a charity shop without copying it out.  Oops.

I followed the recipe for the most part.  However, I'm a fan of quite a saucy crumble so decided to heat the fruit on the hob for a few minutes before placing it in the casserole dish.  If you prefer firmer lumps of fruit, by all means avoid preheating it.  I just like the way the soft fruit contrasts with the crunchy topping.

Crumble looks like crumble but, for the sake of posterity, this is how a portion of mine looks:



You can tell from the dark colour that there is a reasonable amount of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves in the apple mixture.  It's full of flavour but without the spice mix being overpowering.  With a sprinkling of custard, it's a perfect pud.

My only issue is that there is slightly too much crumble topping for the amount of filling.  I think this is probably because I cooked down the apples a bit before baking, so there was less chunky fruit in the mixture.  I love crumble topping so it's only a minor complaint but it's a good excuse to fill up with extra apple and sultanas next time.  

And I still have more of my mum's apples to spare..!

Key Points:

  • Don't be afraid to experiment with crumble.  It's pretty difficult to ruin it so try different fruits and spice mixes until you make it your own.
  • If you do like to cook down the fruit a bit before baking, you might need to add more of it to keep the fruit/topping ratio right.

Win Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

My GBBO Challenge #9: Chocolate Tart

Last week, we had the Great British Bake Off semi-final.  Already!  This series has flown by.  Husband was glad to see Flora go (he found her really annoying).  I was kind of hoping Ian would leave.  It's very shallow but there's something about his sleepy eyes that winds me up.  Importantly though, Tamal and Nadiya have both made it through to the final.  Nadiya got star baker again, with her peacock-inspired showstopper an absolute stunner.  Amusingly, the Daily Mail thinks there is something shifty about having such a diverse final.  If watching GBBO is going to upset the Daily Mail then I'm all for it.

As for the baking, chocolate week set up the exciting prospect of making a chocolate tart.  It's one of those things I've always wanted to make but never quite found the bravery to do.  As the pastry on my bakewell tart went very well a few weeks back I decided it was time to give it a go.

I did go for a slightly different type of recipe than was used on the show.  They specified chocolate pastry but I'm not a great fan of it.  It's my bake, I shall do as I choose.  After much perusing of recipes, I went for a chocolate orange tart from the Good Housekeeping book.  Recently, my bakes have been substandard.  Time for a win, surely..?

OCD Panic Rating: 1/5
Handwashes: about half a dozen

I had to reach for the calculator before starting this recipe.  Having only a 9-inch flan tin (and having little inclination to buy an 8-inch one), I needed to work out how to adjust the ingredients to fit into the larger tin.  I was not going to have another tennis cake incident!  I found a recipe for a 9-inch tart then used those measurements for the pastry, also adding orange zest to give the pastry a zingy citrus flavour.  My initial feeling was that the pastry was too wet but it firmed up after chilling in the fridge.  There was plenty to cover the base of the flan tin and it rolled quite well with a bit of flour.  It made a relatively thick base, but I decided to leave it like that rather than risking leaks when I added the filling.  After blind baking, it had a slight golden tinge and seemed to have adhered well to the side of the tin.  First blood to me.

I used what I hoped was common sense to adjust the ratio of filling ingredients too.  Divide the recipe amount by 8 then multiply by 9 was my thinking, meaning I needed about 200g each of chocolate and cream instead of 175.  I used the same amount of egg, slightly more sugar and an extra tablespoon of orange juice to try not to upset the liquid balance too much.  I used orange juice instead of liquor simply because I'm not a drinker and had no orange liquor in the house.  It made the cream curdle a bit but it all seemed to incorporate properly when I stirred in the melted chocolate.  Then it was into the tin to bake for twenty minutes.

The good news was that my ratios seemed spot on.  There was enough filling to reach the top of the pastry, but no overspill.  After cooking, it had risen a little above the pastry but it settled once cooked.  With a coating of icing sugar, it looked damned tasty:



It was difficult to wait for it to cool sufficiently to eat!  I cut myself a tiny sliver (not wanting to spoil my dinner) and dug in.  It's gorgeous.  It really is.  The pastry is quite thick, as I'd thought, but it is so light and crumbly and has such a lovely orange flavour that this is a good thing.  The filling is silky and smooth, with the bitterness of the chocolate playing beautifully against the fruity pastry and the sweetness of the icing sugar.  It tastes decadent and rich without being too heavy.  It is an utter delight.

The baking hex is broken!  I'd totally have got through to the GBBO final with this!

Key Points:

  • Although I adjusted the size of the tart, the cooking time remained the same.  However, a larger tart is often going to need longer.  Keep an eye on it to avoid any nasty surprises.
  • In a recipe like this where chocolate takes centre stage, you need to have the good stuff.  It makes all the difference to the flavour.  I like Green & Black's, but anything with a high percentage of cocoa should do the trick.

Win Rating: 5/5.  I want to eat it all now.