Bakewell Flapjack

050A3747After my girls left home I struggled to find reasons to bake. The hubby does not have even a slightly sweet tooth, and my total lack of willpower when it comes to sugary heaven meant any baking would be devoured by me and me alone, not really conducive to my seemingly lifelong goal to lose weight! So, to ensure I could still enjoy cake on a regular basis, I started a bake club. It has gone from strength to strength and we now have a thriving little group where each month I get to bake something I have never tried before and to taste everyone else’s creations, totally satisfying my ridiculously sweet tooth.

Last month one of our challenges was flapjack, something I have never actually made with much success. I usually manage to either create a rock hard version that cracks teeth, or one so soft you have to eat it with a teaspoon. I was however determined to do a decent flapjack for club, so set about looking for a recipe.

It is no secret that I love Bakewell Tart and when I stumbled on a Bakewell flapjack recipe my mind was made up. Bakewell flapjack was the definite way to go, but frustratingly every recipe I found included flour. I may not have ever made a perfect flapjack but no recipe I ever tried, looked at, read or heard of ever included flour! So I decided to create my own. I was delighted with the result and it went down very well at Bake Club so I thought I would share it with you.

Staying true to foodie challenge number 4, “don’t buy if you can make yourself”, first up we need to make some jam. For a number of years I have been making Christmas hampers for the family and one of the firm favourites has been my cherry and amaretto jam, perfect for Bakewell flavoured anythings  🙂

Cherry & Amaretto Jam

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Ingredients List
2 x 480g Bags of frozen cherries
4 tbsp water
800g preserving sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
4 tbsp Amaretto

Pop the frozen cherries and the water into a saucepan, and heat gently until the cherries are soft.

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Pour the cherry mixture into a maslin pan and add the sugar and lemon juice.  Stir gently over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved then raise the temperature and bring to a rapid boil until the jam reaches setting point, 105c. Allow to cool slightly, then stir in the Amaretto.

Pour into sterilised jars and store in a cool dark place. This makes a few jars, so you can make your flapjack and still have plenty left to enjoy on toast.

Bakewell Flapjack

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Ingredients List
150g Butter
150g Dark brown sugar
150g Golden syrup
300g Rolled oats
50g Ground almonds
1 1/2 tsp Almond essence
Pinch salt

Gather up your ingredients and mix the oats, almonds and salt in a mixing bowl.

Put the butter, sugar and syrup in a saucepan and warm gently until the sugar is fully dissolved.

Pour the sugar into the dry ingredients, add the almond essence and mix everything together well.

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Grease and line a 9×9 inch tin and preheat the oven to 150c

Put half the mixture into the tin and press down well. Spoon jam over the top and spread out evenly. Leave a gap around the edges so the jam doesn’t seep out during baking.

Spoon the remaining oat mixture over the top in blobs. I find it easiest to start around the edge so I seal the jam in, then work my way into the middle. Once all the mixture is used, press down firmly to create a solid layer. There will be some seepage up through the top layer but it just adds to the charm  🙂

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Pop it in the oven for 40-50 minutes or until a nice deep golden brown.

616A0171 Let it cool completely in the tin, which gives you a chance to have a cuppa and try to explain to the sulking dog why she is on 4 weeks cage rest, how sad does she look!!!

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Mix a couple spoonfuls of icing sugar with a few drops of water, and once the flapjack is cold, lift it out of the tin and drizzle the icing over the top. Cut into squares and enjoy.

Although I have no intention of ever caring what the nutritional content of a slice of this flapjack is, as I have bothered to work it out I will share the information. You can of course totally ignore the below and work on the same premise I do with homemade cake, ‘its scrummy, so who cares! 🙂

Nutritional Information per slice
235 Kcals, 31g Carbs, 11g Fat, 3g Protein, 2g Fibre, 19g Sugar
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Boozy Eggnog & Mince Pie Ice-cream

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This blog is all about ice cream… mmmm, ice cream, who doesn’t love it, and there really is something truly special about ice-cream you have made yourself. Once you have got the hang of making the custard successfully, it really is a breeze. I use this recipe for my ice cream from the BBCGoodFood.com web site, it is truly delicious and I always have a stash in the freezer to have with my puddings on Sunday tea time. When I make this I always make a double batch (as it fits in Major Ken’s ice cream attachment almost perfectly) and use 600 ml of cream not the 568ml the recipe calls for…. simply because the cartons I buy are 300ml or 600ml and I see no point in wasting the small amount that I’m over.

When I first made this I ran into my usual issues with non-exact instruction… heat until it “almost boils”, “until it coats the back of a spoon”, ahhh, how I hate that. The uncertainty if I have understood the vague instruction correctly, the desire not to waste a whole batch of ingredients and the frustration at not having the intuition, knowledge or skills to plough ahead with confidence drives me nuts. This recipe is a little more helpful than some, it does say “until you see a few bubbles at the edge”, but even that is hard to gauge, what size bubble? How many?

My first 2 batches were absolute disasters, and resulted in me being left with 12 egg whites and no ice cream, although the silver lining was the discovery of Rose Prince’s Angel cake as a means to use up all my spare egg whites 🙂 I did however finally master the technique and now can whip up a batch of ice-cream with confidence.

Anyway, you may recall from a previous post that I love a snowball at Christmas, but rarely use a whole bottle of Advocaat and ultimately end up having to throw some away. Last year staying true to foodie challenge number 7, no waste, I used the remaining Advocaat to make an eggnog custard tart. Unfortunately in my zeal to waste nothing I was rather heavy handed with the bottle and the eggnog custard was far too strong to actually eat, kind of counterproductive when I am attempting not to waste anything! It was deposited in the freezer until I had a fit of inspiration, and mixed it along with a few leftover mince pies into a batch of the vanilla ice cream. I was delighted with the results. Before I decided to share the recipe I thought it prudent to test my creation out on other palettes, so rather begrudgingly (that I had to share any), every lucky soul that entered the house had a (small) spoonful unceremoniously shoved in their mouths. Without exception, every one that tried it agreed with me, so with Christmas looming I thought it about time to share the recipe, and the scrummy festive joy.

This is rather long winded as true to form everything is being made from scratch and we have 3 main components to make. Ideally you should get your mincemeat started as it needs a couple of days to soak up the copious amounts of alcohol, but also ideally some time to rest and mature to allow the flavours to really develop. I will admit, mine didn’t rest as I was rather desperate to restock my now non-existent stash of Boozy Xmas ice cream 🙂 and it still tastes great!

Before I launch in to the recipe I have to offer the Hubby total credit for the alcohol blend. I am not a great drinker, and certainly have no concept of what works well together and what doesn’t, so will admit that on the subject of alcohol the Hubby knows best…. Only on this subject though (before he gets any ideas!!)  Anyhoo, when it comes to both the mincemeat and my Christmas cake he gets called in to provide the alcohol component. He does have to be closely supervised as he ALWAYS adds way more than I have asked for, in fact one year the Christmas cake took over 7 hours to cook as the mixture was so wet! Yes, it did taste great 🙂

Right first up, let’s start…

Very Boozy Mincemeat.

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Gather up your ingredients, dried fruit, orange and lemon zest, sugar, apple and spices (full recipe at the end of this post), the Hubby and the alcohol!

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Task hubby with providing 900ml of alcohol to soak the fruit in, and while he is busy with his alchemy, you can put all the remaining ingredients into a large bowl. Pour over 800ml of the alcohol (save the rest for the end), and stir well ensuring everything is well mixed and coated. It is positively swimming in liquid at this point! Cover with cling film, write out a note saying “If you are passing please stir me” and pop on the top. I left it for 2 days, and when anyone wondered by it got a good stir.

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2 days later, put your now plump and truly delightfully smelling mincemeat in a large ovenproof pan, cover and pop in the oven for 3 hours on 110c. This step was pinched from Delia Smiths recipe as I don’t like seeing the big lumps of white suet in the jar, I find it rather unappetizing.

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Once out of the oven stir it regularly as it cools and the melted suet will coat the other ingredients. Once it is totally cold, add the remaining alcohol, mix well and pack into sterilized jars.

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You can use the mincemeat straight from the jar for the ice cream, or you can whip up some mince pies. I made one large mincemeat tart, just so there would be some chunks of pastry in the ice cream.

Eggnog custard

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Whisk the eggs and sugar together, (full recipe at the end of this post). Heat the eggnog and milk until hot but NOT boiling, then gradually stir into the egg mixture.

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Pour into a dish sprinkle with nutmeg and place in a large tin. Pour boiling water into the tin until it comes half way up the dish and place in the oven on 170c for 25-30 mins, or until just set. If you go over it will start to separate (which mine did…oops), but as it still tastes fine and is getting mixed into ice cream I wasn’t too concerned 🙂050A1486

Now the ice cream…. (full recipe here)

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Put the cream and milk in a heavy bottomed pan, add half the sugar and the vanilla seeds and pods. OO, I have to mention www.vanillamart.co.uk here, where I get all my vanilla pods, great quality and value for money, far superior to and cheaper than what you can buy in the supermarket 🙂   Heat, stirring occasionally until it “Almost boils”. Sorry, couldn’t resist. My thermometer read 89c when I started noticing bubbles around the edge. Turn it off and leave for ½ hour to allow the vanilla to infuse. Perfect break for a cuppa, although the dog isn’t interested in playing at this stage!

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Beat the egg yolks and the other half of the sugar until far paler in colour and thick enough so the mixture falls in thick ribbons when you lift the beaters. Stir in a cup of the cream mixture to loosen the eggs. .

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Reheat the cream until it just comes to the boil (I let it get to the point where the first bubble breaks the surface away from the edge of the pan), then take off the heat and stir in the egg yolk mixture.  Return to the pan and heat gently, stirring continuously until the custard coats the back of a spoon! Sigh… here we go again. This step is really important as if you let the custard boil it will curdle and end up in the bin. Coating the back of a spoon is far too vague, but it means when you run your finger through the mixture on the back of the spoon, it holds the gap and doesn’t fill itself back in.

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I however go more by sight of the custard, as I see the mixture start to bubble under the surface I take it off. My thermometer read 97c at this point. If for whatever bizarre reason you are trying to photograph your progress, be really carefully that you are not looking at the camera at this critical stage, I oh so very nearly blew it!  Partly fill your sink with cold water (or ice) and pour the custard into a large clean bowl placed in the water, stir frequently as it cools. Cover and allow to go totally cold before churning.  Finally and most importantly if you are using an ice-cream maker to churn, remember to remove all your vanilla pods before churning!  Squashed vanilla pods, although safe to eat, are rather chewy and a little disturbing in otherwise smooth and creamy ice-cream…. I assume… 🙂

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Right now we are all ready to make our Boozy Christmas ice-cream

Chop up the mincemeat tart and break up the eggnog custard. Add to a batch of the custard and mix it together well.  Keep a close eye on the Labrador who has now woken up and is showing a very keen interest in your bowl of yummy Christmas cheer!

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Cover then place in the freezer. Every half an hour take it out of the freezer and give it another good stir to break up the ice crystals, this makes for a smoother and creamier ice-cream. Once almost fully frozen,  scoop into a suitable container and hide in the freezer where no one else can find it! You can of course use your ice cream maker or attachment if you have one, but I didn’t want the pastry pulverised so I opted to churn this flavour by hand. Besides, Major Ken was busy with the plain vanilla batch 🙂050A1528050A3297

Other flavours.

You can really make any flavour you like, it’s a great way to use up leftovers or disasters. For example, our last Bake club meeting we had a challenge to make a chocolate tea cake. In my wisdom/stupidity I thought rather than faffing with individual ones, I would be really clever and make one big one in a small loaf tin. I did however totally neglect to consider how I would get it out  of the pan, misread the recipe for the marshmallow and added 6 tablespoons instead of teaspoons of golden syrup, and basically had a truly epic disaster! It tasted splendid, but I came home with half a chocolate teasplat.

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I chopped it up, added the remains of a jar of jam, and some of the merengue from my pavlova disasters to make a chocolate teacake and merengue version. I also had some oat and sultana cookie dough balls which I chucked into another portion of vanilla. In hind sight I think choc chip cookie dough would have been a better choice, as the uncooked oats give the ice cream a bit of an odd texture in places, however the flavour is lovely so I am sure it will all get eaten.

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Anyway the sky is the limit, just use your imagination, baking successes, disasters and leftovers and turn your freezer into ice-cream heaven, and don’t forget to let the very patient dog have a taste 🙂 Just a small one mind!

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Mincemeat
Ingredients
1 Orange – zest and juice
1 Lemon – zest and juice
200g mixed peel
150g dried cranberries
150g sour cherries
125g Morello cherries
600g Sultanas
900g Mixed fruit
500g cooking apples, peeled and diced
350g Light brown sugar
100g Dark brown sugar
200g Suet
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
2 tsp mixed spice
300ml Rum
300ml Amaretto
150ml Armagnac
150ml Sherry
Method
1 - Mix all the ingredients except the alcohol together in a large bowl.  
2 - Pour over 800ml of the alcohol , stir well, cover and leave for a 
couple of days, stirring frequently
3 - Once all the alcohol has been absorbed, place mixture in a large 
oven proof pan  and bake for 3hrs on 110c.  
4 - As it cools stir regularly
5 - Mix in the last of the alcohol, then pack into sterilized jars

Eggnog Custard
Ingredients
200ml Full cream milk
300ml Advocaat
3 eggs
25g caster sugar
Grated nutmeg
Method
1 - Lightly whisk the eggs and sugar together
2 - Heat the Advocaat and milk together in a pan until hot but not boiling
3 - Mix the milk mixture into the eggs and pour into an ovenproof dish
4 - Sprinkle with grated nutmeg
5 - Place dish in a large pan half filled with boiling water and bake on 
170c for 25- 30 mins or until just set

 [DB1]

The Perfect Pavlova

Right, time to finish the uber-bake fest tale. If you recall I had agreed to make 8 cakes for a party, my first and last sojourn into bulk baking territory. The planning, work and stress involved almost finished me off, but after it was all over and I had time to reflect I did realise that I had learnt a number of very useful lessons. Both this and my previous blog ‘The Perfect Cheesecake’ are attempting to share those lessons with you.

The remaining four dishes I had to tackle were a chocolate cake, a Victoria sandwich cake, a sugar free lemon meringue pie and a pavlova. I have to admit, none of these filled me with even a shred of dread, little was I to know that the little minx meringue was going to cause me no end of headaches!

Chocolate Cake

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Let’s start with the chocolate cake. This was a total no-brainer for me. Since my daughters were babies I have made the same recipe cake for their birthdays every single year. With over 20 years of practise, I was 100% confident that nothing would go wrong.

The recipe I use is from the book ‘Character Cakes’ by Sandy Garfield. This book is no longer in print although you can get your hands on second hand copies if you try. However with kind permission of Sandy, I have included her recipe here.

Chocolate Cake & Butter Icing From the Book ‘Character Cakes’ by Sandy Garfield

Ingredients

Quantities For
12inx10in tin 9in square tin 8in round tin 2pt pudding basin 2 4in round tins
Plain Flour 450g 340g 285g 170g 85g
Bicarb of soda 1 ½ tsp 1 tsp 1 tsp ½ tsp Pinch
Baking powder 3 tsp 2 tsp 1 ½ tsp 1 tsp pinch
Cocoa powder 4 tbsp 3 tbsp 2 tbsp 1 ½ tbsp 1 tbsp
Soft brown sugar 285g 200g 170g 115g 60g
Butter 200g 140g 115g 60g 30g
Milk 355ml 285ml 215ml 140ml 70ml
Golden syrup 60ml 45ml 30ml 22.5ml 15ml
Eggs 4 3 2 1 1
Approx cooking time 50-60mins 50-60mins 50-60mins 50-60mins 25-30mins

Method

  1. Grease the tin, and line with greaseproof paper
  2. Sift the flour, soda, baking powder and cocoa into a mixing bowl and stir in the sugar
  3. Put the butter and milk into a small saucepan and place over a very gentle heat until the butter has melted
  4. Add the syrup, eggs, melted butter and milk to the bowl of dry ingredients and with a wooden spoon beat the mixture to a smooth batter
  5. Pour the mixture into the tin and place in a pre heated oven at 160c
  6. Bake for the approximate time shown above, until the cake is firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into its centre comes out clean.

Butter Icing (makes 225g) From the Book ‘Character Cakes’ by Sandy Garfield

Ingredients

  • 115g Butter
  • 225g Icing Sugar
  • 15ml Golden syrup (optional)
  • 1-2 tbsp. cocoa powder dissolved in a little hot water
  • 1-2 tbsp. Milk

Method

  1. Cream the butter until pale and soft. Continue beating, adding the sifted icing sugar a little at a time. Add in the golden syrup if using.
  2. Add the chocolate to the mixture and as much milk as necessary to give a smooth spreading consistency.

I had decided to make the cake in a 9 inch square tin, so I selected the relevant quantities for the ingredients, mixed it up and popped the cake in the oven with barely a second thought. However when I turned it out of the cake tin I decided it was not as deep as I would like. If was totally fine, nothing had gone wrong, I just wanted it a bit deeper than normal. If you follow this blog you will know that leftover and spare cake never goes to waste in this house, and I now have a pile of chocolate cake slices in the freezer for Sunday teas. Although this was a slight set back and had used up some of my precious baking time and ingredients, I didn’t really see this as too big a problem 🙂  I simply started again, used the quantities for the 12×10” pan instead (in my 9 inch tin), and baked for a while longer until the skewer came out clean. I can’t remember exactly how much longer it needed, but it was at least an extra 20 minutes!

I had decided to decorate with buttercream and some pretty chocolate triangles I had spied in the supermarket, arranged artfully on the top!!!! Here is where Murphy’s Law kicked in, and when I went to buy the rather pretty triangles they were not in stock. In a fit of pique I decided I would make my own, instead of just selecting something else and not adding to my already ridiculous workload. I melted some milk and white chocolate and drizzled them in a random pattern over a piece of greaseproof paper. When they had cooled and set, I melted some dark chocolate and spread all over the top. Once that was set, the hubby was tasked with cutting into nice triangles for me, and although that did not quite go to plan, I was happy with what I ended up with and decided to go for a chocolate mosaic effect on top of the cake.

Once the cake was cool, I whipped up Sandy’s chocolate buttercream and coated the top and sides of the cake, then arranged my chocolate shards on the top. Not a totally trouble free bake, but I was satisfied with the end result.

Victoria Sandwich

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The lady I was baking all these cakes for had a dish she wanted to use to display the Victoria sponge cake. It was a rectangular glass dish, but presented me with a challenge of making a cake of an appropriate size. Luckily in my cupboard I have a Silverwood multi size cake pan, a splendid invention and if you bake a lot I would strongly recommend getting yourself one. It really does work a treat and saves a heap of space in the cupboards 🙂 .

I selected Mary Berry’s Victoria sponge recipe (who else) but due to the size of the cake I opted to make 2 batches of the batter and bake each batch as a single layer in the multi-size pan, set to 10×8 inch rectangle. Yes, the layers would be deeper than normal, but I was feeding 80 hungry souls after all! Next I had to work out how long to bake it for, luckily there are actually a lot of sites out there that offer advice, you just have to find them. The ones I found the most helpful were these.  Wiltons cake baking and serving guides. – This gives you a lot of useful information including number of servings, how much batter is required and temp and time to bake. It is an American site so expect to need to make cups and Fahrenheit conversions.  This one from CraftyBaking does duplicate some of the information but has some extra tin sizes

In my reading regarding tin sizes I came across a few comments about baking a level cake (i.e. not getting that dome in the middle), and references to large cakes browning on the outside before the centre was cooked. At this point I realised that I was likely to run into both issues with the size of cake I was making and the advice seemed to be to use cake strips. This is not something I have ever in my *cough cough* years of baking heard of! Where have I been?

Cake strips seems to be the magic solution to domes, cracks and burnt edges! However true to Murphy’s Law I found this gem of information after the point in time where I could have purchased something in time. PANIC! Luckily I stumbled on this blog ‘A Cozy Kitchen’ and have to say that Adrianna saved me time, money and an ulcer!  Of course smooth sailing not being on the menu, I could not follow her instructions exactly as I was using my multi-size Silverwood pan, so couldn’t wrap strips around the tin as she does. Instead I dampened some old tea towels and crammed them into each of the sections around the cake, and it worked a treat.

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To assemble, I spread raspberry jam on the bottom layer of the cake, then filled the centre with fresh whipped cream. To make it look pretty I piped some rosettes around the edge of the layer ensuring I left a slight gap to allow room to spread when I placed the top tier. I decorated the top of the cake with fresh cream, icing sugar and fresh raspberries.

Sugar Free Lemon Meringue Pie

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If you have visited my about page you will see that I have a family member who cannot eat refined sugar. As she is very partial to lemon meringue pie I found this recipe quite a while ago and have made it a number of times. .  Sugar Free Lemon Meringue Pie by Webicurean

I was not expecting any issues with this bake, and true to form the pastry and filling went swimmingly well.  I whipped up the merengue, baked and done. Simples. Not a care in the world. This is approximately 5 hours before the cakes are due to be delivered.

HELLO MURPHY!  As I went to move the cooled pie off the cooling rack, I noticed the meringue topping was moving. There was a layer of liquid on top of the lemon filling, and the meringue was sat bobbing happily on the top!!! I had no idea what had gone wrong, it had never happened before! I scrapped off the floating meringue and poured off the layer of liquid, luckily the pastry and the filling were none the worse for wear! Before I launched into redoing it, I thought I had better find out what had happened. I wasn’t going to have enough time to do it 3 times after all!

The two most helpful sites I found were these, offering explanations and tips to avoid another disaster.  www.marthastewart.com and www.sunset.com .  It turns out I had 2 issues. Shrinking – the fact the meringue had come away from the edges of the pie, and Weeping – the layer of liquid under the meringue.

The shrinking was easy to rectify by ensuring the meringue topping was spread to seal in the edge of the pastry.  This was also a potential fix for the weeping as well, the other being to spread the meringue onto a hot filling, something I did not have time to redo.  I just had to keep my fingers crossed that the weeping would be resolved by properly sealing in the pastry edges. To my huge relief it did. Phew!

The Pavlova

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As I did not think I had quite enough to do, I figured a proper pavlova showpiece was the way to go on this dish so I selected the impressive 3 tier crown layered pavlova from the BBC food site (no surprise there).

Although not terrified of this dish I will admit I had not made a pavlova like this before. What could go wrong I thought! Just whip up a few meringue layers (which I have made before) and layer with cream and fresh fruit. But I did want it to look perfect, so I did a bit of research on how to make a perfect pavlova, what colour it should be etc.

One of the tips I found in more than one place was not to bake the pavlova in a fan oven. No reason was given that I could find, but these were real proper chef’s and people that know far better than I do, so I followed their advice.

I am fortunate that I own a range with 4 ovens but even largest oven wouldn’t take all 3 tiers at once, so I decided to use two. The larger 2 tiers went into one oven and the crown went into the other. In hind sight I should have swapped them between shelves/ ovens during the cooking process to ensure they baked evenly, but being used to using a fan oven it didn’t occur to me. Once the baking was complete I took them out and was horrified to see I had invented an ombre effect pavlova. The largest tier was very lightly coloured (what I was aiming for), the middle tier more of a golden tan and the crown was darker again almost a coffee brown! The hubby offered his thoughts “it will be fine”, but I knew that the crown was far too far gone to be used. In a moment of wisdom I decided to lower my sights, go for 2 layers rather than 3, and popped the largest layer back in until it was about the same colour as the middle tier. Sorted!

Nope!

Fortunately I had made the meringue with a couple of days to spare, on the remote unlikely off chance things didn’t go to plan. For when I checked my meringues the following morning, the 2 tiers I had kept had collapsed in the middle. Totally. The middles had just sunken in until I basically had 2 hollows!  The 2 remaining tiers joined the crown in the freezer to be used for Eton mess next time I need a quick and easy dessert.

Back to the drawing board and the internet. Why had they collapsed. Well it turns out I should not have taken them out of the oven when they were finished baking! Yes, I know, the recipe does say to leave it in, but I had a lot on my plate and missed it!

This site has some good hints and tips along with explanations http://www.foodlovers.co.nz/features/how-to-make-perfect-pavlova-and-meringues.html

Ok, so now I knew how to avoid collapse, but I still had the colouring issue to tackle. If I had to make this again I wanted to have my 3 tiers back. In the end I decided to ignore all the advice over not using a fan oven and did exactly that. The results were all the same colour. I left them overnight, no collapse. Sorted!

All that was left was to fill with cream and fruit and transport the monster to the venue intact.

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Kudos to the hubby’s driving, we made the 5 mile trip, with 8 cakes and desserts and not a single mishap. I have to admit the level of my stress in the car was through the roof, but the relief when everything was on the table was amazing. I don’t regret tackling this challenge at all, and as I said I learnt an awful lot in the process, not least of all to never ever agree to do 8 dishes at once again!

The Perfect Cheesecake

It has been a busy couple of months and sadly I haven’t had time to blog since July, but finally things are quietening down and I should be able to get back on track. One of my distractions was caused by me agreeing to make 8 cakes and desserts for my Mum’s friend’s big birthday bash. In my ignorance (never having attempted so many items in one sitting) I thought it would be a breeze with a little careful planning.   Well there was a great deal of careful planning, including multiple lists (I do love a list), spreadsheets (I am rather partial to these too), schedules and detailed task breakdowns. I don’t believe any military campaign could have planned better than I did for my uber-bake-fest!

I cook and bake because I enjoy it, and I have absolutely no desire to attempt to make a living out of it, but knowing these cakes would be on display to and eaten by over 80 people, coupled with my pride screaming at me that they needed to be perfect, almost reduced me to a drooling gibbering wreck. I did succeed in the end, but my goodness it was hard work.

I did however pick up some very useful information during this process and therefore my next couple of blogs will be slightly different. Instead of going through the recipes I am going to share with you the ups and downs of the bake-fest, and point you to the articles, sites and videos that helped me out in my days of need 🙂

I had agreed to make the following items: Chocolate cake; Victoria sandwich; Carrot cake; Pavlova; Bakewell tart; Lemon tart; Sugar free lemon meringue pie and a Cheesecake. I did not have major problems with all of them, so will cover the first four this week and the final four the next time round.

This week the major challenge was baking the perfect cheesecake, but we will come back to that in a while. Let’s start with the Carrot cake.

Carrot Cake

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I had not eaten carrot cake until 2 years ago, firmly sticking to my view that a vegetable has no right to appear in sweet item. However when my daughter baked a carrot cake for bake club one month, I felt it would be a very poor mother who refused to try her daughters bake, so I gritted my teeth and took a bite. I was amazed that I totally loved it and now regret the number of years (you do not need to know how many) that I stubbornly refused to sample this scrummy dish. She used this healthier recipe from the BBC Good Food website and I have now made it myself a number of times, it is truly delicious and I would highly recommend it Ultimate Makeover Carrot Cake

For the party I did not want to make a tray bake, I decided a 3 tier carrot cake would look super on the table so my first challenge was working out how to take this recipe which uses a deep 20cm square cake tin baked for 1 hr, and convert it to a 3 tier 20cm round. I spent hours trawling around the internet looking at the huge amount of advice on how to scale a recipe and adjust pan and cooking times, there was a fair amount of scary maths involved so in the end I opted for a slightly easier approach. I had stumbled on Delia Smiths recipe for Ultimate Carrot Cake  which happened to use the same size tin I was planning on using. Looking at the quantities for the 2 recipes I decided if I multiplied my BBC recipe quantities by 1.5 I should be about right for batter for 3 tiers, and used Delia’s oven temp and time. This is what I did and I have to say the cakes were perfect.

My next challenge was the cream cheese frosting. The one in the BBC recipe I have attempted twice now and both times it has been quite runny. I am not blaming the recipe, I think I have overbeaten the cream cheese, but I wanted a thick frosting that I could pipe so I selected this one from The Pink Whisk – Perfect Cream Cheese Frosting  and I have to say it was perfect. I did add grated orange rind to give it an orangey tang and left it in the fridge for a few hours before piping it, but it worked a treat and will now be my go to recipe for cream cheese frosting in the future.

Finally I wanted to use homemade candied orange peel to finish off the cake so fell back on the trusty BBC Good Food site recipe for Candied Citrus Peel. Word of warning on this one, do NOT leave the peel to cool in the syrup for too long, mine started to crystallise in the saucepan and did not have the finish I would have liked. They didn’t look dreadful, and tasted nice so I decided to use them but will definitely take more care next time I give them a go.

To assemble I spread frosting in the middle of the bottom and middle tiers taking it to about an inch from the edge of the cake. Then using a large round nozzle I piped blobs around the outside ensuring I stayed a few cm from the edge to allow for the weight of the higher tiers pushing the frosting to the edge. I covered the top tier with frosting then repeated the blobs around the edge and stacked the cake, finishing it with my candied peel.

Bakewell Tart

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Bakewell tart is one of my very favourite things and I make it regularly, so I did not do anything fancy with this, I just stuck to my usual recipe good old Mary Berry’s 🙂  It never lets me down – Bakewell Tart .  I did have a little jam leakage, but nothing major and I was happy with the finish.

Lemon Tart

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Oh my, this was a pain and a saga. I have made baked lemon tarts in the past and never been totally happy with the finish. That beautiful smooth shiny surface has always eluded me, so I thought I would be clever and chose a recipe I haven’t made before that didn’t require baking. I was then planning on putting a thin layer of lemon jelly on the top so it would look perfect! HAH! My first pastry case collapsed in the oven, so that went into the bin.

Lemon tart 1, Mama Raptor 0

My second pastry case worked a treat, and the lemon curd filling was splendid, all was going well until I tried to move the tart off the cooling rack and dropped it!

Lemon tart 2, Mama Raptor 0 – but I do now have portions of broken lemon tart in the freezer for Sunday teas 🙂

I decided at this point to try a different recipe, I have no idea why! Pastry case worked great, I cooked the filling to the exact right temperature and off it went into the fridge…… where it never came close to setting! That was frozen whole to feed to the family at Christmas as I know none of them will mind eating a less than perfect tart :s

Lemon tart 3, Mama Raptor 0

At this point I gave up for the day and took Maisie in the garden for some serious de-stressing ball throwing!

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Finally on the morning the cakes were due to be delivered in the evening, I saw sense and I returned to a lemon tart recipe I had made before and I knew would set and taste great even if the finish wasn’t as perfect as I would have liked. Yes back to the BBC Good Food site again (I do like their recipes) and Gregg’s Tangy Lemon Tart. I have to say, the finish was better than I had ever managed before largely due to the lessons I learnt on the cheesecake I think. (see below)

Baked Cheesecake

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I have made this recipe a number of times as it’s about the only dessert I can remember the hubby ever coming back for seconds for. James Martin’s Blueberry Cheesecake. I didn’t add the blueberries to the cheesecake mixture for this bake, instead I just did the compote on the top.   This is a great recipe and although hubby’s approval on a dessert is a really big deal in this house, I know that every one I have ever made has been slightly overcooked. I have not yet cracked the perfect smooth silky texture that I know I am aiming for. Part of my problem is knowing what they mean by ‘just set’ or ‘slight wobble’. As a cooking instruction I find it as helpful as ‘cook to just below boiling’ or ‘until it coats the back of the spoon’. These are too ambiguous for me, I want ‘cook to 75 degrees’, ‘boil for 5 mins’, ‘until it’s this exact shade of brown’, something that leaves no room for interpretation and mistakes. I wasn’t going to be able to check the texture of the cheesecake before I dropped it off as I didn’t think Mum’s friend would appreciate a spoonful missing out of the middle, so I became obsessed with finding out how to know when it was ready.

My problem with cheesecake, oh who am I kidding, with anything I cook, is I have a horrible tendency to overcook it. I am so worried about undercooking and poisoning people that I err on the side of burnt. I don’t know why I fret so much as I have never caused a problem for anyone with my cooking, ever, but I still can’t help the ‘oh just a couple more minutes’ syndrome which makes all the difference between being done and over done! I have started to improve as I have more time to focus on my cooking skills and this was my opportunity to make a cheesecake which had that dreamy texture, even if I wasn’t going to get a chance to sample it myself. I read article after article and finally stumbled upon a few you tube videos which demystified the process for me. The reports from the party was that the texture was perfect so thank you to all the videos below and especially to Caroline Artiss whose video leaves no room for ambiguity and has me convinced I will never overcook a cheesecake again!

Click here for Caroline’s Video

These 3 are also worth watching

Here is one from Better Homes and Gardens which gives a short clear explanation

Here is one from Australian Chef Curtis Stone, he also shows you one which is overcooked so you know what to not do!

Here is one from Ashlee Marie, its a bit longer but she shows you the jiggle at around 8 mins.

So there you go the ups and downs of the first 4 bakes.  However despite the stress I managed to make a better lemon tart and cheesecake than I have ever done before.  Next time I will cover the remaining 4 items where the merengue became my new nemesis!

Leaner Bacon and Mushroom Quiche

My amazing hubby spent last weekend driving a team of his colleagues on the Three Peaks Challenge, and I was tasked to provide a lunch on their return.  Amongst a huge quantity of other foods I opted to make my homemade quiche, which always goes down well at family events.  Its easy to throw together and with a couple of tweaks I have managed to make it a little bit healthier than the usual recipes.  I will apologise in advance as the said hubby not only abandoned me for the whole weekend, but he also ran away with the camera, forcing me to take my photos with my phone!  I did seriously consider unwrapping our daughters birthday present (a camera), but thought that might be a little out of order.  🙂

Quiche has always been a favourite of mine but with my ongoing and seemingly everlasting diet, its been hard to justify something laden with cream and cheese.  This version uses skimmed milk, low fat cheese and lean bacon, cutting the calorie count drastically.  This has been fed to many unsuspecting friends and family without disclosing the lack of calories, and I have only ever been complemented on it so I think I can safely say you wont miss the additional fat, and like me you can enjoy a slice of quiche without the irritating post-quiche guilt that normally accompanies it 🙂

Bacon & Mushroom Quiche (Please note quantities are for 2 quiches, I was expecting 6 very hungry intrepid walkers plus a hubby who would sulk if there was no leftover quiche for him to snack on for the next couple of days!)

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I am not going into details of how to make the pastry as I didn’t think to take photos of that stage.  Suffice to say you need 6oz’s of shortcrust pastry per quiche you are planning to make.  I will however show you this neat trick I found somewhere, for rolling it out without getting the rolling pin dirty and making it easier to lift.

Place your pastry between 2 sheets of cling film or greaseproof paper and roll out to the required size.  Remove the top sheet and gently lift the pastry and the bottom sheet over your arm.

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Flip over onto the dish and press into the edges.  Finally peel off the bottom sheet of clingfilm and finish pressing into the dish, then trim off the excess

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At this point I blind bake the shell.  I didn’t use to, but fed up with getting random soggy bottoms I decided to give it a go and I actually think it makes for nicer pastry and hugely reduces the stress of potentially serving a quiche with uncooked pastry to my guests 🙂

Dock the pastry shell, line with greaseproof pastry and fill with baking beans.

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Bake on 180c (fan) for 15 mins, then remove the beans and paper and bake for a final 5 minutes until the base is dried out.  Set to one side and turn the oven down to 170c (fan)

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Next chop up 160g of leeks, 400g lean bacon and 400g white mushrooms.  Grate 300g low fat cheese, and lightly whisk 10 eggs with 450ml of skimmed milk a little salt and pepper.

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Next dig out the amazing non stick frying pan, add a drizzle of olive oil and when the oil is hot cook the leeks until soft and just starting to brown.  Add the bacon and cook until starting to crisp then chuck in the mushroom and cook until all the liquid has evaporated off.

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Sprinkle a handful of cheese over the pastry base then divide the bacon mixture between the 2 quiches.  Sprinkle over the remaining cheese then pour over the egg mixture.

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Don’t overfill as you need to get this in the oven without letting the liquid splash over the pastry shell gluing your carefully prepared quiche to the dish (yup, I learnt that from experience).  Once almost full, carefully mix with a fork to ensure the egg has seeped through the filling.  Place the quiche on a baking sheet and place on the oven shelf.  If there is still egg mixture left you can top up the case at this point without fear of making an awful mess!

Bake on 170c fan for 40-50 minutes, or until just set and a nice deep golden brown.

Whilst its baking, try and persuade the very very hot dog that an ice cube is a great idea, give up and let her go back to sleep and enjoy a cuppa instead!

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Eureka, nicely brown quiche, with no soggy bottom, ready to feed to the ravenous troops!  You can either eat this hot, wait until its totally cold or eat whilst still warm. Personally I like it best warm, but each to their own.  Finally I have to say that despite my grumbling I reckon my phone has produced some decent pictures!

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Nutritional Information for 1/6th of a quiche:  384 Kcals, 23g carbs, 20g fat, 28g protein


Bacon and Mushroom Quiche
Ingredients (for one quiche)
6oz shortcrust Pastry
80g leeks - chopped
200g lean bacon - chopped
200g low fat cheese - grated
225ml skimmed milk
5 eggs
salt and pepper

1 - Line a dish with shortcrust pastry, then place a sheet of 
greaseproof paper inside and fill with baking beans.  Bake on 180c (fan)
for 15 minutes, remove the paper and beans and bake for another 5 minutes
until the pastry base has dried out.
2 - Fry the leeks, bacon and mushrooms until cooked and all excess liquid 
has evaporated.  
3 - Sprinkle a handful of cheese on the pastry base, then spoon over the
bacon filling.  Top with the remaining cheese.
4 - Whisk the eggs with the milk and some salt and pepper.
5 - Pour the egg mixture over the filling and bake for 40-50 minutes on
170c (fan), or until almost set and a nice golden brown.

Cinnamon Apple Crumble

I am not embarrassed to admit that I enjoy a Snowball at Christmas, so every year we buy a bottle of Advocaat, and every year I get around to having approximately 1 glass of festive loveliness!  The sad side effect is that it has become a new year ritual to throw away the leftover open bottle, and as I have said more than once… I hate waste!  In fact I hate waste so much, I have added a new foodie challenge to the list – ‘No waste’!

This year I sat holding the condemned bottle, sadly pondering the need to discard so much festive cheer, and decided to overturn its sentence.  I found a recipe for eggnog cake which sorted out half the bottle, and invented my very own Egg(nog) custard tart.  It seemed like an exceptionally good idea at the time, however in my desire to not waste a drop, I was rather heavy handed with the Advocaat and it was far too strong to eat.  I froze it anyway, hoping it might improve on defrosting and figuring it would do for Sunday teas.  I was wrong… it did not improve on defrosting, in fact I am pretty sure that the alcohol had strengthened twofold!  In the end I whipped up a batch of vanilla ice cream, chopped up the frozen eggnog tart and the last of the mince pies and chucked them in.  I have to admit Eggnog tart and mince pie ice cream is a thing of beauty, and one I am going to have to try and replicate for you at a later date.

The actual point to this story is that I used up my stash of Sunday puddings and was forced, FORCED I tell you, to roll up my sleeves to restock the freezer.  I decided to make one of my favourite puds… Apple Crumble.

I love crumble, I have often considered just having the crumble topping, but even I can’t justify that.  Instead I double the topping so there is plenty of crumble for every portion, if you are not quite such a crumble fan, you should half the topping quantity. I also like my apple quite sharp, so taste and adjust according to your own tastes.

Cinnamon Apple Crumble

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Firstly peel and chop a pile of cooking apples.  I ended up with 1kg of prepared apple.  As you are peeling and chopping toss the apple in a little water and lemon juice to prevent it from browning.  Measure out 100g of granulated sugar and mix in 1 tsp of ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ground ginger and 1/2 tsp ground mixed spice.

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Put the apple, spiced sugar and 100ml of water into a saucepan and cook gently until you reach your desired consistency.  I like mainly mushy with some chunks of apple.  Taste at this point, and if you prefer it sweeter  then mix in additional sugar and cook until its fully dissolved.

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Measure out 150g rolled oats, 150g Plain flour, 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp mixed spice into a bowl.  Mix well then start rubbing in 150g of butter.  At this point, realise you have forgotten the 150g golden caster sugar and throw it in.  Continue rubbing in until well mixed and the mixture starts clumping together.

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Next find a nice big dish and pour in the apple mixture, then sprinkle 100g sultanas over the top, and mix well.  Yes it would be far easier to mix the sultanas into the apple first, but I didn’t so I am going to have to go with it and hope you don’t work out I was a muppet!

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Sprinkle over the crumble topping and press down lightly.  Bake on 170c (fan) for 1 hour or until the top is a nice golden brown.  Whilst the crumble is baking, go on a hunt for a missing 500g block of cheese and identify the culprit! Does Maisie look guilty as sin or what!

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This made 8 very good sized portions to scale up and down as you see fit.  Serve warm with a scoop of homemade ice cream and enjoy!

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Cinnamon Apple Crumble

Apple Mixture
1kg peeled and chopped cooking apple
100g granulated sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp mixed spice
100ml water
Crumble Topping
150g rolled oats
150g plain flour
150g golden caster sugar
150g butter
100g sultanas

-Put the apple, sugar, spices and water in a pan and cook gently until 
soft stirring occasionally.
-Mix the flour, oats, spices and sugar in a bowl and rub in the butter 
until the mixture starts clumping together.
-Mix the sultanas into the apple mixture, and spread evenly into a large 
ovenproof dish
-Sprinkle over the crumble topping and press down lightly
-Bake on 170c fan for about an hour, or until the topping is a nice 
golden brown.

 

Paul Hollywood’s Barm Cakes

Foodie challenge number 4 is all about not buying anything I can make myself, so many years ago I invested in a bread maker.  It was used extensively when the girls still lived at home, although none of our waistlines benefitted as it is really really hard to cut a thin slice off a freshly baked loaf!  Well that was our excuse and we stuck to it!  Although we all enjoyed the bread from the breadmaker, I started running into problems with it not mixing properly and the loaf welding itself to the tin, compounded by the loss of half of the recipe book after Maisie chewed it up when she was a puppy!  (This is not a photo of the actual demise of the recipe book, but is evidence of young Maisies rather destructive tendencies!)

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Anyhow, I decided not to replace the aged breadmaker like for like and instead the hubby bought me a Kenwood Major Titanium mixer (now named Major Ken) so I could make bread myself from scratch, opening up a world of flavour and shape options I had never tried with the machine.  I should point out that due to ridiculously weak wrists I can not knead for more than about a minute at a time, so a mechanical aid for the kneading is a necessity, not me being totally idle 🙂  Inconveniently, at this point the girls left home, Steve’s frequency of travel increased and I found myself throwing away a lot of my lovely bread as without all the artificial additives to extend its lifespan I wasn’t able to eat it all before it went stale. I considered making the loaf, slicing it and freezing the slices then had a brain wave and realised making rolls would be easier.  My hunt for the perfect roll began and after trying out a number of different recipes I settled on Paul Hollywood’s Barm Cakes.  Lovely soft white rolls which freeze well, defrost in 30 seconds and taste great.  I make up a batch or two, stuff them in freezer bags, take out what I need when I need it and have not had to throw away a single crumb of bread again!  Total win!

You can find the full recipe for the Barm Cakes in Paul Hollywood’s How to Bake Book

Paul Hollywood’s Barm Cakes

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Gather your ingredients together, you will need strong white bread flour, salt, yeast, caster sugar, butter and water.  I use lighter anchor spreadable butter and it seems to work fine whilst slightly reducing the fat and calorie values for a roll!

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Pour the water in the mixer, then add the other ingredients, ensuring you keep the salt and yeast apart, then I set Major Ken off to do the hard work for me.

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I have spent many hours trawling books and the internet for a single clear way to known when I have a)kneaded enough b)risen enough.  You would think it would be easy to find out wouldn’t you, but every where I look I get slightly different advice.  I have settled on the answer to a) being when the dough is nicely elastic when I give it a tug, i.e it doesn’t rip. If I am being really good I try the gluten window test, where you stretch a small bit of dough between your fingers to see if you can see light through it without it ripping. After all, this stage is all about developing the gluten, which is what will give the bread a hopefully light and airy texture.

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I do find using Major Ken the dough doesn’t look perfectly smooth when I remove it from the bowl, but a couple of seconds kneading on the work top sorts that out and I end up with a nice looking ball of dough that is smooth, elastic, holds its shape and is ready to rise.

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Cover the bowl and sit back to drink tea and chat to the visiting daughter, who has taken it upon herself to buy Maisie every squeaky toy she can find!IMG_2254IMG_2255IMG_2223

After a couple of hours of chatting and squeaking, the dough has doubled in size and I think is ready for the next stage.  So what is the answer to b) have I risen enough?

Here is a great opportunity to introduce my Encyclopaedia of Kitchen Science McGee on Food & Cooking. This is a super reference book that explains the science behind nearly everything cooking related.  I requested it one birthday in the hope that understanding what is happening when I cook or bake, would make me a better cook and baker!  Not sure its helped that much, but at least now I understand whats gone wrong, even if I don’t have the intuition and skills to prevent or correct it 🙂  McGee describes the rising phase as fermentation, where the yeast cells produce carbon dioxide which causes the dough to rise, stretching the gluten strands.  Rising is finished when you can poke your finger into the dough and it does not spring back, showing that the gluten has been stretched to its limit.

Tip it out and fold it in on itself a number of times to knock out the air, then divide into equal sized portions. (I’m doing a double batch here which is why there is 24!)

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Roll each portion into a smooth ball and leave to rest for about 30 minutes, then roll them out until they are about twice their original diameter.  Place each roll on a lined baking tray and shake a little flour over the tops.  Cover and leave to prove until doubled in size or they spring back quickly when you prod them lightly with a finger.  This confused me initially, why do you not wait until the gluten has fully stretched again?  DOH!  Quite obvious when you think about it, the bread will rise in the oven, so there still needs to be some elasticity in the gluten when it goes in!

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10 minutes later (having confiscated the squeaky yellow toy), we have a lovely batch of Barm Cakes, ready to cool and freeze or eat whilst still warm with a nice dollop of butter.  YUM!

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Nutritional info per roll (based on My Fitness Pal) – Kcals: 166, Protein:6g, Carbs: 32g, Fat:2g

Bread making may have the image of being difficult, but these really are very easy to make.  Once you have the answers to a) and b) you can produce batches of very tasty soft bread rolls time and time again without any issues, and with the added bonus of no more wasted bread.  My apologies to the birds who are missing out on stale crumbs!