Sunday, 28 April 2013

I don't go baking

After chatting with a friend this week I became aware that although the name of my blog suggests I will regale you with tales of my baking, thus far, I have not delivered. So the theme this week was an obvious one- I’d better bake something. While I love cooking, and am well aware of the current trend for baking, I wont lie, cakes aren’t exactly top of my to do list. I think it’s mainly because I don’t really like eating them. I’m selfish like that. I will always choose a starter over a pudding and reach for crisps, not chocolate, in a moment of hunger. Salt wins over sugar every time in my opinion. Good news for anyone sharing a dessert with me, it’s pretty likely you’ll get the lions share. I do however, always make a cake for Birthdays, If you know me, and it’s that time of year, then you’re probably getting a cake.

Secondly, I hate the mess. Now, anyone who knows me or indeed has seen me in the kitchen will tell you I’m not the tidiest of cooks. I feel it’s largely due to my clumsy nature. Being clumsy with a bag of onions, not such a problem, but when you chuck flour, eggs and soft butter into the mix….then, we have a problem. I not only cover myself in cake mixture, but everything I touch. I’m like the opposite of King Midas. There are always so many bowls to wash up after too, it’s quite a commitment…and a massive turn off.

So what to bake? - I suddenly had writers, and bakers block. Maybe I could just change the name of the blog? I don’t go baking…but I wasn’t sure it had quite the same ring to it…

Then it hit me, BREAD, that was baking! I not only love eating bread, but love making it too. I think the thrill of seeing something come from relatively nothing coupled with the smell of freshly baked bread should be enough to put a smile on anyone’s face. There would still be the mess, I had to accept this, but at least I could enjoy the fruits of my labor post clean up. Having said that, I still felt like I was copping out a bit, so I decided on a sweet creation, maple pecan and cinnamon swirls. These are what the love child, from an illicit affair between a Chelsea bun and a pecan Danish, would look like. I may not like cakes, but I could happily eat these all day long.

If you’ve annoyed anyone this week I really would urge you to knock up a batch of these this weekend, instant forgiveness - I promise you.

Maple pecan and cinnamon swirls
Makes about 14 small buns

For the dough:
450g strong white flour
50g soft brown sugar
14g fast action yeast
150ml warm milk
50ml warm water
50g melted butter
1 tsp almond essence
1 egg
For the filling
50g soft butter
50g soft brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla paste (with seeds)
50g pecans, roughly chopped
For the topping
5 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp almond extract
a few pecans, roughly chopped
100g icing sugar mixed with a splash of water to form a runny icing

1 Mix tall the dough ingredients in a large bowl or food processor fitted with a dough hook, knead for 10 minutes by hand or about 6 in a machine, until the dough is smooth. Shape into a ball and leave to rise for about 2 hours, or until doubled in size.

2 Push back into the bowl with your fist then on a lighly floured sheet of baking parchment roll out to a long thin rectangle, about 50cm long. Mix all the filling ingredients, apart from the pecans, together, spread this onto the dough. Scatter with the pecans. Roll up from the widest end, so you have a really long swiss roll type creation. Use a little water to help it stick the dough together if you need to. Cut into about 14 slices. Arrange cut side up in two well oiled round cake tins.

3 Cover with oiled cling film and leave in a warm place until doubled in size, about an hour. Cook at 200C for about 16 mins, until golden and hollow sounding when tapped on the base. Cool on a wire rack.

4 Gentle warm the syrup and almond extract then brush onto the buns. Scatter with pecans and drizzle with the icing. Eat.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Get your Breville out

Things are better toasted. This is a fact. A panini press, an old school Breville sandwich toaster or even a pan topped with another pan can make the humble cheese sandwich into the stuff of dreams. Hell, I'd toast myself if I could.

For as far back as I can remember I have loved the toastie. My first memories of the wondrous thing were at a department store in my home town of Canterbury. It was called Perrins (I think) they had a café, and my brother and I could be bribed into a peaceful day of shopping with the promise of a toasted lunch. They were always perfectly cooked; strings of melted cheese hung from the inside (and your mouth) after each bite, the bread was golden brown and crisp on the outside with that strange crispy, bread crust border that can only be achieved with a sandwich toaster. It came with a simple side salad of cucumber and cress that seemed to work wonders with the richness of the toastie. I wept when that place closed down, well until my eldest brother bought his well-worn Breville back from university that summer. Happy days ensued.

The versatility of the toasted sandwich can prompt some great conversations; it always unearths some really strange combinations. I’ll admit I’m not always convinced on some of them (banana, bacon and peanut butter anyone?) I’m more of a fan of the classics- you can’t beat a good old ham and cheese toastie, especially if there is a nice bowl of homemade tomato soup on the side. I like to dunk. In the US they’re great at this, to be fair it’s called a grilled cheese sandwich, but it usually comes with tomato soup and it’s always amazing. Perfect lunch.

So, here's my gripe. Badly toasted products. I'll happily eat a cheese sarnie, should the mood take me. I will not however happily eat a cold in the middle, under melted, half-hearted offering. There is something about half warm half cold cheese that I just don’t trust. The texture in a bite of the un-melted next to the melted- Just. Not. Good. It's also totally unnecessary, anyone can get a toasted sandwich right, it’s hardly rocket science.

The worst offender from the lazy toasters came recently. Was I hungover? Yes. Was I at a train station? Yes. Did I have access to toasted goods? Yes. I won't name names, the Mother has taught me better, but it ended up in the bin on the high-speed train quicker than that bad boy goes. Which is pretty quick. I hate to waste food but this really went beyond my lowest expectation. The solution is so simple, just leave it in longer, I would have been happy to wait.

Why not get your Breville out this week and have a go, it’s sure to bring back happy memories or at the very least, a happy lunch. Here’s the recipe for my take on the ultimate toastie. The beauty of this is you can chuck in whatever takes your fancy, or is in the fridge. Just make sure if you use sliced tomato, don’t let it anywhere near the bread…you have been warned.

My A,B&C toastie  (Avocado, bacon & cheese)
Makes 1 Takes 20 minutes

2 big slices good white bread, I used sourdough (you need to pick a squareish variety if using a Breville style machine)
knob garlic butter
a good handful of grated melting cheese, use Monterey jack, cheddar, Gruyère, mozzarella, or a mixture of all of them.
3-4 slices grilled back bacon or thick ham
thinly sliced red onion
1 small really ripe avocado, sliced
lime juice, fresh coriander (optional)

1 Thinly spread both sides of each piece of bread with the garlic butter and lay side by side on a board. Season the inside with ground black pepper. Divide the cheese between the two. Keeping it closest to the bread will help it melt nicely. Top one with the bacon or ham, then the avocado, season it with some salt and pepper and a squeeze of lime and a little fresh coriander if you have any kicking around. Top with the red onion.

2 Carefully place the cheese-topped slice on top and press down well to seal. Poke back any stray cheese into the sandwich. Cook in a sandwich toaster or panini press until golden, crisp and melted. If the cheese hasn’t melted and your outside is as brown as you would like wrap in foil and pop in a warm oven for a few mins, also a good technique if you’re making a few and want them to stay warm.

3 If you don’t have a gadget heat a non- stick frying pan to medium/hot, pop the sandwich in and using another heavy pan press down cook until golden and then repeat with the other side. Eat.  

Monday, 8 April 2013

Burger night

I think most people like a good burger. Their versatility means that no matter what your particular preference is, there is one out there for you. Even vegetarians can indulge, which is nice for them, they miss out on so much.

Of late they have been propelled into the spotlight with pop ups and burger restaurants opening everywhere. I am particularly fond of Byron burger, although attempting to eat the "Triple Cheesemas" special over the festive period was a mistake. Massive fail on my part; in the battle of me v food - food definitely won. Turns out you really can have too much cheese, a sentence I never expected to say.

Bad burgers are pretty easy to come by. Thin, over cooked patties that taste of charcoal, soggy tomato soaked buns that dissolve before you even get them anywhere near the mouth, yuck. I like the tomato, don’t get me wrong, but it should never ever be left near bread. They’re like enemies whose sole purpose is to destroy each other. Soggy bread makes me very sad.

This week I have been lucky enough to visit the Father in Portugal, the nature of my job means I can take my work pretty much anywhere, as long as there is a kitchen and Wi-Fi, which coincidently there is. I love it here, the produce is amazing; they don’t have the same stupid fear we do in the UK that means all our vegetable have to look a certain perfect way. Spring onions the length of an arm, two-foot long leeks and cabbages that could take out SchwarzeneggerThey taste superb. Makes my work in the kitchen a lot easier, pretty much anything you rustle up tastes great.

So we had a burger night, I baked some buns, whiped up a batch of my secret burger sauce, crafted the burgers and cooked them on the BBQ. My sisters comment “isn’t the man going to cook the meat” was not received well. We had fake cheese in them; this is a real divider of tastes. Personally I think the Kraft slice is a thing of wonder, I would never dream of using cheddar or even worse some fancy blue offering. Blue cheese doesn’t belong in a burger. I will defend this opinion to the death.

The burgers were good if not a little hard to eat as I had somewhat over filled them but I was excited- it was burger night! That said I think I’ll make them slightly smaller next time. It was not a pretty sight watching us eat them...but hey, that’s what napkins were invented for.

Oh and turns out the secret sauce isn’t really that secret after all, one of my dining companions managed to guess every ingredient.