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choux

Spelt Choux Pastry

chouxI love choux pastry. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a Paris-Brest, a profiterole or an éclair, I adore it. Not even having grown up with tales of my mum’s summer job at Bird’s Eye on the frozen éclair line and still being traumatised at the sight of one decades later could convince me otherwise.

But oddly enough I’d never made choux pastry, thinking it was incredibly difficult and demanding to do. But when I decided to throw a party the other week, I immediately decided to do difficult and demanding because God forbid you’d make entertaining easy in my mind. I’m surprised I didn’t decide to go full croquembouche just to be sure I gave myself real stress.

My only choux dilemma was if you could make it with spelt flour to be wheat free for a fellow Fodmapper. Spoiler alert: it works just fine. This is because spelt still contains gluten so gets a nice texture and structure. You just need slightly more liquid than with wheat flour or it gets almost impossible to beat even with an electric whisk.

I found making the choux incredibly easy and kept thinking something was bound to go wrong because it just seemed *too* simple (why yes, I do collect anxiety disorders like cookbooks since you ask.) Nothing malfunctioned, but I discovered I hate hate hate piping choux pastry so gave up and just dolloped it on the baking tray instead before I turned the air blue and my hand white with squeezing the piping bag.

I filled the choux with creme patisserie which also worked marvellously and then whipped up a few coffee mini pavlovas with the remaining egg whites to be economical. This would have worked better if I hadn’t forgotten about a tray of them and found them cooled in the oven a week later. But honestly, with a bit of mise-en-place and good music on the radio, this was a great way to cater for a party of people with food intolerances with minimum trickiness.

Spelt Choux Pastry (makes approx 40 large profiteroles)

  • 120g butter
  • pinch of salt
  • 350ml water or half and half water and milk
  • 300g spelt flour, sifted well
  • 6 eggs

I do have one piece of sad news from the world of choux. When researching recipes, I discovered it is the first time Dan Lepard has ever let me down. There was no indication how much pastry the recipe made and it took me a moment or two to stop reeling and start doing some maths to adapt this internet based recipe into one that worked and served enough people.

Start by heating the butter, salt and water together until the butter is melted and reaches boiling point. Lower the heat and add the sifted spelt flour. I sifted mine twice as spelt has a tendency to clumping and one does not want clumpy choux. Stir it all well until combined until the mix pulls away from the sides of the pan. Mine did it almost instantly.

Take it off the heat and allow to cool for a minute or two. Beat each whole egg in one at a time until well combined. This is best with an electric mixer. My fifth egg caused my slightly dry choux to pull up the beater like a tornado so I had to hand mix the last one in. It should be glossy and just the stiff side of sloppy.

I then tried to pipe my slightly too stiff choux out of a slightly too small nozzle and ended up with tiny pointed topped buns and a general sense of rage. I switched to using a warmed spoon to dollop out blobs onto trays lined with baking paper before baking the buns at 200℃ for 20 minutes. I then reduced the heat to 170℃ for another 20 minutes to allow the choux to dry out slightly.

Once lifted out of the oven, I used rubber gloves to lift them off the trays and poked a hole in the base of each one to let the steam out as they cooled to stop them going soft. Then they then cooled on a rack while I made creme pat.

This is another one of those things people talk about in terms of being tricky and it might well be and I only had beginners’ luck, but I used my other baking bible in Rachel Allen’s fabulous Bake and it was easier to make than falling off a log. It will need to come back to room temperature to be easier to pipe though if you make it in advance. I used cornflour to keep it wheat and gluten free.

Creme Patisserie (will fill all those choux buns)

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 100g sugar
  • 25g cornflour
  • 350ml milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Begin by beating the sugar and egg yolks together in a large bowl until as light and fluffy as possible. I used the electric whisk. I also never use caster sugar because I’m not organised enough to buy it and granulated works fine for me. Stir in the cornflour.

Warm the milk in a saucepan until it just starts to boil and then gently pour the milk over the egg and sugar mix, beating continuously so it doesn’t scramble. I used the electric mixer again as it seemed to require less hand eye co-ordination.

Pour it all back into the saucepan and bring to the boil, continuing to whisk constantly. Mine foamed as it came to the boil and then flattened down as it thickened as it came to the boil and it made it easier to see what it was doing. I cooked it for a minute or two and then removed it from the heat and beat the vanilla into it.

I poured it into a bowl and allowed to cool slightly before covering well and chilling overnight. It set firmly in the fridge and I left it it out for about an hour before piping into the choux. I had intended to mix the creme pat with some apricot jam for an Austrian vibe but I totally forgot. The choux buns went down well despite this. I suspect I’ll be doing the whole thing again very soon anyway.

 

 

Marshmallow coffee pie

Baileys Coffee Marshmallow Pie

Marshmallow coffee pie

I’ve been out of the blogging loop for a few weeks due to being generally busy on some other projects (a fancy way to say I cleared out all my cupboards and tidied the flat) and because Mister North was doing some tech stuff to the blog to give it a new lease of life. He may not have time to write here anymore because his design skills still work wonders. So thanks heavens National Pie Week came along to give me my mojo back.

As well as realising I’d been neglecting the blog, I also finally noticed this week that I’d never ever drunk Baileys and decided I should immediately rectify that before I was banned from ever entering Ireland again for lack of patriotism. Thanks to the kindness of Bord Bia and Ocado, I visited the Irish shop on the Ocado site and bought a bottle forthwith.

I had an idea about a Baileys pie of some kind but thought it might just have to be eating a pie while drinking Baileys until I saw someone make an Irish Coffee in a cafe this week. I wanted that combination of alcohol, creaminess and sugar and decided to see if I could play around with a pie that had a coffee filling and a whipped marshmallow centre. I could always hit the bottle if it didn’t work…but I doubted there was such a thing as bad pie. Read more

Gache melee

Guernsey Gâche Melée

Gache melee

I know most people go to book group as an excuse to drink wine and possibly read Fifty Shades of Grey, but the one I go to has ended up being much more highbrow than that (we’ve never read Fifty Shades and I had spare bottles of wine after the last one.) It’s introduced me to books and people I didn’t know and taught me a lot along the way. It was constructed from a group of us on Twitter who had all read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and had not entirely positive feelings about it.

On the suggestion of the Guernsey native in the group, we went for something much more authentic and less whimsical and read The Book of Ebenezer Le Page instead. We ate Guernsey’s national dish of bean jar (a recipe I shamelessly appropriated for Slow Cooked) and put the world to rights. Sadly we haven’t found much other literature from the Channel Islands to read since then, but I thought it would be fun to hark back to Guernsey’s charms for this week’s get together and try making gâche melée for dessert.

Almost like a cake made with suet instead of butter, gâche melée is filled with apple and differs from the similarly named gâche which is more like a tea bread like barmbrack or bara brith. Gâche melée is an excellent vehicle for Guernsey’s famous cream and allows non Guernésiais speakers to try and get the pronunciation right as they eat. It should be as close to gosh mel-aah as you can get (which isn’t very in my Belfast accent.) Or you can just keep your mouth too full with its loveliness to say much. Read more

mikado opening

Homemade Mikado Biscuits

mikado 1

I have been on a bit of a biscuit roll recently (if you’ll pardon the pun) and rediscovering all kinds of childhood tastes. I blame that re-run of Nigel Slater’s biscuit programme because it’s certainly not just a desire to cram biscuits into my mouth. Oh no.

I loved making the fig rolls and I loved revisiting the Kimberley, Mikado and Coconut Cream jingle of childhood in my research for it, but honestly didn’t think anymore of it, especially since I was never quite sure which biscuit was which and preferred to say it as it’s all one word. I half thought of looking out for a packet of them if I was in an Asda soon with their weird ‘ethnic Irish’ grocery section.

My attention was actually all about the homemade teacake. I had heard about the rose infused version at Restaurant Story in Bermondsey recently and it got me thinking about playing around with having a go at something similar when some friends came for midsummer afternoon tea.

I’ve had this fantastic sounding recipe for teacakes from the ever wonderful The Little Loaf in my ‘to make’ folder for ages and thought I’d adapt it to make rose marshmallows again and spread the biscuit with rose petal jam. They sounded like they’d go well with a little Pimms on the patio in fact.

I started by baking the biscuits. Except I didn’t have any wholemeal flour, just some leftover buckwheat flour from the galette in Recipes from Brixton Village. Then I realised the rosewater for the marshmallows was three years out of date and smelt like a Woolworths bath and body gift set. It was time to use the random bottle of Polish raspberry syrup I’d impulse purchased a few weeks ago to see if I could add flavour and colour that way.

Raspberry and rose go beautifully so I still needed that rose petal jam: the rose petal jam that I forgot I’d eaten earlier this year and of course couldn’t be found without some time travel. Luckily I had some emergency raspberry jam on the shelf and it would look like it was intentional.

Massive amounts of improvisation later, I was ready to start assembling the teacakes. I spread the jam on the biscuits, splodged on the marshmallow and realised that on a very warm day the jam made it all so slippy I would never be able to coat them with chocolate without disaster. I was just about to give up on the whole endeavour when I realised that with a sprinkle of desiccated coconut I had accidentally created a homemade Mikado and saved the day…

Homemade Mini Mikado Biscuits (adapted from the Little Loaf)

Makes approx 60 bite sized biccies

  • 100g buckwheat or spelt flour
  • 50g rice or plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 50g sugar
  • 50g cold butter
  • 30ml buttermilk
  • 1 large egg white
  • 50g sugar
  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 4 tablespoons raspberry syrup or 75ml raspberry juice and 75g sugar
  • 4 tablespoons raspberry jam (seedless is best)
  • 2 tablespoons desiccated coconut

Start by making the biscuits. Sift the two flours into a large bowl and add the baking powder and sugar. Stir it all well together. Rub the cold butter into it all until it forms what looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the buttermilk a teaspoon at a time. The dough will come together without being sticky.

Using the palms of your hands, form it into a loose ball and squash it flat into some clingfilm. Wrap tightly and chill overnight or for at least 6 hours.

Heat the oven to 170℃ and roll the biscuit dough out on a floured surface until it is about 1cm thick. Cut out little bite sized biscuits out with the top of a small jar or champagne flute. Lay on a tray lined with greaseproof paper and bake for 12 minutes. I don’t like my biscuits too crisp for this kind of thing myself.

Allow the biscuits to cool while you make the marshmallow. This is the kind of marshmallow you get in big pots called Marshmallow Fluff and for me it never sets to make the solid kind you toast, but is perfect for this kind of thing.

Set a large bowl over a pan of boiling water and melt the sugar and golden syrup together. Using an electric whisk, beat the egg white into it all and keep beating it all over the heat for 6 minutes. Add in the raspberry syrup. I used bottle stuff but make a quick version with the raspberry juice from squashed berries and sugar boiled together to make a thick syrup if you don’t have a crazy Polish drinks aisle near you. Beat it all together for another 2 minutes and remove from the heat to cool.

Put the cooled marshmallow into a piping bag. Do check to see if you have actually have a piping bag first unlike me who had to do the freezer bag trick instead. Spread a tiny blob of raspberry jam on each biscuit and pipe a puff of marshmallow on top. Yours will look prettier than mine I promise. Sprinkle the marshmallow with a scant amount of coconut and if you’re trying to hide the badly piped nipple-like marshmallow you’ve just done, add some edible glitter too.

Leave the biscuits to set for at least two hours before eating and then line them up on a plate to make what looks like one enormous Mikado and inhale them one after the other. Wearing a headscarf and housecoat is of course optional for most people but basically how I always dress when I’m cooking since you can only take the girl out of Belfast….

PS: I’m now on Instagram. Come and say hello!

 

Mixed spring sourdough grissini

Adventures in sourdough: pancakes and grissini

Mixed spring sourdough grissini

One of the things which seems to mark out people who care about their food is a love of proper bread. In some respects I came round to this rather late. Although we grew up enjoying bread from wee bakeries in Northern Ireland, with lovely batch loaves, bloomers, wheaten bread and more; we also ate a lot of cheap sliced loaves at home. I used to be a demon for toast, and sliced pan loaves were the only option to sate my cravings as a growing teenager.

Throughout student life cheap sliced loaves were a staple. After graduating I shared a house with a mate who never bought a loaf of pre-sliced bread. His stance wasn’t dogmatic – no deeply ingrained opposition to the Chorleywood process – he just liked half-decent bread, and the pleasure of being able to cut your own slice, to whatever thickness you desired. Thanks to him, I kicked the habit of rectangular loafs wrapped in plastic like Laura Palmer. Since then I’ve made an effort to try and buy decent bread (Barbakan in south Manchester was a particular inspiration), and I tempered my toast habit a bit…

Unlike Miss South I’ve never been particularly drawn to baking – a few experiments in the past led to some reasonably unimpressive loaves – and so have stuck to flatbreads, pizzas, coca bread and of course those Norn Irish staples we both grew up with. I’ve always been impressed and daunted in equal measure by tales of friends growing their own sourdough starters, but never made the leap to doing it myself.

However our mum gave me a bit of her starter earlier this year (a mother from my mother seems appropriate) and so I’ve been giving this sourdough malarky a go. I work at home, so I’ve been able to accommodate the routines of this relatively undemanding pet: feeding, stirring, growing, nurturing. Loaves have turned out pretty well, and I can relate to the satisfaction one often hears described which comes with slowly proving a loaf with rewarding, complex flavours. However there are lots of folk out there who bake sourdough bread much better than I do… so this is about other things made with sourdough instead.

Sandor Katz’s monumental ‘The Art of Fermentation’ was a recent welcome birthday present, and as I leafed through the inspiring recipes and writing I was immediately drawn to his suggesting of using up excess sourdough starter for savoury pancakes. It’s dead simple: to help stimulate your starter to grow, you need to chuck out the majority of the flour and water mix so you can feed the remainder with new supplies. Most sources advocate using it for baking, or chucking it away, but the waste-not, want-not approach which Katz outlines is great.


sourdough pancake and starter

They’ve become a firm favourite in the last few weeks, providing an easy and welcome vehicle to use up a bunch of fresh and not-quite-so-fresh things from the fridge. I love the slightly sour tang from the starter; it’s like an quick and dirty hybrid of injera and a Staffordshire oatcake, and they’re great for a quick lunch.

sourdough_extras-03

Just pour out some of the sourdough ‘batter’ into a hot pan, and do like you would with traditional pancakes. Then fill, and wolf them down. Below are a couple of recent lunchtime five-minute wonders: blanched cavolo nero, diced salami and a squirt of sriracha in pancakes flecked with chives; and home-made slaw, salami and leaves. The contents are dictated only by your taste and what you have in. The only downside; roll ‘em like wraps and they disappear in no time.

sourdough_extras-04  sourdough_extras-02

Outside, our rosemary bush has been flowering over the last few weeks. I’ve always wanted to make the most of these delicate, beautiful lilac flowers but never settled on the right option. They wilt and fade when roasted with lamb; they’re a bit much for a salad… but then I thought I’d try and pair them with smoked roast garlic and sea salt.

bumblebee on rosemary flowers

That, plus it being the tail end of wild garlic season in the Pennines, meant a making a brace of big umami-laced flavoured breadsticks. Which, oddly, don’t seem to last long in our house, especially when there’s a bottle open. Of the two, the rosemary flowers and smoked garlic was the standout for me. Well worth making…

Wild garlic, smoked garlic, rosemary flowers and sourdough mix

Spring sourdough grissini, two ways

(makes approx. 24 breadsticks)

  • 325g strong white flour
  • 150g sourdough leaven
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 220ml slight warm water
Rosemary flower, smoked roast garlic and sea salt 
  • 3-4 tablespoons of rosemary flowers (you could alternatively use dried ground rosemary leaves)
  • half a bulb of smoked garlic, roasted slowly for 40mins in an oven at approx. gas mark 4 / 180°C
  • a few tablespoons of sea salt to roll and coat the grissini in
Wild garlic, anchovy and black pepper
  • a fistful of wild garlic leaves, finely chopped
  • 6-8 anchovy fillets
  • fresh ground or crushed black pepper
  • olive oil

Roast the smoked garlic slowly. When done, remove from the oven and leave to cool. You should be able to squeeze out the delicious garlic purée from the cloves. Chop the wild garlic leaves finely, mixing with a splash of oil and chopped anchovies in a bowl to create a paste.

Mix the flour and leaven together in a bowl, then slowly add the water. Sprinkle the teaspoons-worth of salt in as you add the water. Mix roughly in the bowl, then leave for ten minutes. After ten minutes, divide into two equal portions, and work each separately. It should be slightly wet and sticky.

Mix the rosemary flowers into one of the portions in a bowl, then add the roasted garlic purée. Knead and mix until the ingredients look evenly distributed, and you can feel the dough changing in your hands. I slap it around briefly for a few minutes, then left it, before returning after a suitable length of time (preferably at least 4 hours). The mix will have risen slightly and proved well.

With the other, stir in the wild garlic mix. You may find you need to add extra flour as the water from the wild garlic leaves makes the dough more liquid. Mix as above until it’s uniformly green and has changed texture, then leave as above.

When the proving has completed, divide each in half, roll into a rough sausage shape, and then divide further into six equally-sized pieces. Roll these pieces, one by one, between your hand to make long breadstick shapes. Be careful they don’t snap… and don’t sweat it if they are uneven. They should look pleasingly rustic. Keep each dusted lightly in flour, and place on a dusted baking tray.

I sprinkled sea salt on a baking tray and rolled the rosemary and smoked garlic grissini in these, so the crystals stuck roughly to the dough.

Bake in batches for 12-15mins in a pre-heated oven at 220°C / Gas Mark 7. Check to see they’ve firmed up and taken some colour. They should be firm enough to break rather than tear. Leave to cool, then enjoy with a drink or two!