Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Queen of pancakes

This is not strictly a baking post, but I haven't made sourdough for a while, so I thought I'd amuse you with some pancake stories.
Pancake challenge (nothing to do with the ridiculous ice bucket challenge doing the rounds at the moment) is a challenge I set for myself - to make the fluffiest and also the easiest pancakes ever known to man kind. I want them fluffy - think American style rather than French crepes, and I want them easy - Ms Rantlet aged nearly three and Rant-a-Baby at 11 month don't leave much time or effort for elaborate pancake-making.

We recently went to a wedding in Kent - Buxted Park hotel is highly recommended if you are after a bit of luxury by the way. Post wedding breakfast included made to order pancakes, and thats what Ms Rantlet went for - honestly, she would eat pancakes for breakfast lunch and dinner if I let her. When they arrived, it was a heaven on a plate - a stack of super fluffy golden-brown pancakes drizzled with maple syrup and topped with strawberries. Simply put they were plain awesome! I managed to sneak one bite from Ms Rantlet plate, but that we enough, plus, she wouldn't let me have any more - she gobbled up the whole lot (I won't bore you with stories of what a plate of maple syrup does for a nearly-3 year old). With all that in mind I knew I had to try my best to re-create them.

Also there is another pancake from my past that haunts my dreams - Lemon Ricotta pancakes from Five Points in NYC - the place was recommended to us by a friend on our last visit to the Big Apple, and it was a revelation! Mr Ranty ordered huevos rancheros (and he still scouts every even vaguely American/Mexican place for a version of that breakfast), and I had lemon ricotta pancakes that I can still smell and taste, four years later.
I spent last four years trying to replicate Five Point recipe - kicking myself now for not buying their book, and I spent last couple of weeks trying to make the fluffy American version - as I mentioned, I have no shortage of people wanting to clean up the results of my pancake attempts, no we HAVE been eating rather a few pancakes for breakfast.

I also make Russian mini-pancakes now and then, if we have a canapé party, but they are a bit of fuss, so I have taken to buying packs of them instead. I'd also love to learn how to make Turkish and Indian pancakes stuffed with cheese and vegetables, but that requires a lot of testing and new cooking equipment that I am just ready to invest it just yet. So I shall just stick to sweet pancakes - easy to make and always well received.

Fluffy American Pancakes
150 ml milk
2 eggs, separated
30 g sugar
30 g butter, melted
130 g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Whisk together egg yolks and sugar, add milk and melted butter, until everything is well combined. Sift in flour, add salt and baking powder - mix everything together until you have a rather thick, well combined batter. In a separate bowl whist egg whites to stiff peaks, add to the pancake batter and gently fold in - white lumps of egg white are okay.

Fry pancakes on medium-high heat on a non-stick frying pan (or crepe pan if you have one). Add a little bit of butter to the pan if the pancakes begin to stick. Fry on both sides, flip with a spatula - be careful, they get quite hot

I normally make them medium sized - about 15-20 cm in diameter, and they turn up light and fluffy.

The recipe makes 6-7 pancakes, enough for 3 people for breakfast.
Serve with maple syrup, jam or lemon juice and sugar.

Tip: mix the mixture the night before and store it in the fridge overnight - helps if you have little people running around in the morning demanding pancakes NOW.
I store the mixture in a clean milk bottle, so in the morning I just shake the mixture, pop off the lid and just pour the mixture out of the milk bottle and into a pan - easy as!!

This is what they should look like

And this is my youngest stuffing her face with a pancake :)

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes
(adopted from Nigella's pancakes)
2 eggs, separated
30 g sugar
120ml milk
250g ricotta or cottage cheese
zest and juice of one lemon
100g self-raisig flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Whisk together egg yolks and sugar, add milk, lemon juice, zest and ricotta/cottage cheese, until everything is well combined. Sift in flour, add salt and baking powder - mix everything together until you have a rather thick, well combined batter. In a separate bowl whist egg whites to stiff peaks, add to the pancake batter and gently fold in - white lumps of egg white are okay.

Fry pancakes on medium heat on a non-stick frying pan (or crepe pan if you have one). Add a little bit of butter to the pan if the pancakes begin to stick. Fry on both sides, flip with a spatula - be careful, they will be quite messy and will try to fall apart

I normally make them rather small - about 10-15 cm in diameter, and they turn up light and fluffy.

The recipe makes 10-12 pancakes, enough for 4 people for breakfast.
Serve with maple syrup, jam or lemon juice and sugar. 

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Speedy Fougasse

I have been thinking about making fougasse for a long-long time, at least a couple of years, ever since I saw Richard Bertinet’ “Dough” book - I just knew I HAD to make it!! I don’t actually own the book, but I have rented it from a library so many times that I am sure that they think I own it :)

Seriously, photos in the book are just amazing, and recipes… well, what can I say about recipes – as far as I am concerned Richard is an absolute Bread God!! I am an absolute convert after watching his mixing and kneading video – and I am telling you its either some higher magic or some sort of voodoo! His technique of turning what seems like a mess of flour and water into a smooth ball of dough is nothing short of a miracle.

So as you are guessing I am a fan, a FUGE fan of Richard and his recipes, and I finally decided to give fougasse a go. I looked up a recipe online, and normally I wouldn’t mess with Richard’s recipe, but I was a bit tired and a bit short of time, so I decided to do a speedy version of it.  
Mr Ranty was serving chicken and mushroom pasta and I thought a nice fresh loaf of bread would go rather well with it.

Speedy Fougasse

450g white bread flour
50g wholemeal spelt flour
350ml warm water
1 tsp sugar
¾ tsp fast acting yeast
1 tsp salt

The recipe talks about hand mixing for 10 minutes following Richard’s technique, but I only had a few minutes between babies dinner and bath time, so I chucked all of the ingredients in a standing mixer and set it off – 3 minutes on slow speed (KitchenAid speed 1), 3 minutes on medium speed (KitchenAid speed 2) and 1 minute on high speed (KitchenAid speed 3).

Place the dough in an oiled bowl and leave in a draft-free place for an hour – an hour and a half, until  it doubles in size. Cover your kitchen top generously with semolina flour (or semolina meal) and gently pour out the dough out of the bowl. Stretch gently, sprinkle some more semolina flour on top. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and transfer the dough onto the tray. Take care while doing that, as the dough will be very soft and very stretchy. Shape the dough into a triangle, using a dough cutter cut a long slash along the middle and three smaller slashes, diagonally, on each side. You are aiming for a tree kind of shape – line in a middle with tree “branches” going up. Once you did all the cutting, stretch the cuts out a bit, to achieve the traditional fougasse shape.
 Preheat the oven to 230C and bake fougasse for 12 minutes, leave it to rest for about half hour before tucking in.

I sprinkled some herbs on fougasse just before putting it in the oven, but I wouldn’t mind doing an olive version or even a sweet version, with cinnamon and brown sugar.

I always thought that fougasse it going to be all crust and dry in the middle, but its actually really soft crust with open chewy crumb.  It goes wonderfully with pasta, and just as good with some butter and honey with a cup of tea. Plus it keeps really well – it stays nice and soft the next day too, and I have enjoyed if with butter and jam with my morning coffee.

I tell you what, this is a bread I will be making again and again, it tastes great and it looks really impressive

Thursday, 29 May 2014

White Loaf Perfection (and a few other variations)

I have been a bit quite of late, due to a number of things, but mainly down to two small babies to run after and a lot of DIY work at home. I am blaming DIY for the murder of my starter – the number of times I have forgot to refresh it cause I fell asleep from physical exhaustion! Warm weather and a tired baker does not bode well, I tell you that! I still have some mother starter in the fridge, so not all is lost. However I decided to take a break from sourdough breads an started looking to a quick and easy every day loaf recipe that I can do in a couple of hours in-between looking after babies and house work.

I came across “John Whaite Bakes at Home” book and I found loaf perfection!!  John is the winner of The Great British Bake Off a couple of years back and I have been following him and his recipes for a while. I was super happy when Mr Ranty bought me John’s book as a present – its a beautiful book to look at, nice layout and tempting photos, also John’s writing style is incredibly personal and open – made me feel like I really got to know him as a person as well as a baker.

I’ve tried a few of recipes from the book and they all have turned out amazing. My latest obsession is his white loaf recipe – its very easy and also very versatile – I’ve made a number of variations, and they all have turned out incredibly well. Here is my journey through John’s recipe :

White Loaf (John’s true-born recipe) :
500g strong white flour
10g salt
20g sugar
10g fast-action yeast
100ml milk
240ml tepid water
40g unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil (for greasing proving bowl)

Bake in a 2lb/900g loaf tin

I am using KitchenAid to mix up this bread, but the dough could be easily done by hand, its very easy to handle. Place milk, warm water, yeast and sugar (honey) in the mixing bowl, leave to stand for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile melt butter and measure out flour(s and any other dry ingredients you might be using). Add flour (plus anything else if using), melted butter and salt to the mixing bowl. Mix on slow speed (speed 1 on my KA) for 4 minutes followed by 2 minutes on fast mixing (speed 2 on my KA).

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, roll it around to cover it with the oil, cover with cling film and leave to prove at room temperature until doubled in size – it has taken anywhere from an hour to two hours for me, depending how warm it is.
Take the dough out of the bowl, knock it back and shape into a fat sausage – don’t use any flour for shaping. Oil your kitchen top if the dough is too sticky, too hard to handle. The dough will be very soft, a little bit of the sticky side, but with a nice shine to it.

Line the tin with baking paper, place the shaped loaf in the tin and clover with cling film. Leave it to prove for further hour or so until the top of the top rises over sides of the tin.

Preheat the oven to 200C and bake for 25 minutes – mine is a fan over and it super fast, so you might need another 5 minutes to bake it through.

The finished loaf is a lovely dark golden colour, and the smell, THE SMELL – the butter gives it almost brioche-y smell, your house will smell amazing for days afterwards.
The bread is great toasted – again, toasting brings that butter-ness in the bread, giving a nice soft toast, but strong enough to stand up to jam and peanut butter and any other spreads you might like.

Also here are a few of “bastard” recipes,  based on John’s recipe above, but with some of my own twists. I like wholemeal or seeds or both in my breads, so I have tried a number of varieties, and they all have worked out really good. Follow the mixing/proving/baking directions as above, and feel free to make your own flavours:

White and Wholemeal Loaf
300g strong white flour
200g strong white flour
10g salt
20g honey
10g fast-action yeast
100ml milk
300ml tepid water
40g unsalted butter, melted

Apple and Oat Loaf
450g strong white flour
50g oats
10g salt
20g sugar
10g fast-action yeast
100ml milk
140ml apple juice or cider
140ml tepid water
40g unsalted butter, melted

Seeded Loaf
420g strong white flour
80g mixed seeds
10g salt
20g sugar
10g fast-action yeast
100ml milk
280ml tepid water
40g unsalted butter, melted

Monday, 25 November 2013

Christmas pudding reviews

I have a confession – I don’t like Christmas cakes and Christmas pudding, don’t like any heavy fruit cakes for that matter. As any good baker, I decided the only way to change it is to make my own Christmas cake, which I have done for the last couple of years. Some of them turned out better than others, but I am more pleased with them than shop-bought ones.

This year my mother in law, Mrs Ranty Senior is making us a Christmas pudding and bringing it over all the way from NZ. She is a very good baker, and I am sure her pudding is going to be amazing, and it removes any fruit cake baking responsibilities from me this year. I am still going to be doing Christmas baking this year – Gingerbread house and Christmas Panetonne, but more on that in later posts.

If I WAS baking my own cake, I would be buying a lot of booze – brandy and port – to “feed” my cake. But seeing as I am skipping on the baking, I shall STILL be buying the alcohol but for my personal consumption :)
With all that in mind, Mr Ranty Man (aka Mr Messy Baker) had a brilliant idea – we should buy a whole load of Christmas puddings, try them all, rate them all and choose the best one. Now you see why I married him!!

The rules are :
-          It has to be a traditional Christmas pudding – no chocolate or mint or any other rubbish
-          It has to be a supermarket-own brand (a few exceptions might sneak in)
-          It has to be cooked according to manufacturer instructions (in a microwave, who has hours to steam it?)
-          It has to be served the same way – warm, with custard

So, here it is ….

Christmas pudding “Christmas” by Sainsbury’s
Price : £3.00
Weight: 450g
Score : 3/10

The pudding is quite rich in sultanas (33%), with a handful of raisins (2%). I could see mixed peel, but couldn’t taste it. There are no nuts in that pudding, which makes the texture very gloopy and bland – its definitely missing a bit of a crunch, something to add to the texture.
The pudding is overwhelmingly sweet – two hours later I could still taste the sugar on my teeth! I had to load up my plate with custard to take away the sugar-ness of the pudding. The actual crumb is quite light and orange-y in colour, very stodgy in texture.

Overall notes: don’t bother

This is what Mr Ranty Man came back home with - we have our work cut out for us!!


“Snowy Lodge” 6 month matured Christmas pudding
Price : £2.99
Weigh: 454g (serves 4)
Score : 7/10
 The pudding is less fruity than the previous one – only 27% fruit, but a good mix of sultanas, raisins, currants and glace cherries. It also has big chunks of nuts – almonds and walnuts that create great texture as well as adding to the overall look of the pudding.
It has a healthy 13% of booze in it – a combination of cider sherry, brandy and rum. The alcohol flavour is very pleasant and leaves a lovely lingering taste in your mouth.
The crumb is dark red, and the darker the better in my books when it comes to puddings.
The only shortcomings I would think of is the texture and spice ratio – the texture is very soft, doesn’t hold well, it pretty much crumbled when we tried cutting it; and it could do with a touch more spice, it’s a bit on the bland side
Overall notes: great value for money

Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference Orange & Cranberry Christmas Pudding
Price : £14.00 (currently half price at £7.00)
Weigh: 900g (serves 8)
Score : 5/10
Now, if you like your puddings on a boozy side, this is a pudding for you – this pudding would make Mary Berry very happy J It has an astounding 17% of alcohol in it, combination of stout, orange liqueur, cognac and sherry
It is a VERY chunky pudding – containing whole fruit (29%) and whole nuts (6%), as well as some marmalade (10%) that give it an intense orange flavour. I could appreciate the flavour a bit more if it wasn’t for all that booze in it, it borders on being unpleasant (and normally I am not the one to complain about too much booze – that’s how bad it it).
I can’t say much about the crumb – its very glue-like in texture, and its rather orange in colour, but it holds the pudding together very well.
I would not call it a pudding, its fruit and nut mix stuck together with orange glue.
Overal notes: buy it if you are an alcoholic

Aldi Specially Selected 12 months matured Luxury Christmas Pudding
Price : £6.99
Weigh: 750g (serves 6)
Score : 4/10
 What I do like about the pudding is the colour, is has a very deep dark colour, I would say down to Demerara sugar and molasses. The molasses flavour is quite strong, leaves almost an artificial taste in my mouth.
The texture is okay – a few nuts, a few fruits, but nothing special, even though it claims to have over 30% of fruit.
The actual flavour is very unremarkable, you can’t taste the booze or spices or fruits. I had to taste it again the next morning just to remind myself what it was like, and it was just as dull the day after
Overall notes: Ed Miliband of the pudding world – boring

Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference Cognac Laced Christmas Pudding 6 month matured
Price : £12.00
Weigh: 900g (serves 8)
Score : 6/10
The pudding is absolutely crammed with nuts, big BIG chunks of nuts and its well fruity with fruit making up nearly a third of its weight.
Don’t get too excited about the actual flavour though – its not boozy enough (“sprinkled” with cognac rather than “laced”, more of “sprinkled”), its not dark enough (very light brown colour), its not spicy enough, its just not good enough.
The best thing about the pudding it is texture, it holds well, it soft without being glue-like, its what pudding texture should be.
Overall notes: Taste is okay, but poor value for money


M&S Intensely Fruity Black Forrest Christmas Pudding
Price : £14.00
Weigh: 907g (serves 8)
Score : 7/10
            9/10 (for chocolate lovers)
Now, this pudding only JUST made it through, according to the strict pudding criteria we set at the beginning of the tasting. For start, it has chocolate – CHOCOLATE!! In a Christmas pudding!! Now, it could be a good thing of a bad thing, depending whether you are a fan of chocolate or not. As you might have guessed, I am not a fan of chocolate, so that’s taken away a point from the score for me.
Another score point was lost due to cherries – don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against cherries, but I have a thing against any kind of fruit and chocolate in the same dish – weird, I know, but that’s me.
As for the actual pudding notes – it lives up to its name, it has a very intense fruit flavour – fruit make up 50% of the total weight! Hard to determine booze percentage, its only about 10% of the actual alcohol mix, but some of the fruit has been soaked in brandy and kirsch.
The texture is lovely and moist – cherry sauce is adding a great flavour – and nuts and chocolates add a slight crunch, which is a nice touch.  
Hard to judge the spice level, as cherry flavour is incredibly strong, overpowering everything else, but other than that its pretty much a perfect pudding.
Overall notes: Perfect pudding for chocolate lovers
Mr Ranty is addicted - he just cannot stop buying puddings - I am going to be much heavier and more ... well, pudding shaped, by the time we are finished with this 


Aldi Specially Selected Champagne Christmas Pudding
Price : £9.99
Weigh: 907g (serves 8)
Score : 9/10

Now, the first think I have to say about this pudding, that its GOLD – yes, you heard me correctly, a gold Christmas pudding. Everything about it gold – the box is gold, its covered in golden (or “blond” as the box says) cherries and golden almonds and it even comes with a bag of edible gold. I imagine it’d be a best-seller in Essex J
Other than that, it’s a bloody good pudding - its rich in fruit (45%) without being too heavy, almonds and pecans (8%) have been lightly roasted, which makes a real difference – the flavour really stands out. Its one of less boozy puddings we tried so far, with alcohol making up only around 10% of the total weight -I get subtle notes of champagne and it really makes a difference.
The crumb is a deep brown colour, the colour mainly coming from the fruit rather than molasses or any other flavourings.
Its is a winner so far!!
Overall notes: If it wasn’t for the naff presentation, it would have been perfect

Tesco Finest 6 Month Matured Cherry Topped Christmas Pudding With Courvoisier Cognac
Price : £6.40
Weigh: 454g (serves 4)
Score : 8/10
This is a very good little pud – full of fruit and chunks of nuts with an intense colour and a nice long finish. Its well fruity, with 30% of the usual fruit mix as well as nearly 25% of cherries in it (on top as well as in the pudding).
The cognac flavour is quite pronounced, without being overpowering. The spice mix on this pudding is one of the best one yet, and you can really appreciate it, as its less sweet than your standard Christmas pudding, which makes a real winner in my books.
Which is why the texture of this pudding is really disappointing, its quite sticky and gluppy, and sticks to your teeth and not In a good way.
If you can look past that, it’s a lovely tasting pudding
Overall notes: a surprisingly good pudding and good value for money

Asda Chosen By You Christmas Pudding
Price : £2.00
Weigh: 454g (serves 4)
Score : 1/10
DO NOT BOTHER! I was actually considering giving it a 0 out of 10 – this is the first pudding we didn’t finish, and threw the rest out. Its rubbery, its greasy, its sickly sweet, with the cheapest fruit you can buy. I can’t even be bothered looking up the content of the pudding, but if I did, it would say something like that : 99% shit, 1% preservatives
Overall notes: the worst of the worst

Snowy Lodge Cherry and Pecan Topped Christmas Pudding
Price : £9.99
Weigh: 907g (serves 8)
Score : 4/10
This is a good looking pudding, deep dark, almost black colour, with glistening red cherries on top and covered in marmalade orange slices.
But that’s about all its got going for it – the cherries are very sweet and compete with the overall sweetness of the pudding. Not sure what is the point of these orange slices other than the look – they taste of absolutely nothing, which could also be said about the pudding itself. Its sticky sugary sweet, with no distinguishing taste – no strong booze flavour, no spice flavour, nothing remarkable
Overall notes: All looks and no substance

Duchy Originals by Waitrose Organic Christmas Pudding
Price : £8.00
Weigh: 454g (serves 4)
Score : 7/10
This pudding has the most unusual smell – burn caramel, almost molasses-like, a bit too strong for my liking, I actually thought we over-cooked it.
The actual pudding is quite nice – good colour (molasses), good texture (good amount of breadcrumbs), good amount of fruit (36%) and nuts (walnuts) –  but it just doesn’t come together. All the individual ingredients look good and sound good, but something is missing, something that brings it together – and I think it might be the booze.
It’s one of the less alcoholic puddings we have tried so far – only 5% of cognac, and it really shows. A good pudding should have a good whack of booze in it, and without it, its just a funny shaped brownie.
Overall notes: lacking in oomph

M&S Intensely Fruity Christmas Pudding
Price : £7.00
Weigh: 454g (serves 4)
Score : 8/10
Ahhh, its definitely the booze that was missing from the last pudding – this one does have a good doze of it (15%) – not overpowering, its just the right mix. The pudding definitely lives up to its name – its properly fruity – 43% of sultanas, raisins and currents as well brandy soaked glace cherries and chillean flame raisins (another 9%) – fruit soaked in booze – you can’t go wrong.
The only reason the pudding doesn’t come up higher on the pud chain is the sugar content and the texture. I guess you can’t have all that fruit without the pudding bordering on being too sweet, and there is just a little bit too many bread crumbs for me, but other than that it’s a great little pud.
Overall notes: one for fruit lovers

Waitrose Richly Fruited Christmas Pudding
Price : £5.00
Weigh: 454g (serves 4)
Score : 4/10

This is Waitrose trying to do budget, and they don’t do it well. Waitrose is all about name and quality – this one has the name, but of a very poor quality.
The colour is wrong – orange with dark spots – whatever they are. The texture is wrong – it has single cream in it – it has no place in it. The taste is all wrong – % of palm oil outweighs % of breadcrumbs , which is never a good thing.
Overall notes: shit quality with a good name

Asda Extra Special Champagne Glitter Topped Christmas Pudding
Price : £10.00
Weigh: 907g (serves 6)
Score : 3/10
The only good thing about this pudding it’s the looks – golden almond and cherries, with silvery sparkly powder on top.
The first listed ingredient in this pudding is demerera sugar, followed by glace cherries  - now that just tells you everything you need to know. It lacks in colour, taste, texture, fruit and nut – and what else is left I ask you? I don’t know where they get off calling it champagne pudding, when champagne only makes up 4% of the weight – they should call is Special Greasy pudding, cause it feels like grease is the main ingredient in the pudding. Its been two days and I can still taste the grease – yuck!!
Overall notes: shite with sparkles on top




Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Pumpkin Bread

Its November, the autumn has well and truly settled in and in case you have missed it, its Halloween season!! I swear, the shops have started selling Halloween tat back in July, but now I can give in an buy as much cra.. I mean decoration as I feel like. Plus Mr Ranty just informed me that he has ordered a smoke machine, strobe lights and horror sounds – so you can see, it’s a family event in our household
Plus, Ms Rantlet is two now and is much more interested in the holidays, so I am really looking forward to introducing her to Halloween and might even have to dress her up in a silly costume or two :) 
Anyway, where was I? Right, Halloween, autumn … I love autumn, I love American word for it – “fall” – because that it exactly what it feels like. The leaves are turning copper colour, the days are getting shorter, but still mild with a ray of sunshine or two. And the best thing about autumn is pumpkins – not the huge orange decorative things they sell all over the place (although I shall be making good use of those for Halloween lanterns), but good old tasty grey pumpkins. My local farmers market – Telegraph Hill market – has them for £2 each, such a bargain!! We bought a HUGE pumpkin last week and will be buying more, while the season lasts.
We managed to get four meals out of that massive pumpkin, you can see how incredibly versatile it is:
-          Thai pumpkin curry
-          Smokey pumpkin and bacon soup
-          Roast pumpkin as a side serving for a steak and kidney pudding (recipe to come)
-          Pumpkin frittata
-          Pumpkin bread
By the time I decided to make pumpkin bread, I only had a small slice of roast pumpkin left, but it turned out it was more than enough. Don’t roast a pumpkin especially for this recipe, just look at it as a way to use any left over pumpkin you might have. PS: I think it would work well with roast potatoes as well
Pumpkin Bread
250ml water, luke warm
25g sugar
2 tsp active dried yeast (I use Allinson or Hovis)
400g white flour
100g wholemeal flour
1 tsp salt
125g roast pumpkin, cut in large cubes
Place water, sugar and yeast in a free standing mixer, leave for about 5 minutes for the year to do its magic. Again, with active yeast you don’t really need to activate it, as they should be good to go as they are, but I do like to see the yeast bubbling away before I start mixing in the rest f the ingredients.
Add flours, salt and pumpkin to the liquids and mix on low speed – speed 2 on KitchenAid – for 6 minutes. The dough will look quite well for the first five minutes or so, don’t be tempted to add any extra flour, it will come together at the last minute. The dough will be quite soft and slightly sticky, lovely orange colour with some bigger pumpkin chunks showing through.
I contemplated adding some butter to the dough, but the pumpkin adds enough flavour and creaminess, so I don’t think it needs it.
But I think the dough could take some spices – maybe cumin or ginger, if you want to make it a bit more interesting.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm (or shower cap as I do it) and leave in a warm place for 2 to 3 hours (depending how warm your house is), until the dough has doubled in size.
I think the texture of the dough is robust enough to stand up to a free shaped loaf, but I decided to bake it in a loaf tin. Line the tin with baking parchment, shape the dough into a batard, place it in a tin, cover it with clinfilm (shower cap) and leave in a warm place for another hour or so, until well risen.
Preheat the oven to 180C and bake for 35 minutes, until deep golden brown on top. Leave the loaf in the tin for about 5-10 minutes, take it out of the tin and leave to cool completely on a cooling rack.
The bread is very soft, with a hint of sweetness from both the sugar and pumpkin, and its absolutely gorgeous with a good spread of salted butter on it.

I didn't have time to take a photo of it before it has disappeared - Ranty Man managed to snapped a photo, so I will upload it soon

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Easy-As WholeMeal Oat Loaf

With all the goings on lately – finishing off work, prepping the house and Rant-a-Baby arrival (yay!!!), I have neglected my starter and it has died on me.
But not to panic, I always have a jar of mother starter sitting in the fridge, so not all is lost. However, that starter would take a few days to come alive and become the lovely bubbly bread making mess and I am out of bread. Can you believe it? No starter, no bread and not much time to spare – the only thing to do is to make a yeasted bread.
I always wanted to find an easy fool-proof recipe, something that takes very little effort and works every time. Well, I think I have cracked it – o far I’ve made it three times and it turned out great every time – good volume, great texture and it toasts really well.
Easy-As WholeMeal Oat Loaf
320ml water, luke-warm
2 tsp dried active yeast (I use Allison or Hovis)
1 Tbsp honey
320g white flour
150g wholemeal flour
30g oats
1 tsp salt
40g butter, room temperature
Place water, honey and yeast in a standing mixer – leave for a couple of minutes, giving the honey time to dissolve and for the yeast to activate a bit. Technically you don’t need to do it with active or fast acting yeast, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt, right?
Add flours, oats and salt to the liquids and mix of slow speed – speed 2 on KitchenAid – for 6 minutes.
Add soft butter and mix for another 2 minutes on medium speed – speed 4 on KitchenAid.
You are looking for soft dough, slightly on the wet side.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm(or showercap in my case) and leave at room temperature for 2-3 hours. You want the dough to double in volume, so judge yourself how long it would take, depending on how warm your house is. In summer I would wait for about an hour and a half, but as it is coming into autumn now, I leave it for a bit longer.
This bread has the right texture to spring up high, so I find a bread tin makes the best loaf rather than a free-form loaf, but feel free to experiment.
Prepare loaf tin – if you are using a non-stick one, you won’t need to do anything to prep it. I always line my loaf tins with parchment paper, just to be on the safe side and to ensure that the bread comes out nice and easy.
Shape the dough into a loaf shape and place it in the prepared tin. Cover the loaf loosely with a clingfilm (or even better, a showercap) and leave for an hour at room temperature, until the dough has increased in volume by about 2/3.
Preheat the oven to 180C and bake the loaf for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown on top and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.
Take the bread out of the tin and leave to cool for about an hour or so before cutting.
Unfortunately I don’t have any photos today, but trust me, this recipe makes a one good looking loaf, and I sure am will be making it again, so will add some photos later.
Hope you enjoy the recipe, it really is easy to make and it has the most delicious flavour

Monday, 30 September 2013

Autumn Apple Pie

My name is Messy Baker and I am an apple pie addict – there, I’ve said it. The weather is getting cooler and there are so many apples around, people are giving them away for free – literally!! The other day a neighbour left a bag of apples outside of their house with a note “free to a good home” – seriously – a bag of apples! giving away for free! In London!! Miracles do happen.

Well, this particular pie was made from shop-bought apples, Bramley apples, the best kind of apples for cooking in my view. I had a look at a number of books for inspiration and ended up with a mish-mash of different ideas, as always :) I wouldn’t be called a “Messy Baker” after all.
Pastry recipe pretty much follows Jamie’s Home Cooking Skills recipe, and the filling is my own creation.
Mr Ranty did declare this to be the best apple pie ever, but he is a bit biased after all

Autumn Apple Pie

Pastry :
250 g plain flour
50 g icing sugar
pinch of salt
½ tsp ground ginger
zest of 1 lemon
125 g cold butter, cut in cubes
juice of 1/3 lemon
1 large egg, lightly whisked
caster sugar for dusting

Apple filling
1 kg Bramley apples, peeled, cored and cut in chunks
100 g caster sugar
100 g raisins
1½ tsp cinnamon
juice on 2/3 lemon (whatever is left from pastry above)
3 Tbsp brandy or cognac 3
 Tbsp ground almonds
1 tsp corn flour
couple of pinches of flour

Place flour, icing sugar, salt, ginger and lemon zest in a large bowl. Add cubed butter, and rub it with your fingertips until the mixture resembles rough sand. Add lemon juice and MOST of the egg – reserve a little bit (about a quarter) for pie glazing.
Mix the pastry together until it just comes together – take care not to over-work it, it literally just needs to come together in a ball, and its ready. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve over-worked my shortcrust pastry, so these days I pay a lot more attention to it, and never ever use a food processor .
Wrap the pastry in clingfilm and place in the fridge to rest for about half an hour.

While the pasty is chilling, start on your filling. You can use any apples you want, of course, but I do like how Bramleys hold their structure rather than turn to mash when they cook. Plus, if you use a different variety of apples, you might need to adjust the amount of sugar you use. But I say, use that as a guidance only – play around with different apple varieties, different amount of sugar (I prefer my pies on a tart side, but you might like it sweeter), and even different types of sugar – I would normally use brown sugar in an apple pie, but I ran out. I think soft brown sugar or even muscovado sugar add a lovely warm flavour to an apple pie.
Peel and core apples and cut them in cubes or quite large chunks – if you like me prefer chunky filling – or thinner slices if you like more of a pure-type filling.
Add sugar, raisins, cinnamon, rest of the lemon juice (the rest f the lemon left over from pastry) and brandy/cognac. Mix everything together and place over a medium heat, cook for about 10-15 minutes, until apples just starting to soften up.

Drain the apples, reserving the cooking liquids – I use a slotted spoon to pick the apples out in a separate bowl.
Place the apple cooking liquids back in the pot and heat it over a low heat for another 10 minutes or so, until it starts caramelising a bit. Keeping the pot on the stove, add the corn flour and whisk it in very quickly, to avoid any lumps, cook for another 5 minutes or so.
What you are trying to get to is a think caramel-like texture – apples will release more liquid as they bake in the oven, so you really don’t want to add any extra liquid to the filling, for the fear of all dreaded soggy bottoms :)
Add the caramel to the apples, add almonds, mix it together and leave to cool completely.

Pre-heat the oven to 180C (non-fan)

Take the chilled pastry out of the fridge, cut 2/3 of it to make the base, the rest will make pie lid. I am into Dutch-style deep apple pies at the moment, and have a deep round tin that I use (19cm in diameter, 5cm deep), but you can use any pie tin you have.
Butter the pie tin, roll out pastry and line the base. A handy tip – cover your bench top with cling film prior to rolling out the pastry to stop it from sticking. Also, use a bit of flour to stop the pastry from sticking to the rolling pin. Take a couple of pinches of flour and dust the bottom of the pie – just in case any additional liquids do come out during cooking, that extra little bit of flour will absorb it. Pack the filling in the pie – reasonably tightly, you want the texture of the filling pretty consistent and well packed.

Brush the edges of the pastry base with beaten egg (what you have reserved from the pastry making) – this will help the pie lid to stick to it
Roll out the lid, cover the pie and press the edges together, to seal the lid to the base. Brush the top of the pie with the beaten egg (decorate it as fancy as you like), give it a light dusting with caster sugar. Make a small opening in the lid of the pie to allow steam escape as it cooks.
Bake in a preheated oven for 40-45 minutes until golden colour.

Leave to cool completely, serve cold or warm, with custard or ice-cream