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Monthly Archives: September 2012

Recently I had my first encounter with a Twitter troll over a small, ring shaped snack that began a debate over the term ‘food’. According to said troll, doughnuts cannot be classified as food because they are sugary, fatty and all round bad for you. Oh dear.

My doughnut troll had me fuming for a few hours, but then I straightened myself out and wondered how I could channel his thoughts into a post. I thought about my blog, its message and how I consider baking to be a social thing; solitary momentarily as you are lost in the butter and sugar but then full of life as you bring a beautiful cake, tart or loaf to the table to be enjoyed by friends and family. It’s a discursive thing baking, and I could talk all day about flavours and textures, but if some people out there write off patisserie, baking and bread making because of the high calorie content, I will begin to despair.

I am lucky that I have never had any issues with food. My relationships with fruit and vegetables are the same with butter and sugar. I appreciate both and understand what my body needs and what my body craves. A morning smoothie with three fruits will kick start my day and make me feel great, yet a mid morning doughnut with a strong black coffee is a sweet little pick me up when the morning drags. Getting the balance right is crucial to having a good relationship with food and not denying yourself is also key to happy mind. Why torture yourself with celery sticks when you really fancy a creamy éclair? By making a few simple changes, it is possible to enjoy the things you love without feeling down about cheating on a diet.

Harry Eastwood shares my feelings about our relationship with food and if you have any interest in slimline French cooking, I urge you to seek out a copy of her book The Skinny French Kitchen. A beautiful tome of pretty macarons, classic Coq au Vin and beautiful but light profiteroles, it is the perfect book that illustrates how flavour and calories don’t always go hand in hand. To illustrate my feelings about patisserie and the art that goes into creating something so beautiful, I decided to adapt a few of her recipes into a stunning treat of light and crispy choux pastry, silken crème patisserie studded with fresh raspberries and a soft icing hat to adorn a simple baby éclair.

The point Eastwood argues with her book, is to enjoy food properly and through baking these little treats I completely understand what she means. As well as tasting gorgeous and looking pretty (with a few calories taken off with some simple adjustments), there is real skill and a little effort that goes into one little éclair. The appreciation from start to finish of your ingredients will show you it’s possible to enjoy delicious food without feeling awful after you’ve finished.

So I would like to say this to my troll; sweets and cakes may be a little unhealthy, but to deny yourself is even unhealthier. Please take a moment to think about the skill and dedication it takes to make a perfect éclair, macaron or doughnut – only then will you appreciate it on your plate.

 

Adapted from The Skinny French Kitchen by Harry Eastwood

Makes around 20 baby éclairs

You Will Need

For the Crème Patisserie

300ml semi skimmed milk

½ teaspoon vanilla paste

2 egg yolks

20g caster sugar

20g plain flour

A small handful of fresh raspberries, chopped

 

For the Choux Pastry

125ml water

1 teaspoon caster sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

20g butter, cubed

70g plain flour, sieved

2 eggs

 

For the Glaze

100g icing sugar

1 drop red food colouring

A little hot water

 

The crème patisserie will need to be made first to allow time to chill in the fridge. Whisk together the milk and vanilla paste in a saucepan then bring to a simmer over a medium heat. Remove from the heat and set aside. Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until pale and creamy. Add the flour and whisk again until smooth. Carefully pour the warm milk into the egg mix, whisking all the time. Once smooth, return the custard to the pan and bring to the boil, stirring continuously. Once thickened, remove from the heat and transfer to a clean bowl. Cover with clingfilm over the surface to prevent a skin forming then cool to room temperature then place in the fridge.

To make the choux pastry, preheat the oven to 200oc/180oc fan/ Gas Mark 6. Line a baking tray with baking parchment or a baking mat and set aside. In a saucepan, add the water, sugar, salt and butter and place over a high heat. Bring to the boil then add the flour all at once and turn down the heat. Whisk until you have a smooth ball of paste in the pan then remove from the heat. Leave to cool for a couple of minute to avoid scrambling the eggs in the hot pan. Once cooled slightly, add the eggs one at a time and whisk hard. This will take a little time and patience as at first the pastry will look thick and porridge like. Keep working it until a smooth elastic looking dough appears. Spoon into a piping bag (I like the disposable ones) and snip off the bottom to the thickness of your thumb. Pipe lines on the baking sheet about 6cm long spaced well apart. Place in the oven for 15 minutes, and then wedge the door open slightly with a wooden spoon and bake for a further 5 minutes. Leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

Remove the crème patisserie from the fridge and loosen up with a balloon whisk. Fold in the chopped raspberries carefully, taking care to have a slightly marbled crème, rather than a pink one. Spoon into a piping bag and cut a small hole at the end. Make up the glaze by adding a little hot water at a time to the icing sugar and food colouring until a thick but spreadable icing is formed.

Carefully slice each éclair lengthways and pipe a little line of crème inside then sandwich the top back on. Carefully spread a little glaze on top with a round bladed knife then set each éclair back on the cooling rack to set. Serve with a couple of fresh raspberries and a cup of tea.

 

 

I don’t know about you, but if I have a sudden idea for a new year’s resolution but the date is January 2nd, I automatically file it in my mind to be added to next year’s list. Crazy right? All those challenges, goals and good things that could be accomplished that year go straight in the bin and let’s be honest, are forgotten about when January comes round again. So I was completely inspired when I read a blog post from Elsie Larson over on A Beautiful Mess about simple goals that can be achieved before the year is out. We aren’t talking major things like writing a novel. They aren’t end-result heavy (no drop a dress size here). Just simple, life enriching goals that will make you happier and a little more driven. How cool does that sound?

Ok, so I am not going to lie, when I first skimmed the post, the first two goals that came to mind were:

  1. Start a street food van
  2. Write a book

Which are both things I want to do in the future, but for now may be slightly difficult now that I am starting full time employment in two weeks. And the fact that these goals are not simple. So I re-read the rules:

1. Choose simple goals that will make your life richer and happier on a daily basis. Choose things you may not otherwise get done, but that are not difficult to accomplish.

2. Do not choose result oriented goals, choose activity oriented goals. For example…. instead of “lose 10 pounds”, choose something like “eat fresh fruits and vegetables every day”. Get what I’m saying? Positive actions instead of just the end result!

3. Choose goals that are personal that you believe will truly make your life richer just by doing them! They can be daily, weekly or one time experiences.

4. Choose a reward for each goal as it is accomplished! It can be a small or large reward- it’s up to you.

So I had a rethink. This is what I came up with.

  1. Make fresh smoothies: I love smoothies; I don’t know why I don’t make them more. They are so delicious and cheap to make and slurping three fruits in the morning rather than grabbing an apple and letting it roll around my handbag all day uneaten will definitely make me feel healthier. I want to try more exotic flavours and fruit combinations and I think this goal will help to enrich the drinks section of this blog as well!
  2. Be inspired to craft and DIY more: I used to craft all the time and it makes me sad that I hardly ever do anymore. I am constantly pinning great DIY’s on Pinterest, but I never get round to making them. Now, I want to create a whole host of projects and see them through to the end of the year.
  3. Brainstorm and blog original ideas: As much as I do create a lot of my blog content from my own imagination, I don’t think I am doing nearly as much as I should. I want to brainstorm colourful mind maps and translate them into recipes, photographs and blog posts. I want my blog to stand out from the crowd and I think this may be the way to go. Coloured pens at the ready!
  4. Try making different types of pastry: I always make my own shortcrust, but I have never tried choux, rough puff or laminated (croissant) dough. I really like the idea of mastering new techniques and hopefully this goal will help me to be more creative with baking if I have a broader pastry repertoire!

So that’s my simple goals to try before 2012 is out. I am now going to print them off and stick them near my computer to remind me when I’m bored and about to waste 4 hours on Facebook to instead try something new and simple. I am also looking forward to compiling a fun treats list! Are you going to give the challenge a go? Let me know!

Some blog posts take seconds to appear from plate to page. Others take months; carefully tweaking, reading tips online and twisting and perfecting until the recipe is right for posting. This is one of those posts. I’ve been trying and well, not failing, but not doing well enough to recreate a classic coffee shop frappe. The icy cold temperature, the thick texture, the tastes of coffee and sweetness mixed together in a perfect summer time drink. The irony that the perfect homemade frappe has fallen in my lap in the beginnings of autumn hasn’t escaped me; I’ve been trying for days to get dry weather to shoot this recipe.

And what a simple recipe it is too! I found it on A Beautiful Mess, one of my favourite lifestyle blogs months ago, and pinned it in the hope that I would try it one day. And boy am I glad I did. The icy temperature I’ve been looking for comes from little coffee ice cubes. I know right, inspired! Simply brew a coffee strong enough to blow your socks off, cool and pour into an ice cube tray. Freeze. Pop out some cubes and get busy with your flavours. You can make a massive batch of cubes and keep them handy for last minute frappes. Simple, quick and just like the real deal, only heaps cheaper and you can stay in your pyjamas to drink it.

 

Adapted slightly from A Beautiful Mess

To make the coffee ice cubes, simply brew a mug of strong coffee with about 4 teaspoons coffee powder and a little hot water. Cool and pour into an ice cube tray. Freeze and then decant into a sandwich bag to store in the freezer. To make a large batch of cubes, simply brew 2-3 mugs of strong coffee to fill a regular ice cube tray and follow instructions above.

Serves 1

You Will Need

4 coffee ice cubes

2 scoops vanilla ice cream

1/3 cup milk (about 80ml)

A small handful of dark chocolate chips

½ teaspoon vanilla paste

Add all the ingredients to a blender and whizz until smooth. Pour into a glass and top with a few chips to decorate. Add a straw and drink immediately.

“It’s just a silly wee show, but it makes you feel great when you see something you’ve made win a prize for being quite good.”

This seems to be the sentiment surrounding my local flower show in my family. The flower show is a big display of the best in baking, cut flowers, home grown vegetables and rows of pretty jams and jellies, all housed in the local village hall for £1.50 entry. It may seem silly and old fashioned, but I utterly love it. I’ve been entering since I was nine, when I first made a fairly poor Lego aeroplane which somehow won 1st prize. Since then, I’ve caught the bug and make as much as possible to enter in alongside some of the villages top-dogs in home-baking. This year my entries were slightly limited, as I have been flat hunting (more in an upcoming post!) so my creations were made slightly hungover at 7.30am after a fun night of Morrison’s own Chenin Blanc in a box and a lot of Haribo. But like I’ve said, my determination to put down some entries before the cut off point of 10am made it easy to forgo a lie in and get stuck into a bag of self raising flour and a box of eggs.

Last year brought the complete surprise of winning a 1st for my scones, which I put down to trying a new recipe. My tried and trusted copy of Kitchen Magic, covered in flour and cake mix, has provided me with the holy scone grail. Light, buttery and best of all, simple. They were mixed together, baked and cooled well within half an hour, making it easy for me to crack on with some pancakes (a 2nd!) and my Blackberry and Mint Lemonade (a 3rd!). These little scones were then packaged up, placed on paper plates and left for their judgement day. And I am so delighted that I retained my scone crown for the second year running! (As did Miss Gizzi Erskine herself, who liked my photo on Instagram and retweeted it to her followers. Thanks Gizzi!)

But as much as I love baking competitions, I do love baking for pleasure, and I am conscious of the fact that many students will be returning to their halls, flats and bedsits in the next few weeks, eager to start university. Which has got me thinking; do students bake, or is it even possible for students to bake on such a tight budget? My answer is a resounding yes! I was baking from third year onwards, and although I did try recipes that may be out of reach for the average student (French Macaron anyone?) I did being to notice the small changes that could be made to recipes to make them student friendly. Case in point these beautiful scones. I know it is baking-sacrilege to say, but I have tested these scones with Stork and they work perfectly. Still as crumbly, still as light and still as delicious. If you can’t separate an egg or simply would prefer it in scrambled eggs, leave it out. Brush your scones with milk instead. Don’t want to buy a rolling pin? Flatten the dough using your hands (I do). And with five (potentially four, eggless) ingredients, this recipe is the perfect starter for anyone who wants to give student baking a go.

 

Adapted from Kitchen Magic by Gizzi Erskine

 

You Will Need

225g self raising flour

55g unsalted butter or stork

1 ½ tablespoons caster sugar

150ml milk

1 egg yolk (alternatively use milk to brush)

Preheat the oven to 200oc/180oc fan/Gas Mark 6. Lightly grease a baking tray with butter and set aside.

Place the flour and butter in a large bowl and using your fingertips, rub the fat into the flour. To do this, take a handful of the mix and rub with your thumb from your pinkie to your pointing finger. Do this until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir through the sugar with a round bladed knife then slowly pour in the milk to create a soft, but not wet dough (you may not need all the milk). Turn out onto a floured surface and roll out or flatten the dough with your hands to roughly half an inch thickness.

Cut out rounds using a cutter, quickly bringing the dough together to cut out more from the scraps. Alternatively, simply roll into a circle and cut into wedges. Place the scones on the prepared tray and brush with the egg yolk or a little milk.

Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes (if cutting wedges, the scones may need a little longer) then leave to cool for 5 minutes on the tray before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Serve with jam or butter and feed to your new flatmates in exchange for them doing the washing up.