Sunday, 25 May 2014

Maple meringues

To go with the banana pudding (which had a fair bit of maple syrup) I decided to have a try at meringues again. I've not made any for years and years, but I do so love the home-made ones!

I know all meringues have the same basic recipe (sugar and egg whites), but I was flicking through my books for inspiration of fun things to do with them - and having seen chocolate and raspberry swirls, I knew I wanted to swirl something into mine too.  I didn't have any chocolate or raspberry in the house - and this weekend was about using up left over ingredients, so I decided to use the maple that was already out from the banana pudding.  This was left over from our Shrove Tuesday evening the other months.  It's actually maple flavour, but I'm working with what I have here - and it's an experiment!

I have a lovely supply of fresh eggs, as my neighbours keep chickens - last weekend I was out in the garden with them for a BBQ (not this weekend, with the downpour), and took some pictures of the lovely girls, and the mess they made when they found the remains of the BBQ! The pictures are on my Flickr site.

So the meringues are easy enough to make, and much quicker now I have an electric mixer - yep - the first time I made them was with a hand whisk! I mixed half the sugar a spoonful at a time and whisked and whisked, and then for the 2nd half, was folding them it in with a metal spoon.  This seemed to make the meringues slightly less stiff, I don't know if I needed to whisk them again?  I shall experiment and research this some more! Once all the sugar was folded in, I then squirted in the maple syrup, folded with a wooden spoon, bit more syrup, fold, and then one final squeeze for good luck.

Then I did pretty big dollops onto the baking paper, and baked the top shelf meringues for 1.5 hours, and the bottom shelf (even though it's fan assisted gas, it's still uneven baking top and bottom), so they had 2 hours.

I confess, I ate one while still warm, and it so so gooey, almost like candy floss. The rest are for this evening, to go with the banana pudding - I think meringues and banana pudding go together? Well, if not, they can be for a slightly later supper?

This time, I took my better camera to take the photos, rather than the mobile phone, so they've got a bit arty....

Overly ripe bananas

What to do with overly ripe bananas? I always seem to get too many bananas - not matter how many of few I buy - there's always a couple I've not finished off.  This week I had 3 sitting on my desk and work that were really starting to smell, as well as a couple hanging up in my fruit basket that had seen better days.

In the past I've made banana breakfast muffins, and banana loafs with various different recipes, but I wanted to try something different this time - because to be honest - trying to eat that many muffins or that much loaf, and you end up wasting even more food than just the bananas! (Although I've just had an amazing idea for a banana bread and butter pudding now....that would work right?)

So, distracting from new ideas, and focussing on what I've actually made, I've been invited round to a friend's for tea this evening. Her husband is away, and she's babysitting her kids, but she fancied a bit of adult company as well (with me? ha!) but she's offered to cook something special for tea and I'm bringing the pudding.

Usually, I stick to just basic bakes that I know, even though this blog was meant to be about trying new things. So I sat down with my recipe books last night, looking for banana type things that were above and beyond the basic loaf/muffin variety, and cake across a banana pudding.  This from the book Stacie Bakes, which was a gift from my friend, who's also a baking blogger BareNakedMummy.

At the start of this bake, I had the worry that I didn't have the right size dish again (see my last post about brownies and dishes), and also, knowing that I had to carry it around to my friends as well, so I actually did some measuring, and found a lovely little casserole type dish that also has a lid on it.  (Are you impressed I actually did the measuring this time!)

This is one recipe I haven't been able to locate online, but the book is still available and I throughly recommend treating yourself to it!  The basic ingredients were flour, baking powder, bananas, maple syrup, caster sugar and brown sugar. There's probably some other stuff as well (book's back on the shelf now, sorry).

First off, you make up the batter and mix in the mashed bananas, and pour this into your dish.  Then you make up the butterscotch topping. I didn't quite read the instructions correctly (always leaping a step ahead), and mixed the maple syrup in the the dark down sugar. I think it would have worked out better to have sprinkled the sugar on, then then dribbled the maple syrup. Still I had fun licking out that bowl! (I may possibly be on a sugar high for the rest of the day...). I don't think my order of ingredients mattered too much though, as I then added boiling water to the whole mix and popped it into the oven.

It has been suggested this looks more like a rum liquid, then sugar and maple syrup, but I think my version is gonna taste scrummier (hopefully...)

After around 40 mins of baking, it's all puffed up and looks like this. The smell is just amazing! I wish I could capture that on the blog :)

And here's the final piece:

It's meant to be served warm, but as it's for tea this evening, I've just had to sit and stare at it.  I've covered it over now, and it has sunk a little bit,  but am sure we can heat it in the oven or microwave later.  Hopefully it will taste as good as it smells.  I'll report on that later - may be amend the blog with pics of the inside too. I need to serve it with custard, I'm really bad at making sauces, that's one thing I've never got on with, but I'm tempted to try and make custard from scratch, mainly because I went all adventurous and made maple syrup meringues to go with this pudding (because it really needed more sugar?) and now have some egg yolks wondering what I'm going to do with them....

Meringue post up next :)

Bank holiday brownies

In a few weeks I'm off to a cake decorating class with @eric_lanlard, which I'm really excited about!  - However, I don't actually have any of Eric's books in my collection of recipe books! Shocking! So I had to set this right. He has a really lovely choice of books, but the one I decided to go for was his home-baking one. I'm sure I'll end up buying more, as I've been drooling over this book for the last two weeks. The pictures, taking you step by step through some of the recipes are just beautiful - and is inspiring me to try and take more care of my baking photos. I should be using my proper camera, not just snapping on my phone.

Anyway, this blog post is meant to be about the brownies, not me and my photography :)

So, after much deliberation, and a few coffee breaks and work with me and some colleagues flipping through the pages, I decided to try out the cream-cheese brownies.  I was hosting a crafty night for some friends, and I though brownies would be perfect for everyone coming round, and they're finger food....right?

So after a rather manic day at work on Friday, I came home and set to baking straight away. Baking just takes me straight out of whatever else is going on, and I just relax and focus on the now.  I stick the radio on (this time I was listening to Simon Mayo on Radio 2, doing the Bank Holiday drive time - so very grateful I wasn't stuck in traffic!) and starting working through the various steps.

A quick online brought up Eric's bakingmad website, with a link to the recipe, so I can share it with you all -

 I've only ever made brownie once before, and those were a strange mix too, the last time I made them was bacon brownies!  My friends thought I was mad, but I really liked the sound of bacon with chocolate, and I think it did work, although there were some larger chunks of bacon that were a tad chewy and a bit strange....

Anyway, so that was my last attempt at brownies, and I was willing to try again, as the cream cheese combo with chocolate sounded too good to be true!

Mixing up the chocolate bit first was fine, I'm quite happy with melting chocolate and butter, and then mixing in all the ingredients.  Although - I did mix a bit too much butter....when I opened my baking cupboard to get out the vanilla, I had a mini disaster, as a block of butter dropped out of the cupboard and straight into my bowl!! After scraping off most of the chocolate, I did have a bit of fun licking it clean :)

I wasn't sure if I had a big enough tin (I should have measured, but I do tend to wing these things, and anyway, I only have the tins that I have!) So I tipped the chocolate mix in, which did seem a bit runny, but I stuck with it as I knew it would cool while I prepared the next stage.

Making the cream cheese, I did use an cheaper own brand cream cheese, on reflection, I might use a slightly more expensive one next time and see if that's thicker) When I was scooping it out, I thought it felt a bit runny :/ As I mixed everything together, and then poured it over the top of the chocolate, it started to sink in, so again, my tin might not have been big enough (it was now full to the brim), but also, the cream cheese was runnier than Eric's pictures....

Still, post swirl, the basic raw mix looked pretty good. So into the oven for 30 mins, and a quick lick (erm, I mean clean) up of all the equipment.  Have to say, the raw mix tasted divine, I know we're not meant to eat raw eggs, but the chocolate with the cream! I am not condoning this though, so please don't try it at home....

I left the brownie to bake for 20 mins, then covered over with foil for the last 10 mins, as recommended.  The mix was still very liquidy at this point - but I remember that from the last time I made brownies.

A further 10 mins later, it was still very very liquidy, more than I was happy with, so after testing, baking, testing, and baking, I ended up giving it an extra 15 mins, and on reflection, this could have been longer still - however - I was running out of time!

I took the brownie out to cool, and as it was still wobbly, I placed it in the fridge for a while to try and encourage it to set.  It seemed to be the cream cheese over the chocolate that wasn't setting for me.

Once the outside bit was set, I lifted it out of the pan and onto a cooling rack, but still with the paper below it, but when it came to slicing the brownie, the edges were fab, but the middle was faw more like a chocolate pudding than a brownie.  I don't know if I needed to leave it for longer in the oven, or if it was the cream cheese and I should try another brand, or if there's something else I could use to thicken it up.

I will definitely be trying these again though, everyone loved them - considering they were for 12 people - and there were 5 of us at the crafty thing, I have 2 pieces left! So can't have been that bad! ;) I think I need to experiment a bit more to get the right consistency and final result though.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Crazy experimental tarts

What do you do when a chocolate-mad friend comes round for tea and asks "what's for pudding", just as you're about to serve up the main course. Pudding?  You wanted pudding? I had some chocolate in the cupboard that he'd stored after coming over for Shrove Tuesday, and announcing he was giving up chocolate for Lent. The chocolate was just a Mars bar and a Fudge bar - probably not a satisfactory pudding really, and not really something I'd created (I am starting to get the reputation of being a a bit of a cop out!)

So I had a quick rummage in the fridge, and found some almost out of date ready-rolled short crust pastry. Hmm...what could we make with that?  We'd previously been looking through my "small" collection of cook books, looking at tarts and pastries and goodness knows what else (playing the pick a number and I'll make it game...more about that later), so tarts?  That's an option! I didn't really have much in the cupboard to put in it, but I found cherry and vanilla jam, strawberry jam (discounted due to the extra life form growing in the jar), honey-roasted peanut butter, Fluff TM (other marshmallow products are available, but not in my kitchen cupboards) and Nutella (apparently there are also other chocolate based products, but I've not used them).

So, to create!  We discounted the BIG flan dish, because suspected the amount of jam needed would exceed the amount of jam left in the nice jar, but also that amount of jam would just get stupidly hot when we bake it up?  Would I need to use baking beans and blind bake the pastry? I've never done this and so possibly a step too far for a speedy pudding. A further rummage in my baking drawers and I found a large clean Yorkshire pudding tin, and a smaller bun tin that was sadly looking a bit worse for wear with baked on Yorkshire pudding batter and rust - hmm I think I'm using my tins the wrong way round! Anyway, going with the easiest option (i.e. the clean tin) seemed the best bet - so now to find a cutter to get the right size circles for the tin. Another quick rummage in my baking drawers (they're big drawers you know!) and I found a pastry cutter, but it was barely big enough for the small bun tin, that was never going to work for the Yorkshire pudding tin. So looking around mugs, glasses, ooh and a plastic food container lid - perfect fit!

You can see my friend in the background looking through the good home-keeping book for cooking information, it's a fab black and white book from my mum's collection.

So the little pastry cases, tarts are sitting in the tin and we have to stab them with a form (ok, not quite the wording in the book but means the same thing).

We then got to introduce our experimental filling. My friend, the chocolate-mad one, was actually pushing to not try the Nutella thinking it wouldn't work, so two tarts were filled with the jam (just a thin layer), and then two experimental tarts, one with the honey-roasted peanut butter with jam and then Nutella with a dollop of jam on top. Proper experimental crazy tarts!

Stuck in the oven, while we ate the main course (if you're interested, chicken with leeky and cheese sauce, with rice and garlic bread).

10-12 mins in the oven, beeper going off as we finish the last mouthful, and the end result was incredibly yummy tarts that I will definitely definitely be making again. The peanut butter and jam could have done with a bit more ja, but baked up it was a lovely gooey texture.  The two jam ones were very sweet, may be a spot of lemon juice in the jam mix to take the edge off?  The Nutella and jam was by far the best.  The Nutella was left over from Shrove Tuesday (noticing a theme with chocolate left over from Shrove Tuesday?), and to be fair it was a bit hard and wouldn't spread easily into the tarts, but as the jam and the chocolate melded together in the oven it softened and just became a lovely mix of flavours, so I really want to try that one again.  I have more pastry left over, so may be that's the plan for tomorrow eve?

Interested to know if anyone else has tried making any experimental crazy tarts?  What flavours/fillings do you want to try?

Monday, 12 May 2014

Eurovision madness

For those who may have missed it, this weekend was Eurovision weekend. The big European wide song contest. I may not always have been to Eurovsion parties, but I've always made sure I've watched the competition. In recent years, I've at least managed to find to like minded friends who've also enjoyed the whole Eurovisionness (is that even a word) surrounding the competition, and in the last two years they've even been baking friends too!

My next door neighbours are BIG Eurovision fans, well, I'm not sure if both of them are, but Martin definitely has been around for a few of the parties I've attended, and if not at the same part, we still spend the entire competition texting about each act.  This year we decided to make it easier and actually be in the same room!

I offered to host the party at my house, especially as as we've had some particularly chilly weather this week, and I could crank up the log burner.  I knew I wouldn't have a lot of time to do a massive bake (last year a friend and I spent the entire day baking, which was amazing fun, but it's a big commitment), so we decided to keep it simple and just cook a Eurovision themed meal.  What even is Eurovision themed?  Well, it was hosted in Denmark, so we researched the Danish national dish, and one of the suggestions was meatballs.  Perfect - just the other week I'd brought back some meatballs from Ikea, so that was the main ingredient sorted, but we couldn't just do meatballs and pasta - so I suggested go Italian and make our own pizzas!

We found ourselves running late, but about an hour before the competition started, we began making the dough for the pizza. You may start to notice a theme with my baking, but I found I didn't have all the right ingredients for the base. I have just about enough strong bread flour, but had to top it up with some plain flour - so we just threw in a bit of extra yeast and hoped for the best.

In less than 30 mins we had a lovely risen base (OK to be fair it was "resting" by the log burner, on a comfy chair, so was in a lovely warm room).

Once the dough was nicely risen, I left Martin to roll it out to pizza ish shapes, while I grated the block of cheese (gadgets are great for this - food processor with grater here I come) and then chopping up veggies and meat for the various toppings.

Just to give you a full picture of what was going on, I was bopping away to Radio 2's broadcast of Eurovision, while dashing into the living room for each song, just to check up on what the act and the costumes looked like - it's important don't you know :)

So the three pizza's consisted of:
  • Sarah (in no particular order) cheese, tomato purée, garlic salt, peppers, sweetcorn, tuna, olives, spinach. (I'll update this later, or let them both comment if they have more toppings to add)
  • Martin (in no particular order) cheese, tomato purée, IKEA meatballs, salami, peppers, chilli, ham, sweetcorn, mushrooms, olives, and no doubt random other meats as well. (I'll update this later, or let them both comment if they have more toppings to add)
  • Mine (in some order, as I created it) tomato purée, Ikea meatballs, salami, ham, courgettes, mushrooms, sweetcorn, mushrooms, peppers, mushrooms, cheese, mushrooms, garlic salt and a bit more cheese.

The pics below are mine at the top, in the oven, then Sarah's (bottom oven) and then Martin's waiting to be cooked - I think he was checking how long to cook them for with ours... ;)

They really were huge pizzas, and lasted for the whole of Eurovision, well, I had my final slice the following morning for breakfast, but I had been taste testing most of the ingredients as we prepared them!  Oops

My pizza, post cooking, pre-eating! Yum yum!!

I did create a rather English rhubarb and apple crumble to go alongside our Danish/Italian pizzas, but none of us had the room to indulge after all that food, so that had to put on the shelf for a couple of days. I'll blog a bit more about that one next....

So after our fab pizza creation session, we definitely want to get a bit more creative. Things we'd like to try next include a stuffed crust, possibly looking at those cheese string things (meant to be good?), also looking at a pizza pie like the one @OMG_foods tweeted about recently -

So, is anyone else inspired to create an over the top pizza? What would your favourite topping be?