Saturday, 31 August 2013

A Trip to York and a Couple of Reviews

I feel like a bit of a cheat writing a post without giving you a recipe but I do so want to tell you all about a lovely day I had in York with my mum yesterday. It was the last Friday of my summer break before I go back to university tomorrow so Mum took the day off work and we went on an adventure. We've both wanted to go round York and explore all the little twisty streets for some time now, and of course go to Bettys (that missing apostrophe is killing me). There's no point in writing a review about a tea room which is so renowned already but there are a few other places in particular that I wanted to tell you about. I haven't taken many photos, partly because my photography skills are somewhat lacking and partly because my camera battery was on it's last legs. Silly me forgot to check and recharge it the night before.

Here's Mum and myself. I told you I'm not great at photography. This was one of those hold the camera out in front of you and hope for the  best pictures while we were waiting for the train. We both hate having our photos taken but it seemed fitting to have a record of the day. 

When we got to York we realised we didn't know where anything was so we just started off wandering. Our first point of call was the railway museum but when we got there we changed our minds and asked someone to direct us to the twisty turny streets and the Minster. On our way there I spotted a quaint little cafe half hidden away. Mum saw some comfy looking sofas through the open window so we started the day properly with a cup of tea and a biscuit. 
This cafe, The Perky Peacock, might be small but it is one of those places that is full of character. You can just see a couple of table outside the door and there was another at the bottom of the steps as well as two sofas with those things that look like giant cotton reels as table, and a bigger table with five chairs inside. I've taken some pictures so you can see what I mean but not of the bigger table because I didn't want to distrurb a lady who was sitting there enjoying a homemade brownie. There was a selection of homemdae sandwiches (which I admittedly didn't study because Mum and I headed straight for the sweet stuff), three big cakes to choose from, some traybake style bars and biscuits. The staff were lovely and friendly and things seemed to be reasonably priced. For 2 cups of tea and a package of three chewy ginger biscuits we paid £3.55 I think. What I thought added an extra special touch was the selection of books for customers to read while there along with some work by a local author for sale too. The book was called Chosen and sounded just like the sort of fantasy fiction I like but I haven't started it yet. I would've been willing to pay more than the requested £2 for it for sure. Here's some pictures of the place which I defintely recommend which you'll spot as you go across Lendal Bridge. 
Our sofa
A good selection of food and drinks for such a small place.
Charming decorations
Written by a local author - I feel a cup of tea and cake coming on!
A little further along the road, off the bridge I spotted a shop which I can't help but mention. It was a liquid deli named Demijohn. Normally I would bypass these sorts of things but something about this one drew me towards it. The shop was very open and well lit and the two members of staff were helpful and attentive without being annoying and bothering you as soon as you stepped through the door. They stock different flavoured oils, vinegars, liqueurs and spirits gathered from smaller brewers and sell them in decorative glassware. Some of the flavours sound absurd but if you have an open mind and like to experiment with recipes (waves hands and feet in air) then this would be a very good place to visit, or if not York then one of their stores in Edinburgh or Glasgow. You can try anything you like before you buy it and unusually I really did feel like there was no pressure to buy anything if you didn't want to. I had every intention of going back to buy some butterscotch cream liqueurs but sadly the route the sign posts took us back to the train station after our final exploration of the York Castle Museum bypassed the shop in favour of going round and round (and round and round and round) all the boring streets. Really, if you don't have a street map with you, don't follow the signposts. Ask a local for directions instead! I don't drink but I thought the sample I had there was lovely. I wanted to try it in a soft biscuit recipe or a cheesecake. Yes, it was expensive but I think it would have been worth it to have something unusual. Plus, the glassware which you have to pay for in addition to its contents is reusable and if you take it back to one of their shop, you will only pay for the refill. The other thing I tried was the strawberry vinegar. I know that sounds awful but it had a really strong strawberry flavour (yum) and only a little vinegar one. I wanted to drink it not sip and tiny sample! I wouldn't have bought any of that though because I couldn't think of how I would use it. Here's some pictures.
Don't let the peeling sign put you off!

After this one we carried on, nipping into an antiques shop and ending up at the Minster where we had a quick look before heading round the Shambles. Lots of interesting shops there! It's without a doubt one of those places where you could keep going back and still discover a new thing to explore each time. And so many tea rooms! Would anybody be able to help me out here and recommended some good ones in York? I absolutely want to go back but I want to try somewhere other than Bettys next time. i wouldn't have wanted to go to York this time without experiencing Bettys but there are so many more options available it seems unfair not to give at least some of them a go.

After getting a bit lost we gave up and asked for directions to little Bettys and it turned out that we had practically walked past it. Look for Strbucks on the corner of Stonegate, walk down there with Starbucks on your left and Bettys will be on your right about half way down. Easy really. We didn't go for the afternoon tea in the end, choosing to share a sandwich, then a scone for Mum and a strawberry tart for me. It was very hard to decide and I kept trying to have sneaky glances round to see what everyone else was having. Mum and I really enjoyed what we had and even more the service. It is so nice to be treated in that way. It's not something to be described - if you haven't tried it already then you absolutely must when you visit York or another Bettys town. The only thing I would say against the little Bettys (I don't know if the big version was the same) is that it wasn't very nice to have to wait for a table on the stairs. I don't want to focus on theat thought because I can't see what they could have done there was no room to set up a waiting area and once customers had finished at their own pace and left, the tables were cleared as soon as possible. 
Downstairs at the front of the shop there was a selction of goodies to be taken away and I couldn't leave without a famous fat rascal. They even get there own special bag! I kept wanting to tear bits off to eat on the train on the way home but I was good and managed to save it. I'm sure everyone knows that Bettys have premium prices for their premium services but the £1.90 for such a large fat rascal seemed to be an exception. I think it has to be my favourite thing about Bettys. It was gorgeous - buttery, fruity and fun. Of course I want to make my own now but when I go back I'm still going to buy one (or two) more.

After refuelling Mum and I explored the Shambles more thoroughly. We didn't buy much to be honest but I made sure I tried some of the chocolates from Monk Bar Chocolatiers. All the chocolates are made on site and there are a good variety to choose from. I chose 6 or 7 from the chocolate box style ones and I most recommened the limoncello and caramel hazelnut ones. I didn't even know if I like limoncello but it turns out I do a lot! I can't attest to the prices because it's not often I buy handmade chocolates. Thortons is the closest I get to that but I still think they are wort a try. The shop has a few small tables to sit and have a drink at too. On a cold day I would have tried the hot chocolate for sure! (No photos from this one I'm afraid because Mum and I ate the chocolates as we walked round!)

Everywhere we went there were people eating ice creams so Mum and I caved in. I don't know the name of the cart that we bought ours from but they were so goo! Mum had vanilla and I had toffee ripple. Let's put it this way, I wanted another as soon as I finished.

We had a nosey round the farmers market which was on while we were there. I don't know how often it sets up so look ot for it near the Shambles of you do go. There were lots of foodie and craft stalls, some local and some from quite a distance. 

By this time Mum and I were conscious of the time and getting back so Dad wasn't on his own for too long after a day at work so we rounded off our visit with a trip to the York Castle Museum. We eschewed the Yorkshire Museum in favour of this one because we both much prefer looking at specific eras and how people lived then such as wwas at the YCM.The leaflet describes it as a time tunnel which is a good summary. I especially love that sort of thing because I read a lot of historical novels so I like to imagine what it was like back then. If you do like looking at fossils and so on too though, at the moment there is a special offer on to get a ticket for both museums for £10 which lasts all year.

Overall Mum and I both really enjoyed our day. We walked a lot and ate even more but then exploring does take a lot of energy so I think it was all justified. I can't wait to go back again. Does anyone know of any other places to explore? I'm itching for another adventure already!

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Blueberry and White Chocolate Tart

Right now I'm supposed to be doing the basic house jobs so I can make a batch of brownies then go down to the village to do the errands while the brownies are cooling. Buuuut, I want to tell you all about this gorgeous plate of sweetness. Blueberries. White chocolate. Creme patissiere. Crumbly shortbread like pastry. All good, all gorgeous and because of the fruit content, according to the Rules of Puddings, this doesn't count as pudding because it is one of your five-a-day. No really, Chrsitopher, my brother is the creator of the Rules of Puddings and this is one of the most important. The first one I was informed of was that a pudding is not a pudding unless it contains chocolate. However, the rule about it not counting if it has fruit in it trumps that one every time. I've practically begged Christopher to write these rules down and as soon as he listens to me I will obtain permission to share them with you. Or I might just share them anyway. I am the little sister after all so can get away with all sorts of stuff. I'm sat here with a mischievous grin on my face as I write this, just so you know!

In my last post for blackberry jam, I wrote a big long list for you of the fruit and veg that my parents have grown in the garden this year. Blueberries were mentioned somewhere and this is what I made from some of them. It wasn't a huge harvest but considering we only had about a dozen berries last year (the year the trees were planted) to get a batch of muffins and a tart out of them this year was pretty good going. Mum made the muffins after me nagging her for some time and I used up the second half for this. It was originally supposed to be a blueberry crumble tart but the night before I was going to make it I decided I wanted to have a go at creme patissiere an this idea was born. I spent a good half hour reading various recipes so I had it clear in my head what to do and what pitfalls to avoid and this gorgeously fruity tart was the result.

This recipe contained a lot of firsts for me so I was a little surprised that it was a success at all but thankfully it went down very well. We had it while watching GBBO on Tuesday night (any favourites for anyone yet?) or rather we sat down with a slice each in front of us waiting for it to come on then decided we couldn't wait that extra five minutes. The pate sablee pastry (from Tarts and Pies by Philippa Vanstone) is meltingly tender which couples wonderfully with the creamy richness of the creme patissiere. Then there is the almost jam like fruit topping which retains some of the blueberry tang, all finished with chocolate curls and chocolate on the outside of the pastry. I should mention that I'm not sure if I have the right name for the pastry, which I hadn't used before. The book calls it pate sablee but a quick Google search gave different results, some which I thought was pate sucree and some enriched with almonds which the book calls pate frolle. Whatever it's true name, it's gorgeous, I wasn't sure if the creme patissiere would work with semi-skimmed milk but there was no doubt that it did. On the final stage it went from liquid to thick and ready in a split second. I was whisking furiously so maybe that helped. At least it didn't curdle. I won that battle for sure! Finally the fruit bit. I was going for a compote but didn't know what to stop boiling. What I ended up with is what I'd call a soft set jam but I like it this way. It didn't fall all over the place and the blueberry flavour is retained perfecty. The only differences I'd make to the whole thing the next time would be to paint both sides of the pastry case rim and to double the creme patissiere layer. I only used half the recipe because I didn't know how much it would make so I'm very sorry Mr Blanc, I should have used your whole recipe. More creaminess can only be a good thing here.

 Before I leave you with the recipe, let me note that I'm sharing this with the Calendar Cakes baking challenge, the creation of Rachel at Dolly Bakes and Laura at Laura Loves Cakes. The theme this month is Summer Lovin' so I'm entering this recipe because the blueberries are homegrown and seasonal. Go and have a look at their blogs, they're really good and contain lots of lovely recipes, some of which are being added to my ever-lengthening 'to bake' list. These baking challenges make me really excited because you get to see what loads of other people are up to. Check back here on September first when my own challenge goes live!

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Blueberry and White Chocolate Tart
Sweet, crumbly pastry holding both a creamy and fruity layered filling finished off with the beauty of white chocolate.
For the pastry:
  • 150g plain flour
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 80g butter, chilled and diced
  • 2 egg yolks
  • egg white
For the creme patissiere:
For the fruit layer:
  • 150g blueberries, rinsed
  • 50g demerara sugar
  • 100g white chocolate
1. First make the pastry case. Combine icing sugar an flour, rub in butter then mix in egg yolks to create a soft dough. Use a little mix if more fluid is needed. Roll out on a floured piece of baking parchment and use to line a 8" loose bottomed flan tin and prick the base with a fork. Chill in the fridge while the oven heats to 190C/170C fan.2. Place the flan tin on a baking sheet, line the case with baking parchment and filling with ceramic beans. Bake in the oven for 15 mins, remove the beans, bake for another five mins, brush with a little beaten egg white to seal and bake for two minutes more. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack, removing from the tin when it is safe to handle.3. Make the creme patissiere using this recipe. Leave to cool completely.4. Heat the blueberries with the sugar in a small pan over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Squash the berries a little to release the juice. Turn up the heat so the berries simmer and maintain, stirring occasionally for a few minutes. Pour into a clean bowl to cool.5. Break half the chocolate into small pieces and melt in a bowl set over a pan of steaming water. Stir occasionally until melted then remove the bowl and allow to cool to room temperature. Paint the outside and inside of the pastry case edge with the cooled chocolate, using thinner layers to build it up. Leave to set.6. Beat the creme patissiere and push through a sieve if needed to remove any lumps. Spread into the pastry case right to the edges. Stir the blueberry mixture to llosen then carefully spread on top of the creme patissiere without mixing.7. Use a vegetable peeler to make curls with the remaining chocolate and use to decorate before serving.


Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Blackberry (Bramble Berry) Jam 2.0

*UPDATE JULY 2015* I made this jam again and you can see much nicer photos here.

Summer. What do I like about summer? Lots of things really. How could I not? Living in England I have learned to take the term summer with a pinch of salt and always carry a bottle of suncream, a raincoat and a chuncky cardigan with me but still, there are lots of things to enjoy. This year has been all about fruit and veg. First and foremost, my favourite thing about summer is the strawberries. I LOVE strawberries but I have a bit of a thing where I refuse to buy non-British ones which makes me a bit of a hypocrite really seeing as if I want other fruits all year then I will buy them from other countries. My favourite apples are braeburns and I haven't seen any British ones in the shops but it hasn't stopped me. My point is that I try where I can. Does that make it any better? Probably not so lets get back to summer. My mum is very green fingered and this year has had a greenhouse which she started off a load of seeds in. Mum is particularly pleased that she hasn't had to whip off to B&Q or Homebase at all this year to fill a patch in the flower beds. Then there are the edibles. We've had carrots, onions, spring onions, radish, broad beans, French beans, green beans, new potatoes, LOTS of lettuce, cucumbers, peppers, lots and LOTS of tomatoes, cabbages, cauliflowers, blueberries and soon there will be apples, pears and sprouts. I'm so pleased for my parents that they've grown so much more than they have in the past. In this garden at least. My tastes have changed in the past couple of years so I've been able to enjoy more of the produce with them but broad beans are still a no go area. Pod them? Yes. Eat them? They had better not find their way onto my plate. 

Other things I've enjoyed about summer include having had the chance to experiment more and blog more as well as discovering the delights of Pinterest and how many other wonderful blogs there are out there. I think my dog and I have spent some quality time together too even if Cassie has sulked because I'm not her dad. I'm her best friend when I take her for a walk at least. If I had to choose a season I would say I am more of an autumn girl. I don't want to give a typical reason like the colours of the falling leaves and being able to kick huge piles of them about even though I like those things too, it's just autumn is more me. I said in my Rich Chocolate Ice Cream post that I welcome summer and it's true but there are some things about the end of the season and the beginning of the nest that I look forward to even more. Like blackberries for one. And blackberry jam. (Oh alright, and getting new stationary and bags for the new academic year, even at my age!)

I first wrote about this jam last year and have been looking forward to the poitn where I could make it again ever since. I noted that it was lovely but a little thick, probably because they were early berries so had enough pectin in to set the jam without the need for the lemon juice which I added to be on the safe side. This post notes the improvements I have made. I left out the lemon juice and used a splash of orange juice instead just to clean out the jug and bowl which had been holding the puree so I could capture as much of the wonderful fruitiness as possible. Mum thought it was the perfect texture. I don't know how to describe this jam really. It's simply very jammy. And very fuity. The flavour of the berries really comes through without being masked by the sugar. You know that sharp sweetness? That's it. Mum summed it up by saying that if she wanted to feel like she was being good she would have the blackberry jam but if she wanted to feel like she was baing naughty then she'd lather on the strawberry one. If jam isn't your thing then how about going berry picking to stock up on fruit for the freezer so you have a stash ready to make comforting crumbles and umptious pies in the winter? If I can persuade Mum to go berry picking with me again (much more fun than going on my own. Mum didn't even laugh when I couldn't move because I was caught in some brambles by my hair) then that's what I'm going to do. It's free, it's fun, it's delicious. What more could you want?

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Blackberry Jam
A super fruity but smooth delicious glossy jam. Perfect texture, perfect flavour, perfect fun.
  • Blackberries
  • 0.6oz granulated sugar per fluid oz puree
  • Splash of orange juice
1. Go through the berries to pick out any insect/leaves. Rinse well and pop into a large pan. Crush a bit so there is a mixture of fruit and pulp and add a splash of water if you feel there wasn't enough left from the washing.2. Starting over a low heat, slowly bring the pulp to the boil. Reduce the temperature to a simmer then cover and maintain for 15 mins, stirring accasionally.3. Pour the pulp a bit at a time through a sive over a bowl. Push the pulp through to extract as much as possible.4. Clean the pan then measure how much juicy pulp has been obtained. Add to the pan along with 0.6oz sugar for every fluid oz of pulp. Use a small splash of orange juice to swill out the bowl/jug and add to the pan.5. Wash some jars with soapy hot water, rinse then put on a tray in the oven at 140 C for 10-15 mins to sterilise. Meanwhile, set the pan heat to medium and stir until the sugar is dissolved then increase the heat to bring to the boil. Pop a saucer into the fridge to chill.6. Boil the mixture, stirring frequenty until a sugar thermometer reads 104-106 C. Remove from the heat and put a small amount onto the chilled plate. After 30 more seconds in the fridge, if it wrinkles when you push a finger through it, the jam is ready. If not, boil for a bit longer.7. Pour the jam into the sterilised jars right to the top, cover with waxed paper discs or circles of baking paper. Pour boiling water over the lids in the sink then screw onto the jars when cool enough to handle. Leave the jars to go cold then enjoy at leisure.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Strawberry Jam

UPDATE August 2015 - see my updated strawberry jam post here.

British people are often criticised for apologising too often, making a mockery of the word, causing to it lose all meaning. Perhaps these people have simply misunderstood what the word is actually referring to. Have they ever thought that it's a lot more efficient to say the work sorry then the sentence 'I'm sorry for causing you any discomfort during my recent misdemanour when I left my shoes in that awkward place where everybody steps so you stubbed your toe big time and spent five miuntes hopping around trying to fight off the tears'? Though to behonest, my dad doesn't say either the long or the short version of this! Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe we are all guilty of saying things we don't really mean. I hope not.

Whatever an individuals reason for apologising, sincere or otherwise, I make no apologies whatsoever for this recipe. I know there are a million and one recipes out there for strawberry jam. I know that a lot of peple insist that you need a ratio of 50:50 fruit to sugar at the start for a good jam. I even know  that technically my jam isn't jam because for the word to properly apply the end product must be at least 60% sugar according to this BBC article. I found this article really interesting because I am a nerd at heart and like reading those sorts of things. I did feel rather indignant though that somebody might not accept that what had me dancing around the kitchen in excitement while it was cooking is not in fact jam. I whole-heartedly agree with jam-maker and writer Gloria Nicol that the word ought to be used because it is such a lovely one.

The article also talks about how changing the ratio of sugar disrupts the setting ability of the jam (yes, JAM, not fuit spread!) and that an English jam is thick set. I think I must have a different idea of what is thick set then because a lot of jams you can buy in the shops slop about when you shake them. Now let me tell you I've had several jammy mishaps in the past. I think the first batch I made was two years ago and it had a really nice flavour but I boiled it for far too long at the magic jam temperature which made it rather solid. The next batch had a better texture but I put too much bramley apple as a pectin source so it was a touch too sour for my mum's tastes. After that I made a batch that was so thin you could drink it followed by some which I added far too much lemon juice so it was almost bitter. I was beginning to despair because I couldn't get it quite right but there is something so fun and alchemical about jam making that I couldn't give up. Last year I made this bramble berry jam which the recipe stated less than a 50:50 ratio and it tasted fantastic. It wasn't strawberry jam though. Strawberries are my all time favourite fruit, tied with chocolate for the honour of favourite food. I had to find a perfect jam recipe. Finally I've managed it.

What makes it so good? First and foremost, there is a strong strawberry flavour. This tricks me into feeling that all the goodness is retained from the fruit so it doesn't live up to the reputation that jam isn't good for you. Second, there is the perfect set. It isn't drinkable and it can be spread without churning up everything it comes into contact with without being warmed in the microwave first. Yes, I've been there. Not fun. Third, there aren't whole pieces of fruit in it. I'm not a fan of lumps in jams or yoghurts. The mashing prior to cooking solved this. I took inspiration from this recipe here for that, which brings me onto my final point. It is below the 50:50 ratio and still tastes amazing, spreads fantastically and at still beats mine and Mum's absolute favourite shop bought strawberry conserve (their word not mine) from M&S. So far I've tested this gorgeous stuff on Ryvita, toasted muffins, crumpets and on top of my healthy eggy bread. Slightly defeating the point on that last one but it was worth every mouthful. So before I can rant any more about the nations laws on nonsensical food term definitions (I'm pretty sure in days gone by sugar was very expensive and yet preserving still went on so how can Defra argue against that?) let me leave you with the recipe. I've got plans to turn it into something fit for the August Calendar Cakes challenge but if I don't make the deadline then I will have to save some to enter into my own baking challenge which I will have up and running very soon. Go make some jam. Just make sure you buy extra strawberries if you follow my one for the pot two for me rule!

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Strawberry Jam
A gorgeous fruity strawberry jam made with a touch less sugar yet maitaining the perfect flavour and texture.
  • 600g destalked strawberries
  • 353g granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
1. Rinse the strawberries and chop into pieces. Place in a bowl along with the sugar and lemon juice and use a potato masher to create a pulp.2. Wash a few small jars with hot soapy water, rinse and set upside down on a baking tray. Heat the jars in an oven set at about 150C for 10-15 mins to sterilise. Put a few saucers into the fridge to chill.3. Pour the pulp into a large pan set over a medium/low heat e.g. bottom of a pressure cooker and set a sugar thermometer inside. Stir the mixture regularly and when the sugar has dissolved turn up the heat to high.4. Still stirring regularly to prevent bits burniing on the bottom, bring the mixture to a rolling boil and once it reaches 106C on the thermometer maintain for a couple of minutes then remove from the heat. Place a teaspoon worth of jam on one of the saucers and put back in the fridge for 30 seconds. After this time, if you push your finger through the jam and it wrinkles, it is ready.5. Pour the jam into the sterilised jars filling right to the top. Cover with discs of waxed paper or circles of baking paper. Pour boiling water over the jar lids then when cool enough to handle, screw on tight and leave to cool.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Chocolate and Ginger Pecan Pie

Pecan Pie
My head, at this moment in time, is very, very full. Right at the forefront is that I would dearly love a cup of tea, some chocolate and a good film. Thankfully the tea part of that is soon to be satisfied and if I'm really lucky then so will the chocolate part. The film will have to wait though because I want to watch the Hulk (it's good according to my brother Christopher, I've yet to see for myself) which isn't somehting that will appeal to either of my parents. The other things clamouring inside my head for attention all relate to change which I will readily admit that I not all that keen on. Every time I have got upset over something in the past my mother has noted that I don't like change. It took me quite some time to admit that this was true but pretty much as soon as I did I realised that my dear mum was the same and now when I point this out Mum gets that guilty look on her face to show she has been caught out. My mother and I are so similar it's daft. I'm even starting to fall in love with pretty crockery and tea pots. Before it was just mugs that were my thing but today when I bought a set of 4 cups and saucers, with the excuse that that will be good as props for my blog photos, I knew that it was in fact the first step towards having a house full of tea sets and ornaments when I've got a house of my own.

To give myself a little bit of credit there are some changes which I like. Such as improvements to my blog. I've said from the start that this blog is my little space to record and share with you all my adventures in baking but I've come to realise that it is also my way of learning computery based things. I'm absolutely terrible with computers. It's surprising that I can use the internet at all. I've struggled with the most basic things during setting this blog up and I still have so much to learn if I'm going to get anywhere near the level of so many of the gorgeous blogs I follow. However, I'm very slowly getting there even though it means that I have committed the cardinal sin of frequently changing bits and pieces. I promise to revisit my old post and make them consistent with the new ones as I learn new things My only hopes are that you will bear with me while I complete my journey. In the meantime let me tell you about a more scrumptiously interesting form that change and improvement have presented themselves in recently - this chocolate and ginger pecan pie!

The first time I made a pecan pie was a couple of years ago using a recipe from Baked and Delicios magazine, issue 14 or 15 I think. To say it was a disaster would be stretching it a bit but it did make me feel slightly hopeless at the time. It just would not set. I had it in the oven for about twice the recommended time before I gave up and serve this runny, sloppy concoction to my mother who I can only assume at it out of love for me. I'm sure it must have been my own fault - most likely I changed the recipe to cut out some of the sugar and syrup because these types of pies contain a lot of those two ingredients. Not that I'm arguing but I'm continually on a mission to obtain maximum taste and satisfaction with the minimum amount of those ingredients that the silly human body has deemed the enemy. Unfortunately I am only ever successful in obtaining the former because the latter would require me to eat about 4 pieces in one sitting. Somewhat counterproductive I'd say.

But who wouldn't want a quadruple helping of this little wonder? It is comprised of sticky, gooey chocolately heaven with a warm hug from the ginger, packed fully of pecans (which in my book make this good for you) all encased in a biscuity ginger pastry. My inspiration came from seeing that the Alphabakes challenge for this month was based around the letter G and so this is my entry for this. I know that ginger entries are going to dominate the challenge this month (the brainchild of Caroline at Caroline Makes and Ros at The More Than Occasional Baker, Ros being the host for this month) but this idea immediately came to mind and seeing as it gave me the chance to prove that I can make a pecan pie to satisfy my mum's love for pecans I had to try it. As an added bonus, the theme for this months Feel Good Food challenge set by Victoria at A Kick At The Pantry Door is ginger so I'm entering this there too.

I experimented with my idea for the recipe while dogsitting while my parents were in Wales so Mum couldn't see the results if it went terribly but thankfully it was a complte success and to top it off I got to eat the first slice slightly warm which I'm sure amplified to gingery goodness. Mum had barely got through the front door on her return and wanted to know where her slice was so it was lovely when it didn't disappoint her.  It was my first time making pate sucree (I know, I've missed the accents off a couple of letter) and I think it really suits the indulgence of the filling so I do urge you to give it a go. I hope you enjoy it just as much. After reading another mega long post you deserve it!

 Happy baking!

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Chocolate and Ginger Pecan Pie
A comforting chocolatey treat with the warmth of ginger and packed full of pecans. Goes great with a dollop of whipped cream or your favourite ice cream.

For the pastry:
  • 90g softened butter
  • 90g soft dark brown sugar
  • 1 medium egg
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 180g plain flour
For the filling:
  • 60g 70% cocoa solids chocolate
  • 25g butter
  • 115g dark soft brown sugar
  • 125g golden syrup
  • 10g stem ginger syrup
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 piece stem ginger, grated
  • 175g pecans

1. First make the pastry. Beat the butter and sugar together until creamy then beat in the egg, reserving a little for later. Sift in the flour and ginger and mix until combined. Bring the pastry dough together in a ball with your hands. 2. Lay a piece of baking paper on a surface and dust with flour. Pat the pastry ball down into a circle on the floured sheet and roll out until bigger than your tin with a dusted rolling pin. Chill the dough in the fridge for 20 mins or so.3. Set the oven to 190 C/170 C fan with a baking tray inside. Remove pastry from fridge and line your tin. Trim the edges leaving a 1cm excess around the edge. Prick the base with a fork and line with another piece of baking paper. Fill with ceramic beans and blind bake in the preheated oven (bake for 15 mins, remove beans and paper, bake for 5 mins, brush with the reserved egg then bake for a further minute). Remove from the oven and reduce the temperature to 180 C/160 C fan.4. Now make the filling. Melt the chocolate and 25g butter together in a bowl set over just simmering water, stir to mix and set aside to cool. 5. Mix together the remaining ingredients except the pecans then stir in the chocolate. Set aside 10 whole pecan halves, chop the rest and mix into the filling. Pour into the pastry case and decorate with the pecan halves. 6. Bake for 40-45 mins, adjusting depending on your oven. The filling will set and puff once done but will settle down as it cools. Remove from the oven and rest for 10 mins before removing from the tin onto a wire rack to cool completely.

  • Pate sucree is a very soft pastry but don't be disheartened if you find it difficult to handle. Chilling the dough helps and if it still tears all over the place, mould it into your tin making sure the cracks are joined properly and it will be fine.
  • This recipe makes enough for a 9" pie easily but I was using a 8" loose bottomed flan tin so had both pastry and filling leftover. I thought the pastry handled like soft biscuit dough so cut out rounds and baked those separately. The leftover filling can easily then be used to make mini pies. Place muffin cases in a muffin tray, press a pastry biscuit into the bottom and pour the filling mixture on top. Bake until the filling is set at the same temperature. These could be served as child sized portions or snaffle them away as cooks perks. I wont tell anyone.

P.S. Thank you to Jacqueline at Tinned Tomatoes for helping me with formtting recipes. Go have a peek at ther blog, it really is very good.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Homemade Peppermint Cream Cups

What did everyone think of the new Great British Bake Off on Tuesday night? I thought it was brilliant although I think that this years bakers might be the most accident prone what with all that evidence of sliced flesh. If it had been me on there they would have had to have someone from the local hospital burns unit on call. I'm pretty good at avoiding cutting myself (excluding papercuts that is) but burns are another matter. I've currently got a couple healing on my fingers, one of whic will leave a scar. It won't even be one with an exciting story behind it. All I was doing was trying to lift up a corner of my healthy eddy bread to see if the underside was done when I pressed the length of my ring finger along the pan edge. I squealed a bit but I doubt I am going to learn a lesson from it seeing as the day before I had done the same things just with a shorter length of finger. At least a burn from doing something on telly, and GBBO of all programmes, would have some sort of justifiable tale behind it! Although, I don't think I'd make the final round up of bakers anyway. I'm sure as part of the screen test they make you cry to see how you look and let me asure you, I'm not a pretty crier. Even when it's just a few tears instead of a cascading waterall would have I'm not a sight you would want to behold.

GBBO baker I might not be but that didn't stop me from reaming up which recipes I would have made in their place. That showstopper challenge of the chocolate cake would have been a dream. I could come with a million recipes in a flash. Chocolate is my home, my haven. There were some amazing ideas but I think my favourites were the secret squirrel cake and the raspberry chocolate cake thought the one with the modelled bear on top (christened Paul) deserves a special mention too. I noticed that at least one of the makers had made chocolates to decorate their cake with which is something I certainly would have done. Thornton's and the like is all very well but it is so much fun to make your own. One of my many ideas was a grasshopper cake i.e. based around chocolate and mint and these peppermint cream cups would have been ideal I reckon. Credit for the basis of the recipe goes to Chasing Delicious which I only adapted to make the filling minty.  They may look a little big to go on top of a cake as decorations but my showstopper would have been big to accomodate my need to cram in as much chocolate as possible. 

I rarely get to make chocolate myself because as I mentioned in my recent post for Almond Cake Pop Truffles, we don't need the encouragement to eat extras. My tastebuds say otherwise but that goodness they only rule my body 50% of the time. As you can see from the photos these are far from perfect which I am deciding to blame on two things. First, the base of the cups aren't level with the edges. I had intended to do them in the mini silicone cake cases I got with Baked and Delicious ages ago but after taking everything out of my baking boxes I couldn't find them so had to assume I'd left them at my uni house when I moved my stuff there. The next best thing was a 12 hole mini-muffin silicon tray from the same magazine. Second, if you thought those patchy bits you can see on the chocolates were evidence of a sugar bloom then you would be entirely right. I couldn't be bothered to temper the chocolate as it was a lovely Sunday morning during which I wanted to chill before my parents got back from Wales instead of watching a thermometer like a hawk to check my poor chocolate wasn't getting overheated. Seeing as the original recipe states that slow melting over a low heat works in place of tempering, I decided to give it a go. As you can see, I obviously didn't have it over a low enough heat. No matter the icing sugar looks quite pretty and hides most of my sins! I'm not claiming these are professionally made, hence my disclaimer in the title saying they are 'Homemade'. Personally I think the taste makes up for it. You get the almost healthy kick from the intense dark chocolate to balance out the creaminess of the fondant and butter filling coupled with a lingering freshness from the mint. Milk or white chocolate would be a wonderful alternative but I went with dark for the purpose of possibly incorporating these into a brownie recipe. Fat chance of that happening now seeing as they are nearly all gone. My mother and I have nothing to do with that. Ahem.

Before I leave you with the recipe after yet another stupidly long post, let me tell you that I am entering these into this months We Should Cocoa challenge where the theme is chocolates chosen my the current host, Elizabeth over at Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary. We Should Cocoa is the wonderful challenge from Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog which I greatly urge you to go have a look at. This month I aboslutely had to enter because I desperately wanted an excuse to make my own chocolates. There are so many things I wanted to try, some of which you can see if you check out my sweeties Pinterest board. The next time I want to try out one of these ideas, I'm going to use the excuse that they are to be used as cupcake toppers!

4oz dark chocolate (anything from Bournvile to 70% cocoa)
3oz fondant
1oz softened butter
1dsp ish peppermint extract
1 heaped tsp icing sugar

Chop the chocolate into pieces, place in a bowl over a pan of just steaming (not simmering) water. Stir every so often then remove when melted and leave to cool to room temperature. Place a suitable 12 hole mould in the fridge to chill.

Once the chocolate doesn't feel warm to the touch, spoon a little into each hole in the mould, coating the base and sides, reserving some for the tops. You might find it more efficient to do two thinner coats so the chocolate doesn't keep pooling at the bottom of the holes.
Next, break the fondant into pieces and beat with an electric mixer to soften then mix in the mint extract and butter.  You can adjust the amount of mint depending on your tastes and quality of the extract. Mine seemed quite weak but my mum really liked how much I put in. Keep mixing until the paste is pale and soft.

Divide the filling between the chocolate cups. I started spooning it in then wondered if it would be easier to pipe it in. Smooth any peaks down with finger dampened with water.
Cover the filling with the remaining chocolate and leave to set, either in the fridge if you aren't bothered about the sugar bloom or on the kitchen side.

Once set, gently remove from the mould and shave the excess chocolate off the bases to neaten/dust the tops with icing sugar if you wish. Try not to eat all of them in one go. At least offer someone else one.

 Have fun experimenting with fillings!

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Almond Cake Pop Truffles

I first heard of cake pops when I walked into the Lakeland store at Meadowhall where they had a display of cake pops and equipment. I remember thinking 'what on earth are they?' and 'they're very pretty but look like too much faffing about is involved to work'. Well wasn't I an idiot. That must be at least two years ago now and I have 100% without a doubt been proven wrong. In fact, I'm slightly embarrassed that I ever thought that in the first place. Any 2 second Google or Pinterest search will show that there is a vast myriad of designs and monstrously skilled people out there who can make the most gorgeous mini cakes. You'd think that a big cake would be needed to use as a base to showcase the art of the baking world, but no. A little ball of sweet goodness is all it takes. The perfect showstopper challenge for GBBO 4 in my opinion. Which incidentally starts in less than 6 hours time. Not that I've been watching the clock or anything. Since last Tuesday.

Naturally it didn't take me long to get over my disdain of cake pops and have the urge to make my own. Fad they ceratinly haven't been, I wanted in on this cake pop lark. But of course, there was a sticking point. I didn't have to oppurtunity. You may have noticed from my other posts that my culinary efforts are focussed around family baking and cooking which is probably the best way to describe it. I'm ever so grateful to my mum for giving me near enough free reign in the kitchen to satisfy the majority of my experiments but some things really can't be justified for the simple pleasures of afternoon tea and cake or the delights of a pudding to follow dinner. I would dearly love to have a go at a gingerbread house but it wouldn't get eaten. I've had only one attempt at making truffles and that didn't produce a very refined result because we don't really need the extra encouragement to eat extras. Cake pops? Not a chance unless I suddenly get asked to cater for a party. As fun as that would be, it isn't going to happen. If anything, it would be Mum who would be asked.

However......The theme for this months We Should Cocoa, currently being hosted by Elizabeth of Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary, is chocolates. Even though I've decided not to enter these into the challenge (my entry will be coming very soon!) I was dying to enter something because my mind flew straight to the aforementioned praline truffles which tasted great but their appearance would have set my marching orders in stone if I had presented them to Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood on the Bake Off. I made them to decorate a surprise birthday cake I was making for my Mum but I hadn't got very far through assembling them when I knew I had to work on my presentation a lot and since then I have wanted to improve. I knew there wasn't an occasion coming up to justify truffles and as much as Mum would have wanted to eat a box of them with me, we both admitted the only part of our body that it would do any good was our tastebuds. The next best thing was cake pop truffles. Basically a cake pop without the stick. My excuse was that I needed to do something with the mess I made of the cherry cake that I had made for Mum and Dad to take to Wales with them. You see, I had decided to us my silicone kugelhopf pan to make the cake more decorative but for some inexplicable reason the cake stuck to it and tore in half when I tried to take it out. It wasn't even a really intricate pan for the cake to get stuck in but nope, the top half of the cake had to be scraped out. And eaten to console myself. This led me to discovering that the matter was even worse because the cake tasted wonderful, really homely and moist and thoroughly delicious. No matter though, once I got over my baking disaster I figured I could transfer that taste into a stickless cake pop and if I managed to not eat them before I got chance to, I could use them as cupcake toppers. Held together with white chocolate in place of buttercream and covered in more white chocolate instead of candy melts with a sprinkling of toasted almonds for a mock-pro finish, the taste transferred only too well and instead of the original twelve, there are now only seven/eight left. I guess I won't be making a full batch of cupcakes the next time then!

200g white chocolate
25g butter
1tbsp almonds
80g ish cherry almond cake crumbs

First, take half the chocolate, reserve two squares and chop the rest then melt with the butter in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Don't let the base of the bwl touch the water. The remaining two squares are for you to enjoy at your leisure.
 Mix the cake crumbs into the melted chocolate until it looks like the base of a cheesecake mixture. Try not to eat too much. It might taste nice but suddenly you won't have enough for your truffles.

Roll small amounts of the mixture into balls with the palms of your hands and place on a baking sheet lined with baking paper. If you have a silicone mat that would be even better. Place the tray in the fridge for the truffles to firm up while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. I made 12 truffles using 15g for each one.
 Chop the remaining 100g of chocolate and melt as before but without butter this time. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Meanwhile, heat a small, dry pan over a medium heat and add the flaked almonds. Toss around every so often until the almonds have turned golden brown around the edges. If you go too far so they burm, throw them away and start again or you will end up with bitter decorations atop your truffles.
Once the melted chocolate feel barely warm to the touch, take the truffles out of the fridge and coat with the molten chocolate. I found it easiest to place two in the chocolate bowl at a time, spoon excessover the top so they are well covered then pick one up at a time using a cocktail stick. I let the chocolate drain away until it was barely dripping then used a second stick to gently push it off onto the tray again. While the chocolate is still wet, sprinkle on a few almonds and press down a little so they are secure.

Leave the truffles to set before devouring at will or if you want to share the goodness, serve to friends and family. Remember, you can let them set in the fridge but they will lose their shine.

Any leftover chocolate can be eaten as it is to hide the evidence or spread in silicone moulds and sprinkled with anything you desire to create a sort of chocolate bark cup. Trust me they taste wonderful!