Saturday, March 17, 2012

Reasons to be Cheerful

Dan Lepard has won the Andre Simon award for his book Short & Sweet which is great news because this book really does showcase Dan's craftsmanship as a baker, writer and photographer. The booksellers shelves are a little flooded with baking books at the moment and all I can say is don't buy anything until you have had time to take a good look at Short & Sweet. It may not have an accompanying tv series and  t-shirt but it has enough carefully honed recipes to keep you in delicious baked goods for a long time.

And on the subject of delicious baking if you took part in this week's #short&tweet challenge, and chose the Saffron Peach Cake on page 137 of the book, I bet you have been smiling since you took your first bite.

I have to confess to subbing frozen nectarines for tinned peaches as I had plenty of nectarine slices in my freezer from last summer, but I don't think this was a bad move. Here is the cake fresh out of the oven:

The cake has a very tender moist crumb which I think must be helped by the addition of ground almonds.  I may have sprinkled more flaked almonds on the top than Dan intended but I love them and the recipe does call for a 'handful'. When you really want to you can get a lot of flaked almonds in one hand.

I have often baked yeasted buns and loaves with saffron but this is the first cake I have baked with the addition of saffron and the flavours worked really well together.

To quote Prue Leith "you have to ask yourself is it worth the calories" and my answer is a most resounding YES. You could even stretch a point  and call it a meal in one with fruit, nuts, eggs and a few other not so good things, all carefully moderated by the virtues of saffron (see quote below taken from Wiikipedia for saffron's reputation)

Saffron has a long medicinal history as part of traditional healing; several modern research studies have hinted that the spice has possible anticarcinogenic (cancer-suppressing)......... A 1995 study suggested that saffron stigmas, and even petals, have been said to be helpful for depression....

I quickly realised I was going to have to get most of this cake in the freezer fast before I ate it all, but I did keep a good sized piece back for today as it is St Patrick's day, and that is always a good excuse for an Irish Coffee and with a good coffee you need a good cake.

My final reason to be cheerful today is that two of my chickens had a nasty shock this morning when a neighbour's spaniels came into the garden on a mission to kill, but both girls escaped. I was lucky enough to see the dogs come into the garden and although by the time I got outside they had Thelma by the feathers I was able to get her away from them. She is now just a bit bald in patches but otherwise in good health. Her companion Louise managed to escape into the bushes, she's a bit more nimble.

So cheers,

   keep calm and eat cake!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Paris-Brest, a challenging subject

This week's Short and Tweet challenge from Dan Leppard's book Short and Sweet focussed on choux pastry and I chose the option to make the Paris-Brest. As Dan explains in the recipe notes the pastry's name comes from a Paris to Brest bycycle race and the pastry is piped to suggest the wheel of a bycycle.

Dan fills his choux with a coffee pastry cream and garnishes the top with caramel and nuts.  Although these are described by Dan as  mini coffee Paris-Brest we are still talking a full dessert portion each here. The total recipe only makes six and I think I made mine a bit large so think penny farthing rather than tour de france.

Pastry and I are not the best of friends and I felt apprehensive throughout making these. Early in the process I was convinced my choux dough was far too stiff and it still seemed very stiff after beating in the 3 eggs. I think I piped the dough with too small a diameter piping bag end and made too big a 'wheel'.

Once they were in the oven there were some nervous minutes while I watched and waited for the dough to puff. It really never puffed as much as I had expected but if you pipe out mean thicknesses of pastry you cannot expect miracles.

I also felt I had too starchy a mixture for the pastry cream but have to confess to fiddling with this recipe as I wanted a mocha pastry cream, not just coffee.

The caramel behaved but I only made a little as I'm not so fond of crunchy sugar. For someone who claims to eat anything I have to accept that I can really be rather picky with how things are made.

The finished pastry did taste very good but I really don't think I would make them again unless I can rid myself of the fear of pastry; it just makes the process feel hard work rather than fun.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Simple Bagels

For this week's Short and Tweet challenge I had trouble deciding whether to go with the pita or the bagels from Dan Lepard's book Short and Sweet. I really like pita bread, buy it quite a lot and especially when I get it from Persepolis ,  I am not convinced I could make better myself but I was tempted to try.

Bagels, however, I only buy when the moon's dancing and have never even thought about trying to make myself before, so having promised myself that 2012 will be the year I venture into new territory bagels it was.

The first few steps of Dan Lepard's bagel recipe are familiar territory apart from the slightly less common addition of wine vinegar to the bread dough. I knew the dough texture should be firm so stuck with the amount of water stated despite wanting to add some more.

I think it was when it came to the shaping that I was a little concerned about how uneven things were looking but still felt I had done my best. I had scaled out each piece of dough so I knew they were the same weight even if the shapes were getting a little random.

The next stage was the quick poaching and I had read somewhere the longer the poach time the chewier the bagel so I wanted to stick to the timings given which I found a bit tricky even with just four bagels at a time in the pan.

So I did my best to keep the poaching to no more than one minute per side and to scoop each one out and onto a baking sheet without taking a pool of water with it.

I tried to sprinkle on the sesame seeds as soon as they came out of the pan so that they would stick better but this may not have made any difference to their ability to drop off rather too readily.

Once they were all poached it was into the oven for a twentyfive minute bake. Here they are just as they go in to the hot oven.

And here they are just as they come out of the oven:

I am no bagel expert so am not sure if I should have retained a bigger hole in the centre and if they should really be a bit flatter in shape.  The picture below shows the inside where you can see I have a few big air holes and I suspect a more open crumb than a traditional bagel. No complaints though as they were delicious and I was actually quite proud of them. They made a perfect Sunday brunch with soft cheese and smoked salmon and I will definitley be making them again.