Monday, June 25, 2012

Best of British: Scotland

The region for this month's Best of British blog challenge is Scotland. My very first full time job was cooking at a shooting lodge up in the Highlands of Scotland near Tomintoul so this challenge felt quite a personal one.

I have chosen two dishes to represent this region. The first is an oatmeal dish called Skirlie which is pictured below served with roast partridge, broad beans and crab apple jelly and the second is a fruited bread called Selkirk Bannock.

 Both recipes have been taken from the wonderful book below which I bought at a library remainder sale. The book was in perfect condition and why libraries rid themselves of such excellent books is a puzzle. Here is a little bit about Catherine Brown the author.

When I went up to Scotland I had just left cookery school and had found the job by regularly scouring the Lady magazine for cooking posts. I had replied to an advert for a cooks post at Kylnadrochit Lodge, Tomintoul and had been accepted following little more than a letter and a phone conversation. I was soon on the train out of London and it was a very long, very slow train journey. I was collected from the rail station by one of the game keepers and as we drove slowly back to the lodge I was left speechless by the beauty of the scenery.

I still have some of the old postcards I bought while up there and the two below show part of the centre of Tomintoul and one of the roads we drove along when transporting picnic lunches to the shooting parties.

If you have not been up to this area do take a look at some of the images on the Welcome to Tomintoul website.

The produce of the area was quite special and I was soon preparing salmon that had been caught in the stream that ran through the lodge grounds, venison from the estate and later grouse. It was quite a rural baptism for an 18 year old girl from the home counties. I had never before experienced total night darkness and was completely caught out when I walked down to the local call box just after dinner service and stayed on the phone to my family as it turned dark. When I opened the telephone box door I realised I could not see where I was going. Street lights? I don't think so.

The skirlie is a dish I was introduced to by another Scottish cook and shamefully I  remember being a bit sniffy when told it was just oatmeal and onion. I was fresh out of cordon bleu style training and had lost sight of the total importance of ingredients and flavour before appearances. Needless to say as soon as I tasted the dish I had to be humble and agree it was very good.

Despite knowing how good this can taste I do not think I have made it in over 20 years so it was really time to put that right.

The base recipe that Catherine Brown gives is:

50g suet
1-2 medium onions
175g medium oatmeal.

In the recipe notes she explains that sometimes water is added, and that a variety of fats can be used.

As I was making this as a stuffing dish for the partridge I did add some water to the meal and I used goose fat as I had some in need of using up.

I fried the finely chopped onion in the fat but only to a light brown and not to the recipes instruction to brown well. I then stirred in the oatmeal and cooked a little longer before seasoning and turning out into a pottery baking  dish.

I then added water to just come up to the level of the oats and onions and then sat the partridge on top and toasted until the partridge was cooked. Juices from the bird also go down into the skirlie and give added flavour.

If you were serving this with a chicken you could stuff the bird normally but partridge are rather too small for this.

My second dish was the Selkirk Bannock.

I am very fond of fruited yeast breads and this is quite an easy one to make.

I halved the original recipe to make just 2 small to medium sized bannocks:

500g strong white flour
pinch of salt
125g in total of butter and lard. (I used more butter than lard)
200 ml milk (tepid)
10g fresh yeast
125g caster sugar
250 g sultanas (or raisins & sultanas)
milk and sugar for glazing ( I used egg yolk but I think this made it too dark).

  1. Put the flour and salt into a bowl.
  2. Rub in the fresh yeast.
  3. Rub in the butter and lard.
  4. Stir in the sugar.
  5. Stir in the tepid milk and knead up to a soft and elastic dough.
  6. Put into a covered bowl and leave to rise until almost double in size.
  7. Turn out and knead in the dried fruit.
  8. Shape into 2 round bannocks and place on a lined baking sheet.
  9. Cover and leave to rise until almost double in size.
  10. Pre-heat the oven to 200C.
  11. I chose to score my bannocks because I need to practice my bread scoring but I don't think this is traditional. If you do score use a very sharp knife or blade and do this just before baking.
  12. Place the bannocks in the oven at 200C for 15 minutes and then turn the oven down to 180C.
  13. Quickly glaze the bannocks and then bake them for a further 25 mins (depending on size), longer may be needed and you may need to turn the bannocks around in the oven to get an even colour.
  14. Test they are done by tapping the base of the bannocks which should produce a slightly hollow sound rather than a flat 'thud'.
  15. Cool on wire racks.
The Best of British Challenge has been organised by Karen Burns Booth of Lavender and Lovage and Fiona McLean of London Unattached.

 The round up of the Scottish challenges will be posted by the 20th July on Farmersgirl Kitchen blog and her own contribution to this challenge can be found here Iced Cranachan.

The Face of New World Appliances will also do a round up.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

We Should Cocoa - June 2012 Challenge

For my first post to the #WeShouldCocoa challenge I have gone for something really easy but rather appropriate for a wet and windy June day in the westcountry. This month's mystery ingredient is coffee and is being hosted by The Kitchen Maid.

When I started thinking about what to do I found quite a few cake and biscuit recipes that combine chocolate and coffee but I was smitten as soon as I saw this recipe for the drink bicerin on David Lebovitz's blog Living the Sweet Life in Paris.

It is basically a three layered drink of rich hot chocolate topped with strong espresso and then a float of whipped cream on top.

Comparing my picture below with the one on David's web site you will notice my bar skills are sadly lacking. My layers are not very clear and the top has quite a lot of coffee breaking into the cream but perhaps more practice is needed! I decided to serve a few chunks of toasted almond chocolate bark along side. The bitterness from the almonds complements the sweetness from the hot chocolate.

Whatever you serve with it, it is a great drink on a grey day.

David gives full instructions on his website so please hop over there if you want to have a try. It is a great website. If you have not visited before don't peep now unless you have lots of time. I can lose myself for hours reading and rereading this great blog.

For further information on WeShouldCocoa challenges see choclogblog

The Best of British Blogger Challenge - Cornwall

My contribution to the this month's Best of British blog challenge is a saffron infused sweet yeast bun.  This month the region is Cornwall and is being hosted by The Chocolate Log Blog

I had thought I would follow a traditional Cornish saffron bread recipe but the ones I found were quite high in fat and my preference is to have a lower fat bun spread with a nice layer of sweet butter.

Have you noticed just how yellow the saffron buns sold in shops can be. I have my doubts how much of that colour comes from the saffron itself. You do not need a lot of this spice to add a good flavour. My buns were quite pale but did have good flavour, perhaps I am doing something wrong regarding the colour?

I recently started on a mission for the perfect bun recipe  and this is my stage two attempt whereby I up the recipe a little to include milk rather than water. Apart from the replacement of the mixed spice with saffron the base recipe is the same. I think the addition of the milk did produce a slightly softer crumb but not cakey, which is good.

500g strong bread flour
1 level tsp fine sea salt
10g fresh yeast
50g butter
50g caster sugar
20g milk powder
100g dried fruit
250-300 ml warm water
large pinch of saffron strands

The saffron was crushed with a pestle & mortar and then infused in 50ml of the warm water for a few minutes. I might have achieved a stronger colour if I had let the saffron infuse longer.

The salt, yeast, butter, sugar and milk powder were rubbed into the flour.

The saffron infusion and about 200ml of warm water were then added to the flour mix along with the dried fruits.

The mix is gradually brought together by hand, or using a dough scaper, adding more water if needed,  in order to end with a soft but not wet dough. As the dough is kneaded it becomes firmer and silky so do not start too dry or the dough will be too tight.

The dough is kneaded for a good 10 minutes and try hard to keep the dried fruit in the dough but some will inevitably flick out all over the counter and floor.

Form the dough into a ball and put back in the bowl. I usually encase the whole bowl in a plastic peddle bin liner kept just for this purpose. If you make a loose parcel around the bowl it will keep the dough moist while it is rising:

Once the dough has just about doubled in size it is ready to be shaped.

I turned the dough out onto the counter top and gave it a light knead to remove large air bubbles.

I then weighed out approx 75g pieces of dough and then placed them on a lined baking tray to have a further rise.

My oven has a 40C setting and I often use this for the final rise. I prewarm the oven, with a damp dish cloth inside, to 40C. I then place the tray of shaped buns in the oven and turn it off. This usually gives just the right amount of heat and moisture to rise the buns. The buns should almost double in size.

Before baking I brushed the buns with an eggwash but this is optional.

The oven was prewarmed to 200C.

The buns had ten minutes at 200C after which I turned the tray around and turned the oven temperature down to 180C for a further ten minutes.

Here is the tray of buns straight from the oven.

I have tried growing saffron bulbs in a pot under glass but only one of the twelve bulbs flowered. I am hoping for one hundred percent improvement in yield next season but not holding my breath.

For the Cornwall challenge round up later in June see The Face of New World Appliances or choclogblog

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Bank Holiday Baking

I love the May bank holidays, even when the Queen moves one of them into June. It is my favourite time of year to be in the garden. Every thing looks fresh and vibrant, especially now we have also just had a good shower of rain.

The wild flowers are as beautiful as the cultivated ones and here is my garden selection from earlier in May when the wild garlic was in flower at the same time as the chives:

Now I have chives, and foxgloves with a few garden pinks that have such a great cottage garden look to them:

But this time of year also brings us such long days so after work is done in the garden it is still light long into the evening and plenty cool enough to feel like baking. I have been filling the freezer with treats to eat over the bank holiday weekends and here is a selection of the goodies:

The first recipe was for a fruit and nut loaf, first picture shows the sliced loaf and second the loaves straight out of the oven.

This is a recipe I modified from the book Warm Bread and honey cake by Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra. It appears on page 92 and is a rye fruit loaf. I had to substituted hazelnuts for the walnuts and raisins for the currants. It makes a great breakfast bread as it is not too sweet and is also good with cheese for lunch.

There is a detailed review of the book here thegastronomersbookshelf blog. I love the eclectic range of recipes and interesting comments about the origins and history that surround them.

Continuing on the fruited bread theme I made these 'sticky buns' which came out beautifully light and with a very thin but crisp crust. Buns like these were often served at tea time on a weekend when I was a child and I seem to remember them coming is bags of 4 from the supermarket.

I am trying to work out the best balance for a fruit bun between completely plain and quite rich. Too rich and the dough tends towards the cakey texture, too plain and the buns can stale very quickly. I started at the plain end of the scale so these were made with:

500 strong plain flour
1 level tsp sea salt
10g fresh yeast
50g sugar
50g butter
1 tsp mixed spice
100g dried fruit
enough water (~300g) to make a soft dough.

In subsequent bakes I am going to try substituting milk for water and then in the next batch adding in 1 egg and staying with milk. Some of each batch is being frozen and then at the end I am going to take out a couple of each and double check which I prefer.

I also made this focaccia  recipe from Paul Hollywood (picture below taken from the bbc website) but modified mine by also adding some sliced new potatoes to the top. I missed taking a photo before it was all gone so imagine this with crispy slices of new potato:

Have a great bank holiday weekend whatever you are doing.