White Chocolate and Cream Buns

Dear All, this is the last recipe before I go on holiday. Yes, two whole weeks with very limited Internet access back home, in Italy, staying at my mum’s house. I can already see where this is going: plenty of food, amazing pizzas and possibly some sunshine on the side (the weather forecasts are not that promising). And I can also tell you that, much to my disappointment, I will be missing the first and the second episode of the Great British Bake Off, which starts next Tuesday on BBC One. Therefore, let’s fire up the ovens (I don’t know about yours, but mine is electric anyway) and let’s make something sweet before the great season begins!

This is an Italian recipe, although slightly adapted. I found it in one of the many cooking magazines my mum decided I NEEDED to take back home with me last time I went to Italy, in a special issue about breads. The original recipe asked for the dough to be enriched with the white chocolate chunks during the kneading phase. That, however, seemed to me like a blatant contre sense, simply because you then needed to spread it out with a rolling pin and then roll it back up and cut it. In very practical terms, I thought that with the chunks in the dough itself, rolling it out would have been like trying to tar a very bumpy road. Therefore, I decided to keep the dough plain and to add the chocolate chunks at a later stage. I also thought the chocolate decoration on the top looked nice, but feel free to leave it out. See you back in August!

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Ingredients

  • 800g plain flour
  • 200g strong bread flour
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 20g salt
  • 2 x 7g sachets fast action yeast
  • 300ml double cream
  • 260ml whole milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 x 295g bag white chocolate chips
  • 75g white chocolate, melted over bain marie (optional)

Method

  1. Pour the milk and the cream in a saucepan, then bring to the boil over a gentle heat. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to slightly warmer than room temperature.
  2. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with the hook attachment, combine the flours, salt, yeast and sugar, then slowly add the milk and cream mixture with the machine on. Add the butter and keep on kneading. You are aiming for a soft but firm dough. Turn out the dough onto a work surface and knead by hand until smooth. Return to the bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to prove for about 2 hours or until doubled in size.
  3. Punch back the dough and turn it out onto a work surface. Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough to a big rectangle, approximately 40x30cm. Scatter the chocolate chips onto the dough and gently press them onto it. Starting from the top, begin to roll up the dough moving to the bottom of the work surface and by stretching it as much as you can so that the rolls are very tight.
  4. Cut the big roll into 16 slices, then arrange them onto two baking trays lined with parchment, cover with a towel or with clingfilm and leave to prove for another hour or until doubled in volume. When ready, pre-heat the oven to 200C.
  5. Bake for 15-20 minutes, but cover them with foil if they start going too brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
  6. To decorate them, transfer the melted white chocolate to a piping bag and drizzle it over the buns or use a teaspoon if you prefer. Allow the chocolate to firm up, then enjoy with a cup of tea.

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Fraisier Cake

In French, ‘fraise’ means ‘strawberry’. That said, this is probably the only thing we know for sure about this cake – and the fact it is delicious, ça va sans dire. Its origin, unlike many classical pastries and cakes, is very much shrouded in mystery. You will come across several variations on the subjects which are not just limited to the overall shape (round, square or rectangular), but also to the number of sponge layers and to the decoration on the top. There are, however, some features which need to be present in a Fraisier cake. First of all, the sponge layers are made of a very light génoise, which is not your conventional Victoria sponge but, rather, a much lighter and fluffier sponge. Then, the filling needs to be crème mousseline, a very thick and buttery pastry cream. Last but not least, there needs to be some marzipan somewhere.

The version below is the same one as made on the GBBO by Mary Berry. I chose it because I had always wanted to give it a try and it is easier than you might think. Just some advice: the cream for the filling really needs to be thick as it will hold the strawberries and sponges together. Therefore, ensure you cook it long enough and that the custard is quite thick (but not lumpy) when you are making it. Choose some strawberries which are more or less of the same height, otherwise you will end up with a wonky cake. Not nice. Contrary to what you might think (or what the recipe says), you don’t need acetate to compose the cake. I used some baking parchment and the result was just as good. Final word of advice: please ensure your cake is thoroughly chilled – best overnight – before unmoulding it.

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Ingredients (for the génoise sponge)

  • 4 large eggs
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 120g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 50g unsalted butter, melted but cooled

Ingredients (for the crème mousseline)

  • 600ml milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 4 large eggs + 2 large egg yolks
  • 180g golden caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp brandy/kirsch
  • 100g cornflour
  • 150g unsalted butter, at room temperature and cubed

Ingredients (for the lemon syrup)

  • 75g caster sugar
  • juice of 2 lemons

Ingredients (to assemble)

  • about 600g medium strawberries
  • 200g marzipan (white or yellow)
  • 100g dark chocolate, melted over bain marie

Method

  1. Roll the marzipan out onto a worktop slightly dusted with icing sugar, then use the bottom of a 23cm springform tin to cut a circle. Slide onto a baking tray and chill until needed. Grease and line the tin with baking parchment. Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  2. First things first, start with the génoise sponge. There are two ways to do this. Traditionally, a génoise sponge is whisked over a pan of simmering water to help the eggs become more voluminous. However, if you are using a freestanding mixer (KitchenAid or Kenwood), you can simply beat them on very high speed on there and you will get the same effect. Choose what suits you better depending on the equipment you have:
    • If you are doing it with a freestanding mixer (my choice), put the eggs and sugar in the bowl of the machine and whisk over high speed for a good 5 minutes, until the mixture is pale, light, fluffy and has at least doubled in volume. To check that the mixture is at the right stage, stop the machine and lift the whisk attachment from the bowl. The mixture should fall back on itself in a ribbon-like way and you should be able to write a figure of 8.
    • If you are doing it without a freestanding mixer, put the eggs and sugar in a large heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water (but don’t let the water touch the base of the bowl!). Using a hand-held mixer, whisk the mixture until pale, light, fluffy and has at least doubled in volume. To check that the mixture is at the right stage, lift the beaters from the bowl. The mixture should fall back on itself in a ribbon-like way and you should be able to write a figure of 8. Remove from the heat and continue whisking until the mixture has cooled down to room temperature.
  3. In a bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Sift 2/3 of the flour over the egg mixture, then gently fold in with a rubber spatula or a big metal spoon. You don’t want to add all of the flour at the same time because you risk forming flour pockets. Adding it little by little ensures an even distribution within the sponge. Add the remaining flour and also fold in, ensuring you scrape the bottom of the bowl. Trickle in the melted butter and gently fold in that too. Try and beat the mixture as little as possible to avoid deflating it. I had to make my sponge all over again because my first génoise was very flat.
  4. Gently transfer the sponge mixture to the prepared tin. If you notice any flour pockets while pouring the mixture, quickly fold that in with the spatula/spoon. Bake for 25-30 minutes until pale golden and the sponge shrinks away from the sides. Set aside to cool in the tin while you carry on with the custard. Once completely cooled, remove the sponge from the tin and wash the latter.
  5. Now, on to the crème mousseline. Bring the milk and the vanilla bean paste (but you can also use a vanilla pod) to the boil, then remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. In the meantime, combine the sugar and cornflour in a large bowl, then whisk briefly to combine. This ensures the cornflour won’t go lumpy. Add the eggs and egg yolk, then whisk to combine. Set the bowl over a towel (to avoid it wobbling), then gently trickle the milk while gently whisking. Transfer the whole mixture back to the saucepan you have used to warm the milk and put over medium heat. Keep on whisking/stirring to avoid it going lumpy and/or sticking to the bottom. Cook until very thick (it could take up to 10-15 minutes), then remove from the heat and whisk in the butter. Add the liqueur. Transfer to a shallow dish and cover with clingfilm to avoid a skin forming on top. Allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate.
  6. To make the lemon syrup, put the sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan, then heat gently until the sugar has completely dissolved. Boil for 2 minutes, then remove from the heat and cool. Cut about 12 strawberries in halves (but prepare some more just to be on the safe side), then cut the remaining one in quarters but keep some for the decoration on top.
  7. When you are ready to assemble the cake, gently oil the sides of the springform tin and line with baking parchment (alternatively, you can use an acetate strip). Slice the cake in half horizontally to make two thin even discs. Set one sponge directly cut side up on the bottom of the tin, then brush liberally with the lemon syrup. Arrange the halved strawberries cut side outwards onto the sponge disc and ensure the pointed end is on top. Try to squeeze them as tightly close as possible.
  8. Transfer the pastry cream to a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle, then pipe a spiral over the sponge base in the tin to cover it completely. Pipe between the strawberries to fill in all of the gaps. Spread the quartered strawberries over the crème mousseline, then pipe another spiral of crème on top of the berries and use a palette knife to smooth it.
  9. Set the other sponge disc on top (cut side down), then brush with the rest of the lemon syrup. Gently press the sponge layer down onto the crème so that the assembled cake is firmly pressed against the sides of the tin. Retrieve the marzipan disc from the fridge and lay on top of the cake, then chill the whole thing for at least 6 hours, better overnight.
  10. To decorate the top, melt the chocolate over bain marie. I used a mixture of white and dark chocolate, but you can choose to opt for one or the other. When melted, remove the chocolate from the heat and allow to cool, then transfer to a piping bag with a plain tip. Onto a sheet of baking parchment, pipe some chocolate decorations, then transfer to the fridge to firm up.
  11. Once the cake has thoroughly been chilled, remove it from the fridge and gently ease it out of the tin. Remove the baking parchment, then transfer it onto a serving platter/cake stand. Arrange the chocolate decorations and the remaining strawberries on top, then serve straight away. If you’re not eating it until later, keep the cake chilled. Enjoy!

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Bacon Whoopies

Before I delve any further into the specifics of this recipe, let me begin with a small preamble on food. This recipe originally called for Speck Alto Adige PGI. For those of you who are not familiar with it, PGI stands for protected geographical indication and it denotes a food product by means of its origin. In particular, it determines that only a certain food product coming from a specific place can be considered/sold/commercialised under that name. In this case, the Trentino-Alto Adige region, in the North of Italy. Indeed, this is where this type of dry-cured and lightly smoked ham comes from. It is made from pork hind quarters, which are first smoked, then cured over a 22-week period and covered in a salt crust. The rule to follow, in this case, is ‘a little salt, a little smoke and a lot of fresh air.’ Speck is very tasty and unique to Italy. I have never seen it outside its borders, alone maybe for Germany and Austria.

Seeing as this cured meat is virtually impossible to track down here in the UK (and God forbid I went on a journey to find some only to make this recipe), I substituted it with smoked rindless bacon. It’s not the same and you need to cook the bacon first, but you need to work with what you have. So, to go back to this recipe, these are savoury whoopie pies (or whoopies). The biscuits are soft and crumbly and the filling is very moreish. You’d be amazed at how just a handful of ingredients can taste so good when thrown together. I used Emmentaler here, but any smoked or strong cheese would also be fine. These are also best enjoyed as a starter or with a tomato salad. Perfect for a picnic or a party, you can get approximately 8-10 full biscuits from this recipe, depending on how big you pipe them.

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Ingredients

  • 200g smoked rindless bacon
  • 120g whole milk
  • 100g plain flour
  • 85g wholemeal plain flour
  • 80g unsalted butter
  • 125g cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 30g Emmentaler, grated
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • pinch of salt
  • ground black pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C fan. Line two baking trays with baking parchment.
  2. In a small bowl, mix the two flours with the salt, bicarbonate of soda and grated cheese.
  3. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer (or in a normal bowl), cream the butter with the leaf attachment, then add the egg. Mix to combine, then add the flour mixture, followed by the milk. The mixture will look lumpy and liquid, but as long as it holds its shape a little it’s fine.
  4. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag, snip the end off and pipe evenly sized blobs onto the lined baking trays. The mounds should be approximately 3cm in diameter and make sure they are evenly spaced as the biscuits will slightly flatten. Bake for 15 minutes, until golden on top.
  5. Cook the bacon in a dry frying pan until slightly crispy, then remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Transfer to a food processor and finely mince, then cool completely.
  6. In a bowl, lightly whip the cream cheese with approximately 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil until smooth, then add the minced bacon and some black pepper. Combine with a spatula.
  7. To assemble the whoopie pies, hold one biscuit half, then spread some bacon cream on top of it and gently squeeze the other half together. Allow to come to room temperature before eating. Enjoy!

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Roasted Ratatouille and Goat’s Cheese Tart

In my opinion, there are three main qualities to a good shortcrust pastry case: it needs to be crisp, dry and flaky. The so-called soggy bottoms are, obviously, something which is neither pleasant to the eye nor the taste. Think about it. Would you rather eat a good tart with a crumbly base or a soggy, wet and unappetizing one? I think we can all imagine what the answer would be. Over time, I have tried many different shortcrust recipes and I can finally say I have found my favourite one. Traditionally, shortcrust is made with an equal quantity of butter and lard, which lends itself to a very crisp and crumbly crust. I use all butter. It saves me having to buy an extra ingredient and the result I get is crisp and dry enough for my taste. I will share the recipe below and this is a seasoned one. It comes from a 1980s baking cookbook!

Tarts are more or less like pizza. You have the same base (crust) and you can personalize them how you want them. This is a very simple way to have your kids eat vegetables, because the cheese and the cream take the edge off the ‘all veggies’ taste. All in all, however, it is a vegetable tart, so please ensure you use the best quality ingredients for maximum flavour. The goat’s cheese is not fundamental, roasting the vegetables is. Tomatoes, especially, are full of water and juices and you need to shed some of them (put them through a bikini diet if you wish), otherwise you will end up with a soggy bottom or a tart case overflowing with water. Also make sure you season well both the vegetables and the cream filling.

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Ingredients (for the shortcrust pastry)

  • 225g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 100g unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
  • 4 tbsp icy cold water

Ingredients (for the tart filling)

  • 1 aubergine, cut into small chunks
  • 1 courgette, thickly sliced
  • 1 yellow pepper, deseeded and cut into strips
  • 1 red onion, thickly sliced
  • 3 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 250g cherry tomatoes on the vine
  • 300ml double cream
  • 3 large eggs
  • approximately 10-15 basil leaves
  • 150g hard goat’s cheese

Method

  1. As promised, we start with the pastry. Put the flour, salt and cold butter in a large bowl. Using your fingertips, crush the butter and mix it with the flour. Mix the flour every once in a while to evenly distribute the butter. You are aiming for a sand-like consistency and there shouldn’t be any bigger butter lumps left in the bowl.
  2. Next, pour in 3 tbsp icy cold water and initially use a butter knife to mix that in, then switch to your hand. Try to use as few movements as possible and gather the pastry together in the bowl. If the pastry is too dry, slowly add the remaining water, little by little, then mix together. If the pastry is too wet (shouldn’t be the case), add a tiny bit of flour and mix that in too. Just to make things clear, you are aiming for a slightly dry consistency. This is not a bread dough, the drier it is, the shorter and crumblier the end result will be. Keep on mixing the pastry in the bowl and use it to wipe the bowl clean. Another good tip if you realise you need some more water – but you are afraid you might add too much – is to wet your hand under cold running water, then shake the excess water off it and use that hand to mix the pastry.
  3. Wrap the pastry in clingfilm and leave to cool and relax in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
  4. In the meantime, get started on the filling. Heat the oven to 200C.
  5. Toss the vegetables (minus the tomatoes) together with some olive oil and some seasoning, then tumble onto a large baking tray. Roast for 20 minutes. Toss through the tomatoes, then roast for another 20 minutes, until nicely cooked. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly.
  6. Reduce the oven temperature to 190C and place a flat baking sheet in the oven to warm up.
  7. Now, you might need to wait to do the step before because I usually roll out the pastry, line the tin, trim the excess off, then I chill it for at least another 30 minutes before baking. That said, you could potentially prepare the pastry in advance, so let’s carry on.
  8. Prick the base of the tart with a fork, then line with baking parchment and pour some baking beans on top. Blind bake for 15 minutes, then remove the weights and the baking parchment and return to the oven for another 15 minutes, until golden and cooked through.
  9. Reduce the oven to 160C, then prepare the filling by squeezing the garlic from their skins into a jug. Add some salt and use a fork to mash it and make a paste out of it. Add the cream and eggs, then briefly whisk together. Season with pepper.
  10. Put about 2/3 of the vegetables in the cooked tart case and mix in the basil leaves. Pour over the cream filling, then top with the remaining vegetables and grate the cheese on top of the tart. Bake for a further 40-50 minutes, until the filling is set. Remove from the oven, let it cool slightly, then unmould and serve. Enjoy!

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