Hot And Sour: Southeast Asian Chicken and Kale Salad

Firstly let me just own up: I have never been to any country in South East Asia. But I do know that their cuisine – huge on flavour yet low on calories/guilt – is often the first port of call to any foodie who has to exercise a modicum of dietary restraint. I am a bit of a greedy pig, which I know is not news (and certainly not fake news), but even I have to reel in my desires. My low-carb diet took a hiatus to accommodate Easter, and lately I’ve decided to relax it more at weekends (especially if copious alcohol consumption is planned).

I don’t know whether to call this a salad or not as the kale is steamed, but isn’t served hot. It was yet another result of a fridge raid today when I needed a low carb but filling lunch and some cooked chicken breast to use up. It is a mutation of Nigella Lawson’s gingery hot duck salad from Bites, which in turn was a spin off from Cambodian beef salad so, I guess you can call this recipe the next stage. This is the beauty of cooking – evolution.

I am not naturally a salad person so if I do make one, it has to deliver on taste and not feel like a punishment. My salads usually have heat in there somewhere, maybe fruit, herbs, and certainly something sharp and pickled. Vinegar or citrus juices tend to be my choice of dressing, I loathe those claggy bottled ones.

Kale I genuinely enjoy eating (don’t convince me a kale smoothie does not taste absolutely vile though. Just cook it and eat it as a veg, stop inflicting such horror on your soul) as it is beefy and meaty for a leafy green and still fairly cheap to buy and is always grown in the UK all year round, and I had half a bag to use up and no salad leaves in the fridge.

I nearly always have a bought roast chicken in the fridge (because sadly I don’t roast birds nearly as often as I would like to these days which is madness as it would work out SO much cheaper) but I tend to prefer the dark meat (think a drumstick torn off the bird like an island savage when post-work hunger pangs hit) whereas my ex partner/good friend favours the breast. But on those occasions when I do have cooked chicken breast laying about, I have to anoint it with some seriously spiky, punchy flavouring.  But I do tend to leave the skin on as it’s a small sacrifice of virtue in order to up the flavour stakes.

The dressing is hot, salty, sour and even a little sweet – if the idea of sugar appalls you, then just use granulated sweetener or agave syrup instead. You do need balance here. I have done it with half lime, half sweet orange before, but this time I wanted the full acerbic hit of the lime. The ginger is to taste, don’t get your ruler out. In truth, I find it easier to just grate the whole root and go by eye. And I don’t bother to peel because I’m lazy.

This is a fiercely hot salad, not for the faint hearted (and if, as I often do, you go for full geographical authenticity and use those fiendish Thai birds-eye chillies or go EVEN hotter up the Scoville scale, then it’s strictly professionals only time)  but if you do like the food that bites back, it’s an easy summer lunch or light supper. If you’re as much of a heat junkie as I am, you will love it.

Serves 1 but can be doubled.

Southeast Asian Chicken and Kale Salad

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125-150g (about half a 250g bag) curly kale, tough stems removed

1 cold cooked chicken breast, skin on  (either from a leftover roast, bought packet or rotisserie chicken)

2 tbsp fish sauce

Juice of 1 and a half limes

1 tsp sugar or any sweetener you desire

Few drops toasted sesame oil

1-2cm piece ginger, grated.

1 green chilli, chopped (de-seed if you’re of a more timorous bent, or use 1-2 birds-eyes if you think you’re hard enough)

 

  1. Place kale in a steamer, either electric or one set over boiling water, sprinkle with salt and steam until tender. Alternatively you can boil in salted water.
  2. Slice chicken breast on the diagonal, going for that 80s Chinese takeaway fan-style carving but if some of the meat crumbles, spoiling the perfect slices, don’t get het up. Please leave on the skin. You’ll thank me.
  3. In a bowl, mix together fish sauce, lime juice, sesame oil, chopped chilli and grated ginger before tumbling in the sliced chicken. Stir to coat thoroughly. Think of this as a quasi-marinade as well as a dressing.
  4. This can be served with the kale hot or at room temperature,  so don’t fret about timing – when kale is tender, (and drained if you boiled it), decant it onto a plate before topping with the chicken, making sure to scrape out any remnants of the dressing with a spatula and dive in.

 

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Herb-flecked and fragrant: Quinoa and Chickpea Salad with Macerated Onions

I have a confession to make: As I write this I’m almost one week into a low-carbohydrate diet (but still on my smugly non-puritanical terms: If I fancy a bag of crisps or a slice of cake, I just won’t eat any bread, rice, potatoes or pasta that day. It’s all about balance and moderation – you didn’t think I’d become Calgary Avansino [she’ll sue me one day] did you??), so I’m looking for speedy suppers that are big on flavour, but don’t rely on the crutches of pasta or bread as the base. Even when in virtuous mode, I do not go in for rigid blandness or mimsy portions.

This colourful and herb-flecked quinoa and chickpea salad was born out of a store cupboard and fridge rummage as I found myself falling into the trap of buying new things for supper every day. Now I know what you’re thinking, it sounds hessian-weave and militant Wellness vegan time, but I assure you, if I didn’t like the taste of this, I wouldn’t make it, let alone publish the recipe. (I can’t stop channelling Queen Nigella can I? I’m too far gone.)

Indeed I have looked towards St Nigella for part of this – one of her frequent recipe components; the zingy macerated onions. It might sound inconvenient to steep finely-sliced red onions in vinegar (or lime juice which works just as well) for half an hour, but the acid takes out that acrid burn you get with raw onion, making them tangy and sweet, so you can eat this in the company of others without them recoiling in horror. Even with this step, this is still gratifyingly easy cooking and quick to make. Plus cold, it makes a great packed lunch for work.

This is packed with colour and zing; the vinegar or lime juice that the onions steep in, forms the dressing (no oil so I’m keeping company with the food fascism brigade here), there’s 2 chillies thrown in; some mouth-puckeringly, alligator-skin-hued capers, and the herbs, roughly chopped provide pungency – I want them more like a salad leaf instead of a garnish; whilst the grated carrot and chopped cucumber provide sweet, cool, familiarity.

You’ll notice I’ve flitted Stateside and back with the measurements, but I think it’s much easier to cook grains like quinoa (which like rice cooked by the absorption method, it’s 1 part grain to 2 parts liquid) if you go by volume. I generally don’t weigh ingredients for salads, rather going by eye, so feel free to add more or less of each of the components to your taste.

Serves 3-4 depending on appetite

Quinoa and Chickpea Salad with Macerated Onions

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Half red onion, finely sliced into half moons

About 60ml red wine vinegar or fresh lime juice (60ml = about 2-3 limes)

1 cup quinoa

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

400g can chickpeas, drained

Generous handful rocket leaves

A handful each of coriander, mint (de-stemmed), and parsley, roughly chopped or even left as whole leaves if you want

1-2 chillies, finely chopped

Approx 1 tbsp capers

1 medium carrot, grated

1/3 cucumber, cut into triangles

 

  1. In a bowl, place the sliced red onion and douse with vinegar or lime juice. Cover with cling film and leave to steep for 30 minutes.
  2. In a saucepan, bring the stock to the boil and add the quinoa grains. Bring back to the boil before lowering the heat and clamping on a lid. Cook for about 15 minutes until swollen and all the stock absorbed.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the chilli, roughly chopped herbs, rocket, cucumber pieces and grated carrot. Toss to mix.
  4. When the quinoa is cooked through, upend into the green garden of vegetables and stir with two forks to prevent the quinoa from clumping. The heat may wilt the rocket a little – if you want to, you can cook and cool the quinoa in advance.
  5. When the onions have had their steeping time, empty the pale puce strands, along with their steeping liquid into the salad and stir again to mix.
  6. Finally add the chickpeas and capers and give one final quick toss to ensure everything’s combined, decant onto a plate  (I also topped mine with a few of those bacon flavoured crispy bits) or into tubs for meal prep and dive in.

    NOTE: If you’re spreading this out for meal prep, store in a bowl covered with cling in the refrigerator and eat within 2 days, or in individual plastic airtight tubs.

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Creamy Lemon Spaghetti

There’s no greater quick and cheap meal than pasta (unless you’re one of these puritans who thinks carbs are basically edible anthrax), and my lemon spaghetti was born in the middle of a miserable working week and the idea of cooking just made me want to shriek (in a totes masc4masc way). It also shows just how much Nigella Lawson is embossed on my brain as it turns out this is very similar if not identical to her lemon linguine from her very first series of Bites/How To Eat, but I had a bit of cream left from another recipe and it was a case of let’s use that up whilst also rummaging around to see what would make a decent fast meal for one.

You don;t have to cook the sauce, just toss it through the drained, cooked pasta until warmed through in the residual heat of the pan. What I also love about this recipe is that it’s another slap in the face to the clean eating brigade. Carbs, fat and lots of them. It sounds rich but the lemon cuts that, making it both creamy and light at the same time. If you do have parmesan cheese in the fridge, then swap the cheddar for that. I just didn’t have any parmesan in the day I made this. You can also use tagliatelle or linguine if you have those knocking about…long pasta is much better suited for this type of sauce, but at a pinch you can use short cut pasta like penne or fusili if that’s all you have in the house…

Finally…sorry the photo is appalling. I almost forgot to snap it until I’d sat down to eat and consequently this is the result.

Serves 1 but can be doubled for 2.

Creamy Lemon Spaghetti

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125g spaghetti

1 egg yolk

zest and juice 1 lemon (this is to taste)

1-2 tbsp Grated cheddar

3-4 tbsp double cream (approx)

1 tbsp butter (approx)

 

  1. Set a pan of water on to boil and once it is boiling, salt generously – as Anna Del Conte once said, the water you cook pasta in must be as ‘salty as the Mediterranean’ – and slip in the strands of spaghetti.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together (a fork is fine for this) the egg yolk, cheddar cheese, cream, lemon zest and juice, along with some black pepper, until you have a pale primrose-hued emulsion.
  3. When the spaghetti is ready but still with a little bite, drain, reserving a small amount of the starchy cooking water, and place back into the hot pan.
  4. Pour over the creamy sauce and stir until warmed through and all the spaghetti is coated, with a little of the reserved pasta water to help the sauce amalgamate with the pasta. You want it well-dressed but not drowning in sauce.
  5. Pour into a bowl, find a comfy spot, stick on Netflix and dive in.

Mellow Yellow: Risotto alla Milanese

Risotto is classic comfort food in my eyes. It contains all the necessary items that bring solace and protection from life: carbs (yes the C word) and fat. Like a savoury rice pudding without the divisive tarpaulin of skin, this classic staple of Italian cooking is one of those foods you can feel hugging you from within.

It comes in many different forms, but surely there is no finer take on this most sinful of rice dishes than the Milanese version: Lit up with the deep gold bleeding from strands of that most magical of spices, saffron, risotto alla milanese is resplendent in its simplicity. Like many classic dishes, it is steeped in the mythology that there is this one great authentic recipe that all cooks must obey, but this simply isn’t the case….as Nigella Lawson once quipped, cooking is alive, like language…so I don’t proclaim this to be an authentic take on the perfect accompaniment to osso bucco veal, but merely my version of it.

I have no time for snobbery in the kitchen and I used whatever was to hand, including rosé wine (it was dregs of some trashy Gallo White Grenache left in the fridge and needed using up) and stock from a cube (because the most pretentious foodies of course deem any stock not home made as disreputable and not the thing), as well as grated cheddar instead of parmesan. Not that I’m going out of my way to be rebellious here; I just used what was in the fridge and on the shelf. By all means use parmesan and white wine as well as homemade chicken stock if you have them.  If you’re opening a bottle of wine especially for this, obviously drink the rest with the meal! Vermouth would also be good here if you can’t justify buying a bottle of wine just for this.

I will be bossy about one thing – you MUST use saffron otherwise this isn’t Milanese risotto! It’s better value to buy saffron online than the little jars from the supermarket, and you get more for your money. It keeps for ages so do invest. No turmeric please. The flavour is quite different and would be invasive here.

You could even use cheap long grain rice if you wanted if that’s all you have/budget is tight, but you won’t get the same creamy texture – risotto rice is short grain and can absorb more liquid, but I used to make risotto using long grain from my old student cookbook years ago and it does work  in a similar fashion – ris = rice after all, so I can vouch for that as a commendable alternative. Just don’t serve it to a discerning Italian.

This recipe serves one happily, but can easily be doubled for two.

Risotto alla Milanese per uno

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60g butter (go by eye if that’s easier)

1 tbsp olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 stick celery, finely chopped

150g short-grain/risotto rice – I used arborio but if you can find Vialone Nano rice, please use that.

125ml (small glass) rosé or white wine

500ml chicken or vegetable stock – I recommend Knorr chicken cubes as it helps with the yellow colour

Grated parmesan (or cheddar if you haven’t got any parmesan) to serve

Generous pinch saffron threads

  1. Mix saffron into the stock and pour into a small saucepan set over a medium heat. It is important to keep the stock hot.
  2.  Over a medium heat, melt half the butter along with the olive oil and tumble in the finely chopped vegetables. Cook for about 5 minutes, sprinkling with salt to stop colouring, until soft.
  3. Tip in the flat pearls of rice and stir until they are shiny and slick with onion-celery oil – this is known as tostatura in Italian.
  4. Pour over wine and stir, allowing the rice grains to absorb it.
  5. Once the wine is absorbed, ladle in the stock one ladleful at a time, stirring constantly and not adding the next ladleful until the previous has been fully absorbed by the rice. Keep going until all the stock is used up and the rice is al dente…it should have some bite but be creamy and tender; this should take around 20 minutes.

  6. Don’t leave the stove during this. It’s hard to be precise as different bags of the same rice can differ in their thirst, so you may not need all the stock, or you may need to add extra water from the kettle.
  7. Once the rice is ready (do taste and check the texture) get ready to make the mantecatura; the all important finishing touch. Dot the risotto with the remaining butter, along with the grated cheese (Use roughly 2 tbsp but it’s to taste), and, should you have some on standby, a little cream (no more than 1 tbsp otherwise you risk muting the brilliant summery yellow of the risotto) and stir until melted in and creamy – the Venetians call this all’onda which means ‘with a wave to it’. You don’t want a rock-solid mass.
  8. Serve immediately.

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Cut, and come again: Boiled Fruit Cake

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Now the leaves are brown, the skies are grey, the nights have truly drawn in and there is a sharp chill in the air, we want food that’s familiar, comforting and warming. Think casseroles with dumplings. Curries. Lentil soups that stick to your ribs and hug from within.

But baking is a crucial part of autumn and winter for me. And nothing to me says Great British winter than a proper old-fashioned fruit cake. The kind your grandma would always have on hand, stashed in an ancient biscuit tin, ready at any given moment to be enjoyed with a cup of tea.

I used to loathe fruit cake (as I probably stated in my Christmas cake recipe and my malt loaf recipe), hot cross buns, anything baked with raisins in, but yet I’d eat them on cereal. Now as an adult, some of my favourite cakes are of the fruited variety. I love mince pies, Christmas pudding, tea cakes…you name it.

Speaking of the festive season, one of the things I most enjoy in the run-up, is making my Christmas cake. And it struck me. Why should I wait once a year to enjoy the dense, spicy, brown wedge of Britishness, loaded with plump fruits and making you feel like the world is a better place? Why can’t I make it whenever I want? I mean, mid-July perhaps no, but we won’t see a sniff of sun until March at least from now.

Boiled fruit cake, to those unfamiliar, I admit sounds gross and unappetising. But it is merely a fast way of getting extra moisture into something that if done badly, can be something desiccated with wrinkled currants in it that’s so inedible you may as well chew on loft insulation. The wonderful Candice Brown (take your hate elsewhere please) baked one during one of the showstopper challenges, and even more heartwarmingly, she used her grandmother’s recipe.

So boiled? Cake? Simple. Instead of creaming your butter and sugar, and soaking your fruit in tea or alcohol, all the ingredients except the eggs and flour are placed in one pan and simmered for about fifteen minutes, before said eggs and flour are added after it has had a chance to cool, and then baked in the normal way in the correctly-lined tin.

I was inspired by Candice a little here, as well as looking back in my own past. My great-grandma on mom’s side, whom I never met as she passed away before I was born, was keen on making a boiled fruit cake, but my late nan, to my knowledge, never made one. The recipe I am using does have good legacy, as it is my mother’s (and mine) Christmas cake recipe, already published here, halved for a smaller tin (in this case a 20cm springform, lined in the usual manner to insulate the cake).

The weights and measures are in ounces, because I find this simpler to scale up or down and I like to think it adds to the old traditonal feel of the recipe!

I just go for the pre-mixed bag of dried fruit for this, but you can use any combo of dried fruit that takes your fancy; cranberries would be great, dried cherries, dried blueberries, the sky’s the limit. I know candied peel is the marmite of the baking world and has many, many haters, I used to hate it until very recently, so feel free to avoid. I will say this though  – the toffee sweetness of dates isn’t recommended as they just melt down in the heat and make your mixture too sticky. You’re probably also recoiling at the use of prunes but they do help with the squidgyness of the cake; however you can of course just sub them with more dried fruit of your choice, or even some chopped nuts. I always think there’s room for flexibility in cooking.

Alcohol brings that festive decadence to the proceedings as well as the all-important liquid element – I used brandy, mixed with a small amount of black-as-tar, raisiny Pedro Ximinez sherry that Nigella Lawson is a huge fan of (honestly, try it. It’s a good investment!), but again, use what you like. Ginger wine would be good, and obviously dark rum too. Becherovka as well, if you can find it…like the fruit, this is where you can make it your own.

If you don’t want to go the full on hard liquor route, then an absolutely dandy alternative would be stout, ale, or of course, porter, to make that Irish classic, porter cake.

You could of course, use black tea instead of the alcohol, and bump up the flour to 8 oz to save a bit of cash if you like.This is essentially a Christmas cake in all but name really, but if you can’t justify bunging a load of booze in, or you’re reading this when it’s not the festive season, just go for the aforementioned tea and leave out the almonds. Just make sure you have 8 fl oz of liquid.

This is a soft, squidgy cake that will banish any memories of granny’s aged and dry cake or bad shop-bought versions. And if you are using this as your festive cake, then it means you can make it at the last minute as the pan does months of steeping work in just 10-15 minutes.

Boiled Fruit Cake

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6oz plain flour
2 oz ground almonds (or use 8 oz plain flour)
4 oz butter (I recommend salted)
4 oz dark brown soft sugar
1 tbsp black treacle
1 tbsp honey
2 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp allspice
ground nutmeg to taste
9 oz mixed dried fruit
3 oz prunes, roughly halved or cut into three if they’re big
2 oz glace cherries, halved
8 fl oz brandy, or a mixture of brandy and Pedro Ximinez, or stout/ale/porter, or black tea
1 orange, zest and juice
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp almond extract

OPTIONAL: 1 tbsp each of orange flower and rose water.

  1. Preheat oven to 150C.
  2. Put butter, sugar, treacle, honey, spices, orange zest and juice, along with the fruit into a saucepan, before pouring over the alcohol/tea and flower waters if using. Essentially every ingredient bar the flour, almonds and eggs.
  3. Bring to the boil, stirring to prevent catching and to help melt down the butter. When it is boiling, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and let stand for 30 minutes.
  4. Whilst the fruit mix is standing, use this time to line the tin. For those who don’t know, you grease the tin and place a disc of parchment in the bottom as for a regular sponge cake, but in addition, you need to cut a length of baking parchment long enough to fit the entire diameter of the tin, around the height of the tin doubled – this helps to insulate the cake when it cooks – and wrap this around the inside, snipping cuts in the bottom to help it sit around the edge easier. If it sounds like I’m talking rubbish, then just google!
  5. When the fruit mix has had its stand time, mix in the beaten eggs before finally adding the flour and almonds, stirring until combined but being careful not to over mix.
  6. Pour this treacly batter into the prepare tin and bake for 1 and a half hours, or until a tester comes out clean. Or you could follow Fanny Cradock’s advice and listen to it – if it’s singing at you, it’s not ready yet.
  7. Leave to cool in the tin either completely or mostly and then finish on a wire rack.
  8. Store in an airtight container and enjoy with a brew, or if this is your Christmas cake (which I realise this recipe sounds uncannily like), pierce and feed with alcohol, wrapping up and repeating this until ready to ice in your preferred manner.

 

 

 

Bake Off Technical – The Final; Victoria Sandwich

Here it is. At long last, the final.

The final of 2016.

The final technical experience for me.

And the final of Bake Off as we know.

And adorable flamboyant wee queen Andrew was in shorts…..ooops wrong place. I do want to take him home though. Camp. Irish. Ginger. Great smile…. Anyway….I had already managed to read spoilers because it turns out no matter what I do, they seem to find me, but still I wanted to watch it. I was chuffed Candice won. I loved her and how she used her grandmother’s recipes. Many people use their own legacy in their cooking. I do! Why was it a bad thing? Why did people get so pissed off over it? Oh that’s right, it’s 2016 and being offended is a legitimate profession now.

But anyway, what was this technical? I’d heard that it was something I’ve done before, and that I’d get on OK.

So when it was announced as a Victoria sandwich. I was THRILLED. No, seriously. No more French classics for me to butcher. No more caramel. No fancy decorations. Just a good old-fashioned British old lady cake to have with a brew. YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAS.

The bakers had to do theirs without a recipe, and were even given choices of sugar, as well as both margarine and butter, and had to decide what they felt would make the most perfect example of the village fete classic. All bakers plumped for butter, Candice I noted went for golden caster sugar too because of its slight toffee flavour (which I must try sometime).

Having made a few of these myself over the years, I knew that to get a technically perfect sponge, you weigh your eggs in their shells, and for a 20cm sandwich tin (which is what I have), 4 eggs is what you need – and the fat, sugar and self-raising flour are to be this weight. So electronic scales are the order of the day if the stakes are massive.

However. I have a bone to pick with Mary. She clearly went for the WI-standard, citing raspberry jam (which had to be home made -the same 200g berries/250g jam sugar method from the Viennese and the Bakewell – that’s fine by me as I’d already bought some fresh raspberries for the savarin, dirt cheap from Waitrose and never used them -they were on the turn and I refused to bin them…they were still fine to eat) as the filling and caster sugar (NOT ICING) as the topping. But….the WI specifically state NO BUTTERCREAM. Come on Mary. You are the walking embodiment of jolly-hockey-sticks Middle England and Jerusalem. I expected better from you. But as I was doing what the bakers do, I had to make it!

Also as the bakers did, I opted to go all-in-one as Mary is a known lover of this method (and plus less washing up as no Kenwood bowl and attachments to clean!), though when I looked in the fridge the day before, I took stock …no Stork, but I had about 360g of salted butter. I debated going to the shops to buy a tub of margarine as it makes a lighter cake but butter is superior in flavour (and honestly…try salted over unsalted. It doesn’t make your bakes salty. I took this from a colleague who makes the most fantastic, unrivalled shortbread – the best I’ve ever had – and she always uses salted. I’ve not had a bad bake, be it a cake or biscuit, by substituting salted for unsalted. In fact the hint of salt adds complexity to the tidal wave of sweetness so actually improves the finished bake!)…what the hell, save myself a few pence and use what I had (though I did need more self-raising flour, it turned out. Never mind. Butter tastes better and as I can’t hide the margarine’s inferior flavour with vanilla – it had to be that.

The cake mix took a little slackening with milk (clearly should have softened the butter some more in the microwave) but eventually the soft dropping consistency was reached without too much mixing and divided between the tins. I’m afraid I went by eye as I just found weighing it into the tins a waste of time (and also, I wanted it in the oven as fast as possible, as raising agents begin their work the moment liquid is added so the sooner the better) but it looked fairly even. Into the oven they went, 160 as mine is a fan, for 25 minutes. I wasn’t going to take any chances. I wanted to prove to myself that I could still do the simple bakes and do them competently.

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There really isn’t a lot to say about this. I knew the jam recipe well enough and did the usual, obviously with less time to thaw the berries as I wasn’t using frozen. Into a flat dish it went to set – you can use good quality stuff from a bought jar, but 25 minutes is ample time to knock some up in a saucepan, and anyway…home made always tastes better. By the time the cakes had cooled sufficiently, so would the jam. I found out online that the reason the WI specify raspberry jam, is that the seeds help the two cakes stay sandwiched. You learn something new every day.

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I went to weigh out my icing sugar, and to my dismay, I only had 176g instead of the 200g needed. Damn. Rather than dash down the road, I just decided to calculate the percentage of 200 it was, and then use the same for butter. 176 is 88% of 200. So 88g of butter was needed for the buttercream. Out came the Kenwood (I think electricity makes better buttercream than elbow grease – trust me, I’ve done it both ways) and I just threw it all in. Keeping an eye on the consistency, I sloshed in some milk because I wanted it slack enough to not fly into a homicidal rage when it came to the devil’s favourite implement, the piping bag. I was still going to pipe the outside because I wanted to match the bakers as close as possible.

 

Cakes were ready bang on 25 minutes. They sprung back, passed the skewer test, looked well risen (albeit domed a bit – I forgot to make a dip in the centre to allow for a flat, even surface. Bugger.) and not too dark in colour.  I left them to cool in their tins for exactly 5 minutes, before carefully turning out onto a tea towel (to avoid unsightly rack marks) and placed flat-side down to cool completely.

Once the cakes were cooled, it was time to spread with a generous amount of jam, thankfully not a solid brick, and then pipe on the buttercream. I piped globules around the outside, but because I didn’t have the full amount, I just filled the centre solidly, spreading with a knife but leaving the outer edge as piped globs so it looked more presentable on the outside. I chose the cake on the right as the top one, and once they were sandwiched, I sprinkled with the correct topping as set by the WI, caster sugar.

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There may be a few imperfections here and there, but I was chuffed with it. It didn’t look overbaked or biscuity, the piping on the outside was mostly competent. But it’s home-made, not a competition entry or a factory produced one, so I allowed for that. It was just for us, at home, to enjoy with a brew.

And enjoy we did. Everyone who had it, rated it highly, and I had more than anyone else because frankly, I have forgotten just how delicious this classic simple cake is. With the fresh fruitiness of the home made jam, to the welcome if not WI-correct hit of sweet buttercream (I would take it over fresh cream because that means you have to chill it and that spoils the sponge), to the light, moist golden cake itself. Considering it was butter, not margarine, and it took a good beating to get smooth in the mixing stage, I was terrified it would be tough. My regret? Not splashing out on some top quality butter, opting for Waitrose’s essential salted stuff because it was the best value. When the ingredients are stripped back to the bare bones like this, it’s good to spend a bit more. I’m happy to use standard white caster sugar as you want that buttery flavour to be the star of the show, though I’m sure the frisson of toffee from golden caster would be most welcome too.

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There were a few incidences where I had two slices a day. I will not leave it this long again to bash out a Victoria sandwich. 

Will make again. In a heartbeat. Every day if I could. You can keep your cupcakes and your decadent chocolate sin-fests. Give me a Victoria sponge or tea loaf anyday.

Join me next time when I do a final rating of every technical of 2016!

T x

Bake Off Technical; Semi Final – Savarin

As it’s now November, the traditional month for maximising your created online content, be they blogs, YouTube channels, or even your fledgling fan fiction site, I felt I better get my skates on and get my technical write ups done.

So we are freshly in mourning of the demise of the Great British Bake Off as we know and love it, and as of this day (2 November) I have managed to succesfully complete every single technical challenge (and it seems, so have many others if Instagram is anything to go by!).

But anyway, this is how I fared with the semi-final technical challenge, which to my discontent, was once more a recipe issued by Mr P. Hollywood.  The bakers were instructed to produce yet another French classic (for a British bake off they really love to go continental!), this time the savarin.

There are many myths as to this French ring-shaped yeasted cake’s origins; one was that of a royal cook who’d overcooked a kugelhopf cake and it was rejected by the king. The chef tossed it accidentally into a dish of alcohol and it soaked in, making the cake palatable again. Over time many French pastry chefs perfected the recipe and it became what we know it as today.

The traditional characteristics of the savarin are its ring shape (hence you can buy specialist ‘savarin moulds’ for this, but this recipe asked for a bundt pan, which luckily I already have, having used it liberally recently to make all the bundt cakes listed in Simply Nigella), it is made with yeast, and it is soaked copiously in an orange-scented syrup, made with fruit juice or liqueur. In fact it is stated that the basic cake SHOULD be dry as it will absorb more syrup. Makes me wonder if the British teatime classic, lemon drizzle cake was inspired by the savarin.

Anyway, here is the recipe for those who wish to make it.  My heart sank because enriched and laminated doughs are not my strong point. I know this is a cake batter instead of a dough, but still. It had lots of butter and eggs in. Great. However, I had a stand mixer and no kneading was required.

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Mixing the batter was easy enough. It was shiny, sticky and elastic, and was placed somewhere to rise for an hour. It was then time to make a caramel for decorative shards to top the cake, and also to make up the orange booze syrup. I splashed out on Grand Marnier for this as it was what the bakers used on the show and also the recommended brand to use. It was a straightforward syrup to make, and it was set aside. No real drama so far.

Caramel, we meet again. Unlike poor Jane, who had to make her caramel three times over, I thankfully managed to nail it the first time round. I was getting strangely used to this, having never made it prior to the painful marjolaine.

So far, so good.

When it came to retrieving the batter to transfer to the bundt pan (Nordic Ware by the way), albeit one with an ornate gridded diamond design instead of the fleur-de-lis one the bakers used, predictably it barely showed a rise. Oh well. I emptied it into the bundt tin – which I’d liberally brushed with a mixture of oil and plain flour; works wonders – and bunged it in the warmed top oven for its second 20 minute prove. Whatever happened, it would rise on baking anyway.

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It looked like it had shown a bit of lift, but time wasn’t on my side and it had to go in the oven, so in it went. I had to just hope and pray it filled the tin and took on the ornate gridded design all over.

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Thankfully it took the minimum baking time stated on the recipe, and as can be seen in the photo, there was a fair amount of rising going on. So much so that when the cake was unmoulded (the single most terrifying part every time I bake with a bundt tin!), mercifully in one piece, I had to saw away some of the bottom so it lay flat. It looked darker than on the show, but that was fine. I was going to hide it with Chantilly cream and lots of fresh fruit anyway!

Whilst the cake was baking, I took on the only stressful aspect of the entire challenge. The small chocolate disc bearing the word ‘savarin’. Water got into the melted chocolate, but luckily it still set (albeit with a stint on the fridge!) hard enough to make a messy disc. My thinnest piping nozzle was still too wide to make an especially neat word, but I just about managed to fit a legible ‘SAVARIN’ on the small oval of dark chocolate. Good enough. That’ll do. This has been my constant maxim in these. Which is why I’d flop so hard on Bake Off. So to all of those who insist I apply…..nah.

Whipping up the Chantilly cream was easy enough, and when the cake had cooled (and the cream came out the fridge because it was best kept chilled once made for ease of piping – AGAIN. I will be happy if I never have to pipe again. I can just hear Mary Berry’s posh voice barking the word ‘pipe’ at me like a school mistress and all it does is imbue me with the red hot lava of a Year 9 at full strop ‘nobody understands me, I HATE YOU!!!’ volume.) enough to be handled but still warm, I filled the bundt tin with half the syrup, stabbing holes in the cake first and left it there to drink up the boozy, orange-scented liquor. And gurl it was THIRSTY. And once it had its fill from the tin, the remainder of the syrup was poured into a roasting tin and the bottom of the cake was penetrated (insert a slide whistle sound FX here) numerous times and it was then upended to take its next fill of syrup from that side.

There was no way that couldn’t end up sounding rude. Lesbe honest.

Once the thirsty savarin was quenched (I wanted it saturated with syrup, I had colleagues to please), it was time to squirt cream over it and get fruity. OK I’ll stop now before this blog earns an X rating. Ain’t nobody got time to strip membranes from orange segments, soz Mezza Bezza, so I just placed them as you would if you were eating an orange. You can pick them off. I’m not actually ON Bake Off. I piped cream all over the top, around the bottom like a mid-1990s suburban skirting board and filled the cavity with the rest (oh dear. I’ll get my coat).

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You know the phrase ‘know when to stop’? Yeah. Someone should have been there to say it.  Life’s too short to peel membranes from orange segments, sorry Mary. Apologies for the state of the kitchen too.

But what about the taste?!

Actually, pretty damn good. I wanted to dislike it because it was Paul Hollywood…sadly, my colleagues rated it in the ‘top 3 bakes’ that I’d brought in. Depressingly, the other bakes in this triad were Mary Berry recipes (one being the Bakewell tart). I always hoped that they would rate Nigella’s recipes above all but alas, you can’t predict others’ taste buds! But I grudgingly accept that actually, this was pretty good. Moist and heavily scented with orange, the vanilla cream is a necessary anointment.

Would I make this again? Yes. I may hate the recipe writer but the proof of the pudding is always in the eating. I wouldn’t go so nuts with the fruit topping  (I don;t think it needs it really, or maybe just one kind of fruit. All it did was hide the ornate design from the tin and make it a bugger to slice) and the chocolate label was entirely superfluous – my colleagues awarded it to me as ‘the top prize’ though I did beg at least one to take a piece of it. I get why this was made as many upscale continental patisseries use chocolate signature labels for their products but honestly, you can over-decorate in my opinion. So if I make this again. I would probably  just adorn it with cream and maybe a few berries to add a fresh hit.

Next time, my favourite technical, the Final. Because for once, it was a bake stripped of all un-necessary frippery and focused on the taste of the bake itself.

Until next time.

T x