Vegan and sugar free : Chocolate Coconut Brownies

I have been meaning to publish this recipe for a while now, as the source I obtained it from back in 2012 (an American granola girl mom blogger whose name I’m sorry to say long forgotten) has seemed to have vanished into the ethers.

I felt with all the talks of sugar tax (please, for your own sanity do NOT start me off on why this is wrong) that publishing a recipe that contains zero of the evil white stuff was rather timely….actually….I’m doing so because these are FREAKING GOOD. They are deeply, darkly resonant with chocolate without children’s party sweetness, and are as squidgy, and fudgy as even the most butter-laden slabs of decadence.  And most importantly of all, they do not feel like a compromise. You can happily serve these to the most committed animal product eater and their mind will be blown. Their intense fudginess also means they can be served as a pudding too.

Plus, all the plant-derived ingredients and use of wholemeal flour makes you feel like these are SO healthy….it does use one whole bottle of agave syrup though, I am sorry.

You can use any dairy free milk you can find, though obviously please check whomever you’re serving it to isn’t allergic to nuts or soya first. With the coffee, I happily use instant as it’s added in liquid form and just make it strong, but you can use leftovers in your cafetiere; espresso…whatever you want. Don’t leave it out – , they don’t taste of coffee -it is crucial for enhancing the chocolate flavour as of course there is no melted chocolate in these.

You can use an 8×8 or small roasting tin to bake these in. Just keep an eye on the cooking time as you do not want these to dry out and they don’t take long to bake.

Due to the recipe’s Stateside origin, this is in US cup measures. But you can obtain all the ingredients from any large supermarket without needing to go to Holland and Barrett. I do apologise for the irregular changing of measures in my recipes – some are in imperial, others metric – I’m well aware of this!

I tend to only make these once a year – a close friend is a vegan, and these have become my annual birthday present to her as some kind of tradition. Their making signals the end of summer and the start of my autumn-Christmas baking calendar. But please don’t let that stop you from making them whenever you desire.

Chocolate Coconut Brownies

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1/3 cup coconut oil

1 cup agave syrup (about 1 bottle)

1/2 cup coconut milk (not the canned stuff but the carton e.g Koko or Alpro) or any dairy free milk alternative

1/3 cup strong coffee

1 cup cocoa powder (raw if you really want to be good but it’ll cost you)

1/2 cup desiccated coconut

3/4 cup wholemeal flour

1/2 tsp salt

  1. Preheat oven to 180C/170C fan, and grease and line your chosen tin with parchment for easy lifting out later.
  2. In a bowl, combine flour, cocoa, coconut and salt. Fork or whisk to mix and set aside.
  3. In another bowl, beat the coconut oil and agave syrup until combined – this is easy enough by hand and a wooden spoon. Beat in the coconut milk and the coffee. It may split and curdle but don’t freak out if it does.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir until just combined – don’t over mix it. It will make a fairly thin batter but that’s fine – it’s what makes the brownies so fudgy.
  5. Pour batter into the tin and bake for 16-18 minutes. Ovens do vary so it’s recommended you start with the shortest time as you don’t want to overcook them.
  6. Leave to cool completely in the tin before lifting out and cutting into. They’re surprisingly rich so small squares is fine….plus you get more brownies. And if I’m saying that……….

 

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Ginger Loaf

Cold. Wet. Dark early. Are we really in August?

Seeing as the weather is much more reminiscent of late autumn/winter than summer, it’s only natural to gravitate towards unseasonable food to accompany said weather. In my world, at any rate.

You’ll know by now that gingerbread in its many forms has a huge hold on my heart. I’m too aware I have been in this territory before (the Yorkshire Parkin and the regular slab-style gingerbread I created in 2015) but if my cookbook collection is anything to go by, there’s infinite ways to bring sugar and spice together in pleasurably sticky harmony.

This is gingerbread as I like it – heady with black treacle, which has the bitter sweetness of burnt toffee, and packing a fierce hit of peppery ginger. Preferably left at least a day before eating as it only gets stickier.

I can’t take the credit for the recipe though – it comes from the Domestic Princess and is an adaptation of her fantastic (and pretty damn accurate reproduction) recipe for McVitie’s Golden Syrup Cake, itself a guilty pleasure of mine and one of the few mass-produced cakes I have no shame in buying, along with it’s Jamaican Ginger sister – which, I suppose you could say, I was aiming for with this.

This also has the added bonus of being easily veganised – just substitute the butter and milk for non-dairy versions, and it of course contains no eggs. If you wanted to be ambitious you could use gluten free plain flour too.

Ginger Loaf

 

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75g soft dark brown (or even better, dark muscovado) sugar

75g softened salted butter (or vegan margarine)

150g black treacle

75ml water

75ml milk (or dairy free equivalent)

200g plain flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160C, and grease and line a 1lb loaf tin.
  2. In a bowl, combine the flour with the bicarb, baking powder, ginger and cinnamon and whisk or fork to mix.
  3. In either a free-standing mixer or in a bowl with a hand whisk, cream together the butter and sugar until you have a manila-toned cream- if using dark muscovado the sugar will always have a slight bit of grit to it.
  4. Place the milk and water into a saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium heat.
  5. Once boiled, and with the motor still running on the mixer, carefully pour the hot milk/water mixture into the creamed butter and sugar, followed by the treacle, scraping the sides of the bowl if necessary. This is very liquid, so don’t panic! Also be careful of splashes.
  6. Add in the dry ingredients and continue until combined, being careful not to over mix and once more scraping the sides of the bowl.
  7. Pour the mixture into the lined tin and bake for 40-45 minutes. Check after 40 though as ovens do vary – a tester should come out clean.
  8. Once the cake is cooked, leave to cool completely in its tin on a cooling rack.
  9. If you can bear to resist, leave for a day at least before cutting as the stickier the better.

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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

 

 

Bake Off Technical; Tudor Week – Jumbles

Sorry I haven’t been up to date with my technical write ups! It’s been a rollercoaster couple of weeks, as my precious Vauxhall Nova failed its MOT and along with other issues in life (those who follow me on Facebook will probably know about my mental health…anyway, enough of that). I have baked all bar the Final as of today (October 30) I just haven’t had the time or motivation lately to write them up!

This year for the quarter finals, it was the newly-introduced Tudor Week, and the technical this time (nothing could be worse than the painful marjolaine!!)  was something called ‘jumbles’, a rubbed-in biscuit apparent popular in the period. Flavoured with a medieval blend of aniseed, mace and caraway, the jumbles were baked in elaborate celtic knot designs.

Recipe issuer was Paul Hollywood (groan), and he specified that the biscuits were to be half double-knots, and half triquetra knots. WHAT. Just looking at the other bakers’ attempts made my eyes water. How can you tie biscuit dough into such an elaborate knot?! (Google ‘triquetra’ or ‘trinity knot’ to see what I mean for those who didn’t watch!)

My first problem was that I couldn’t procure aniseeds. Waitrose didn’t stock them and neither did ASDA. As the recipe only asked for half a teaspoon, I decided to just substitute for fennel seeds, which I did have in already. They offered a similar flavour, albeit slightly more muted.

When it came to actually making the recipe, I came armed with a WikiHow tutorial on tying a trinity knot and my stand mixer (well gadgets make life easier!) and it was easy enough to mix up a biscuit dough. It made a fairly sticky dough, so I liberally dusted the surface with flour whilst it had some time to chill in the fridge – you had to make 8 balls of dough, and weigh each dough ball so they were exactly the same. The trinity knots were to be slightly bigger balls.

The double-knots were a pain enough to tie – I had my tape measure out so the dough strips were the correct size, but it still broke upon knotting so I just lashed them up a little to ensure some uniformity.

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Double knots. Or Knot. Ha. Life is too short for this.

Now it was time to tie the triquetras. Oh dear. Biscuit dough is not the same as ribbon. The first one was a mess. I decided life was too freaking short, and just formed the dough into the three ‘petals’ and then placed the rings on top. They’ll weld upon baking and nobody will know the difference!  I brushed the raw biscuits with beaten egg and sprinkled caster sugar on top.

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These were the ‘tied’ triquetras. Mess.
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And these were the cheats ones…laid out into the shape as opposed to tied. I thought they looked far superior.

The double knots needed 5 more minutes because they were thicker, but on the whole, this was a fairly painless technical. Yeah, I took a short cut with the trinity knots, but I had social media snaps to take and the ones laid out into the shape instead of being knotted looked infinitely better, as the photo shows.

But they were meant to be eaten as well as look ornate (ish), so verdict on the flavour. Maybe it was my smokers’ tastebuds, but I found them midly bland. They had the correct texture of crisp outside and fluffy interior, more scone-like than crunchy traditional biscuits, which was what Mary and Paul were expecting. Mine were fairly pale when baked, but I don’t think that detracted too much.

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They are somewhat hefty. One is enough with a brew. The triquetras were better to eat, the double-knots were too bland and heavy for my taste. 

Now the important question: Would I make again?

Yes and no. The triquetras do look very, very attractive and would look nice displayed in a bakery window. So I plan on using this recipe as a bassline and fusing it with a Dutch traditional winter bake that Waitrose have put on their shelves for their 2016 Christmas range, speculaas.

Speculaas are a spiced soft biscuit, filled with almond paste , often moulded in shapes (windmills are a popular design) and eaten at Christmas time. I pondered this after a London-based speculaas spice blend seller contacted me on Twitter when I gushed about how delicious they were. Not only am I giving an independent seller business, I’m also baking a traditional Dutch treat whilst creating my own spin.

If I replaced the caster sugar with dark brown, and the anise/mace/caraway with speculaas spice blend (I will namecheck the seller) that means I’ve changed 2 key elements of the recipe, making it my own. I will fill the ‘loops’ of the triquetras with almond paste (I make my own for the Christmas cake and when I occasionally bake Battenbergs) and place a blanched almond in the centre. Triquetra Speculaas anyone?

Off-piste, I know, but hey, it was spun off from this challenge! Watch this space for when I go about testing this theory out. If they’re a success, then I shall post the recipe!

Until then, you can hear about my exploits with the semi-final technical, the savarin!

Peace.

T x

Bake Off Technical; Dessert Week – Marjolaine

Ah. Dessert week.

As long as I’ve been following Bake Off (2013-), the technicals for this have always been something fiendishly complex, usually French and meringue based. Think Floating Islands or Spanische Wintertorte. And Mary Berry, the usual recipe issuer for dessert week, continued this theme this year.

French? Check.

Meringue? Check.

Hideously complicated and time consuming? CHECK.

This time, the remaining bakers were asked to make something known as a marjolaine, which from research, tells me is the doyenne of French dessert patisserie. It is an oblong, layered gateau but doesn’t have any sponge cake (though some recipes call for a single layer of whisked génoise), instead made up of meringue, chocolate ganache and buttercream flavoured with praline. Nut allergy sufferers, look away now.

Just reading the recipe on the BBC website made me question my own sanity and just what on EARTH I had let myself in for. Watching the bakers make it was challenging enough. But I am never one to back away from a challenge. The whole point of this scheme of baking EVERY technical was to push my own skills to the limit and see how competent a baker I actually am.

Never made a dacquoise before.

Never made caramel before, let alone praline.

Soft ball stage sugar? French butter cream?! Nope.

This was either going to be a triumph. Or a mess. I was thinking mess.

Firstly though, I was also trying to keep to a reasonable budget – I did not go out and buy 2 swiss roll tins, instead opting for my 2 faithful baking trays, which measured the same dimensions and were deep enough to cook the meringue in. My food processor had died a few months ago, and I wasn;t going to rush and buy a replacement just yet. I had a hand blender, cling film, a jug and a rolling pin. I could manage.  I also couldn’t get hold of slivered pistachios in time for the topping, instead I chose to buy shelled ones and chop them. Won’t be as violently jade to look at, but add enough contrast for visual impact. Cop out? Lazy? Maybe. But I’m a home cook and can count on one hand the amount of times I’d need a swiss roll tin. I don’t make them, or roulades.

Anyway, back to the 4 hours of hell (The bakers had 3…I tried to do it in 3 but it didn’t happen) on a Sunday afternoon in early October.

First step was blitz up hazelnuts and blanched almonds and roast. The hand blender in a jug did a reasonable job, but they weren’t, shall we say even. And also, I felt the oven didn’t roast them enough so I bunged them in a dry pan. And overdid them. Great. Screwed up the first step whilst trying to multitask (I was separating eggs into the Kenwood whilst the nuts toasted). Thankfully they were salvageable and I didn’t have to start again. Besides, I told myself, meringue is stupidly sweet anyway. A hint of bitterness might be desirable as I like some complexity in my sweet treats, not just one-note diabetic relentlessness. I’m not 10 years old anymore.

Nuts mixed with sugar (a 2kg bag of the stuff was bought for this just in case!) and cornflour and left aside, I started on the meringue. Fairly straightforward, whisk until stiff (I once tried to whip egg whites years ago when my hand whisk broke and the balloon whisk had gone walkies. A fork doesn’t do the same job. It was pain on another level and taught me a valuable lesson about planning and procrastination) peaks form, and then ass the sugar spoonful by spoonful until once more stiff and glossy. Hold over head to check for doneness. Nuts folded through, I took a sneaky taste of the raw meringue (which is actually up there with condensed milk as one of those things you shouldn’t eat but you do in clandestine rapaciousness) and there was no undesirable burnt bitterness detected. YES. I could hide my previous cock up. I spread the manilla-toned, nut-speckled mix onto the parchment-lined trays and set in the low oven to bake for 45 to 60 minutes. Perfect time to get on with the other stages.

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Time to lose my caramel virginity. I’ve done caramel sauces with butter and cream before, but never the proper stuff with just sugar and water. I knew that leaving the pan even for a microsecond was a no-no, so off I went. I stood by the pan like a sentry, and my first observation was….man this takes forever. Slowly the syrup began to turn the palest of golds….then darker and darker….as soon as my partner’s stepdad, who was casually observing, said it ‘looked and smelled like caramel’ I whipped it off the head and bunged in my toasted almonds (done with shaky optimism whilst panwatching), spreading it on a sheet of parchment and sighing with relief that potential burnt sugar hot mess had been averted.

When it came to blitzing the praline, I decided to go for the primeval bag and rolling pin method and luckily it broke into uneven chunks fairly easily. But I knew I had to get the blender out once more, so yet more eye-watering sounds, pieces flying across the countertop followed. But I had a mostly fine powder with a few bigger chunks. But I was happy with that….would add texture.

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Chocolate ganache? Easy peasy, I thought, but I made a fatal mistake here which was to bite me on the arse later on. The recipe called for 360g plain chocolate (I had a mix of cheap value plain stuff and 85% gourmet stuff), and I got so engrossed in the serene repeition of snapping dark brown squares into a bowl that I inadvertently threw in the entire 400g…and I wondered why the warmed cream didn’t melt it all and why there were a few chunks of partially melted chocolate sitting gloatingly within the shining pond of ganache. More on that later. Blissfully unaware of my second mess-up, I threw the ganache gaily into the fridge and moved onto the next stage, the daunting French buttercream.

8 egg yolks were required for this, so in addition to the leftovers from the dacquoise, I separated 2 more eggs and got to work. It was time to get scientific and look up how to test for the ‘soft ball’ stage as I don’t have a candy thermometer. Simple enough, just drop a small amount of hot sugar into a bowl of ice cold water and see what it forms – if it makes a soft ball, as the name suggests, then it’s ready. So yet more sugar and water in a pan on the heat, off I went, anxiously watching and willing myself ‘Don’t fuck it up’ (my subconscious had taken on the form of RuPaul today it seemed). After a good few tentative tests, I had what I thought was a soft ball forming in the water so I took it off the heat rapidly and got the mixer going on the yolks. I was instructed to drizzle the warm syrup slowly into the beating egg yolks until thick and completely cool. 5-10 minutes. For God’s sake.  When it looked and felt just that, it was time to add the eye-watering 350g of cubed, soft butter bit by bit, whisking all the while. Essentially I was making a very decadent, sweet mayonnaise or bearnaise, wasn’t I? Jesus wept. WHAT WAS WRONG WITH REGULAR BUTTERCREAM?! I raged internally. It is ten times easier to make, or is it too uncouth for this fine patisserie, Mary?! But eventually I had a bowl full of what looked to me like a cross between cake frosting and mayo, and it seemed to be enough to fill and coat the gateau. I gingerly folded in the crunchy, golden powdered praline and placed into a bowl to go in the fridge alongside the fucked-up (excuse my language but you need to get SOME idea of the stress I felt when assembling!) ganache.

I then got busy clearing up (I was adamant that clean-as-you-go would be imperative here and I was so glad I did!) and toasting flaked almonds as well as chopping more hazelnuts and pistachios somewhat haphazardly with my trusty mezzaluna (yes it is Nigella’s official cookware one FYI) to get ready for the grand assembly.

It was crunch time.

I got out a tape measure to mark where to cut the cooled meringue sheets and made a small indentation with my thumbnail. It was a little tight-rope-between-skyscrapers but I successfully managed to have 4 rectangles, albeit very fragile. And the only serving platter that would fit this monster of a gateau would be a chopping board. So I placed the first sheet of meringue and began to slather on about a quarter of the buttercream, using the nearby stepdad’s “builder’s eye” to check it was level.

First layer done.

Topped with another sheet of meringue, the next layer was ganache. WHY WAS IT SO HARD?! A quick microwave blast to loosen it slightly and I was just about managing to spread it. Good enough, I decided, and topped with the third sheet, before slathering on another rough quarter of the buttercream. It didn’t look like there would be enough to cover the cake….did I beat it enough? Was the sugar syrup not at the right stage? Who knew? Or was I being paranoid?

Final sheet placed atop, it was then time for the bit I hate when frosting cakes (a practice I do rarely because of this), the coating. Gingerly and shakily, I began to use a standard kitchen knife (I really should just buy an offset spatula or even a pallet knife..I’m such a culinary Scrooge) and just about managed to coat 3 of the 4 sides with this stuff I was already sick of the sight of. Sod it, I can slice off the messy-ass front for a ‘layers’ photo.

I slapped on handfuls of toasted flaked almonds much like a kid does with glitter and glue when making a nursery Christmas card, and managed to successfully coat the back and sides with them.

And it was then I realised my earlier cock up as the stiff ganache REFUSED to be piped, oozing through the stitching in my piping bag and all over my fingers. And then a chunk of excess unmelted chocolate jammed the nozzle. I had to run upstairs before I threw the wretched gateau at the wall. And it was time to go pick up my partner for work, the optimistic 3 hours extended by 45 minutes. In a blind stressed out rage, I heated the ganache in the microwave again and threw it in the fridge, veins throbbing in my temples. Everyone and everything was the devil incarnate. And I’d run out of cigarettes! Life was laughing at me and I HATE leaving jobs unfinished. Plus I’d also set myself the additional task of roasting a joint of beef once I’d done the gateau.

So once back home, my partner suggested try reheating the ganache (it had of course, solidified YET again) and just see what happens. So he took that job whilst I SEETHED, contemplating throwing the bloody unfinished thing in the bin and cursing Mary Berry’s name and the pointlessness of piping excessively. Ganache much softer, I dumped it in the piping bag and grudgingly set about finishing the now 4 plus hours of torture. Somewhat sloppily, a frame and 5 diagonal lines were piped, with a little help from a dessert spoon handle to join any gaps. Ridges weren’t that defined, but by this time I couldn’t have given two shits.

However, once the gaps were filled with contrasting shades of chopped hazelnuts and pistachios….the marjolaine was finished. And despite the obvious issues here and there visually, I thought, begrudgingly so (though everyone else at home, who of course had to be an audience, which I hate when taking on a cooking task I struggle with. thought it looked really good), didn’t look too bad, and even looked, dare I say it…impressive?

And as soon as it was finished, the fierce homicidal rage evaporated and relief swept through me. I had conquered the most challenging bake I had ever done, albeit with some mistakes. But sometimes “this will do” is enough. Life is too short sometimes.

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But I can tell you that this vodka/cream soda with grenadine sunrise in my hand was MUCH needed.

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There is no sadness in his eyes, just relief at finally making it through the wilderness.

 

As I write this up, I haven’t seen Tudor Week but I know the technical involves ornate biscuits. Nothing, I tell myself, nothing, can top this hideous nightmare. I’ll take anything.

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But one thing I have taken from this experience, is that I want to try cooking meringue more. So this coming weekend, I will take on the 2013 dessert week technical, Iles Flottante (floating islands), which is poached meringue quenelles on a ‘sea’ of creme anglaise (vanilla custard). I may write it up as a special post as it sort-of fits the Bake Off technicals, just one from 3 years ago! And then, I will tackle the Tudor Week one!

See you next time!

T.

 

Bake Off Technical; Pastry Week – Bakewell Tart

After the disaster that was the pointless lacy pancakes, I was relieved to see that Pastry Week’s technical was something manageable. Thankfully the hideousness of laminated dough (I can’t do it) was confined to Danish pastries for the signature challenge, whilst the showstopper was something else I would NEVER try, filo pastry. Eccentric barmy aunt Val was the one to leave, whilst my favourite (and it seems, many people’s least…I have no idea why. Probably because of her non-RP accent) Candice won star baker. But you all knew this anyway, so on to the important stuff.

Most of us Brits love a Bakewell tart, be it the real McCoy from the town in the Derbyshire Dales or the mass-produced small kind topped with fondant and a glacé cherry.  There is no actual evidence it originated in Bakewell, but it is a close relative of Bakewell pudding, which did come from the town. Anyway, I am a fan of them and have never made them before, the closest being Nigella Lawson’s raspberry Bakewell slices from her Kitchen book.

The recipe, thankfully, is by Mary Berry, who despite my not being a huge fan of, definitely prefer hers over the intolerable Paul Hollywood’s.  It seemed fairly straightforward, though she also asks for a thick glacé icing topping, feathered with pink. This caused some controversy (don’t you just love people’s ability on social media to get whipped up into a frenzy about food?) as of course, the traditional tart is uniced, merely garnished with flaked almonds atop the frangipane filling.

It called for a sweet shortcrust, raspberry jam (the same one as for the Viennese whirls) and of course the frangipane (a sponge made with ground almonds instead of flour, for those who don’t know what it is. An underrated confection in my book. I should make it more. Especially given my fondness for stone fruit which is of course from the same botanical family as the almond), as well as this aforementioned icing.

First problem I encountered was the tart tin. The bottom to my nonstick flan had gone walkies and, also, was possibly too big, being over the 23cm/9inches specified. So I had to plump for a china flan dish, which looked to be about that size (don’t ask me how I guessed but yeah, we’re going into X-rated territory). I had no qualms about serving the tart to my guinea pigs (work colleagues) out of the dish. Not taking any chances, I buttered and floured the thing and got on with it.

The jam turned out better than with the whirls, having timed it religiously and it was now cooling and setting patiently as I heaved out my Kenwood to mix up the pastry (sorry but gadgets win and plus you are meant to handle pastry as little as possible). Fairly easily done, no drama, and it was sent to the fridge to chill for half an hour.

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No big sheets of jam this time.

After the waiting game, it was time to blind bake. I am well versed in this so this was no bother. Admittedly the pastry shrunk back a bit, but I was unfazed. As long as it sufficiently dried out, there should be none of the dreaded soggy bottom. It was baked for 15 minutes with the parchment and uncooked rice (I have a jar of much-used stuff especially for this purpose – too cheap to buy ceramic baking beans) and then another 5 with this paraphernalia off to dry it out.

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Pastry was a bit of a pain to work with, hence the messy base. Personally I’d have gone with a basic plain shortcrust for this as the icing, jam and filling are sweet enough.

Case baked, cooled a little and spread with jam, it was time to get the mixer set up for the filling. Equal measures of sugar, butter and ground almonds plus 1 beaten egg and some almond essence.  Again, no drama and it was set into the reduced oven to cook. This is where the first problem arose….it needed a good extra 5 minutes over the maximum 35 cooking time as stated within the recipe. Once baked, it was left to cool and hopefully settle down into a flat surface.

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Frangipane filling awaiting its pink and white anointment. As you can see, several skewer holes to check for ‘done-ness’. A little patchy colour-wise but that didn’t matter as the icing would hide those sins.

I perhaps got too eager and made up the icing in advance, and it had to be stirred a good few times to stop it setting, and it also may have been a bit on the thick side. However, it was just enough to cover the top of the tart, and when it got to the feathering (fine piping isn’t my forte and the lines were a touch messy) I had way too much pink icing left over. But the tart was finished.

However, the proof of the pudding IS in the eating, and it was devoured with gusto by my work colleagues. Can’t ask for more than that. Perhaps the base was a little thick at the edges if I was being hyper critical but apart from that, the china pie dish was a decent stand in, and serving the tart from the dish didn’t hurt – it cut nicely without breaking.

Verdict on this one: A good, solid recipe, though the feathered icing topping is cause for contention amongst purists. However, some find the plain unanointed variant of the Bakewell a touch dry, and I do love a Mr Kipling Cherry Bakewell – the satiny tooth-aching synthetic sweetness of the fondant (almond flavouring in that is desirable) is a good enough contrast. Like the Viennese whirls, this has been added to the ‘will bake again’ file.

Next time……I get to grips with Fresh Herb Fougasses..