Monday, 31 August 2009

stuffed focaccia with cheese & rocket

1. nom nom nom

I admit it. I have blogger's block. It's a little bit like writer's block, except hungrier.

Here I am, complete with photos the most delicious baked focaccia, stuffed with three varieties of cheese, sage and fresh rocket - and I'm at a total loss for anything to say about it. I mean, besides, 'it's delicious,' and, 'it's stuffed with three varieties of cheese, sage and fresh rocket'. I recognise this is rather a cop-out.

I think it's the pressure. You see, this focaccia is the most beautiful thing on earth (what? I'm not in a relationship, okay). Somehow it seems crucially important to me that you recognise the miracle of layered, homemade bread, and the pressure is so much that words have failed me.

You're just going to have to make it, I'm afraid.

2. stuffed cheese & rocket foccaccia

Now, don't be hatin', just because it's bread. I know, I know, bread. You have to pound it around, and let it rise, and keep an eye on it, and blah blah blah yeast, ugh. But trust me. Firstly, this is focaccia, which is the easiest bread around; you just have to steamroller it flat and leave it to it (Okay, 'steamroller' is not a recognised culinary term in this context, but you get the gist). And plus, it has a fancy name. We all like fancy names. Sounds better than 'sandwich bread', doesn't it?

Secondly, it honestly doesn't take that long - it's not one of your sixteen-hour shebangs - as I know for a fact, since I made this in a massive hurry (and simultaneously making a lemon & raspberry layer cake, which you've not seen as although the photos were great, I wasn't happy with the taste. Hate it when that happens) before a picnic; the half-hour rising times worked out pretty conveniently, giving me time to do such important things as brush my hair and whip up a quick swiss meringue buttercream.

Incidentally, swiss meringue buttercream? Yes it looks incredibly smooth and professional, but it tastes like bath foam. Ugh.

3. stuffed cheese & rocket foccaccia

And thirdly? Homemade bread more than makes up for a foamy cake (alright, no one else had a problem with the cake. I just really don't like SMB. I don't know what posessed me. This is where cake vanity gets you, grasshopper). Especially eaten still-warm (I said I was in a hurry) with the cheese slightly oozy, this went down a storm. So - eating it? No problem whatsoever. But writing about it?

'I don't have a damn thing to say about cheese & rocket focaccia,' I moaned on Twitter.

'I have several things to say about cheese & rocket focaccia,' my friend Sophie messaged back promptly (procrastinating uni work, I suspect), '1) OM 2) NOM 3) NOM 4) it's better than Morte d'Arthur'.

As a lit student, I feel I should disagree with the final point, but hell, cheese & rocket focaccia kicks the arse of Le Morte d'Arthur.

4. picnic

Cheese & Rocket Focaccia
adapted from 'Happy Days with the Naked Chef', by Jamie Oliver.

As the photos demonstrate, this is ideal picnic fare; how can the humble cheese sandwich possibly compete with an enormous golden sheet of still-warm bread, stuffed with a thick and melty layer of parmesan, cheddar and cheshire cheeses, drizzled with olive oil and scented with fresh sage?

Oh hey, turns out I have things to say about this focaccia after all.

By all means use cheese of your choice - Jamie used Gorgonzola but since this was for a crowd I thought I'd avoid blue cheeses, which are a matter of taste, and went for Cheshire since it has a similar texture (and it's my favourite). But mozzarella would be nice if you wanted that stringy, pizza-cheese effect, for example.

For bread:
1kg (just over 2lb) strong bread flour
625ml (just over 1 pint) tepid water
30g (1oz) fresh yeast or 3 x 7g sachets dried yeast
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp salt
extra flour for dusting

1. Pile the flour onto a clean surface and make a large well in the centre. Pour half your water into the well, then add yeast, sugar and salt and stir with a fork.

2. Slowly but confidently, bring in the flour from the inside of the well (without breaking the walls, or else water will go everywhere). Continue until you get a stodgy, porridgey consistency, then add the remaining water. Mix until stodgy again, then you can be more aggressive, bringing in all the flour and making it less sticky. Flour your hands and pat and push the dough together with remaiing flour.

3. Knead the dough (pushing, folding, slapping, rolling, and generally being abusive) for 4-5 minutes until silky and elastic.

4. Flour the top of your dough. Put it in a bowl, cover with clingfilm (plastic wrap, Americans) and allow to prove for around half an hour until doubled in size (ideally in a warm, moist, draught-free place).

For the filling:
extra virgin olive oil
170g (6oz) parmesan cheese, grated
200g (7oz) cheddar (or other good melting cheese), grated
140g (5oz) cheshire (or cheese of your choice) grated
2 large handfuls of rocket (argula)
salt & freshly ground black pepper
fresh sage (or thyme) leaves

5. Once the dough has doubled in size, knock the air out for 30 secs by bashing and squashing it. Roll into a large rectangle around 1 cm/ 1/2" thick. Drape half of it onto a medium-large floured baking sheet, with half hanging over the side. On the half that is on the tray, drizzle about 3 good lugs of extra virgin olive oil, rub it into the dough, then add all your cheeses, rocket and some seasoning. Using your fingers, push it all into the dough.

6. Fold the overhanging dough back on to the dough on the tray, and then push around the edges so that you seal them together, tucking it under a little so it fits nicely onto the tray. Rub the top with a little olive oil and rip over some fresh sage.

7. Heat your oven to 180C while you leave the dough to prove a second time for half an hour, and when doubled in size, bake for around 25 mins until lightly golden and cooked. Allow to sit for around 25 mins before eating, best slightly warm.

5. stuffed cheese & rocket foccaccia

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

quadruple chocolate cake

quadruple chocolate cake

I was thinking the other day, and I realised that maybe you don't know that much about me.

I mean, you know the basic stuff. You know I'm newly-nineteen, and English, and a student. You know sugar is my major energy source. You know that presentation is not always my strongest point, and I get too excited at the prospect of using a kitchen blowtorch.

Maybe you don't know that in real life, I can be pretty quiet (-I said 'can'. As in, it's not unheard of, if you'll excuse the terrible pun that somehow wandered into that sentence). I like musicals, and playing guitar, and Harry Potter. My favourite piece of punctuation is the semi-colon. I have a small and hairy dog that I miss a painful amount when I'm away at uni. I also have some small and hairy friends - and I have friends other than Sophie, too (sorry, sorry, couldn't resist).

I ate this bit, and have no regrets.

I have friends that I love so much, that sometimes I think that despite all the shit and misery and, I don't know, burnt toast (I hate burning toast. It's cause I love toasting things so much. When I burn something I feel like I've failed at my missive) in the world, everything will end up okay, because how I feel about them cancels out the bad stuff. Probably I don't deserve them - sometimes I look at them and wonder why on earth they're putting up with me - but they make it worth surviving, I think. I think this is probably how people in love feel, except in this case aimed at a wider group of very cool kids, rather than one specific person.

Whenever the world scares me, I remember that they are in it.

...Look at me, getting all serious. You know, toast aside. The toast was metaphorical, anyway.

quadruple chocolate cake

Forget toast, and let's talk about chocolate cake. Chocolate cake is a pretty good expression of love, by all accounts.

This was a gift, so although I've made this recipe in the past I can't talk about this particular cake too extensively. Butttt I did get to nibble the cut-offs, and as ever, this is the ultimate in squidgy, fudgy cake; drizzled, as the best cakes are, with a ribbon of dark and smoky chocolate syrup, until it is so moist that attempts to cut it result in happy collapse and streaks of chocolate on everything you touch for the next half hour. Not that I'm speaking from experience, or anything.

I can only hope that the rest of the cake was as good at the cut-offs I tried, and almost as good as the friend it was for.

with chocolate shavings

Quadruple Chocolate Cake
Slightly adapted from Feast by Nigella Lawson

I know I've complained about Nigella 'in person', but I have no such grudge against her recipes; this is very simple, very moist and squidgy, and right up there with toasters and semi-colons in my scale of approval.

200g (1 2/3 c.)
plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
(1/2 c.)
cocoa powder
(1 1/3c.) sugar -
Nigella uses this weight of caster sugar but I went for 1c. (120g) of light brown and 1/3 (50g) of dark muscavado.
175g (1 1/2 sticks)
2 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
(1/3 c.)
sour cream
(1/2 c.)
boiling water
(1 c.) chocolate chips (I used chunks of milk chocolate)

For the syrup:
1 tsp cocoa
(1/2 c.)
(1/2 c.) caster sugar

(1 oz) chocolate, cut into splinters of varying thickness, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 170C. Grease and line a loaf tin (9 1/2" x 4 1/2" x 3" deep - that's 21 x 11cm and 7.5cm deep).

1. Put the flour, bicarb, cocoa, sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla and sour cream into a food processor, and blitz until it’s a smooth, satiny brown batter. Process again while pouring the boiling water slowly into the mixture. Turn off the processor, and stir in the chocolate chips. (If you’re not using a food process, cream the butter and sugar, then beat in the eggs, followed by the dry ingredients, then the sour cream and vanilla, then beat in the water.)

2. Pour the fairly runny batter into the loaf tin, and bake for an hour. When ready, the loaf will be risen and split down the middle, and a skewer should come out fairly clean.

3. Just before the cake comes out of the oven, put the syrup ingredients of cocoa, water and sugar into a small saucepan, and boil for five minutes. What you want is a reduced liquid, a syrup.

4. When you’ve taken the cake out of the oven, pierce all over with a skewer, and pour the syrup as evenly as possible over the cake. Let the cake become completely cold, then slip it out of its tin, removing the paper, and place it on your serving plate. Get your chocolate, and slice thin slivers off the block with a heavy knife, until you’ve got enough to cover the top of the cake. If required, spoon a little extra syrup so that the chocolate will stick to the surface.

quadruple chocolate cake

Monday, 17 August 2009

strawberry & rhubarb cheesecake tart

strawberry & rhubarb cheesecake tart 1

Time is doing freaky things all over the place at the moment, and I don't like it. I keep intending to post a particular recipe that just-can't-wait, and then thinking, you know, 'shit, better post that asparagus tart before next year's asparagus turns up', or 'when is rhubarb season over'?

I don't know when rhubarb season is over, but I'm posting this in the hopes that the answer is Not Yet.

So that's annoying enough to keep track of, but you want to know what's really weird? My nineteenth birthday. The other day. Um, what? Nineteen is old. Nineteen is resolutely Not A Child. Nineteen sucks.

fruit picking 1strawberry & rhubarb cheesecake tart 5strawberry & rhubarb cheesecake tart 4fruit picking 2

Interesting fact for you: I was sixteen when I began Happy Love Strawberry. I mean, okay, it was like the day before my seventeenth birthday. But still! I was technically sixteen! And ever since, one thing I've heard a lot is 'I can't believe you're only 17/18/so young'. No longer!

I think I can feel my cells dying.

Anyway, since summer is going by crazyfast - does time do this as you get older? Oh my god, I'm having an age crisis here - I had to rethink the post I'd initially planned for today so I could share this with you before the last of the strawberries & rhubarb is lost to us. Lost, like my youth.

So: this recipe. You know when I fell in love with the brown sugar cinnamon pastry of my apricot galette, a few weeks ago? Well, I promised you'd see it again, and here it is; but this time, with a creamy layer of baked vanilla cheesecake between pastry and fruit - because everyone knows that anything is better with cheesecake involved. And yes, it's another big hit with my mother, especially warm from the oven and finished with a melting scoop of vanilla ice cream. Oh my.

strawberry & rhubarb cheesecake tart 2

Strawberry & Rhubarb Cheesecake Tart

I had no idea if I even liked rhubarb before making this tart - but yum, apparently I do. If you're dubious over it, you can definitely use all strawberries, but you'd need to reduce the sugar a little (likewise, if you wanted to use all rhubarb (900g/2lb), I'd up the sugar back to 85g/3oz; these were the original proportions in the recipe I based this upon).

This is the perfect late-summer dessert: a little sweet, a little tart, kind of wholesome, and wrapped in brown sugar cinnamon pastry. Do you think I've said those words enough times yet?

For the pastry:
150g (5oz) plain flour
(2oz) wholemeal flour
2 tsp cinnamon
(1 stick + 2 tbsp) cold butter, cut into small chunks
(3oz) light muscavado sugar
1 egg, separated

1 tbsp demerara sugar

1. Put the flour & cinnamon in a food processor and add the butter, processing to make fine crumbs. Reserve 2tbsp of the muscavado sugar, then add the remainder and the lemon zest, and briefly mix. Add the egg yolk and 1 tbsp water, then pulse to make a firm dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and briefly knead. Wrap in cling film and chill for 30 mins.

For the fruit:
juice of 1 whole lemon
strawberries, sliced
(2oz) caster sugar

2. Put the lemon juice in a pan with the rhubarb & caster sugar, and cook on a low heat til sugar is dissolved. Then cook for about 5 mins, tipping the strawberries in for the last minute or so (so they don't break up too much). It will be very juicy; tip it all into a sieve over a bowl and leave to cool.

Preheat oven to 200C.

For the cheesecake:
1 egg
finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon
full-fat soft cheese
g (2oz)
caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

3. Beat the egg in a bowl, then beat in soft cheese, sugar, vanilla and lemon zest.

4. Roll out pastry on a sheet of baking parchment to a roughly 12"/30cm round. Slide pastry & paper onto a large baking sheet. Spread cheesecake mixture over pastry to within 2"/5cm of the edges. Spread cooled fruit over top, then fold the pastry edges over the filling, leaving the centre exposed. Brush with reserved egg white & sprinkle with 1tbsp demerara sugar. Bake at 200C for 30mins.

5. Optional: While baking, heat the reserved juices with 50g sugar and boil for a few minutes until reduced to a thickish glaze (I left mine runny, for time reasons). Drizzle a little over the fruit to when out of the oven, and serve the rest warm, separately. Eat warm or hot with ice cream.

strawberry & rhubarb cheesecake tart 3

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

hazelnut white chocolate cake

hazelnut white chocolate cake wedge

Dear hazelnut white chocolate cake,

You have ruined my life.

There was a time when my family appreciated the baking I did for them. They 'ooh'ed and 'ahh'ed over Daring Baker challenges, and called things 'masterpieces', and stole sneaky squares out of cake tins in the middle of the night. They gave me actual useful feedback (well, some of them did: my little sister's idea of feedback is a scale of comparison to spaghetti carbonara). They suggested ideas for future baking, and so on. They said I didn't have to do the washing up, since I'd cooked. That was my favourite bit.

And then you came along.

hazelnut white chocolate cake

At first all seemed well. 'This is the best cake you've ever made!' my mother declared, cutting herself a second wedge. I thought ruefully of the hours of multiple-stage gateaux that have filled my life thus far, but did not complain. 'You have to make this cake every week from now on', my sister ordered me, with her mouth full.

I laughed. Oh, in my innocence, I laughed.

But I cannot escape you, hazelnut white chocolate cake! Not a day goes by without your squidgy, nutty memory haunting my every step. I write 'rhubarb' and 'flaked almonds' on the shopping list: my family crosses it out and writes 'hazelnuts' and 'white chocolate'! I mention my approaching birthday: they suggest a hazelnut white chocolate birthday cake! I point out that we are celebrating me here, not cake: they point out that they love the cake more than they love me. I retort, sulkily, that it is not THAT good a cake: they beat me with spatulas and locked me in my bedroom.

You see my predicament.

cross section

Oh, I too was charmed by you initially, hazelnut white chocolate cake. I too licked cream cheese frosting from my spatula and concluded, 'that's a pretty good cake'. Your dense, blondie-esque texture certainly appealed to me - but I swear this now, I am no longer taken in! I alone can resist your siren call!

If there is but one way to free myself from your power, my cake-y nemesis, I will seize it. And there is truly only one thing to do:

Bakers, Food-Bloggers, and Hungry Passerbys.

Take this recipe for hazelnut white chocolate cake! Take it to your kitchens, your hard-drive, your culinary-minded friends! Take it far from me, from my treacherous family: bake it, frost it, lick the batter from your KitchenAid paddle (oh, don't even try to pretend it's just me who does that). Our combined force is greater than the sway of this cake! We are stronger than it is!

...And, if it comes to it, we can eat it. Take THAT!

hazelnut white chocolate cake

Hazelnut White Chocolate Cake
Adapted from BBC Good Food magazine

It is true: this cake has thoroughly usurped my place in the family. In all honesty, I was a little taken aback at what a hit it was; while I did find it delicious, my family's reaction was something else. I have to warn you: this has got some very cross reviews on the Good Food website (people with their cakes tasting funny or not cooking properly), but, as always, I can only tell you that it was a big success for me.

The original recipe had 300g of sugar: this sounded a hell of a lot to me, especially with white chocolate in the mix, so I reduced it down to 200g. It certainly didn't need to be any higher (unless you have a chronically sweet tooth), but neither would I go any lower than 200g, I think. I wasn't sure if sugar affects the blondie-like texture of a cake like this; does anyone know if it makes a difference?

250g (1c. + 1tbsp) butter , plus a little extra for greasing
(5oz) white chocolate , broken into pieces
(1 c.) milk
1 tsp vanilla
(9oz) self-raising flour
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
(7oz) caster sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

for the frosting:
300g (10oz) full-fat cream cheese
(2/3 stick) butter , softened
(4oz) icing sugar , sifted
(2oz) hazelnuts, finely chopped

1. Heat oven to 160C. Grease a deep 9" cake tin and line the base with greaseproof paper.

2. Place the butter, white chocolate, milk and vanilla extract in a small saucepan, then heat gently, stirring, until melted. Combine the flour, bicarb and sugar in a large bowl with a pinch of salt, then stir in the melted ingredients and eggs until smooth.

3. Pour the batter into the tin, then bake for 1 hr, or until the cake is golden and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. [Because of the sugar content, the original recipe may get quite a dark crust; let it cook fully. My version is less dark as I reduced the sugar]. Cool in the tin. Once cool, the cake can be wrapped in cling film and foil, then frozen for up to 1 month.

4. To make the frosting, beat together the creamy cheese, butter and icing sugar until smooth. Fold in most of the nuts, spread over the cake, then scatter over the remaining nuts to finish.

hazelnut white chocolate cake

Friday, 7 August 2009

potted sandwich savouries

potted sandwich savouries

For most of the world, picnic season has been and gone. You've had barbecues, you've eaten ice cream in little wafer cones (with flakes! Ooh, I really want a flake), you've replaced hot meals with salad and ice-pops.

But, this is Britain.

Cue me talking about the weather for a bit, not that it's been anything I can't summarise with the word 'RUBBISH' (-Look at me, being all family-friendly). Our holiday activities are less planning picnics and more building arks.

potted prawn

But say you woke up tomorrow and it was gloriously sunny, and you just knew you couldn't go one more moment without dragging your friends to the nearest park, and kicking back on a picnic blanket with little triangular sandwiches and a Victoria sponge and a big jug of Pimms & lemonade.

...Wait, let me rephrase that. Say you woke up tomorrow and it was the Edwardian era...

Alright, but I've found that sometimes if you make plans with enough determination, sometimes the world co-operates, which is maybe how come we had our first sunny day in weeks today, when we'd decided to go to the beach ('come hell or high water', in my mum's words: I pointed out that high water was fairly likely), and when I coincidentally had just the sandwiches we needed to hand.

potted prawn + soda bread

Okay, so most people are unlikely to get too excited over this post. I understand. You're really holding out for the cake. But see, I can give you cake any day of the week (and my next post is gonna feature the most deliciously squidgy white chocolate and hazelnut number, so hold out for that). And in the meantime, how about adorable little dishes of potted prawns or chicken; set with tarragon or parsley scented butter until they're almost like pate, and perfect for spreading onto soft squares of white or brown bread and cutting into triangles - and then you could dip one edge into some finely chopped chives, just in case this isn't cute enough for you yet, and then you could display them in a little tumbling pile on a cakestand, and - why am I getting this enthusiastic over what is essentially sandwich filling?

Turns out I can get excited over just about anything, hm.

I made a quick loaf of
sodabread to spread these onto (mostly for photographic purposes, I admit) but sliced bread is probably best for sandwiches. Incidentally, don't mind the photos in which it isn't fully set and it seems to be swimming with butter; it's perfectly spreadable when left in the fridge.

soda bread

Potted Sandwich Savouries

These are adapted from 'You' magazine, a supplement with the Mail on Sunday (don't judge me; I like the sudoku), and even though I wasn't really sure what they, you know, were, they looked cute enough to try. Personally, I loved the prawn (which tasted more buttery) but my mum leaned towards the chicken (in which the tarragon flavour was more pronounced). They're definitely simple enough to try both, though.

For the chicken:
200g (7oz) cold skinless roast chicken (ideally dark meat, such as thighs)
1 tsp finely chopped tarragon
75g (2.5 oz) butter
salt & cayenne pepper, to taste
squeeze of lemon juice

1. Finely chop the chicken. Melt the butter in a large frying pan over a lowish heat and stir in the chicken and tarragon. Season well with salt & cayenne pepper, then remove from the heat and add a squeeze of lemon juice.

2. Pack the mixture into a small serving bowl or pot, cover with cling film (plastic wrap) and leave to cool and chill for several hours until fully set (like I absolutely haven't in the photographs). Use either as a sandwich filling or serve in the pot at the table, as a pate.

For the prawns:
Replace chicken with 200g shelled king prawns, rinsed and patted dry.
Replace tarragon with 1 tsp rinsed small capers & 1/4 tsp ground mace (I had neither, so used chopped flat leaf parsley)
75g (2.5 oz)
salt & cayenne pepper, to taste
squeeze of lemon juice

(Follow the same instructions as for the chicken, but using a food processor to finely chop the prawns)

potted prawn + soda bread