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Sourdough

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My first step towards ethical eating is to start making my own bread. Properly. No edible paperweights.

If I let myself regularly visit a bakery I will spend a fortune and neither of our waistlines will thank me but if I make my own I can at least manage the cost aspect. Keeping a sourdough starter seems the simplest and cheapest option and the most satisfying for the baker. Well that’s assuming I get it working!

I opted to start with rye flour because it’s apparently a bit kinder and after feeding my experiment with flour and water for 9 days it seemed to be going pretty well. Yeasty bubbles and everything. On day 9 I decided it looked ready to bake with so I put 200g of my starter with 100g wholewheat flour and 300g strong white flour, roughly 235ml warm water and 1tsp salt. I kneaded and left to prove for a couple of hours. When I went to bed it hadn’t risen much at all so I put it in the fridge over night, took it out in the morning and left to rise while I was at work. When I got home it had risen although still not spectacularly but I figured by that point it was probably in danger of overproving so I stuck it in the hottest oven for about 30 minutes and above is what came out.

The flavour was good and it was edible but very doughy, almost as though it hadn’t baked long enough. I don’t think that would have helped though, suspect it was either my starter wasn’t ready yet, bad proving or I didn’t knead enough. So my starter is in the fridge and will be back out next week for more feeding until I get this right!

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This is what I’ve been up to.

Ive been cooking mad since we moved and I got into my new kitchen but we’ve been so busy I havent found time to bake. Whilst browsing the fridge this weekend I noticed a surplus of eggs and a surplus of lemons and since we’re going away soon (oh yes I may not have mentioned but I’m going to see some SUN shortly, excited much?!)… I thought lemon cake was in order.

I love making simple pound cakes in a bundt tin as the end result is a little more exotic than a plain loaf or  round sponge. As you can probably tell the volume of batter wasn’t quite tailored to the size of my tin though so he’s a little vertically challenged. That will teach me to mix up recipes and baking utensils without doing my homework properly.

The recipe is also something of a mongrel. The recipe I had in my head to begin with is from Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros. It’s a recipe for little lemon cakes which are just bursting with flavour but you make them in ramekins and Ive found the batter doesnt rise as well if you try to bake the same recipe in a tin as a single cake. So instead I opted for my usual sponge recipe (which comes from Jamie Oliver), flavoured with extra lemon and I nicked his lemon syrup instructions from another of his recipes for lemon drizzle cake (His Nan’s to be specific – I wasn’t using poppy seeds and the proportions were a lot less otherwise I would have just followed the whole recipe).

Triple Lemon Sponge Cake

I’ve written out the recipe as although its easy enough I can write it from memory, I combined so many bits and pieces from different places that it would be unnecessarily complicated to repeat should you wish to, but you can find a copy of Tessa’s book here which I wholly recommend and if you want to try Jamie’s lemon drizzle in its unadulterated form you can find the recipe here.

Sponge

  • 225g softened butter
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 225g self raising flour (or plain flour with 1 tsp of baking powder)
  • juice and zest of 1 lemon

Syrup

  • 50g caster sugar
  • juice of 1 lemon

Icing

  • 40g icing sugar
  • juice of half a lemon (mine was a small lemon so about 1 tbsp)

preheat the oven to 180 and butter and flour your tin of choice (a std spring form or two sandwich tins would fit the batter best).

Beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating them in well. Fold in the flour and then add the lemon juice and zest. Mix until its combined and pour into the tin. Bake for 20-30 minutes until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Turn out onto a rack to cool.

Before the cake cools, make the syrup by combing the lemon juice and sugar in a pan and heating until the sugar melts. Pour over the sponge and leave to cool completely before icing. Note, if you don’t add the syrup while the cake is warm it wont seep all the way through. Your cake will by no means be ruined but the lovely lemony stickiness will be restricted to the top layer (I remember to warn you because guests arrived as I was taking this one out of the oven and this is exactly what I did).

Make the icing by mixing the remaining lemon juice and icing sugar and drizzle over the top. Et Voila!

Speaking of lemons, the post I promised about the July TFGE meal, Prawn and Chilli Risotto and Lemon and Pinenut Summertime Tagliarini is up on the site now if you need some more reading material.

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I know I’ve been neglectful again. My excuse this time is moving house. I couldn’t find time (or space) amidst the boxes and endless cleaning. Guilt has now got the better of me but we dont move into our new house for another week so I am lacking in recipe books and cooking opportunities.

I feel my blog is glaring at me though so I’m using the hiatus to post the things that have been lingering in my recipe folder but havent yet made it to print. While I was writing this up I was thinking how much has changed since I started baking in earnest a few years ago. I have always loved food but I used to be a hopeless baker. I can remember Dawn who is now my baking partner in crime, teaching me how to make a simple sponge cake. I was so surprised that it worked.

Now I’m able to tweak and even create my own recipes and although I still make some disasters, most of my so called failures are still edible. This cake didnt make it on to the blog before because although my experiment with the flavours worked I didnt get the finish right and its looks didnt do it very much justice.  But despite its looks it was delicious so Ive decided to post it now before the rhubarb season is completely over and the recipe is useless to anyone for another year.

Rhubarb and Almond Cake

  • 100g rhubarb, chopped into cubes
  • 175g brown sugar
  • 60ml melted butter or vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 300g plain flour
  • 1 tspn salt
  • 1 tspn bicarbonate of soda
  • 125ml milk
  • 25g toasted flaked almonds
Preheat oven to 180 C and line and grease a bread tin. Beat the brown sugar, butter/oil, egg and almond extract together in a bowl. Combine the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda and fold into the sugar mixture, alternating with the milk. Beat until smooth and then stir in the rhubarb and almonds. Spoon into the tin and bake for 35-40 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Cool on a rack and slice to serve.
If you like you can make a simple icing with 1/2 a cup of icing sugar, 1/2 a tsp almond extract and enough water to make a pouring consistency. Add a drop of pink food colouring to echo the rhubarb.
As if to remind me I still make mistakes, I thought I could get away without lining my tin and this one stuck to the bottom a bit. So make sure you line your tin but you wont get to scrape out and eat the sticky bits with a spoon while you wait for it to cool.

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I promised to post some more wild garlic recipes… I made these flat breads on Saturday with a wild garlic butter roast chicken and potato salad for some friends.

As usual I got carried away serving and eating and forgot to take pictures of anything besides the flat breads. I cant bear to read a cookbook with no pictures to keep my stomach engaged while my mind is wandering over the words so I will apologise for the limited visuals here and you will have to take my word for it that the chicken was lovely too and worth trying out instead of the usual herb butter under the skin.

The wild garlic gives the flat breads a lovely pale green tinge as well as a faint hint of garlic flavour and stuffing the butter under the chicken skin leaves the meat beneath with the same gentle after glow of garlic rather than the overpowering bear hug of garlic you would get if you tried to put this much of the normal stuff into one dish.

The chicken needs no recipe – just stuff about 125g of wild garlic butter under the chicken skin  (garlic butter recipe, if you can call it that, is available on my wild garlic post for totalfoodgeeks.com)and roast as normal. I also stuff half a lemon up its deriere for good measure.

The basic flat bread recipe is adapted from one by Jamie Oliver for jalapeno flatbreads, also very good and basically idiot proof. When it comes to bread, I am the idot.

Wild Garlic Flat Breads

  • 300g self raising flour
  • 280ml greek yoghurt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3 tbsp wild garlic, chopped or wild garlic pesto (pesto recipe also on totalfoodgeeks.com)

Mix the flour and baking powder in one bowl. In another bowl mix the yoghurt and wild garlic and add to the flour. Mix until the dough comes together, then turn out onto a floured surface and knead gently until smooth. Divide into 8 portions and roll each one out into a flat circle. Preheat a  dry frying pan over a med-high heat and cook each flat bread for a few minutes each side. flip them over when bubbles start to swell in the dough and the bottom is browned. You can keep them warm on a tray in a low oven while you cook the rest.

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Where to start… its been busy at Chez Clarkson.

Despite my determined efforts to unglue myself from twitter and spend more time on my blog I managed to get side tracked again. In fairness we are putting our house on the market so the last few weeks have been given over to last minute decorating and spring cleaning and any spare time I’ve had I have chosen to do food related things rather than write about them! So this post is a random scattering of all the things that have been pinging around in my head lately but havent managed to make it to page because I was too busy holding a paintbrush and a pot of paint.

As a result of all my twittering, I discovered Total Food Geeks and last week I put down the vacuum cleaner and dragged Dawn to their open night for a couple of hours. TFG is an Edinburgh foodie community and a blog that shares all kinds of food related news and information (they word that a lot better if you want to have a look for yourself). The evening started with a rather traumatising/hysterical parking episode because parking in Edinburgh centre is hard enough at the best of times and the council happened to have decided to close George street on the same night but after much driving in circles and getting flashed at by other drivers (including a bus) we eventually found a space and arrived at Underdogs a little late. Because we were late and driving (i.e. only one glass of wine for Dawn and for me in sympathy), we didn’t really get into the full swing of things as planned but we did meet Georgia and Emily who started the group and were lovely and told us a bit more about what goes on. Just taking the first step towards meeting other foodies was a great event in itself and as soon as I assuage my guilt by drafting this post I will be writing up my details to join in the activities over on the TFG website (very excited and somewhat nervous about this but trying to limit the number of exclamation marks so you dont feel like I’m shouting at you). Next time though I am definitely taking the bus and hitting the vino!

(vino always requires a !)

Photo courtesy of the ladies from Total Food Geeks as I was too awe struck to snap my own.

One of the reasons I’m a little nervous about signing myself up for things like TFG is because I’m not a professional writer and the complete lack of enthusiasm for my last jar swap idea didnt exactly prove me otherwise. So I’m trying not to draw attention to it really, but I promised to share the marmalade recipe and we did actually learn a lot about what worked/didnt so here it is, accompanied by a picture of our dressed jars that we entered into the marmalade awards.

Jack n’ Toast? – seville orange with a dash of bourbon

Vanilla Ma’amalade – seville orange and vanilla for her Majesty

Paddington’s Special – good plain old seville orange (our silver award)

Update! I’ve just had to edit this paragraph before publishing it as although I thought we had won absolutely nothing, an envelope arrived in the post today announcing that we had in fact been given a silver for our novice entry and two merits for our other two! So we didnt actually win but I’m pretty proud nonetheless. And I will draw your attention to our choice of names… we thought we were extremely witty!

Vanilla Marmalade

We made two batches from different recipes and found that parts of each were the most successful so this recipe is a combination of the British Larder and River Cottage versions.

  • 1kg seville oranges
  • 1 vanilla pod, split in half and seeds scraped out
  • 2kg granulated sugar or jam sugar (not the added pectin one)
  • 2 litres water (2.5 litres made the marmalade difficult to set)

Scrub the oranges, remove the buttons at the top of the fruit, then cut in half. Squeeze out the juice and keep to one side. Slice the peel, pith and all, into shreds (we removed a little of the pith to get prettier slices). Put the sliced peel into a bowl with the orange juice and cover with the water. Leave to soak overnight or for up to 24 hours (we found the soaking made the marmalade taste much better and less bitter).

Transfer the mixture to a preserving pan (we put the pulp and seeds in a muslin bag and added them as well), add the vanilla bean and vanilla seeds, and the lemon juice. Bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Boil rapidly until setting point is reached, about 20-25 minutes. Remove from the heat. Leave to cool for 8-10 minutes then stir gently to disperse any scum. Pour into warm, sterilised jars and seal immediately.

Now back to my commitment to writing. Ive been thinking about this blog, what I enjoying writing about and what is most useful to others who read it, and in addition to (hopefully) posting on TFG now and then I think I’m going to write more short posts in future as soon as I find things that I think are noteworthy, rather than waiting until I have a successful recipe to share. Somewhere between a twitter update and a full blown story.

So to start as I mean to go on…

I made this caramel cake yesterday from Dan Lepard’s cookbook Short and Sweet, but substitued almonds for hazelnuts and although I didn’t manage to entice the surveyor into having a slice while he was doing our home report (blatant attempt to boost property prices with baked goods I’m afraid), I’m quite glad because I have it all to myself now. The dulche de leche icing is the best part. You can get the recipe here and I recommend you do.

And last but not least, I have also booked tickets for Aoife Behan’s supper club in April.

The theme is tea.

Its my first supper club.

I am beside myself.

Almost wish I hadn’t shared it now actually. Best hit publish before I change my mind…

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My reinvention challenge for December was the humble mince pie. It may seem a little late to be posting mince pie recipes but if you made your own mince and you still have some left over then there’s no reason why you cant still make these in January to use it up. Otherwise hopefully they’ll provide a little inspiration to be bookmarked for next year.

The first result of much experimenting and fiddling was mince pie thumb print biscuits. These are roughly based on my mom’s recipe for melting moments, turned into thumb prints and filled with fruit mince and white icing. The biscuit base is not disimilar to crumbly buttery short crust pastry and you still get a sticky hit of mince in the middle so they are really just a much simpler version of making your own pies.

Mince Pie Thumb Print Biscuits

  • 170g butter
  • 60g icing sugar
  • 170g plain flour
  • 60g custard powder
  • 1 jar of fruit mince (I used home made rhubarb and vanilla mince)
  • about 1 cup more icing sugar to finish

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Cream the butter and icing sugar in one bowl and mix the flour and custard powder in another. Mix these two together until you have a stiff dough. Make walnut sized balls and flatten them slightly. Place on a lined baking tray about 1inch apart and make a dent in the middle of each one (either with your thumb or something else round if you want a more professional finish). Fill the dent with fruit mince and bake in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes (keep an eye on them so they don’t burn). Leave to cool on a wire rack and then make the icing. Add water to the icing sugar, one tsp at a time until you get the icing to the right consistency (you can make it as stiff or runny as you like) and spoon over the top. Leave to set and then store in an airtight container.

For my second recipe I went a little further outside the box and came up with these mince meringue pies. These are basically a normal mince pie on the bottom but with an orange meringue top instead of pastry (think mince pie meets lemon meringue). They’re very pretty (well they would be if I practise my piping a bit more) and the orange scented meringue adds an extra soft but crispy texture.

Mince and Orange Meringue Pies

  • 375g shortcrust pastry (I used ready made for this because I haven’t mastered it myself yet and I had a lot on the go at the time so it was easier)
  • 1 jar fruit mince (again I used home made rhubarb and vanilla mince)
  • 2 egg whites
  • 100g castor sugar
  • 1/4 tsp orange essence

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Roll out the pastry to about 5mm and cut out circles to fit your mini tart tray (slightly larger than the diameter of the holes). Line each hole with a circle of pastry, prick with a fork and chill for 20 min in the fridge. Line the tart bases with baking paper and baking beans and blind bake for about 10 min. Remove the papers and bake for another 5-10 minutes until very lightly golden. Set aside to cool and then fill each with fruit mince.

Make the meringue by whisking the egg whites until fluffly, adding the sugar and then beating until stiff peaks form. Place in a piping bag and pipe on to the top of the pies in any pattern you like (or otherwise just spoon the meringue on to each one). Place back in the oven for about 20 minutes until golden brown and then cool slightly before serving. They are best served straight away but will keep in an airtight container for a few days.

Last but not least, a very out of the box mince pie recipe. I unfortunately dont have a picture because they were made and completely consumed at some stupid hour in the morning over Christmas but they were so good I have to post the recipe anyway. These taste just like a mince pie in liquid form, with the added benefit of an alcoholic kick. What could be wrong with that?

Mince Pie Martinis

  • 2 shots mince pie vodka (see below)
  • 4 shots pineapple juice (you can add more juice if you find this ratio too strong)
  • Cocktail shaker
  • Handful of ice cubes

You have to make the mince pie vodka in advance. You can make as much or little as you like but add about 60ml of fruit mince per 500ml vodka, mix together and leave to steep in an airtight bottle or container for at least a few days.  Then filter the vodka by pouring through a fine muslin strainer and store back into the container until you need it.

To make the cocktail combine the ice, vodka and pineapple juice in a cocktail shaker and shake violently for a few seconds. Pour into a glass and you should get a layer of creamy foam on the top like a french martini. Garnish with cinnamon or orange if you like and serve.

I have one jar of rhubarb and vanilla mince left and I think I’m going to use it to make more vodka  because these were so good and I cant wait another 12months to have another one.

Finally, a few other bloggers joined in the mince baking and as promised I said I would send a late present from santa to the one with the best reinvention recipe.

Angela from Garden, Tea, Cakes and Me made perfect traditional mince pies and then made some even more stunning ones topped with sugar paste snowflakes and trees…

Choclette from Chocolate Log blog made orange and chocolate mince pies with her own home made chocolate mincemeat which made my mouth water…

And Emma from Kitchen Goddess (in training) made beautiful traditional mince pies as well as sharing her recipe for mincemeat bread and butter pudding as a very clever way to use up mincemeat and reinvent the mince pie. Until Emma posts the recipe herself you can find it in her comment on my post here.

I would happily eat any of these recipes and they all look beautiful but for being the most in keeping with the theme of reinvention I think the winner has to be Choclette’s Orange and Chocolate mince pies which sound absolutely delicious. Its only a bit of fun but I promised a little present to the best recipe so I will be in touch to get your address Choclette and thank you all for sharing your recipes!

On that note… Happy New Year to all and may 2012 bring you plenty of good food and happiness! ♥

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My December technical skills challenge was french macarons. I did sucessfully make macarons a year ago but having tried to make them again and met with major disaster I didnt think I could honestly say I had mastered the technique. It turns out I needed another three messy attempts to get the hang of the macaronage, piping and my oven and I have a lot of tasty but hideous empty macaron shells in my freezer to use in a crumble or something else in which they can hide their unattractive faces.

One batch were such a chewy castastrophe they didnt even make it into the freezer but finally I landed up with a socially acceptable batch of orange macarons, which I filled with a balsamic meringue filling. This was another attempt at creating some new extraordinary flavours and although I had an idea of the end result and could picture the two working well, the balsamic  meringue turned out even better than I thought. It has a sweet burnt caramel flavour that isn’t vinegary at all and I’m dying to try it with strawberries and cream.

Orange and Balsamic Macarons

I dont see any point in writing another guide to getting your macaron technique correct as there are already so many good ones out there but I will say that although they arent as scary as some will have you believe it does take a few attempts to get them just right and it is worth reading a few of the guides before you start. My recipe is adapted from the basic french macaron recipe in Les Petit Macarons by Kathryn Gordon and Anne E. McBride.

Shells

  • 165g almond flour
  • 165g icing sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 150g castor sugar
  • 115g egg whites (from about 4 eggs – I dont bother to age them and it doesnt seem to make any difference)
  • 3g cream of tartar or a few drops of lemon juice
  • few drops orange (or a mix of yellow and red) food colouring
  • 1/4 tsp orange essence

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C (200 fan) and line 2 baking sheets with baking parchment. Blend the almond flour and icing sugar in a blender, sift and repeat a few times until they are as finely ground as possible. Whisk the egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar/lemon juice together and then continue to whisk with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form (about 11 min).

Fold the almond mixture into the meringue with a spatula until almost incorporated. Add the food colouring and orange essence and finish folding until the mixture is homogeneous and drops off the spatula in a lava like consistency. You dont want the batter to be too stiff or too runny so you have to be careful.

Spoon the batter into a piping bag with a 1/2 inch tip and pipe round discs onto the baking sheets (using a circle temple under the baking paper makes this a lot easier). Slam the baking sheet on the worktop to remove air bubbles and leave to sit for 20-30 min which allows the shell to dry out. Place in the oven for 3 minutes and then turn the heat down to 160 (140 fan) and bake another 6 minutes. I found the initial increased heat along with the right batter consistency helped feet to form and stopped the shells being uneven or bursting.

Filling

  • 3 egg whites
  • 400g golden syrup
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1g salt
  • 200g butter cubed (optional – it makes the filling nice and creamy but if i was using the meringue for something else or wanted to cook it I might leave it out)

Put the vinegar in a saucepan and simmer until reduced by about half and syrupy. Add the golden syrup and bring to the boil. Continue to boil until the mixture reaches 115 degrees C.

Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Once the syrup is ready, slowly pour it into the eggs whites whilst whisking continuously. Keep whisking until stiff peaks form and the meringue has cooled (about 8 min). Add the salt and butter and whisk until smooth and fluffy.

Place in a piping bag, pipe a small amount onto half the macaron shells and top with the other half. Store in the fridge for up to three days or freeze for up to three weeks.

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