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Posts Tagged ‘cooking challenge’

I have been quiet… quiet but not idle.

After the glut of Christmas, I couldnt face another mouthful of pastry, sugar or butter loaded baking so like many others I decided to take a week or two off from my self inflicted cooking challenges and writing and come back to it all after a detoxifying break.

Then Somewhere over the cold evenings of January I discovered twitter.

Well I say discovered, I joined twitter a while ago but I didn’t really get it at first. I couldn’t get past the weird short hand and disjointed conversations. And then I must have just found the right sort of people to follow because suddenly I could spend hours reading messages from other bloggers and bakers and twittering away in response. And that’s how I missed January.

The whole month gone and not a single post. And I barely noticed because I was so busy overloading on other blogs and food chat. In the process, I made some new connections with other bloggers (I say connections because I feel one can’t call someone a friend until you have bonded over a glass of wine or at the very least seen each other in the flesh but I am excited to have found them nonetheless) and discovered some really cool things happening in Edinburgh centred around food. Farm shops and markets, supper clubs, guerilla burgher munching, food geek get togethers (connections plus wine equals new friends!) and I’m following some other clever people/ projects if you are looking for twitter inspiration.

So before I get so comfortable over on twitter that I stop writing altogether I thought I better put my focus back to my own blog and what I’m going to do with February.

It’s supposed to be retox month, end of the diet, hello junk. I’m trying to stay on the wagon a little longer than that this year so I’ve decided to learn a new skill that means I can store up the calories and ration them somewhat. And hopefully I’ll win a prize at the same time.

Thanks to family, I got all the jam making goodies I put on my Christmas wish list and February happens to be marmalade month. Seville oranges are in season and the Marmalade Awards are taking place in Dalemain at the end of the month. So this month’s project is preserves and first, marmalade. My marmalade partner in crime is my friend Dawn who is also a marmalade novice so we are entering the competition together.

Recipe and results of our novice jamming to follow soon but first a challenge. Having a kitchen cupboard full of marmalade got me thinking and I’ve decided to try a project of my own. I’m calling on everyone to make their own batch of preserves and enter them into a “jar swap”. You can make any kind of preserve and enter it. Jam, vinegars, pickles…sweet, savoury… anything you want. At the end of the month I’ll put all the entries in a hat and give everyone another person to send a jar of their preserve to. So you give a jar and you receive one in return. Its a bit of fun and a chance to share with other bloggers across the country.

I also happen to have a spare copy of River Cottage Preserves, thanks to an over zealous christmas fairy, so I’m going to give that away as a treat for the best preserve. Just post a comment on my blog by the 4th of March with a link to your entry, keep a jar in the cupboard, and I’ll send you the name of the person to send it to at the end of the competition and choose the winning recipe.

Happy Jamming! ♥

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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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As you may have realised by this point if you have read any of my other posts I’m a little christmas-mad. I wasnt always this way and I’m not entirely sure what happened but I think it was something to do with moving from the warm southern hemisphere (where christmas day consists of cold meat, salad and a dunk in the pool to maintain a temperature suitable for the continuation of life), to the cold climate of Scotland. I remember the first time I walked past a holly bush in Edinburgh that actually had holly berries on it and did a little jump-squeak-dance on the spot of excitement which must have really scared my fellow pedestrians. You don’t want to see me when it snows.

My favourite kind of post to read at this time of year is other blogger’s last minute ideas for christmas dishes, drinks and foodie presents just in case I’ve missed out on something I wont be able to continue life without eating/drinking/owning. And I’m equally as eager to share my own santa list and some recipes so that I am returning the favour to those with a similar compulsion.

Food

Here’s a selection  recipes from other blogs and my own with a Christmassy theme which I would recommend or have me interested.

      

Creamy Pea Soup – coconut milk makes this deliciously creamy and sweet and its the perfect cheerful green….   Spaghetti with Marmite (from Nigella) – when you’ve had enough of turkey….    Chocolate & Thyme Mousse – if you’re sick of Christmas pud….    Poached Pears (from Kosher Camembert) – festive and just stunning….   Chilli Glazed Gammon – warm and spicy….   Chestnut Chocolate Pots (from Nigella) – winter in a cup….   Parmesan, Rosemary and Pancetta Grissini – perfect for parties and gifts….   Gingerbread Latte Cupcakes – if Christmas had a smell….

Presents

Stomach sorted, presents next. Some ideas from my own Christmas list and other brilliant foodie gift ideas I’ve seen this year.

Le Creuset Stoneware Mixing Jug, AlmondThe basics – Stoneware Mixing Jug. 

Everyone needs a sturdy mixing bowl . I have a big metal one which is great because its light and good for whipping meringue but sometimes you need a heavy one that wont slide around the counter top while you are mixing. This one has the benefit of a pouring lip and Le Creuset good looks.

McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and CultureCook Books – McGee on Food & Cooking.

I love cookbooks that either have a narrative with the recipes or teach you about why you have to do things and the science behind culinary techniques so this book is on my wish list this year.

Its not Christmas to me without a good book to read on Christmas day after I’ve eaten so much I’ve lost the power of movement and speech and have to lie down (I know, aren’t I rock and roll).

Landing_page_beansSubscriptions – Kopi Gourmet Coffee.

My Delicious Magazine subscription is still one of my favourite presents but this is a subscription with a twist. If you know anyone who loves good coffee and drinks enough of it to receive a new bag every month then I think this is very clever.

Crafty – Jam making stuff.

I want to start making my own preserves and although I’ve started by making my own fruit mince without the aid of any special equipment its harder to make proper jams and other preserves without decent jars and strainers etc.

I have my eye on these jars  at Lakeland as well as a pile of other preserving related paraphenalia and books on amazon.co.uk

Andrew James Professional Fully Automatic Ice Cream Maker With Built-in Compressor + Free 128 Page Ice Cream Maker Cook BookGadgets – Ice Cream Maker

Every cook loves gadgets. My cupboards are already crammed full but I am dying to make my own ice cream. My head is brimming with recipe ideas but I’ve tried making it without an ice cream machine and it just doesnt come out the same.

I dont have space in my freezer or patience for the kind with a bowl you have to freeze so this one is a well priced version of the proper electric kind.

Christmas Cooking Challenge

And last but not least, don’t forget to join in my Mince Pie Challenge if you are making your own this year. The idea is to reinvent the standard formula with a twist of any kind but if you just want to share your traditional home-made pies you can still send me a link or photo and at the end of the month I’ll post the entries, pick a winner and send the best one a little surprise foodie christmas gift.  Just leave me a comment to let me know you are entering by the end of the Month.

I’ve started by making Nigella’s Rhubarb and Vanilla Mince which turned out to be delicious and I’m using that to try out different mince pie themed pastries and biscuits. Here’s the recipe if you want an alternative to the ordinary suet and citrus peel kind. The vanilla makes it really rich and velvety.

Rhubarb and Vanilla Fruit Mince

Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Feast.

  • 1kg rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 5mm slices
  • 300g soft brown sugar
  • 2 vanilla pods
  • 2 tsp ground mixed spice
  • 200g raisins
  • 250g sultanas
  • 225g currants
  • 2 tbsp cherry brand

Put the sliced rhubarb with the sugar into a large pan. Cut the vanilla pod in halves length ways and scrape out the seeds, then cut each half into pieces, adding seeds and pod slices to the pan. Add the mixed spice and cook for about 5 mins.

Add the dried fruits and simmer for about 30 mins. Stir in the brandy and take off the heat. When it’s cool enough to handle, bottle in jars.

Makes 1.25 litres.

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…he’s going to be living with us for the next Month.

He’s our Christmas pudding. And that bottle behind him is his medicine.

Its not very often that anything you cook hangs around your house for a whole month but since he’s going to be with us for a while, he’s my first Christmas pudding, and I have to feed him once a week… I’m already quite attached. It seemed only fitting to give him a name (and it had to be something grand of course).

Because you have to store your pudding somewhere cool and every room in our house is now almost constantly warmed by central heating, he’s living in a large tub at the top of the stairs to the front door which is the only cool part of the whole house. So I pass him every morning and evening as I am heading for the door. I’ll probably start saying hello soon.

You also have to look after your pudding. He needs fed once a week with brandy. It may seem like a lot of alcohol for one pudding but if I was sitting in the cold for four weeks, I would also need a fortifying spoon of liquor every now and then to keep me going.

So if you like the idea of a pet for Christmas, its not too late to make your own. Here’s a recipe with a bit of a twist if you like your pudding a little less traditional.

Cherries and Berries Christmas Pudding (aka Tarquin)

I’ve used cherries and berries instead of the plain mix of raisins, currants and mixed peel and cherry brandy instead of plain. As long as you have 350g fruit in total you can make your own combination. Of course I havent had a chance to taste it yet but going on smell alone, I think I’m going to enjoy eating Tarquin just as much as I like looking after him.

  • 100g dried blueberries
  • 100g berries and  dried fruit mix (mix of cherries, cranberries, blueberries and raisins)
  • 50g dried cranberries
  • 100g dried currants
  • 125ml cherry brandy
  • 90g unsalted butter
  • 75g breadcrumbs
  • 50g plain flour
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 75 dark brown sugar
  • 1 eating apple, grated
  • 2 medium size eggs
  • 70ml sour cream
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp all spice
  • 100ml vodka (for serving)

Butter a 3pint pudding basin and lid. The plastic ones are cheap and definitely less fuss than a bowl and foil top so although I normally don’t like having to find specialised cooking contraptions, in this case I make an exception (once you realise how easy it is to make a pudding you will use it every year too). Put the fruit and brandy in a pan, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 min. slice the butter over the fruit, put a lid on and leave to sit for another 10 min. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl, add the grated apple and then the fruit. Mix together the eggs, sour cream and vanilla and beat into the fruit mixture. If like me you allow yourself to get ridiculously over excited about Christmas and follow every daft tradition with an inane sense of glee then this is the point when you take your bowl around the house and get everyone to take a turn at stirring the pud (in my case that meant one bemused husband).

Once you have returned to the kitchen, spoon the pudding batter into the prepared basin and put on the lid. Place the basin in a large pot, pour water up to about half way up the sides and put on the pot lid. If you are not using a plastic basin that floats then you will need to place an upside down side plate in the bottom of the pot. You will also need to make sure you securely fasten a lid of kitchen foil and dont let any water get in which is not a problem with the plastic kind. Now bring the water to a gentle boil and steam the pudding for 4 hours, topping up the water as necessary. After 4 hours take the pudding out and leave it to cool before wrapping the basin in cling film and storing it somewhere cool and dark. Once a week, take your pudding out off his hiding place (its at this point that your pudding starts to develop a personality) and give him a tablespoon of cherry brandy before putting him back to bed.

When its time to serve, steam him for another 3-4 hours and turn out onto a serving dish. Warm the vodka, light it and pour the flaming liquid over the pudding (seems a little violent now that he’s a pet but what a way to go).

P.s. For thos of you who are interested, my topics for this month’s cooking challenges are as follows

  • Reinventing a classic – mince pies
  • Technical skills – french macarons
  •  As well as the usual “extraordinary flavours”

If you’d like to submit your own mince pie reinventions I will be doing a round up and there will be a little prize for the best one so please let me know if you are joining the challenge by leaving a comment/message, either on here or my facebook page, with a link to your post by the 31st December 2011 .

♥♥

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Success! After last week’s disastrous attempts I was sceptical about whether or not I was going to be able to say that.

Technical skills challenge

Thanks to a lot of encouraging advice from friends and family after my plea for help, I summoned the strength to try again on Saturday. So out came the blackberry crème patissiere (which I had to stash in the freezer while I regrouped – turns out it freezes very well by the way), piping bag and other paraphernalia and off I went again. This time I used a recipe with slightly less water (thank you Judy!) and  made a few other tweaks which I’ve highlighted in the recipe and as soon as the choux buns went into the oven I could tell this batch was going to behave itself.

So I have conquered my first technical challenge which should bring with it some sense of achievement… but the other thing I learnt this month was that profiteroles and I still don’t quite get on.

With most things you bake, the sense of  satisfaction hits as soon as they come out of the oven, risen and golden and just as you hoped. With choux pastry, the pressure only increases when they come out of the oven. Then one has to endure the excruciating process of waiting for the last possible moment to fill them and hope that somebody eats the last one before the pastry goes all soft and frankly, inedible (I can’t bear to throw pastries in the bin, its like abandoning children). So profiteroles just don’t have that soothing effect that one gets from preparing cakes and the like and knowing your work here is done.

Having said all that I am still just a little proud of myself, and I think I’ll make them again, as more of a pudding, with a hot sauce and ready and waiting mouths to eat them all at once, which I think is how best to enjoy them.

Extraordinary Flavours

You’ve probably also noticed that these little guys are flaunting a fairly unorthodox flavour combination, because this is my November “extraordinary flavours challenge” entry as well. This idea started with Whittards flavoured tea again but this time it was a bag of Amaretto fruit infusion that got me thinking. The infusion is made up of dried almonds, rose hips and blackberries amongst other things and the fruity and yet aromatic wafts off a cup of this brewed with hot water made me think about winter fruits and warm spicy flavours and how well they support each other (think cinnamon and apples). So my brain wandered from there through various potential combinations until my stomach arrived at blackberry and chai. It definitely works… and makes you sound awfully posh in front of your guests when combined with the word profiterole. If you like the flavour idea but you don’t want to make profiteroles or you want to make something to give as a gift that has a bit more shelf life then you could just as easily use the same  idea for biscuits or cupcakes. Flavour the base with either the fruit or the tea and use the other one for the filling/icing.

The recipe

Adapted from a choux pastry recipe collected by my aunt Judy from a South African Fair Lady Magazine. The basic crème patissiere recipe is adapted from this one.

Pastry

  • 50g butter
  • 125ml water
  • 70g sifted flour
  • 2ml salt
  • 2 medium eggs

Crème Patissiere

  • 50g butter
  • 3 tbsp castor sugar
  • 1 egg and 2 egg yolks
  • 400ml milk
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • half a cup of freeze dried blackberry powder
  • 1 tbsp Whittards Amaretto fruit infusion (optional – it gives the filling an extra nutty floral flavour and it was the inspiration for this recipe but not essential)

Chai topping

  • 100g white chocolate
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 spiced chai teabag and a little milk or cream

Make the creme patissiere first. Put the cornflour and sugar in a bowl and stir in the eggs to make a paste. Add the split vanilla pod and the fruit infusion if using, to the milk and bring to a simmer. Sieve the milk into a bowl to remove the dried fruit and pod and scrape any remaining vanilla seeds into the mixture. Pour onto the eggs, stirring constantly, then return to the pan and stir over a low heat until the mixture thickens. Pour into a bowl and mix in the blackberry powder.Cover with cling film and leave to cool before chilling in the fridge.

For the choux pastry, put butter and water into a saucepan and gently melt the butter.  Bring to the boil, take off the heat and tip in the mixture of flour and salt. Return to the stove and beat for 1-2 mins or until mixture is smooth and leaves the sides of the saucepan.  Leave 5 – 10 mins to cool.  Add the eggs a little at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition (with an electric mixer to beat in enough air) to make a smooth , shiny paste that will hold its shape.

Pipe 7cm circles onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and bake at 200C for 20 -30 minutes, or until well risen and golden. If you have a hot oven like mine then turn the oven down after 10 min to about 170C so that they don’t burn. Remove from the oven and make a slit in the side to release the steam. Dry out for another 5 min in the cool oven if necessary (I found they didn’t need it this time round).

To make the topping, melt the chocolate in a pan over a pot of boiling water. Infuse the chai teabag in just enough cream or milk to soak the tea bag and stir over a low heat to concentrate. Drain the teabag and add about a tsp of this to the chocolate, not too much or it wont set. Stir in the spices and cool slightly. Dip the top of each profiterole in the ganache and sprinkle with blackberry powder. Set aside to cool and set. You can do this before you fill them as it doesn’t seem to soften the pastry too much. If you were making this as a pudding you could also add more cream or milk to make a warm chocolate sauce and pour over the profiteroles at the last minute.

Pipe in the filling just before you serve them (ideally no more than an hour beforehand or they will get soft) by poking the nozzle through the bottom of the profiterole or by cutting them in half and replacing the lids after you have filled them.

Here are the lessons I learned so that you can avoid the same initial misfortune:

  • Use the ratio of water to flour as I have above and keep stirring the flour/water mix over the heat for 1-2 min to remove some of the moisture
  • Be careful with your oven temperature – you don’t want the initial heat to make them rise but if your oven is hot you need to turn it down to avoid burnt outsides and soggy deflating insides
  • Use an electric beater if you have one to mix in the eggs otherwise you don’t get enough air and a stiff enough batter
  • Try to pipe or spoon them as neatly as you can as lopsided piping or upward tails makes them go a bit wonky when they rise (although if this is your only problem then you are doing fine)

I’d love to know if this recipe works for other people so please let me know if you try it and even better send me your own flavour ideas! Next month I’ll be posting my challenge subjects at the beginning of the month so that you can enter your own versions if you’re feeling competitive!

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It started so well.

Milk gently infused with dried almonds, rosehip, hibiscus, apple and blackcurrant…

Whisked into crème patisserie and folded with freeze dried blackberries…

And then, as if to remind me why I started this challenge in the first place, and swiftly deflate my sense of beginners enthusiasm, this happened…

Exhibit A…

Exhibit B…

Crumpled and deflated profiteroles with soul-destroyingly sad, soggy centres.

Before you say it, keeping them in the oven for another 5-10 minutes made no difference whatsoever. And should you be thinking it was just a one off beginner’s mistake…I have made them twice since Sunday and on both occasions I was left with exhibit A and B…not once, twice…heart breaking…

And so the first post in my technical skills challenge (choux pastry this month in case you hadn’t cottoned on by now) becomes a plea for help.  I did try and leave the first batch in longer to see if the dough would cook through but this only served to over cook the outside and leave the insides in the same miserable state. After attempt number one I thought I might have left too much moisture in the dough after the first step and perhaps had too hot an oven but switching to a recipe with slightly less water (150ml water to 75g flour and 50g butter) and adjusting my oven, which does tend to be a bit hot, to 190 degrees instead of 200…nothing. The same soggy middle and uninspiring flump as soon as I took them out of the oven. I realise the photos dont win any awards either but why you would want to take the time to properly photograph such a crushing defeat.

So I now sit here in front of my laptop in despair. The worst part is I had decided to combine my technical challenge with my flavour challenge in one recipe which means I have nothing to show for either until I get over my inexplicable nightmare. Which is where I need help… if any of you have made choux pastry before and can provide any insight into what I’m doing wrong, please please  send instructions! My culinary education and my pride (I cant fail at the first real challenge) depends on your help.

If you are as inexperienced as I am on the matter then at least take comfort in knowing you are not alone. There’s nothing more annoying than those people who can create magazine worthy creations on their first attempt…

…no danger of that then. ♥

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