Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Roast garlic and mozzarella bread

Today's recipe is a slight twist on the good old garlic bread. This time I decided to make garlic breads using roasted garlic. Roasting the garlic takes away that bitter harshness that raw garlic has, it's much more soft and sweet. I think it's perfect for slightly more subtle garlic bread that don't just scream "I'm a garlic bread and you will repel people for a week after eating me" but instead tempt you to devour multiple of these tasty breads and savour the soft undertones of garlic and still be able to go to work the next morning. 

Roasting the garlic can be done ahead of time, even the day before. I made these for a dinner party recently, and I prepared the garlic butter in the morning, and before dinner all I needed to do was butter slices of bread, cut some mozzarella on top and bake them until golden brown. I haven't added any quantities to the recipe, as one garlic makes plenty of garlic butter (you can keep it in the fridge in a sealed jar for a few days), so you can make as many garlic breads as you need really.

Roast garlic and mozzarella bread:
1 whole garlic
about 100 g butter 
slices of bread of your choice (I used a cheese bread for extra cheesiness)
thinly slized mozzarella (or grated would work as well)

The howto: 
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. Wrap the garlic in foil and roast for an hour. Let cool completely. Separate the cloves of garlic. By squeezing the garlic clove, the puree-like roasted flesh will come out of the skin (your hands will have a lovely scent of garlic after doing this, if this doesn't appeal to you, just wear disposable gloves) and mix the garlic with butter. If you use unsalted butter, add a pinch of salt. You can keep the butter in a tightly sealed jar in the fridge for a few days.

When you want to make your bread, preheat oven to 230 degrees. Cut slices of bread of choice and smear with butter (more or less depending on your taste). Top with a slice of mozzarella. Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes until golden brown. Serve immediately.

The verdict:
I made these for a dinner party and they all disappeared very quickly. I think that's all I need to say. Are they health food? Of course not. Are they good? Oh yes. Perfect to serve with a tasty soup or as a starter. 

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Sundried tomato and goat's cheese muffins

Isn't it just amazing what you can find on the internet. I just had a mad idea cross my mind the other day - how about making sundried tomato and goats cheese muffins. And upon googling I came across a recipe for just that. I'm starting to wonder if there is any recipe at all that you wouldn't find on Google. I dare you!

Anyhow, I found a recipe that looked very good on Domestic Sluttery. I made a few changes to accomodate the ingredients I had available. These muffins were so easy to put together, it only takes a few minutes. I served them as a side to a wonderful soup I made (more on that soon) and it was so easy to put the dough together and assemble the muffins in the muffin tin before my guests arrived, and then just pop them in the oven half an hour before dinner. 

Sundried tomato and goats cheese muffins (makes 10-12 muffins):
75 g wholewheat flour
325 g strong white flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
3 eggs
250 ml milk
1 jar (190 g) sundried tomato paste, or chopped sundried tomatoes
100 g goats cheese
2-3 tbsp grated cheddar

The howto:
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. In a bowl, mix the flours, baking powder, salt, pepper and oregano. In another bowl, mix eggs, milk and sundried tomatoes. Combine the liquid into the dry ingredients. Don't mix more than needed to, just enough to combine the ingredients. Take a heaped tablespoon of batter and place at the bottom of 10-12 muffin tins. I didn't butter or line my muffin tin, but if you want your muffins to come off the tins easily, use paper or silicon muffin liners. Divide the goats cheese into as many pieces as you have muffins, pop the cheese in the middle of the muffin, and add another heaped tablespoon of batter on top. Sprinkle lightly with grated cheddar. Bake for about 20 minutes until golden and well risen.

The verdict:
These muffins turned out absolutely fantastic. They rose beautifully in the oven, were fluffy and light. The sun dried tomato added a fantastic flavour and the heart of goats cheese was a perfect little surprised. However, to have a more even distribution of goats cheese, next time I think I might cut the cheese in small cubes and add it to the batter itself. 

The muffins are best when eaten warm. You can pop them in the microwave for about 30 seconds or so if you have any leftovers for the next day. You can replace the sundried tomatoes and goats cheese with pretty much any savoury flavourings you like, for example olives, any other cheese, nuts, smoked salmon, pieces of pepperoni or chorizo or anything else you can think of. I loved the wonderful flavour of the sundried tomato, and the lovely red colour it gave the muffins. 

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Pork chops and apple

Have you ever been really upset by something you have been watching on TV? We have been watching Breaking Bad (I know, I'm very late with it, but as it was such a phenomenon, now that I finally broke down and got us Netflix I thought I would check it out). And it has upset me to no end. I used to have quite a high tolerance of TV violence and cruelty. I don't know if it's just me getting older, or if it's because I didn't have a TV for many years and I wasn't exposed to any of it, but I find I get very upset by the violence these days. I keep bursting out in tears mid-show, and having terrible nightmares. I'm happy we only have one episode of the show to go, as it upsets me so badly. From now on I have decided to avoid TV as much as possible, apart from a few very gentle shows like Downton Abbey, Great British Bakeoff and such. I just think there is plenty of cruelty and violence in the world without having to expose myself to made up violence also. I'm just rather surprised at how strongly I have been reacting to it all. But it just seems so incredibly over-indulgent. 

Anyhow, amongst all of my emotional turmoil over made-up stories, it's nice that I have been treated to delicious food. Today's recipe is another Culinary Consultant original. Seems like it's mostly his cooking keeping this blog alive these days. I do cook a little bit, but he has been in charge of most of the everyday cooking. I mostly prepare salads for work lunch. They consist of pretty much the same thing every day - lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes and sweet peppers along with either chicken or eggs, and maybe some avocado if I'm really treating myself. That doesn't much of a blog post make. So luckily the Culinary Consultant has a newfound interest in creating new and exciting dishes so I can mostly focus on baking to keep feeding my carboholicism.

Pork chops with apple (serves 6):
6 pork chops
100 g (1/2 jar) sundried tomato paste
2 large cloves of garlic
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup Henderson's Relish (or replace with Worcestershire sauce)
1/2 large cooking apple

The Howto:
Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Finely chop garlic and mix with tomato paste. Place pork chops in an oven proof dish. Spread the tomato and garlic paste onto the pork chops. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle balsamic vinegar, relish and oil over the chops. Decoratively place sliced apple onto the chops (this is a direct quote from the Culinary Consultant). Cook in 180 degrees C for about 45-50 minutes until the pork chops are cooked through. 

The Verdict:
This was another Culinary Consultant success story. The combination of sundried tomatoes and the sweetness from the cooked, mushy apple go perfectly with the pork. If you caught the Culinary Consultant's Pork and Chorizo stew earlier, you know I'm not a huge fan of pork. However, as we have been trying to be sensible about our grocery shopping and grab onto a good deal when we find one, we have bought a pack of pork here and there. And just like the stew, I found this so delicious I didn't mind the fact that it was pork at all. It's so great when someone else is cooking, they come up with different flavour combinations than what you would use yourself, and food cooked by someone else always tastes better than if you cooked it yourself. Ok, that is not always true, but it is in this case.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Jamie Oliver's super flaky cheese scones

I don't think I had ever had scones before moving to the UK. As I am a self-confessed carboholic of the worst kind, it was obviously meant to be that I would fall in love with them. But I'm also very picky with my scones, I won't just have any old store bought, mass produced scones. They shouldn't be to doughy and soft, they should have a crisp crust and be crumbly on the inside. Sweet scones should be filled with heaps of clotted cream and jam and cheese scones should have heaps of cheese on the top, be nice and crusty and soft and fluffy inside. 

My previous job cafeteria had really good cheese scones, me and Best Friend used to start our mornings with a coffee and cheese scone. You knew it would be a great day if the cheese scones were still warm. My current job is close to a Marks&Spencers and their bakery cheese scones are pretty good too, although not top notch. In fact I consume so many cheese scones, whenever any of my colleagues are going over to the M&S they automatically ask me if I want them to bring over a cheese scone for me. Can you say "In need of an intervention"?

So after spending loads of money on cheese scones I thought how silly is that when I could make my own for less. It turns out mine didn't work out much less, as ingredients were about £0.37 per home made scone versus £0.63 for the store bought ones in M&S, but it's still a bit of a saving. This way I do know what goes into my scones though. I use the expensive butter and flour, I could drive the price of ingredients down a bit if I used store brand ingredients. I'm admittedly a bit of a butter snob, I am sure there has to be a difference in quality as store brand butter is almost half the price compared to the brand I like to use. I should probably do a double blinded, placebo controlled trial, although I'm not quite sure how to do it in practice. Bake with a blindfold on?

I usually turn to my traditional and no fail cheese scone recipe, but this time I thought I would try something a bit different. I used a recipe from Jamie's Great Britain. It's a recipe that is originally designed for a sweet fruit scone, but I just removed the fruit and sugar and added cheese hoping that they would come out all right. I also like my scones big, so I used a big cutter instead of making the more traditionally sized small scones. I just don't see a point of eating two smaller scones when you could have one large one. Obviously, eating just one small one is not an option.

As with any other dough that requires butter to be rubbed into flour, you should work relatively quickly to keep the butter cold as that will create the flake in the scones. Also, the less you work the dough the better. I don't use a rolling pin to roll it out, just my hands to pat it. Also, when you use the cutter to cut the scones, just press it straight down, don't rotate it as this will impair how the scones rise in the oven. 

Crumbly cheese scones (makes 7 large ones):
150 g cold unsalted butter
500 g self raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
4 tbsp milk
100 g grated cheddar (set aside 1/4 to sprinkle on top) £1

The howto:
Add butter, flour, baking powder and salt in to a large bowl. Using your fingers, rub the butter into the flour mixture to create a rough, crumbly mixture. Make a well in the middle of the mix and add eggs and milk and give a quick mix. Resist the urge to mess too much with it. Leave to stand for 15 minutes in the fridge, with the bowl covered with clingfilm. Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. Roll out to about 3 cm (just over an inch) thickness, cut out large or small scones and place on a baking sheet. Brush with milk and grate cheese onto the scones. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the cheese is golden. If you make smaller scones, decrease the baking time.

The verdict:
These scones didn't rise sky high like I had hoped they would. Turns out if I had read the the recipe properly, it called for self-raising flour, not regular. And people not following instructions is one of my pet peeves... But one thing they certainly were was flaky. They had that absolutely lovely melt-in-your mouth flakiness so I will certainly use this recipe in the future as well, and alternate with my easy bake version. And make with self-rising flour next time. They are at their best when eaten when still warm, with a bit of butter.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Courgette lasagne

I've been having some very strange dreams lately. I have been dreaming about people who have not been part of my life for a long time. A former colleague, who wanted me to give a talk about physics which I didn't understand anything about. Another night I dreamed about some old friends who were visiting me in my home. But my home wasn't my home, it was some other place. And then some other people showed up who were supposed to be my friends but I didn't know their names, so I couldn't introduce them to the friends who were already there. 

I think my vivid and restless dreams are because we have been watching Breaking Bad right before going to bed. I can't wait to finish the last few episodes, to get it over and done with. I don't want to watch anything so depressing and scary anymore. From now on, I will only watch period dramas and baking shows. Seriously, the older I get, the less violence and psychological drama I can take. I don't watch much TV anyways as I think it's mostly a waste of time. So if I decide to waste my time doing nothing at all but staring at yet another screen, I want it to make me all warm, fuzzy and happy. I keep re-watching my old Gilmore Girls, because they just don't make TV like that anymore.

The other day I was going to make a regular veggie lasagne as I have blogged about hereI popped out to the greenhouse to pick some tomatoes for the tomato sauce I spotted a few giant courgettes. So I thought, why on earth would I use pasta when I have these lovely courgettes instead. 

For me lasagne is all about the sauces. If you are going through the trouble to make lasagne, you want to do it right. And although making the sauces from scratch yourself takes some time, it's not that much work really. It's mostly about the sauces just bubbling away on their own while you can prepare the rest of the veg so you don't even waste any time. This makes a big batch, but the lasagne freezes well. I like to freeze it in serving sized portions and take with me to work for lunch.

Veggie lasagna (serves 8-10):
For the tomato sauce:
6  cloves of garlic
1 onion
ground black pepper
2 bay leaves

For the bechamel sauce:
1 litre whole milk
1/2 onion
10 peppercorns
2 bay leaves
80 g butter
80 g flour
black pepper (and salt) to taste

olive oil spray
4 sweet peppers
1 onion
250 g kale
1 courgette
200 g feta cheese
6 lasagne sheets
(grated cheese or torn mozzarella for topping)

The howto:
Start by preparing the tomato and bechamel sauce. For the tomato sauce, chop tomatoes into quarters and remove the hard stems. Put the tomatoes in a large saucepan along with the bay leaves, black pepper and finely chopped garlic and onion. Bring slowly to a boil, and you will see the tomatoes start to give off liquid when heating up. Let cook for about an hour and remove from the heat. You can prepare the tomato sauce on the day before, or even freeze it for use later. For the bechamel, place the milk, roughly chopped onion, pepper and bay leaves in a large saucepan and slowly bring to a boil. When the milk has boiled, sieve it and put to the side. In a large saucepan melt the butter, and add the flour to form a thick paste. Let the paste cook for a minute or two and start adding the milk. Add milk 1/2 cup at a time, making sure you stir constantly with a balloon whisk to avoid any lumps from forming. Just be patient and keep adding milk a little at a time, stirring vigorously between additions and you will be rewarded with a beautiful, smooth, silky sauce. Season with salt and black pepper.

While preparing the sauces, roast the peppers. Preheat oven to 225 degrees and roughly chop peppers (I usually chop peppers into 6 big chunks). Place on an oven tray and lightly spray with olive oil. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until small dark patches start to appear on the pepper skins. Remove from oven and let cool. Finely slice the onion and roughly chop kale. Slice the courgette thinly. Lower the oven temperature to 200 degrees C. To assemble, start by placing sliced courgettes in a large oven proof dish. Top with half of the peppers, kale and feta cheese as well as tomato sauce and about a third of the bechamel. Add another layer of courgettes, peppers, kale, feta and sauces, and add a sprinkle of ground black pepper (and salt if you want to although the feta has a lot of salt, so I didn't find it necessary to add any salt). For the last layer, add the lasagne sheets and top with the remaining bechamel sauce (and grated cheese if using). Cook for about an hour, or until golden brown and bubbling. 

The verdict:
This was simply delicious. It does make such a difference to make everything from scratch yourself, and I do appreciate how lucky I am to be able to walk out to the greenhouse to pick the most amazingly sweet tomatoes (although that happiness doesn't last much longer as tomato season is drawing to a close soon). If you want to make it even healthier, you could leave out the cheese and lasagne noodles and replace with more courgette slices. I have to admit the carboholic in me likes to have at least that one layer of pasta on top, with a thick layer of bechamel sauce and some cheese. It just makes the whole thing so much more delicious. Also, the roasted peppers are absolutely brilliant. I cooked this along with a meat lasagne for the Culinary Consultant, and when tasting them both side by side I can honestly say I preferred the veggie one. 

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Raspberry souffle

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away I got myself some cute little single serving ramekins, with the plan to try my skills at making souffle. Ok, I may have been a bit melodramatic as it's probably not more than 2 years ago, and certainly not more than 30 miles away. But it does feel like a lifetime ago, my life was so different back then. I was living in my tiny shoebox of a studio, in another job and convinced I would be single for the rest of my life. Now I'm sitting in my craft room writing this blog, with the Culinary Consultant downstairs in the living room playing an unbelievably loud computer game. I'm not necessarily saying I was less happy then, but life certainly was different, and I do like the turn my life has taken over the last few years. I guess thinking back, even such a short time back, does remind me of the fact that things can change very fast. And there is no guarantee I will be sitting here in my craft room in a year's time. But I'm quite convinced I will still have my little pink ramekins! So the more things change, the more they stay the same. 

Why the trip down memory lane? Well basically I was contemplating the history of my cute little pink ramekins, and the fact that they have only served as souffle receptacles once (you can see the result here). They have held plenty of other things including oven oatmeal, single serve crumblemicrowave single serve chocolate cookie, cobbler and salted caramel. Today they returned to doing what they were born to do - make souffle! And what a souffle it was.

I have pinned this recipe for raspberry souffle ages ago, probably in the days when I first got the ramekins. It's from a blog called Eating out Loud. I have used it almost unaltered, only cut down the recipe by half, which made a perfect amount for two generous souffles. I also added some vanilla bean paste to the raspberry coulis, which wasn't included in the original recipe. Although souffle sounds very intimidating, this is actually a rather easy one to make. It takes a bit of prep, like buttering the ramekins and preparing the raspberry coulis. But actually, it's not very hard. If you know how to beat egg whites, you know how to make souffle. 

Raspberry souffle (serves 2): 
1/2 cup raspberries
2 tbsp plus one tsp sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla bean paste
2 egg whites
icing sugar for sprinkling on top 

The howto:
Start by preparing two single serving ramekins by buttering them thoroughly. Preheat oven to 200 degrees C (400 degrees F). Puree the raspberries using a handheld blender. Sieve the puree to remove the seeds. Add a tsp sugar and the vanilla bean paste to the raspberry coulis and set aside. Using an electric whisk, whip the egg whites until starting to turn fluffy. Then add the two tablespoons sugar, a little at a time while whisking. You will end up with a very fluffy and shiny white foam, and just as it would for making meringues, it should stay in the bowl when you turn it upside down. The slowly mix the raspberry coulis and egg whites by gently folding to keep all the air in the egg whites. Fill ramekins to the top and smooth the top with a spatula. Place in preheated oven for 8-10 minutes, until the souffle has risen well above the top of the ramekin. Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve immediately.

This is what they looked like straight out of the oven. There is definitely some rise going on!
The verdict:
Making souffle feels very 80's. But actually it's a great dessert, I genuinely enjoyed this tasty dessert. It's light and fluffy but the raspberries bring such a punch of flavour to it. It's simply irresistible. And it's pretty failsafe as long as you don't whip all the air out of your eggwhites when adding the raspberry coulis, just remember to fold gently and it's ok even if it's a bit streaky. Better slightly under- than overfolded. And eating souffle is so great, it's almost like eating a cloud, but a really tasty one.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Blueberry and white chocolate tartuffins

I think fall is really starting to rev up. We had our last day of summer last Friday, and then the weather changed quite noticeably. The evenings are cold, and it's cold getting out of bed in the morning. I know it's nowhere near to how cold it will be, but this is the first time I feel I want to snuggle up in my fleece robe in the mornings, and not change into work clothes at all. The car is cold in the mornings, and it only gets warm by the first big roundabout. In just a week I have gone from blasting the A/C on maximum cool to maximum heating. Leaves are turning brown, the tomato production has dwindled down and I doubt there will be much more red tomatoes coming. Time for that last batch of green tomato chutney. We did get four big tubs of tomatoes on Sunday when we picked everything we could find, and made a gigantic serving of tomato sauce for the winter. My dahlias are still going strong in the garden, the only colourful spots left along with a few flowers on the fuchsia. The pics below were taken on Monday this week, in the pouring rain. Although leaves are starting to turn rather colourful as well. It's definitely time for something cheery in the kitchen department to counteract all the fall sadness. I know there are a lot of people out there who love the change of seasons and the colder, crisper air but I'm not one of them. From now on it's just going to be cold, dark, miserable and dreary until it's spring again.

When I saw these blueberry tarts on The English Kitchen I couldn't resist.  They simply looked so delicious. However, I wanted to take them into work, and I don't have enough tart tins to make many tarts (and I wanted to make mine a bit smaller anyways), so I decided to make them in muffin tins instead. So they became tartuffins. I also decided to add some white chocolate in here. You know, just because why not. I didn't use the pastry recipe in the original post, I used my favourite pastry here. But I'm sure whichever pastry you use, they will be fabulous. I made one serving of the pastry and doubled the filling to make about 16 of these babies. 

Blueberry and white chocolate tartuffins (makes about 16):
For the pastry (recipe stolen from The Purple Spoon):
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
225 g unsalted butter
1/4-1/2 cup ice cold water

For the filling (double amount if you make the full serving of pastry above):
45 g unsalted butter
90 g caster sugar
1 medium egg
1/2 tsp vanilla (I used vanilla paste)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
90 g plain flour
a few handfuls of blueberries
another few handfuls of white chocolate chips
(3-4 tbsp apricot jam)

The howto:
Start by preparing the crust, as it needs to sit in the fridge for a while. Using a pastry cutter or your hands, rub together the flour, salt, sugar and butter until it resembles coarse sand. Add water until it forms a non-sticky dough. Wrap in cling film and let rest in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour while you prepare the filling.

For the filling, beat the butter and sugar until creamy. Add the egg and keep on whisking. Mix all the dry ingredients and fold into the batter. 

Preheat oven to 175 degrees C (350 degrees F). Roll the pastry on a floured worktop, and use a cutter or large glass to cut out circles. Line your muffin tin with the pastry and add the filling. Sprinkle with blueberries and white chocolate chips. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the filling is golden brown and has slightly risen. The original recipe had a final step of melting the apricot jam, and brushing it over the tartuffins, but I skipped this step. 

The verdict:
My colleagues certainly didn't complain when I took these in to work, and they all disappeared in a more or less flattering length of time. The one reason I might make these in small tart tins next time is that you get a larger surface area, and therefore you are able to get in more blueberries as they really are the key to the deliciousness. The more blueberries, the more moist and delicious your bakes will be. The white chocolate adds a lovely sweetness and I would certainly not leave it out. I have to admit I was a bit lazy and didn't quite roll the pastry thin enough, so there was a bit too much pastry to filling in each tartuffin, again supporting the idea of making them in the shape of tarts rather than muffins the next time. But all in all, as a solution to the problem of not having enough tart tins, this worked really well I think. I do love a great pie crust, and I can't resist muffins, so combining the two seem to make perfect sense.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Blackberry and poppy seed buns

After all our jam making sessions, we have a fridge full of jam. And although we are quite efficient at destroying it, I thought I would speed up the process a bit more by making some lovely jam buns. I just don't want to take the chance that our jam goes bad. Which is why we made relatively small batches of each jam, and put the rest of the fruit in the freezer for more jammin' sessions later in the winter. Right now our freezer is jam packed with produce from our garden and our mission is to make sure we actually eat everything before next spring (something we didn't quite achieve this year). 

This is a well used and trusted recipe for bun dough. It's from the Finnish website Kinuskikissa, and it always turns out great. You can either skip the ground cardamom or add it, as I Finn I would say buns are not buns if there isn't cardamom in them but if you absolutely detest it, leave it out. If you are undecided, I would suggest just give it a try. You won't regret it. It is such a wonderful flavour and it goes so well with the blackberries.

For this recipe you absolutely have to use home made blackberry and apple jam. It's only acceptable if it's been made from berries you picked yourself. Just kidding, just kidding. You can use any jam you like. I just can't get enough of our lovely blackberry and apple jam.

Blackberry and poppy seed buns (makes 12):
For the bun dough:
7-7.5 dl (2 3/4 - 3 cups) strong bread flour
1 1/2 tsp dried instant (fast-action) yeast
1 dl (1/3 cup plus one tablespoon) sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp ground cardamom
2.5 dl (1 cup) room temperature milk
80 g melted butter
1 egg (technically speaking you should use 1/2 egg for this amount of dough, but I can't be bothered to use just half an egg so I just add a whole egg and it doesn't seem to make the dough any worse. If you want to use some egg wash to brush your buns before baking you could leave some of the egg for that)

For the filling:
1 tsp vanilla paste
About 1 cup of blackberry and apple jam
3-4 tbsp poppy seeds

For the glaze:
zest and juice from one lemon
4-5 tbsp icing sugar

The Howto:
In a large bowl, mix the flour (use 7 dl at this stage), yeast, sugar, salt and cardamom. Add milk, melted butter and egg. Mix to form a dough. Tip onto a lightly floured work surface and knead. The dough is a bit soggy, so I prefer to use only my right hand to knead and use a dough scraper in my left hand. If the dough is completely impossible, add some flour a little bit at a time, up to 1/2 dl (about 1/4 cup). The dough will start getting less sticky and more elastic as you knead it. I usually end up adding about a tablespoon or two during the kneading. Place dough back in an oiled bowl, cover with cling film and leave to rise for about 2 hours or until doubled in size. If it's cold or the yeast is a bit slow, the rise could take even longer. When the dough has approximately doubled in volume and it springs back when you push it with a finger, it has risen enough.  

Tip the dough back onto a work surface and knead a few times to knock the air out of the dough. Roll out to a rectangle and drizzle with the vanilla paste. Spread the blackberry jam on top, and sprinkle poppy seeds. Roll into a tight log and cut into 12 pieces. I prefer to use dental floss to cut the roll, it results in the neatest cuts, believe it or not. Place in an oven proof dish leaving about an inch between the rolls. Cover with cling film and leave for a second proof for about 30-40 minutes, until the rolls are almost touching each other. Heat oven to 190 degrees C and bake for 20-25 minutes. If the buns are getting a bit too dark, you can cover them with foil to prevent them to turn very dark like mine did.

Leave the buns to cool for 15-20 minutes. Prepare the glaze by grating the lemon zest and squeezing the juice into a bowl. Add enough icing sugar to make a thick paste. Drizzle onto the buns. Serve warm.

The Verdict:
The best thing you can bake with yeast is buns. Well, maybe in addition to bread, but still. And one of the best things you can put inside buns in jam. These buns are sticky and sweet and amazingly good. I put a few of them in the freezer thinking the rest would last us a good few days. Well, they didn't. I inhaled several as soon as they came out of the oven. Hence the picture with a few buns missing... 

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Blackberry and apple jam

One of the benefits of living in the countryside is that we have loads of blackberries growing along most of the paths and small roads. Back home raspberries grow like that, almost like a weed, on roadsides and along fields. Here, I haven't seen much wild raspberries, in fact I don't think I've seen any at all. But instead there are blackberries as far as the eye can see. When I was working my previous job (yes the one that shall not be named) I used to walk about half an hour every morning as we did a car share with the Culinary Consultant who worked in the next village over and during September the road was lined with blackberry brambles and I couldn't help myself and used to snack on some berries on my way to work. A few weeks ago I came home from work to a massive load of blackberries, courtesy of the Culinary Consultant. I had never seen so many blackberries in my entire life. And he did a repeat performance, so we had our freezer stuffed full with almost 6 kg (13 lb) of blackberries. Then, the other day we went for a bike ride and our route took us past some very prolific and new (to us) blackberry pastures. What else is a girl to do than return with some containers the next day? The first brambles closest to the village were all picked clean, but just another 10 minutes or so down the road we found brambles which had huge, juicy fruit in copious amounts. So in less than 2 hours of picking we added another 2.8 kg (6 lb) of berries to our stash. However, a word of warning. Although it's free food, it doesn't come easy. I thought I was well prepared with long sleeves and trouser legs, but I still managed to get endless cuts on my hands and legs, not to mention the fact that nettles easily seem to burn through sports clothing, so next year I need to prepare by buying some military grade clothing to escape the torture of multiple nettle burn. And just as a friendly hint, you don't want to cook anything that involves squeezing lemon juice for a few days afterwards. It may not look like you broke the skin on your fingers, but you did. In multiple places. Trust me.

Although I'm perfectly happy to eat all those lovely little black gems as they are, we thought we should make something out of them (and partly because we simply couldn't fit all of them in the freezer). As jammin' seem to be the theme of this fall, we thought why not look up a nice and simple blackberry jam and try our hands at it. And the interwebs, in their great wisdom came up with Easy blackberry and apple jam from Fab Food 4 All. We doubled up the recipe as we had so much berries. And I can't help but to feel very smug about our hard work, as it equates to over £100 worth of blackberries (based on the cheapest price for fresh blackberries on the Tesco website). And I bet ours are better as they are sun ripened and only picked fresh and ripe and put straight into the freezer (or in this case, jam pot) so they have maximum flavour.

Simple Blackberry and Apple Jam
600 g blackberries
500 g cooking apples (we used a mix of cookers and sweet apples, as we used windfall from our neighbours tree that had landed in our garden)
1.1 kg sugar
300 ml water
1 cinnamon stick
(10 g butter)

The howto:
As with any other jam, prepare your jam jars by washing them in hot soapy water. Shake to remove excess water, but don't dry. Place the wet jars and lids on an oven sheet covered with newspaper making sure they don't touch each other. Put into oven, and turn oven on to 120 degrees C. Leave jar in the oven until they have been at least 10 minutes in 120 degrees. Leave oven on and the jars to wait in the hot oven until you are ready to use them (they should be hot when you pour the hot jam into them so the glass doesn't get damaged).

Peel, core and cut apples into small pieces. Add apples with the water and cinnamon stick into a large saucepan, bring to a boil and let slowly cook for about 10 minutes. Add the blackberries and simmer until soft (about 15-20 minutes). Add the sugar off the heat, stir until dissolved. Bring back to a rolling boil, and let cook until jam has set (reached 104 degrees C). You can also test setting point by placing a few small plates in the freezer before starting the jam making, and when you think the jam is done, drop some jam onto a cold plate and let stand for a minute. If you push the jam with your finger and it wrinkles it's done, if it remains liquid, let boil for 3-5 more minutes and test again. Remove excess froth with a ladle. The original recipe suggested to then stir in the butter to remove the rest of the froth, but I don't like the idea of putting butter in my jam, so I just accept that there will be a few remaining bubbles in the jam. The jam seemed rather runny when I poured it into the jars, but it did set nicely. Apples have quite a bit of pectin so it will set although you think it won't. 

Ladle the jam into jars, and put some parchment paper over the jar opening before securing the lid. I store all my jam in the fridge to make it keep longer, but so far everything has been eaten before it has gone bad.

The verdict:
Of all the jams we have made so far, this is the sweetest one. I don't consider that a bad thing, but if you aren't into sweet jams keep that in mind. It's always a tradeoff as the sugar helps keep the jam for longer but at the same time a lower sugar jam does have more fruity flavour to it. But you do feel the wonderful flavour of the blackberries. As the apple cooks it will turn into complete "mush" so it does give a slightly different texture from a pure berry jam. I really liked how the jam turned out, but it does taste more "sugary" sweet than the other jams we made (plum jam here and fig jam here). On Saturday I will show you one fabulous way of using the jam, although plenty of it has also been devoured on toast and mixed in my morning oatmeal. And maybe a spoonful or two has been eaten straight out of the jar (but remember to only put clean spoons into the jar, if you have licked it, it shouldn't go back into the jar. This will help keep the jam for longer).