Thursday, 17 April 2014

Hot Cross Buns v.5

"Morel, as usual, was up early, whistling and sawing in the yard. At seven o'clock the family heard him buy threepennyworth of hot-cross buns; he talked with gusto to the little girl who brought them, calling her "my darling". He turned away several boys who came with more buns, telling them they had been "kested" by a little lass. Then Mrs. Morel got up, and the family straggled down. It was an immense luxury to everybody, this lying in bed just beyond the ordinary time on a weekday. And Paul and Arthur read before breakfast, and had the meal unwashed, sitting in their shirt-sleeves. This was another holiday luxury. The room was warm. Everything felt free of care and anxiety. There was a sense of plenty in the house."

Sons and Lovers, D. H. Lawrence, 1913, Chapter 7 (describing Good Friday).

After last year, I wanted to look at another element of the history of hot cross buns. I did start looking at the Elizabeth I decree a few weeks ago but sadly it seems I've run out of time (I blame the ebook). I have made some buns today, though, and I thought the Sons and Lovers quote was worth sharing.

The things I did differently this year:
- Switched the caster sugar for brown sugar.
- Put the dough in the fridge overnight for the first rise.

I also experimented with using a gluten free flour mix for the crosses, to see if it stopped it clumping up a bit. It wasn't a good idea - it was hard to pipe and went a bit weird in the oven.

The recipe from last year still stands - rather than writing it out with so few (and not especially big or essential) changes this year, it seems simpler to direct you back: Hot Cross Buns v.4.

Finally, Poires won the Best Use of Video award at the SAVEUR Best Food Blog Awards 2014! Thank you so much for your votes - I never thought I'd win a Readers' Choice award. They're flying me to Las Vegas for the awards party next month, which should be an excellent adventure.

To celebrate, I made a little video of the bun shaping process I use (the one I explained with words and pictures in v.3). Normally I avoid direct sunlight for photos & videos but the buns needed to be shaped so I thought I'd go outside my comfort zone a little. I'm not sure I like it but I can't really resent a sunny spring morning.

Thank you, once again, for your support - it means a lot.

The other versions:

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Apple Dumplings

When you crack open an apple dumpling the steam escapes, streaming up towards the ceiling. The buttery juices run out from the core. When you pour cold cream over the top it glosses the sides of the pastry then swirls into the juices.

I bought a copy of Jane Grigson's Fruit Book after reading Diana Henry's excellent piece on food writing & cookbooks - a lifelong love. I was looking for something to do with a bowl of apples so I opened it up and found this recipe. Essentially, you peel and core the apples, plug the core with butter and sugar, wrap them in pastry and bake.

Jane recommended a plain pastry, so I've been using the one in the recipe below that is relatively light on butter and bound with milk. You could use another pastry recipe that you like, though I also don't recommend using a rich or sweet pastry. In the test for the photos I rolled my pastry a little too big so it's a bit thinner than normal (though it doesn't particularly matter).

I've written the recipe for two but it can easily be scaled up - I think it would be great for a group or party. I haven't tried assembling them in advance and chilling them for a few hours before baking but I don't see why it wouldn't work. For scaling, here's some more pastry quantities:

For 3 - 85g/pinch/40g/3 tbsp
For 4 - 110g/2 pinches/50g/4 tbsp
For 8 - 220g/4 pinches/100g/8 tbsp (etc.)

I used small apples, which created a nice pastry to apple ratio and a good portion size. Cox's orange pippins are great as they have a lot of flavour and they don't disintegrate as they cook - you want a firm but tender apple inside, not mush. If you use bigger apples you'll need more pastry - perhaps try the amounts for three above.

I like the fact that this recipe doesn't have any other competing flavours - there are no spices, for instance. It's all about the sweet, simple flavour of the apple.

Apple Dumplings
(adapted from Jane Grigson's Fruit Book)

For the pastry:
55g plain flour
pinch of fine sea salt
25g unsalted butter, cold
2 tbsp milk, cold

To assemble:
2 small Cox apples (or a similar variety)
2-4 tsp caster or brown sugar
4 small pieces of butter - maybe 10g total
double cream, to glaze and to serve

Preheat the oven to 200C/390F. Sift or whisk the flour and salt together in a mixing bowl. Cube the butter and add it to the bowl and rub in (see foundation if you're unsure about rubbing in). Add most of the milk and bring together into a ball (if it doesn't, add the last dribble of milk). Split into two (they should be roughly 55g each), squish into discs and wrap in cling film. Chill for 15 minutes or more (can be kept overnight).

Peel the apples and cut the cores out with a corer. Plug one end of the core with a small piece of butter, then tip in one or two teaspoons of sugar. Plug the top with another piece of butter. Repeat for the other apple.

Take one of the pastry pieces out of the fridge, dust a work surface and roll out into a circle big enough that you can place the apple in the middle and bring the sides up round it with a little spare to seal it together. Place the apple in the centre then bring two opposite sides up and press the seam together, then repeat with the other sides. Cut away the excess at the seams, leaving maybe half a centimetre. Press them together again, sealing the edges. Turn over and cut a small hole in the top. Use the offcuts to make a few pastry leaves to add to the top (cut out the shape then use a knife to gently press in the pattern). Brush the outside with a little bit of cream (you could also use egg wash but the cream is easier). Place them on a lightly greased baking tray.

Bake for 25-30 minutes (for small apples like this - increase if larger) until the apple is tender if you poke a tester through the hole in the top and the pastry is golden brown. Serve hot with cold double cream.

(Serves 2)

Three more apple recipes:
Apple & Cinnamon Layer Cake
Apple Fritters
Apple & Quince Pie

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The Saveur Best Food Blog Awards 2014 - Best Use of Video Finalist

I'm thrilled to say that I've just found out that I'm a finalist in the Best Use of Video category in the SAVEUR Food Blog Awards 2014! I'm so excited to be nominated again and I'm particularly touched that it's for this category.

I started using videos for my Foundations Series in 2012, as I thought they would help to illustrate techniques. Some things are very hard to describe with pictures and words - they need the movement. Though I am interested in the videos looking good and telling a story, my main aim is to create something useful.

If you'd like to vote to pick the winners or to see all the nominees, click here - if you don't have a SAVEUR account already then I'm afraid you have to sign up to vote but it doesn't take too long. Voting ends on the 9th of April.

I don't use sound as I think the visuals are the most helpful bit and - this might be weird - but personally, I find videos with music or sound intrusive and will often avoid playing them. So I go for silent moving pictures. I find them calming and I hope others do too.

The videos tend to focus on a single technique or a few in quick series rather than a whole recipe. I try to think of them as an additional part of a post, rather than a replacement for photos, words or the recipe. It also means that the clips or snippets are applicable to many recipes instead of one and that they generally don't take that long to watch. Having said that, I don't edit my videos down (except for the beginning & end when I'm reaching for the camera button) so they retain a sense of how long things take. I want to create something that reflects how things look in reality.

As they're hidden amongst all my normal posts, here are the three main video posts I put together in 2013:
- Foundations no.7 - Rough Puff Pastry
- Raspberry-Redcurrant Jam Swiss Roll
- Coffee & Walnut Cake v.2 (one video was also used again for Foundations no.8 - Swiss & Italian Meringue)

Since then, I've been making several new videos for my Glossary - I've put one of them above, which is to illustrate dropping consistency for cake mixtures. Just like my stills, the videos are a mixture of colour and black & white. I'm still relatively new to video and I'm learning all the time - which is partly why I'm so honoured that SAVEUR chose this category for me.

P.S. the little photo they chose to represent me on the voting form (at the top) is my Pear & Caramel Pudding Cake.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Five Years & an Announcement

It's Poires au Chocolat's fifth birthday today!

The past five years have taken me from being a 19-year-old fresher to a few months off 25. So much has changed but blogging has been one of the strongest threads through it all. It's hard to describe how important this space has become to me and how protective I feel - it's been a part of my entire adult life. As I sit here facing my next five years, I know that a lot of things will look very different. Though I'm sure my path won't make it easy, I really hope that Poires au Chocolat will reach ten.

In the end, I decided to celebrate five years by writing an ebook. I'd been looking for a fun project for a few months - something I could get my teeth into - and it seemed like the perfect thing to do. I wanted it to be different to the blog but still working along the same lines. I thought something historical with lots of references to stories and literature was the sort of thing that would work.

So the ebook I'm writing is about the food sent out to the front in parcels by loved ones in World War One. It's the sort of topic I love - slightly random but fascinating to research.

I studied WWI literature for my A Level synoptic paper in my last year of school. We could read anything we liked on the topic - poetry, prose, British, German, modern or contemporary. It was one of my favourite papers to study (tough competition came from my introduction to Chaucer and a paper on William Blake) and certainly my favourite to write, with the sort of open questions I came to love at university. The things I'd read stuck with me and suddenly resurfaced when I was thinking about possible topics.

The scale of the horror and suffering during WWI is hard to comprehend as someone who has never known war, looking from a century's distance. Despite that, I hope I can commemorate it with respect. I want to focus on the small moments of joy and on the comforting power of food from home. To remember those small personal details, in some ways insignificant and everyday, but vital nonetheless.

I'm not an expert on the history (it would take a lifetime - or at least several decades - to be that) and I'm not trying to write a textbook. In many ways this ebook will be a collection of all the anecdotes and comments that have made me smile or touched me as I've read and researched. It's a way of bringing together all the bits I don't want to forget and that I find myself excitedly blurting out to friends and family.

I think that blurting feeling comes from having found the research really gripping - it's had lots of moments, twists, and surprising gems. It's also been emotional at times. Sitting in the Imperial War Museum research room reading letters written in the trenches - touching the very paper - is an experience I won't forget.

I'll also remember - for different reasons - a day I was working in the Bod and stacked up a beautiful first edition of a 1915 cookery book to find that about a third of the edges had never been cut (it looked like it hadn't been read in several decades). I had to go and ask the librarians what to do and then sit there, paper knife in hand, slitting each page of the cakes chapter. The sound of tearing paper ripping through the silence in a no-seats-left lower Rad Cam is engraved upon my memory - I was half expecting a fellow reader to perform an enthusiastic citizen's arrest.

The ebook will be split into two sections. The first part will cover the sort of things that were sent out (from cakes and chocolate to two brace of grouse, smoked salmon & clotted cream), rationing, the rules, Christmas and various other topics, with quotes and contemporary photos and that sort of thing. The second part will contain ten recipes (things like shortbread and toffee) with headnotes that describe the letters and stories that mention them.

I'm going to experiment with selling it as a PDF from the blog (though You won't have to leave the site to buy it. I like the idea of a PDF ebook because I want to be able to design attractive, static pages with the images set in properly.

I'm planning to finish and release it in May - I'll let you know about a date soon.

I hope you'll all like it and find it as interesting as I have. Even if not, it's been just what I needed personally. It's felt completely different from working on the beginnings of bigger book projects (far less stress and fear). It's still a challenge, just of the right sort of size. There's something wonderfully satisfying - and, to let the geek really flow, thrilling - about being on a research hunt, chasing quotes and references from book to book and archive to library and back again. It's like fitting a puzzle together.

Anyway - back to the birthday. As I've mentioned many times, one of the reasons this blog is called Poires au Chocolat is because of the pear and chocolate loaf cake (as below) that I tested that fateful Easter holiday in 2009. Yet there's also another layer, in that one of my favourite desserts growing up - and today - is the humble combination of freshly chopped pear and melted chocolate.

It's too simple for a recipe but I thought it would be perfect as the background to this post. If it helps I reckon we usually use roughly 10-15g dark chocolate per pear (melted as per the glossary) and a pear serves one. A few splashes of double cream finish things off.

My first, 100th, 200th & 300th posts (this post makes 332 overall):
1: Lemon Curd Cake
100: Butterfly Fleur de Sel Caramel Cake
200: Toffee Apples
300: Dutch Baby a.k.a. Puffed Pancake