Showing posts with label vanilla. Show all posts
Showing posts with label vanilla. Show all posts

Thursday, 7 November 2013


Butterkuchen means 'Butter Cake' in German. It's part of a family of sheet cakes (called Blechkuchen) that are often made with yeasted dough. This is one of the simplest.

More poignantly, Butterkuchen is also called Freud-und-Leid-Kuchen or 'Joy and Sorrow Cake' because it is often served at weddings and funerals in North Germany. I think the name shows beautifully how entwined food is with our celebrations, our emotions and our lives.

When I decided to make a Butterkuchen I wasn't sure where to start. If I'm looking at making a recipe where I either have no idea who to trust or there are so many authoritative recipes that I don't know where to begin, I turn to a method I developed a few years ago for choux pastry.

First, I found six recipes, three in English and three in German: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six.

I then typed each ingredient into a spreadsheet, making conversions and translations as I went. From there I divided each ingredient weight by the flour weight in each recipe (i.e., for no.1 below, sugar was 30/250 = 0.12) so that I had a ratio (I sometimes use eggs as the starting point too). This means I can directly compare the proportions in each recipe.

Instead of working out the average proportion for each ingredient I tend to have a look and decide on a sensible value, taking into account my general preferences and outliers. For instance, with the sugar for the dough, I chose 0.1 after looking at 0.12, 0.28, 0.11, 0.12, 0.12 and 0.1, as I tend to err on the side of less sugar and 0.28 seemed out of line.

I then decided on a size for the recipe based on the ingredient I started with (i.e. flour). For this one I chose to make a small sheet, as it's much better when it's fresh and warm from the oven, so I went for 250g of flour. I then multiplied up the remaining ingredients (i.e, for the sugar, 0.1 x 250 = 25g).

Finally, I work out a method from comparing the recipes and my experience with similar recipes. I then adjust the ingredients and method if needed as I test. This one worked perfectly the first time, so I just tested it twice again to check it was consistent.

A few of the recipes I found included cinnamon in the topping but I decided to focus on the butter, almonds and vanilla. Vanilla is often included in the recipes as vanilla sugar sachets but I was in a luxurious mood and decided to rub the seeds from half a vanilla bean into the sugar for the topping. I think it's worth it - the flavour and smell is wonderful and the flecks look very pretty in the sugar crust.

This is a really enjoyable recipe to make. There's something incredibly satisfying about poking the holes in the soft dough and then filling all of the dents with the little chunks of butter. It's also absolutely delicious - buttery, crisp, crunchy, nutty and almost like a doughnut.

(created as explained above)

For the dough:
125ml whole milk
50g unsalted butter
250g plain flour
25g caster sugar
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1 1/4 tsp fast action dried yeast
1 egg

For the topping:
60g white caster sugar
1/2 vanilla pod*
75g unsalted butter
60g flaked almonds

Put the milk and butter into a small pan and heat until the butter has melted and the milk is steaming. Pour into a bowl (preferably metal) and place in the fridge or freezer to cool. Once the milk has cooled to warm, whisk the flour, sugar and salt together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Sprinkle in the yeast and whisk in. Lightly beat the egg then add it and the milk to the bowl. Stir until the dough comes together. Attach the dough hook and knead for 4 minutes - by the end, the dough should be smooth and elastic. It's very sticky at this point but don't worry. Cover with cling film or a clean tea towel and leave to rise in a warm, draft-free place until the dough has doubled (about 45-60 minutes).

Dust a work surface with flour then tip the dough out onto it. Dust the top with flour then roll out to an even rectangle of about 28 x 20cm (11 x 8"). Transfer to a greased, rimmed baking sheet. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise for about 20-30 minutes - it won't rise a huge amount, but when it's ready a poke should leave a clear indent.

Preheat the oven to 200C/390F. Weigh out the sugar into a small bowl. Split the vanilla pod and scrape the seeds into the bowl. Rub the seeds into the sugar until they're evenly distributed. Cut the butter up into tiny cubes. When the dough is ready use a finger to poke lots of dents in the dough (pushing down to the bottom but not making a hole - see picture above) - you may need to dip your finger in the sugar if it starts sticking to the dough. Place a small cube of butter in each of the dents. Sprinkle the dough evenly with the vanilla sugar, then the almonds.

Bake for about 20 minutes, turning at 10 minutes, until the dough has risen, bronzed and the almonds are golden-brown all over and caramelising. There might be butter in the tray - don't worry. Once it has cooled a little, you should be able to tap it and get a hollow sound. Leave to cool until warm, then slice up. Best eaten while still warm or very fresh. You can freeze it and reheat it but it's not quite the same.

(Makes one slab, about 12 slices)

*You could use vanilla sugar instead, though I love the way the seeds look and the amount of flavour they give. You can make a batch of vanilla sugar from the scraped pod when you make this and use it next time (or for something else, of course). If you don't have vanilla sugar or a pod, you could add 1 tsp of vanilla paste, or failing that, extract, to the dough, though it won't have the same effect.

Three more recipes for sweet yeasted breads:
2011: Super Chocolate Cinnamon Rolls
2012: Chelsea Buns
2013: Cinnamon Cardamon Kringel Bread

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Blackcurrant Baked Alaska: A Guest Post

Today's post is over on the little loaf. Kate's a blogging friend that has become an offline friend through a series of dinners (along with Kathryn). Every time we've met in the last year or so, talk has turned to Kate's wedding (I love weddings and wedding chat), so I'm honoured to be filling in for her while she's on honeymoon.

One of the first things we bonded over was ice cream (and a mutual love of David Lebovitz's recipes for it). I knew when she asked that I needed to do something frozen. A few years back I made a mountain range - the Baked Alps - for a Daring Bakers challenge. I was never satisfied with the recipe and so it seemed like the perfect time to update it.

So here it is - a soft sponge base, blackcurrants roasted with brown sugar, David's vanilla ice cream and French meringue, all baked. It's messy, it's rather a big portion and it's absolutely glorious to eat. The post and recipe can be found here.

Three recipes of Kate's I'd like to try:
Bourke St Bakery Croissants
Caramelised White Chocolate Brownies
Chocolate Pistachio Ice Cream Bars

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Choco-Caramel Sauce

This is an I-can't-stop-spooning-this-straight-into-my-mouth-oh-****-down-my-dress-ah-who-cares-WANT-MORE-SAUCE sort of sauce.

Essentially, you make a dry caramel, then you stop it with lots of double cream, then you pour it over dark chocolate to make a caramel ganache (!!), then you add a bit of salt. Then the aforementioned spoon incident occurs.

It took a few tests to get the right ratio. The first time I didn't add enough cream or chocolate and it was way too thick. The second time I didn't have enough caramel and the chocolate was overpowering. The third time I hit on this combination and it's been reliably brilliant ever since.

At first I poured it over chocolate ice cream but I found that the flavour of the ice cream swamped the caramel and disrupted the balance. In the end I made a batch of my favourite vanilla ice cream, which works brilliantly.

When I started to churn the vanilla, I realised that I hadn't managed to get the base of my ice cream maker cold enough. After five minutes I gave up and scraped the slushy mixture into a box and froze it. I only stirred it up once with a fork but it still has a lovely smooth texture. I don't think the initial time in the ice cream machine did that much, so I reckon if you don't have one then stirring it around two or three times would give pretty good results.

I thought about adding extras - some raspberries for an acidic touch, some toasted flaked almonds for a textural crunch - but in the end simplicity won. It doesn't need anything else.

Choco-Caramel Sauce

55g white sugar (granulated or caster)
150ml double cream
40g dark chocolate (70-85%)
big pinch of fine sea salt

Sprinkle the sugar evenly over the bottom of a medium-sized, thick-bottomed pan. Turn the heat up to medium-high and watch carefully - after a few minutes, the sugar will start to liquify at the edges. Don't stir it - you can flick some of the crystals onto a liquid bit, but don't fiddle too much. Once it's nearly all melted and starts to caramelise, swirl it all together. Keep heating until you have a deep golden-bronze colour (see above).

Take off the heat then pour in the cream and vigorously stir it in as it bubbles up (watch out, it is very hot). If you have a few clumps, whisk them in while it is still hot. Leave for a couple of minutes to stop bubbling and cool down a bit. Chop the chocolate up into small chunks and place in a small bowl. Pour the caramel over the chocolate, then leave to sit for a minute before stirring into a glossy sauce. Add the pinch of salt and stir through.

Pour over ice cream while warm - if it cools down too much and becomes too thick, pour some boiling water into a slightly bigger bowl and immerse the sauce bowl in it for a minute or two. Stir till smooth (dip again if it's still too thick). The sauce will keep in a covered bowl in the fridge for 4-5 days.

(Makes one bowl, probably enough for 3-5 sundaes, depending on size. If you don't eat it all first.)

Three more recipes that involve a dry caramel:
Salted Caramel Brownies
Cider Caramel, Sautéed Apples and Cinnamon Ice Cream
Salted Caramel and Walnut Braided Bread

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Apricot & Fig Tea Loaf

In December, at the end of a roller coaster year, I made one last decision.

The more I found out about the current state of academia in the UK, the more I realised that if I wanted to follow that path, I'd have to give it 100% of my time and energy to stand a chance. I couldn't do it while giving half - or even a quarter - of myself to food and to this blog.

When I decided to go back to Oxford, I thought I'd be able to balance both, as I had as an undergraduate. But it was far more of a strain than the first time. I struggled to make it work and it became clear that I couldn't keep doing it forever. Uncomfortably familiar essay writing demons came back to haunt me and I spent entire days silently fighting them. Despite the fact I love the subject and enjoyed my tutes and classes, apart from two weeks in the middle of term, I wasn't very happy.

First, I decided that I didn't want to apply for a PhD. Then, a few weeks later, after lots of thinking and talking, I left the masters. I was self-funding and living out of college so it was almost absurdly easy to stop.

It feels like I've made a ridiculous amount of decisions in the last year. I get nervous and a bit embarrassed every time I have to tell people about a change. I guess I think they'll laugh or think less of me. Yet I have no regrets. I had to try postgraduate study to see what it was like - it felt like I couldn't go forward without experiencing it.  But in the end, blogging is non-negotiable. I won't give it up.

One of the other reasons I left was that I had an attractive alternative plan.

My mum is a one-on-one private tutor in maths, sciences and various other subjects for an international mix of students. Some come for a handful of hours, some come out of school to be taught solely by her for a term or two. Most are on holiday in Verbier anyway but a few fly out just to see her. She's a gifted teacher. As I've grown up, I've been tutoring too - it's been eight years now, on and off.

The plan is to spend a few months of the year in Switzerland, mainly in the school holidays, working alongside mum. I'm taking on some of her waiting list and adding extras for literature. Between us, we can teach almost any school subject. Family businesses don't seem very fashionable these days but I like being part of a team. It's rewarding work and it means I can stand on my own two feet.

I've just finished two busy weeks of work. The majority of my hours were spent teaching A Level English Literature (in the UK you usually choose three subjects to study in detail in your last year of school, age 18). I hadn't done a huge amount of that level before and I've enjoyed it so much that it's already justified my choice.

Tutoring takes two of my favourite parts of studying - reading and talking about literature - and combines them with teaching, which I've always enjoyed. Watching the confusion fade and the text open up for someone is wonderful and there's nothing better than when they start getting excited by it and begin to trust their ideas and thoughts.

And after all, being paid to talk about Shakespeare and Milton is pretty dreamy.

The best bit is that I'm then free to spend the rest of the year in Oxford working on food projects. The tutoring will take the pressure off the food by paying the bills. I'm looking into more freelance magazine work and I'm mulling over new book proposal ideas. This time I'm going to take things slowly.

Someone once described my life as a pendulum swinging between academic and creative dreams. It
swings hard and high in one direction - sometimes wildly, at speed - yet the moment it peaks it inevitably starts moving back down the curve again and more and more of the other side creeps in. I'm hoping that my plan will take advantage of the momentum and harness the periods of alternating inspiration - and in doing so, give me some peace and control.

This loaf is mum's creation. We had some dried figs and apricots that I'd stewed with vanilla sitting neglected in the fridge. She was making our old favourite Irish Tea Loaf and decided to toss the stewed fruit in. It took me several attempts to recreate that original chucked-together loaf as she isn't the best at writing things down and will happy double or treble things like pecans if she wants more nuts and then promptly forget how many she put in.

It's something to bake on a quiet day at home - a Sunday, perhaps. None of the steps are complicated but it does take a bit of time to simmer, cool and bake. It makes up for this by keeping for ages and being really easy to tuck into a pocket or bag for a satisfying snack. I took some for the plane yesterday (from the loaf before this loaf) and it gave me plenty of energy to get through the journey.

I can't put my finger on why I love this recipe so much. It's a bit odd and doesn't fit. It's not really cake but it's not bread either. It's much better than normal fruit cakes (and I like fruit cake). It's loaded with tea-soaked fruits and toasted pecans. It has this sweet, crunchy outside that's almost shiny - I reckon it's because you make the sugar into a syrup.

We eat it in thin slices with curls of cold salted butter and cups of steaming Earl Grey.

P.S. I had a photography issue which meant I couldn't post until I got back to the UK - apologies for the delay.

Apricot & Fig Tea Loaf
(adapted from the Irish Tea Cake in Delia's Book of Cakes)

125g dried apricots
125g dried figs
100g sultanas (I used golden)
1/2 a vanilla pod
200ml Earl Grey tea
150g pecan halves
100g light brown sugar
pinch of fine sea salt
1 egg
225g plain flour
1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp milk

Tip the apricots, figs and sultanas into a saucepan. Split and scrape the piece of vanilla pod and add the pod and seeds to the pan. Stew the tea until it's a deep reddish-amber then pour over the fruit. Place over a very low heat, cover and cook for 1 hour until plump and soft - stir occasionally. Leave covered to cool.

Preheat the oven to 170C. Line a 9x5" (or similar size) loaf tin with baking parchment or lightly greased foil. Place the pecan halves on a tray and toast in the oven for about 5 minutes until they smell good and darken slightly. Chop the pecans into small chunks and leave to cool. Drain the fruit, saving the little bit of liquid left - I usually have about 50ml. Top up to 80ml with water and tip back into the pan. Add the sugar and salt and place back over the heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved then pour into a big mixing bowl. Cut the apricots and figs up into small chunks.

Stir the fruit and nuts into the sugar syrup. Beat the egg then add to the bowl and mix in. Sift the flour and baking powder over the top then stir in - it will be pretty stiff. Add the milk and stir until all the milk and flour is combined. Scoop into the loaf tin and smooth out. Place in the oven and bake for an hour until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean. After 40 minutes you may need to cover the loaf with a bit of foil to stop it browning too much. Cool for a minute then remove from the tin and lining and leave to fully cool on a rack. Keeps very well in a tin - at least a week.

(Makes 1 loaf)

A few related posts:
Fig & Hazelnut Crumble Bars
Chocolate Pecan Krantz Cake
Pear and Chocolate Loaf 2.0

Friday, 26 October 2012

Whole Vanilla Bean Biscuits

Did you know that you can whizz up an entire vanilla bean and use it in baking?

I first came across the idea in July in a 101 cookbooks recipe for vanilla bean cookies. It had never occurred to me before. Usually I scrape the seeds out and then use the bean itself to infuse ice creams, custards and syrups or to make vanilla sugar. I bookmarked the post and finally got around to making the recipe this week.

The food processor chops the bean up into tiny pieces and releases all the seeds and oils into the sugar. The tiny chunks you get have a similar texture to fragments of raisin. Vanilla often gets overlooked as just another basic ingredient to slosh into everything, so it's lovely to be able to put it in the spotlight. I'm definitely going to experiment to see where else I could use this technique. I've also been trying to work out what you could do if you don't have a food processor. Perhaps chop the bean as small as possible then grind it in a pestle and mortar?

Try to use a high quality, plump vanilla bean - you want it to be soft, as I imagine a tough bean would be difficult to blend and the little bits would be chewier. I did wonder if you could briefly soak a harder bean in some boiling water, like soaking raisins or dried fruit to plump them up, but I haven't tried it.

Though I loved the punchy vanilla, I thought - much to my surprise - that the cookies were too sweet. To me, it seemed that a short, delicate biscuit would be better than a crunchy one. Fork Biscuits, a staple of my childhood, are nearly the texture I was going for, so I compared the ratios of butter : sugar : flour (Heidi = 1 : 1 : 1.08, Fork = 1 : 0.48 : 1.38 ) and came to a new one = 1 : 0.5 : 1.25. Which, I then realised, isn't far off shortbread.

(This slightly ghostly bit of biscuit dough hiding behind parchment is as close to spooky/spidery baking as I'm going to get this year. Happy Halloween!)

The photo above is from the Heidi recipe, where you roll all of the dough out between two pieces of parchment, chill it, then stamp the cookies out afterwards. I decided to adapt this by combining it with the fork biscuit method of making balls and squishing them with (surprise!) a fork: I took some dough, formed a little ball, put it between parchment and then rolled it out into an oval shape. It naturally flutes the edges a little and means that you don't have any dough that you have to re-roll after cutting, so it all stays very tender.

The resulting biscuits are beautifully light and - this is such a cliché, but true in this case - they seem to melt in your mouth.

They might not look as dramatic or exciting as some of my last posts but I am very, very excited about this recipe. My childhood favourite has grown up.

P.S. I'm sorry that this post is a day late and that I've been so useless at replying to comments on the past few posts - I've been ill (lost nearly an entire week to a horrid bout of flu, I was not amused) and between catching up with work and still being pathetically weak and tired I've been struggling to keep everything in the air. Replies will be up soon.

Whole Vanilla Bean Biscuits
(adapted from 101 Cookbooks and my family Fork Biscuit recipe)

1 soft, plump vanilla bean
50g caster sugar
100g unsalted butter, cold but not rock solid
125g plain flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
a big pinch of fine sea salt
a few pinches of sea salt flakes or fleur de sel (optional)

Cut the hard tips off the vanilla bean then chop it into small chunks. Place in the bowl of a food processor with the caster sugar. Throughout the processing you'll need to stop and scrape the sides and bottom down fairly regularly. Blend until the bean has been broken down into seeds and tiny dark flecks and the sugar has turned light brown (see this photo) - this takes a few minutes. Add the butter and blend, stopping as soon as you have a uniform creamy paste. Tip in the flour, baking powder and pinch of sea salt and pulse until the mixture starts forming bigger clumps and cleans the sides.

Take little balls of the mixture (in between the size of a cherry and a walnut). Don't worry about forming perfect spheres - you don't want to work the dough too much or warm it up. Place the ball on one side of a small rectangle of baking parchment (or two squares, if it's easier). Fold the other side over and use a rolling pin to flatten the ball into an even oval shape about 5-7mm thick. Peel off the parchment and place onto a parchment-lined baking tray. Repeat for the rest of the mixture - I place them in close formation on one sheet as I don't have much space in my fridge, then move after chilling. Chill for 30 minutes.

While they rest, preheat the oven to 170C/340F. Move half of the biscuits onto another baking tray and put back into the fridge. If desired, crush a few sea salt flakes over the biscuits you're baking, then place the tray into the oven. Bake for 8-10 minutes - I turned my trays at 6 to ensure an even bake. The biscuits should have risen slightly then fallen a little and be pale gold with ever-so-slightly darker edges. Cool on the tray for two minutes then transfer to a wire rack. Repeat with the rest of the biscuits chilling in the fridge. They're at their best when they've just cooled down but keep well for a few days in an airtight tin. The unbaked biscuits keep for a day in the fridge and a few weeks in the freezer, separated by parchment.

(Makes 15-17, depending on how much dough you eat *coughIhad15cough*)

A few related posts:
Peanut Butter Biscuits
Cumin and Lemon Cookies

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Rice Pudding with Buttered Quince

The quince encapsulates autumn.

As the season dawns, the fruit upon the tree begin to glow a vibrant yellow, ripening from their fuzzy green beginnings.

The flesh of the fruit is crisp and feels almost frozen under the knife. Warmth transforms the quince.

At first, you don't quite know how to dress a quince. Tights, leggings, boots, butter, poaching, roasting?

Once you take the coat off a quince, it must be quickly submerged into a new home without being left out in the damaging air.

Once placed in the pan, the creamy flesh slowly changes colour. By the end, chunks of quince are the colour of a crisp autumnal sunset.

I'm slowly getting used to an urban sunset, a city autumn - litter mixing with the mounds of crisp brown leaves, the tube-heat-coat troubles.

I found these quinces at a little market. Having never seen them for sale before, I grabbed a few. My grandmother used to make quince jelly but I didn't have enough. Simplicity won in the end - I wanted to really be able to taste this new fruit.

Finally, the rice pudding. As a child, I never really liked rice pudding. I fell in love with it this summer, when I ate a lot of it in France. It was served cold for breakfast, thick and creamy and topped with fresh fruit coulis. This pan barely lasted long enough to be photographed. Sometimes the simple pleasures are the best.

I thought it would meld well with the rosy quince. Each mouthful morphs from creamy to fragrant and fruity as you eat.

Rice Pudding with Buttered Quince
(Pudding adapted from Raymond Blanc's Kitchen Secrets, quince from Nigel Slater's Tender Vol II)

For the pudding:
75g short grain rice (I used risotto rice)
850ml whole milk
50g caster sugar
pinch of sea salt
1 vanilla pod

For the quince:
1 quince (about 250g)
1/2 lemon
10g butter
15g caster sugar

Place the rice, milk, caster sugar and sea salt into a medium saucepan. Split the vanilla pod and scrape the seeds out. Place the seeds and pod into the milk. Set over medium heat and bring to the boil then bring down the heat to a gentle simmer. Keep heating, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom with a spatula.

It will slowly thicken and the rice will cook. This can take at least an hour. (You can cook on the stovetop for 30 minutes then bake in the oven for 30 minutes at 150C too). By the end you still want it to be fairly loose as it will thicken - the rice will be visible on the top and the sauce should be about the thickness of custard. When it's ready pour it into a dish and cool to room temperature. Chill in the fridge overnight, or for at least 2-3 hours.

To start the buttered quince, prepare a bowl of cold water with a slice of the lemon, squeezing it to release the juice. Rub a little lemon over your peeler and peel the quice, dipping the exposed areas into the water. Cut into quarters and place three into the water. I found it easiest to then cut these in half lengthways, place on their triangular bottoms and slice the core out. Chop into chunks and place back into the lemon water. Repeat for the other pieces.

When they're done, place the butter and sugar into a medium pan and melt together. Juice the rest of the lemon into the pan and stir. Finally drain and add the quince chunks. Stir together and heat over a low-medium heat until the quince is very soft - it should be pinky orange instead of cream and easy to squish. This takes about 45 minutes, depending on the ripeness of the fruit.

To serve, spoon some of the cold rice pudding into a bowl and then top with some of the buttered fruit.

(Serves 3-4)

Friday, 5 November 2010

A Vanilla Ice Cream Dégustation

Back in the distant past (May), I made some Nutella and did a taste test with four friends. This is the bigger, better version of that. Instead of four samples, we had six. The test was done over three occasions and completed by ten people. I had typed up forms and spreadsheets and labelled ramekins and Pellegrino palate cleansers. I can't even approach some ice cream without acting geeky. 

I decided to test vanilla ice cream because it's such a versatile and important component of so many desserts and sundaes. A scoop of really nice vanilla can transform a pudding. It's also easy to make but difficult to perfect.   

Last time the texture of my homemade Nutella gave the game away and so the test lost the anonymity. This time I added in a little post-testing quiz to see if my participants could match them up and the vast majority of guesses were wrong - so at least I know they were only going on what they tasted rather than if their answer would upset me! To throw an extra spanner into the works I made two ice creams myself: a custard based French version (recipe below) and an eggless American version (as I've made before). 

I then bought four others. First I chose three big UK brands from the supermarket: upper range Häagen-Dazs; middle range Carte d'Or; and low range Kelly's Cornish. In Oxford, G&D's is the famous place to go for ice cream - they have three ice cream cafes in various locations. To add another dimension, I picked up a tub of their 'home made premium ice cream'. 

Each tester had a sheet with sections to comment, score out of ten and then guess the price range for each ice cream. 

And so, with no further ado, the average scores out of ten:

1 = Homemade French (7.2)
1 = Carte d'Or (7.2)
3 - Homemade American (6.6)
4 - Häagen-Dazs (6.3)
5 - Kelly's Cornish (5.6)
6 - G&D's (4.2)

I also got people to rate on a scale of 1 to 5 how expensive they thought each ice cream was. Interestingly, the table related exactly with the one above (with Carte d'Or in clear 1st).  I was surprised at how clearly people immediately associated their favourites with expense. 

The actual prices were quite different - Carte d'Or, the equal first in the scores and perceived to be the most expensive, was actually the second cheapest. The most expensive, G&D's, had both the lowest scores and price expectation. I have a theory that the G&D's tub might have been from a bad batch or been left out to defrost or something else as I've always enjoyed it before. Though I do usually taste it when it's been drenched in espresso, which would drown out the odd 'mushroomy' aftertaste (see below).

If you want to check out all the scores and stats in detail, they're on google docs here.

Finally, some of my favourite comments:
"Interesting aftertaste (mushroomy)."
"It tastes of vanilla, and is cold."
"More yellow than the others"
"Fruity flavours. Strawberry and banana."
"Mushroomy... Hard."

 French Vanilla Ice Cream
(From David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop)

250ml whole milk
150g caster sugar
500ml double cream
pinch of salt
1 vanilla pod
6 egg yolks
3/4 tsp vanilla extract

Put the milk, sugar, salt and half the cream into a medium saucepan. Warm it all up together. Split the pod in half and scrape the seeds out and put into the saucepan. Turn off the heat and leave to steep for 30 minutes. Pour the rest of the cream into a big bowl and put a sieve over the top.  

In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks together. Pour some of the milk slowly into the eggs, whisking constantly. Then tip it all back into the saucepan and stir constantly over a medium heat. Scrape down the sides and bottom as you go. It's ready when the mixture coats the back of the spatula. Pour through the sieve into the bowl and stir it in. Stir until cool over an ice bath. Scrape into a jug and add the extract and the pod from the sieve. Cover with cling film and leave to chill in the fridge overnight.  Churn according to the instructions with your ice cream maker. 

(Makes 1 litre)

Monday, 6 September 2010

Blackberry and Vanilla Layer Cake

For my mum's Children's Book Tea Party (see my last post for the rest of the goodies!) I decided I wanted to make a bigger cake to go into the middle, surrounded by all the bite-size other pieces. I made a makeshift stand for it out of a few teacups, a saucer and some blue-tack. 

I had a few punnets of blackberries from the market and decided that these could be the main theme to my cake. I decided to use the wonderful recipe for vanilla cake that I had used for my mum's Blueberry and Ginger birthday cake. Vanilla seemed like the perfect subtle pairing with the blackberries. 

I decided to use a similar premise to mum's birthday cake - lovely sponge, moistened with sugar syrup, layered with fruit compote, iced with a creamy icing and topped with fresh fruit. I added some icing to the layers to give it height and body - next time I think I'll beat some blackberry into that icing as well as spooning it over the cake first to give it more of a blackberry hit. 

When I was making the cake batter, I managed to screw it up. It curdled badly - I wasn't concentrating and added too much egg too quickly. It still looked curdled when I poured it into the tin. As it has such a long baking time and I was on a schedule, I was pretty worried. 

Yet when I took it out of the oven, it was perfectly golden and incredibly flat topped - I didn't in any way have to trim this cake. When I split it open, I was greeted with gorgeous golden sponge. That's why this recipe is such a keeper - it seems to turn out great results whatever you do to it.  Together with the icing and blackberries, it made for a delicious cake. 

Blackberry and Vanilla Layer Cake
(cake recipe adapted from Good Food Magazine)

For the cake:
125g unsalted butter
75g caster sugar
2.5 eggs*
170g plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
50g full fat greek yogurt
1 1/2 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla essence

Preheat the oven to 160C/140C for fan ovens. Grease and fully line a 6" round tin. Put the butter and sugar in a mixer and cream till pale and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. You may need to add a tbsp or two of flour to stop it getting slimy. Beat in the yogurt. Sift the flours over the batter and fold in - when nearly done, add the milk and vanilla. Spoon into a tin and bake for about 1 hour - 1 hr 15 or until risen, golden and a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes before spiking the cake all over and pouring some syrup over, letting it sink in as evenly as possible. Leave to cool completely before removing from the tin.

*see the guide to my recipes on the sidebar for my method for halving eggs. 

For the vanilla syrup:
50g sugar
75 ml water
1/2 a vanilla pod

Put everything in a small pan and heat until the sugar is dissolved. Transfer to a small pot and leave to infuse. 

For the vanilla cream frosting:
50g butter
100g icing sugar
100g cream cheese
100g marscarpone
1 tsp pate de vanille

Slowly beat the softened butter into the icng sugar. Scrape the cream cheese and marscapone into the bowl and beat in. Add the vanilla and beat again. Put into the fridge to chill for half an hour or so before freezing. Does keep at least overnight in the fridge before using.

For the blackberry compote:
200g blackberries
1/2 vanilla pod
30g caster sugar
1 tbsp water

Scrape the vanilla pod and put both seeds and pod into a small pan. Add all the other ingredients. Heat gently until the fruit is soft - mine turned a brighter red. Squish the fruit a bit. Leave to cool and then put in a jar in the fridge. Keeps for about a week in the fridge. 

To assemble:
Split the cooled cake into three layers using a serrated knife or cake leveller. Place four strips of parchment paper on your serving plate and put one of the layers on the bottom. Spoon blackberry compote over the layer, making sure it is all covered well. Add a few tablespoons of icing and swirl in. Add the next cake layer and repeat. Add the final cake layer and use some more icing to make a crumb coat. Leave in the fridge for 30 minutes to set. Finally make an even coating of the icing and arrange some more fresh blackberries on top. 

(Serves about 20)

Friday, 27 August 2010

Baked Alps

When I saw this challenge, I knew what I had to do. I've made baked alaska a few times before, but this time I wanted to do something a bit different with the shape - and so I present to you... Baked Alps! 

I adore mountains, especially the bit of the Swiss Alps where my mum lives. They're like home and yet are the most exciting, changeable place to be. Nothing is ever boring in the mountains. 

To make my Alps, I simply cut out a bit of the cake in the right shape and then sculpted the mountains with the ice cream. I then made some french meringue and used a small palette knife to cover and perfect my range. I then used a kitchen blowtorch to make them look more realistic.

 I'd say this is a picture of the alps in mid-late spring - the brown areas are a combination of the trees and also the snow melting, leaving the bare ground. For this reason, there is a swathe all around the bottom and then more up along the south, sunny side (to the right of the pictures). 

My favourite addition to baked alaskas is a fruit layer between the ice cream and cake. The last one I made had an almond and orange sponge base topped with mixed summer fruits which were lightly cooked and then topped with vanilla ice cream and meringue. I feel the sharpness of the fruits is really needed to cut through the sweetness of the rest of the dessert.  For my alps I decided to use a layer of fresh blackberries. 

Though I absolutely adored making the shape and using the blow torch a bit like a brush, I wasn't hugely pleased with the recipe - though all I think doesn't work is that the cake base and fruit becomes rock solid with all the freezer time. The cake also lost a huge amount of taste when frozen.  If I were to make this again, I would sculpt the ice cream on some clingfilm and freeze that, then simply top the cake and fruit with it before covering with meringue and torching. 

Despite this, baked alaska is an amazing dessert. I have always thought that I were ever to host a DB challenge, I would choose baked alaska. 

The August 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Elissa of 17 and Baking. For the first time, The Daring Bakers partnered with Sugar High Fridays for a co-event and Elissa was the gracious hostess of both. Using the theme of beurre noisette, or browned butter, Elissa chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make a pound cake to be used in either a Baked Alaska or in Ice Cream Petit Fours. The sources for Elissa’s challenge were Gourmet magazine and David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop”.

Baked Alps

See the challenge recipe, here

My changes 
I made a half measure of the challenge recipe for the pound cake in a rectangular tin (I had leftovers). 
I added a layer of fresh blackberries in between the cake and ice cream.
I made a french meringue with 1 egg white and 55g of caster sugar as I didn't need much.