Tuesday, 30 April 2013

A Smitten Kitchen Lunch

A few months ago I was asked to photograph and write a feature for a magazine. Sadly the feature idea as a whole has now been dropped but it seemed a shame to waste the work. Instead, I thought I'd share a few highlights and outtakes with you as a little extra - I'll be back on Thursday with a recipe.

The idea was that I cooked a three course lunch from Deb Perelman's wonderful Smitten Kitchen Cookbook at home for my friends. I rounded up a few people from university who were in town for Emily's birthday and we had Sunday lunch (say hello to Mike and Sam, l-r above, and Emily, below). Emily's the uni friend who lived with me last year.

I was pretty terrified about photographing people and savoury food - both are definitely a step outside my comfort zone. Having said that, I was also really excited and in the end I learnt a lot from the whole experience of doing the piece.

To start, I made tiny versions of the leek fritters with garlic and lemon (p.129), which I served on a platter with the dip. For our main course we had the flat roasted chicken with tiny potatoes (p.173) - though I forgot to serve the extra veg to go with it in the chaos. Finally, I made the whole lemon bars (p.217) for pudding. We really enjoyed all of the recipes (and they worked consistently well both times I tried them). The lemon bar base mingled with the topping more than I expected from pictures of other recipes but they were delicious.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the photos - we certainly had a lovely time (it was the weekend I wrote about here).

{Lots of leeks}

{Steamed leeks}

{Wringing them out}

{Boys being silly}

{Roast chicken}

{On the table. My mum had the table and benches made when I was eight from wood that came from a Lebanese Cedar tree that stood on my grandparents' front lawn (she could see it from her bedroom window as a child). It fell down in the gales a few months before I was born and my grandpa milled the wood. Now it doesn't fit in mum's home in Switzerland so I get to look after it. It's very special (and don't worry, there's a trivet hidden beneath the hot tray).}


{Dusting the lemon bars}

{Trying to get a photo of me with a straight face - I'm much happier behind the camera.}

{We lit the candles just before pudding. I realised when I looked back that (surprise surprise) they'd changed the light. But they were pretty.}

{In the midst of my photoshoot planning, I'd decided I could highlight the birthday element to the piece by giving Emily a lemon bar with a candle in it. I was so preoccupied with my plan that I completely forgot the fact that Emily is mildly allergic to citrus. I was mortified when I realised what I'd done, especially as she'd already eaten the slightly-lemony chicken because she didn't want to upset me halfway through the shoot I was so nervous about.}

{Pulling faces}

Note: though I normally never accept review copies of books, a copy of SKC was sent to me as it was meant to be for a non-blog piece. I wasn't sure I should post this for that reason but I decided to bend my rules.

Finally, my short anonymous survey about Poires is still open. It's just 10 questions, 8 of which are multiple choice. I'm really chuffed with the response so far - over 600 replies and counting! I'll put together a post (or part of a post) soon answering questions and suggestions that have come up and maybe telling you a few of the key statistics.

Edit: The survey is now closed! Thank you so much for your helpful responses.


Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Poires au Chocolat 2013 Survey

I'm going through a phase where I'm questioning everything I do. In tandem, I want - and sometimes feel that I need - answers. Most of the time I can't get those answers - they're hidden in the future or are choices I need to make - but I realised recently that I do have a way to find out what you think of a few blog-related questions: a survey.

There are only ten questions, eight of which are multiple choice, so it shouldn't take too much time. None of the questions are compulsory and the survey is anonymous.

To take the survey, please click here.

The survey has now closed. Thank you so much for your responses!

I hope you enjoy doing the survey - I'm certainly looking forward to seeing the results and playing with the statistics (on that note, have you seen these awesome graphs you can create from the incidence of words and phrases in the digitized archive of Google Books? I obviously entered 'butter', 'biscuit' and 'cake' - I find the peaks in 'butter' and 'cake' around the two world wars fascinating).

I couldn't think of any sensible photos to use for this post so I've gone for a series entitled 'holding my camera where I can't see into it: inadvertent self portraits'. And yes, I was wearing my pyjamas when I made the éclairs.

The three posts that match this photo series:
Mince Pies
Caramelised White Chocolate Éclairs
Caramelised Milk Chocolate

Thursday, 18 April 2013

(Nearly-)Whatever-You-Want Chocolate Cookies

Spring seems to have finally, finally sprung.

I'm having to adjust to taking pictures with sunlight streaming into my kitchen instead of the beautiful muted light we've had all winter. I went out yesterday without a coat or thick scarf or boots or socks. The woollen throw has been tossed off my bed. The violets are flowering in every nook and cranny of my little garden and the buds on my apple tree are bursting open.

To celebrate, I've made cookies.

About ten years ago, mum bought a simple, magazine-style cookbook from the Australian Women's Weekly series. She spent a year working in Melbourne before I was born and I think she came across the series at that point. We've only ever made one recipe from the book: the chocolate cookies. They've evolved over the years but they're still essentially the same - thick, crispy-on-the-edges, squidgy-middled and wonderfully deep with muscavado and plenty of cocoa powder.

I've made them to say thank you. I've made them for picnics. I've made over a hundred for a catering job. I've made them when friends have come to stay. Mostly, I've made them when I really wanted a chocolate cookie.

Since I first posted about them in 2009 (they were the eighth recipe I posted on here), they've got a little lost in the archives. I wanted to talk about them again, so I thought I'd see what else you could fold through the dough. I usually use pecans with whatever other chocolate I have on hand - usually dark. So I could try a few different things, I split one batch of dough into three: Crystallized Ginger & Dark Chocolate, Double Chocolate & Walnut and Freeze Dried Raspberry & White Chocolate.

I used:
80g dark chocolate
25g crystallized ginger pieces

40g dark chocolate
30g milk chocolate
45g toasted walnuts

100g white chocolate
7g crushed freeze dried raspberries

I haven't tried baking freeze dried raspberries into anything before and sadly it didn't work here - any bits on the outside burned and I wasn't happy with the flavour (so the recipe went from whatever-you-want to nearly-whatever-you-want). Despite that, the ginger variation was great (though I might add a little more ginger next time - I was nervous as this packet seems extremely fiery) and I'm always a massive fan of the nut-chocolate combination.

What combination would you try?

(Nearly-)Whatever-You-Want Chocolate Cookies
(adapted from an Australian Women's Weekly book - I'm not sure which as I can't find the book)

125g unsalted butter
200g soft brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract or paste
185g plain flour
50g cocoa powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp fine sea salt

Mix in:
350g of assorted chocolate, nuts etc

Preheat the oven to 160C/320F. Put the butter into the bowl of a stand mixer and briefly beat to soften it up. Add the sugar, egg and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add the flour, cocoa, bicarbonate, baking powder and salt and mix on the lowest setting to combine. Stir through the mix-ins. Use a couple of teaspoons to create smallish heaps of dough on a lightly greased baking sheet. Place into the oven and bake for 10 minutes (12 if from frozen). Leave to cool on the sheet for 5 minutes then remove to a wire rack.

The dough can be chilled for about 24 hours and frozen for a few months. I freeze formed ready-to-bake cookies on a tray then transfer them to a zippy bag. You can then bake them straight from the freezer whenever you want fresh cookies.

(Makes about 25-27 small cookies)

Three more posts about cookies/biscuits:
2012: Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies
2011: Sesame Wafers
2010: Peanut Butter Biscuits

Monday, 15 April 2013

Cinnamon-Cardamon Kringel Bread

Every time I make this bread, two memories pop up.

The first time I tested this idea, I was listening to the radio online. Someone had linked to the programs - I think on twitter - and I'd clicked though, curious. As they describe, "We spent five months at Harper High School in Chicago, where last year alone 29 current and recent students were shot. 29. We went to get a sense of what it means to live in the midst of all this gun violence, how teens and adults navigate a world of funerals and Homecoming dances." It's split into two halves: Part One and Part Two. Guns and gun crime weren't even on my radar as a child or teenager. I know nothing else about the show but the programs have stayed with me.

It's not just the words or their lives that have stayed with me, but the way I felt, listening quietly as I wove the dough together. It's as if I entwined my heavy heart into the recipe and I can't disentangle the strands.

Then, before I went out to Switzerland a few weeks ago, a few of my friends came to stay to celebrate a friend's birthday. I'd made the bread a few times in the weeks after listening to the radio and I wove it together again, taking the series you see below, the morning everyone was arriving. I ran out of time to bake it and had to throw it into the fridge to rise overnight. We ate it for breakfast the next day, hacking off slice after slice as we drank our tea and chatted.

I miss having lots of good friends in Oxford. All but one of my friends from university have moved away and are spread out over the UK. I miss the community of university, even though I know it wasn't as rosy as my memory tells me. It was so good to spend that weekend talking for hour after hour after hour - to get past catching up on the basics of our new lives and onto other stories, onto childhood memories and new questions.

So now the bread is infused with two very different - but both strong, both emotionally evocative - memories.

Tip dough out onto a floured surface / Coax into a square / Roll out into a rectangle / Smear with butter and sprinkle with sugar and spices/

Roll up from the long side / Cut carefully into two / Weave the strands together, cut side up / Pull round into a circle, weave the ends together and seal.

This recipe started with Ottolenghi's Chocolate Pecan Krantz Cake. As I mentioned in that post, I wanted to try a cinnamon roll version using the shaping technique but changing the recipe. When I got around to making it, I added cardamon and I decided to try and loop it around into a circle.

My main problem was trying to get the baking right - the first time I underbaked the loaf and I slightly burnt the edges twice. In the end I settled on a high starting temperature then a decrease for the rest of the baking time, which seems to work well.

After making a few versions, I saw a very similar idea on Pinterest and discovered that the loaf has a name and a history. It's called a kringel and it comes from Estonia. I first saw the pictures from this post, which I followed to this one.

Every time I make it, it looks a bit different - here's a blurry picture of my first loaf. The other reason the two photos above look a bit different is that I was experimenting with spelt flour. Both of the times I tried spelt, the dough was wetter and didn't rise as much. I think I prefer the texture of the loaf made from normal bread flour, though that might just be because it's what I'm used to. The photo below shows a slice of both loaves - the spelt is on the bottom (the normal one is only part of a slice). I might fiddle a bit more with the spelt version - I do quite like the flavour.

This bread has become one of my favourite breakfasts. I particularly like it toasted with some salted butter. Sometimes I even add a slather of jam (my favourite is raspberry and redcurrant) or marmalade.


The past few weeks have been a bit rough and I know a few things have been a bit erratic (especially replying to emails and posting on time). Hopefully things will calm down now I'm back in Oxford and I'll get back into a rhythm.

Update: I've written about this recipe for Food 52 and after re-testing it, I've updated the recipe below too.

I've combined the butter & cinnamon sugar for the filling so the layers of the roll stick together - it makes the shaping easier (as you can see below - the full set of new photos is on Food 52).

Cinnamon-Cardamon Kringel Bread
(no specific source but owes general sweet bread knowledge to Peter Reinhart and Signe Johansen)

For the dough:
250ml whole milk
75g unsalted butter
450g strong white flour
70g caster sugar
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
10 green cardamon pods
7g fast action yeast (normally 1 packet)
1 egg

For the filling:
60g unsalted butter
40g caster sugar (or brown sugar)
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp fine sea salt (or use salted butter)

Take the butter out of the fridge for the filling to let it soften. Put the milk and butter for the dough into a small pan and heat over medium until the butter has melted, then turn up and scald (bring just up to the boil). Pour into a bowl and pop into the fridge to cool (this can take some time).

Crush the cardamon pods with the side of a knife and remove the seeds, then finely grind the seeds. Combine the flour, sugar, salt, cardamon in a mixer bowl and stir, then add the yeast and stir again. Beat the egg up lightly in a bowl. Once the milk has cooled to body temperature, add it and the egg to the bowl. Stir until you have a shaggy dough then put on the machine and knead with the dough hook for 4-5 minutes until the dough comes away from the sides and passes the windowpane test. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave to rise for about 45 - 75 minutes until the dough has doubled in size (you could also do this rise overnight).

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface then roll out into a rectangle of 30 x 40cm (12" x 16"). Beat the soft butter, sugar, cinnamon and salt together. Spread the mixture over the entire surface of the dough. Roll up from the long side, then use a serrated knife to split the roll lengthways (it doesn't fall apart as much as the pictures - I was trying a different filling technique). Transfer to a sheet of baking parchment (I forgot to do this during the photo series above - if you do too, just carefully lift it onto the paper later). Weave the two strands together with the cut side up. Bring the ends together then press together to make a ring. Cover with cling film and leave to rise for about 30 minutes until puffy (if you press it with a finger, it should make a dent). You can also place into the fridge overnight to rise slowly - take out to warm up ten minutes before baking.

While it rises, preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Use the parchment to shift the ring onto a tray. Put into the oven and bake for ten minutes, then reduce the temperature to 160C/320F. Bake for 25-35 minutes until the ring is risen, deep brown and sounds hollow when knocked. Remove to a wire rack to cool. Keeps fresh for a day, toasts for a few days, freezes well.

(Makes one large loaf)

{updated March 2014}
UPDATE 30/11/17: Just adjusted the baking time range as mine baked a bit faster.

Three more posts with cardamon or cinnamon:
Cardamon Orange Pound Cake
Apple Cinnamon Layer Cake
Super Chocolate Cinnamon Rolls

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Seed Cake

"I cut and handed the sweet seed-cake - the little sisters had a bird-like fondness for picking up seeds and pecking at sugar; Miss Lavinia looked on with benignant patronage, as if our happy love were all her work; and we were perfectly contented with ourselves and one another."

David Copperfield, Charles Dickens, Chapter 42, 'Mischief', published 1850.

Since coming across this tender scene while reading in preparation for my first term at university, I've found seed cake in several other books and always wanted to try it. As I was already on a history kick with my Hot Cross Buns and Lemon Posset, I decided to see what I could find.

According to the OED, seed cake was first mentioned in 1570 by Thomas Tusser in an new edition of A Hundreth Good Pointes of Husbandrie (I can only find the later Five Hundreth Good Pointes Of Husbandry online). He writes:

"Wife, some time this weeke if that all thing go cleare,
an ende of wheat sowing we make for this yeare.
Remember you therefore, though I do it not,
the Seede Cake, the Pasties, and Furmentie pot."

The feast to celebrate the end of sowing fell on St Martin's Day, the 11th of November. Originally, the forty day fast for advent started the next day, so it would have been an occasion to use up and enjoy rich and special foods (just like Pancake Day before Lent). Over time this association with St Martin's Day seems to have faded and seed cakes became popular all year round.

(Also - on the subject of fasting - BBC Radio 4's Food Programme broadcasted an wonderful discussion on Easter Sunday about fasting from a historical, religious and current 5:2 perspective - you can listen to it here.)

But what is a seed cake? Nicola Humble notes in her book on the history of Cake that the following recipe from 1631 is the earliest recorded for a no-yeast sponge-style cake. It also contains aniseeds and coriander seeds. I've transcribed this from digital images of the edition I found through the Bod, preserving the spelling and capitalisation, though not the long s and other typography (I'd have loved to show you the images but the permissions were a bit complex).

"To make Bisket-bread, take a pound of fine flower & a pound of sugar finely beaten and fearfed, and mixe them together; Then take eight egges and put foure yolks and beate them very well together; then throw in your flower and sug it as you are beating of it, by a little at once, it will take very neere an houres beating then take halfe an ounce of Aniseedes and Coriander seeds and let them be dried and rubbed very cleane, and put them in; then rub your Bisket pans with cold sweet butter as thin as you can, and so put it in and bake it in an oven."

From The English House-wifes, Gervase Markham, 3rd edition, printed in London in 1631, p.125-6.

The recipe continues on to describe how to make thin cakes with the same mixture, which, interestingly, are then called 'Cakes' instead of 'Bisket-bread'. It's also noteworthy that most of the beating takes place after the flour has been added - I imagine it would make a very tough cake (as well as tough arms after nearly an hour of beating...).

I also looked at some later recipes from 1732. Eliza Smith has two recipes for seed cake - one is yeast risen and the another is for a richer sponge with butter, sack (a fortified white wine) citrus and sugar-coated caraway seeds. I've transcribed the second one for you (in a similar way to above):

"A good Seed Cake

Take five pounds of fine Flour well dried and four pounds of single-refined Sugar beaten and sifted; mix the Sugar and Flour together, and sift them through a Hair-sieve; then wash four pounds of Butter in eight spoonfuls of Rose or Orange-flower water; you must work the butter with your Hand, till 'tis like Cream; beat twenty Eggs, half the whites, and put to them six spoonfuls of Sack; then put in your Flour a little at a time, keeping stirring with your Hand all the time; you must not begin mixing it till the Oven is almost hot; you must let it lie a little while before you put your cake into the Hoop; when you are ready to put it into the Oven, put into it eight ounces of candied Orange-peel sliced, and as much Citron, and a pound and half of Carraway-comfits; mix all well together, and put it in the Hoop, which must be prepared at bottom, and buttered, the oven must be quick: it will take two or three hours baking. You may ice it if you please."

From The Compleat Housewife, Eliza Smith, 5th edition, printed in 1732 , p.132-3.

Though the seeds change between recipes, caraway seeds seem to be the most popular choice. Conversely, caraway seeds aren't actually seeds - they're fruits that look similar to cumin and taste a bit like anise. Eliza's recipe appears to have a huge amount of seeds - a pound and a half to five pounds of flour - but I think that's because they're sugar coated comfits. Gervase's half an ounce to a pound of flour seems much more normal. Modern cakes are much smaller - depending on the weight of the pound (there were several systems at the time) five pounds of flour would weigh around two kilos, making an enormous cake - so you just need a pinch or two.

I've tried making two styles of seed cake. They're quite different, both in taste and texture, but I liked the caraway in both. The first recipe I tried was Fergus Henderson's, which is a buttery, rich sponge that is vaguely like Eliza's. I found it impossible to stop the mixture curdling (even after trying every trick I could think of and adjusting the ingredients a few times) but it still rose well and tasted good. I've also spotted a similar-ish caraway seed cake in the beautiful Vegetable Literacy, though I haven't tried it yet.

Finally, and as pictured, I tried adapting my family Old Fashioned Sponge Cake recipe by adding a big pinch of crushed caraway seeds to the mix and sprinkling another pinch of whole ones over the top along with a teaspoon of caster sugar. I made a three egg mix (so the flour is divided by 3 and multiplied by 1.6) and I didn't replace the self-raising with baking powder (as it doesn't really need the extra boost and it seemed more traditional that way). It took 35 minutes to bake instead of 40-45. This version bears more of a resemblance to Gervase Markham's recipe.

I think it's a shame that people stopped adding seeds to cakes - up until the end of the nineteenth century they were in almost every non-fruited recipe, yet now they're a curiosity. It's worth trying a pinch in your favourite plain sponge - if only as a simple way to evoke the past.


P.S. I'm very touched - and a little flabbergasted - at the response to the Four Years post. I'm going to work my way through the comments replying to each in the next two days. If you'd like to enter the draw for one of the four presents to celebrate Poires' forth birthday, then please click over here and leave a comment before the 9th. Thank you, once again.

Three more posts about simple cakes:
Brown Butter Pound Cake
Pear and Chocolate Loaf 2.0
Ginger Root Bundt Cake