Sunday 27 April 2014

Deb's Double Chocolate Banana Bread

Last summer I started a recipe review series. I thought it would be a great excuse to tackle the long list of online recipes I want to try. I started with Emiko's Elderflower & Polenta Cookies. The next recipe I tried tasted awful. Though I'd started with the idea that it was a recipe review, I didn't actually want to be damningly critical. The post remained a draft and I soon forgot about the whole idea.

This morning I realised I had some overripe bananas and no legitimate ebook-based recipe I could use them in. This recipe begged to be tried and as it came from that long list, I thought I'd revive the recipe review. I'm only going to write one when I enjoy the result - I guess it's really more of a recipe recommendation.

The recipe is Deb's Double Chocolate Banana Bread from Smitten Kitchen. It doesn't fit any of my original ideas about unusual recipes or techniques but I really fancied eating it. I made a half recipe in a 6" x 3" mini loaf tin as I only had one big and one tiny banana. I skipped the cinnamon, used 20g cocoa (i.e. 40 for the whole loaf) and used baking powder instead of bicarb. It took 40 minutes to cook.

It's lovely - slightly sticky, dense and heavy on chocolate without defeating the banana flavour. I have a feeling it might be even better tomorrow.

Three more banana recipes:
2011: Banoffee Pies
2011: Chocolate Chunk Banana Bread
2013: Pancakes with Caramelised Banana and Cream

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 (fan). 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.