Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Yeasted Waffles

I used to have two problems with making waffles.

First, by the time I'd got up, mixed the batter, left it to rise and then actually made the waffles, I was ravenous. I don't like waiting around for my breakfast. Second, I didn't like the way that they a/ went limp quickly and b/ had to be served as each one was ready to avoid a/. Despite the problems, I still made a lot of waffles whenever I was back in Switzerland (and therefore in close vicinity to mum's waffle iron).

Last week I got my own waffle iron as a birthday present. It's a stovetop one that sits on my gas hob. I've been practicing nearly every day since (I think the batch this morning was the 9th) and I think I've finally worked out how to cook with it. It seems that every type and even model of waffle maker is quite different - I think you probably have to retouch your recipe and technique every time you try a new one (though I think the bulky electric ones are easier to use and get good results with).

With my new waffle enthusiasm, I set about solving my two problems. I knew the first could be solved by an overnight rise in the fridge, though adjusting the amount of yeast and deciding on the optimum amount of rise took some time. I thought the second might be solved by a warm oven. It turns out that you need a medium-hot oven, but it does work, creating lovely crispy edges. I haven't tried it with a bigger batch (I was so used to making this recipe I forgot to double when I had my friends to stay this weekend, much to my despair) and I'd be a bit worried that the first ones might get a bit too crispy, but it's worth a try.

I like mine with very crispy streaky bacon, some banana or strawberries and lashings of maple syrup (despite the fact that apparently fruit and bacon is weird?). I've also recently discovered the purer pleasure of a bit of salted butter melted over the top with some maple syrup. What do you like with your waffles?

Yeasted Waffles

30g unsalted butter
125g plain flour
1 tbsp brown sugar
a few pinches of fine sea salt
3/4 tsp instant yeast (about 3.5g or half a normal packet)
1 large egg
200ml milk
1 tsp vanilla paste

The evening before, make the batter. Place the butter in small saucepan and melt. Keep heating until the butter foams up and and the flecks go brown (see foundation if you're not used to brown butter). Pour into a bowl and put into the fridge to cool. Sieve the flour, brown sugar and salt into a big mixing bowl, then stir in the yeast. Make a well in the middle and add the egg, then whisk in, bringing some of the flour into the centre. Add the milk in several additions, whisking as you go. Once you have a smooth batter, whisk in the vanilla and the cooled brown butter (can be warm but not hot to the touch). Cover with clingfilm. Leave to rise at room temperature for half an hour or so then place in the fridge overnight.

The next morning, take out the mixture (it won't have doubled in size but it should be full of bubbles) and preheat the oven to 180C/350F with a baking tray inside. Let the mixture warm up a bit as you organise toppings, make a pot of tea and preheat the waffle iron. Make according to the instructions on your waffle iron, placing each one straight into the oven as it's done. I get 4 ladles of mixture from this recipe (don't stir it and lose the bubbles). Set up your plates etc while the last one crisps then serve immediately.

(Makes 4 waffles, usually serves 2, 4 at a push)

Three other breakfast recipes:
Dutch Baby (a.k.a. puffed pancake)
Seville Orange Marmalade
Homemade Granola

Monday, 9 June 2014

Strawberry & Balsamic Caramel Meringues

It's my birthday in ten minutes. I'll be 25. A quarter of a century!

I created this recipe for my birthday party last year but the post about it lingered in my draft folder. Strawberry season ended and so here we are, a year on.

This batch of balsamic caramel had the distinction of being the first thing I made in my SAVEUR awards pan (we were given them as a sort of trophy, as you can see here - they have engraved handles).

The only word I can think of to describe my time in Vegas is surreal. Vegas itself, the desert heat, the jet lag, meeting people I didn't think I'd ever know in person - the whole thing had a dreamlike quality.

After the awards, I flew to California to spend a few days with my lovely friend Erin and her family. Erin and I first met at O Chamé in Berkeley, which has sadly now closed. That day I had their balsamic caramel gelato, which I later wrote about as one of most inspiring tastes of our trip. Strawberry and balsamic go well together, so last summer I decided to combine all three.

The balsamic in the caramel cuts through some of the sweetness of the meringue and strawberries. I also add a bit of crème fraîche to the whipped cream to give it a sour hint. It all comes together to make the classic combination a bit more interesting. You get crunchy, chewy and sweet from the meringue; softly whipped and slightly tart cream; fresh, bright strawberry, and then the complex caramel on top.

Finally, on Thursday I won Food Blog of the Year at the Guild of Food Writers Awards 2014! It's such an honour to be chosen and I'm absolutely thrilled that lightning has struck twice.

In case you're curious, the five posts from 2013 that the judges looked at in particular:
Brown Butter Pound Cake
Caramelised White Chocolate Éclairs
Hot Cross Buns v.4
Dutch Baby a.k.a. Puffed Pancake
Foundations no.8 - Meringue Part I

The last post must have been the inspiration for this amusing comment in the awards booklet - so I think it's particularly appropriate that this post happened to be about whipping whites into meringues.

Strawberry & Balsamic Caramel Meringues

For the meringues:
slice of lemon
2 large egg whites (roughly 80g)
105g caster sugar

For the balsamic caramel sauce:
25g caster sugar
35g cold double cream
1/8-1/4 tsp good quality balsamic vinegar

To assemble:
150g double cream (25g per person)
90g crème fraîche (15g/1 tbsp per person)
600g strawberries (100g or roughly 4-6 per person)

For a detailed guide to making meringue with lots of pictures (using the same quantities as here), see here. Preheat the oven to 100C/210F. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment. Wipe down a mixer bowl with the cut side of a slice of lemon. Add the egg whites to the bowl and attach the whisk attachment. Start whipping slowly, then increase the speed to medium-high. Keep whisking until the foam only has tiny bubbles then start adding the sugar slowly while whipping. Once it's all added, stop and scrape down the sides. Turn up to high and whip until the mixture holds stiff, glossy peaks (see guide for pictures) - this usually takes at least 2-3 minutes.

Divide the meringue into six dollops on the baking sheet, then use a teaspoon to form them into nests. Place into the oven and bake for an hour, then turn the oven off and leave to cool inside (you can either do this overnight or for a few hours). Store in an airtight tin until needed.

To make the caramel, spread the sugar evenly over the bottom of a small pan. Place over a medium-high heat 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. Take off the heat, pour in the cream and stir until the bubbling stops. Scrape into a bowl then stir in 1/8 tsp of balsamic. Once it's cooled a bit, taste and see if you want to add another 1/8 tsp. Store in the fridge until needed.

To assemble, re-warm the caramel by pouring boiling water into a slightly bigger bowl and lowering the caramel bowl into the water, being careful the water doesn't spill into it (or place over a smaller pan of simmering water). Stir occasionally until it becomes warm and thinner in consistency. Place the cream and crème fraîche into a mixing bowl and whip until it thickens and you have very soft, floppy peaks (I do this by hand). Remove the tops of the strawberries and cut into quarters. Place a meringue onto a plate then top with cream, strawberries and a drizzle of caramel. Serve immediately.

I assemble them as-and-when for however many people I have to feed (or myself) - so I've put the per person amounts up above.

(Serves 6)

Adaption: For my birthday last year I made a meringue stack version of this recipe. I used a three egg white meringue mix (165g sugar) and spread it into 6" discs. It was hard to cut and I prefer the individual portions but it did look impressive. I had to take a photo of it outside at night, so it's not the best image, but still:

Three more posts about birthdays:
Chocolate Ice Cream and a very lovely 21st
Blueberry and Ginger Layer Cake
That Chocolate Cake

(Credit for the Guild portrait is to Charlotte Medlicott)