Earl Grey, White Chocolate and Lemon Macarons

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I used to only drink Earl Grey tea as a special treat, until a good friend of mine who only drinks it helped me realise that some things are worth reserving for special occasions – macarons, for instance – but tea really isn’t one of them. You often find Earl Grey paired with dark chocolate in macarons, but I find it dominates the delicate flavour of the tea. Instead, I’ve paired it with the subtler white chocolate flavoured with lemon zest, to bring out the perfumed, citrus notes of the Earl.

It took me many, many attempts to get macarons right – too flat, too lumpy, too runny, cracked on the top, no feet on the bottom – but I’m pleased to report that I’ve never had a problem since working out this recipe. They really aren’t as intimidating as they seem and many first-time macaron-makers among my friends have had success with this method.

You will need a freestanding mixer, as the egg whites have to be whisked for a good ten minutes, two piping bags (no nozzles required) and either two silicone macaron matts or two sheets of greaseproof, with 28 x 3cm circles drawn out in pencil as a guide, on baking trays.

Ingredients
40g caster sugar
125g egg whites (from around three eggs)
100g ground almonds
200g icing sugar
3 Earl Grey teabags
200g white chocolate
65ml double cream
the zest of 1 lemon
edible cornflower petals (optional)

Makes 56 shells, 28 once sandwiched

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Method
Place the caster sugar and egg whites in the bowl of a freestanding mixer and beat on low (4 on a KitchenAid) for 3 minutes. Increase the speed to medium (6-7) for further three minutes. Finally, increase the speed to high (9-10) for three minutes more. You should now have very stiff peaks.

Meanwhile, weigh out the ground almonds and icing sugar into a bowl, along with the contents of the Earl Grey teabags. Stir well to combine. Add the almond mix to the whisked egg whites and fold together. It should take about 20 turns to come together, but don’t stop there. Continue to fold until you achieve a molten consistency, where a spoon of mixture dropped into the bowl sits on top of the rest and then melts away after around 10 seconds. Too thick and your piped macarons will have peaks rather than lying flat; too runny and, well – try not to get that far.

Spoon the mix into a piping bag (stand it up in a pint glass so you can fill hands-free), twist and fasten the top with whatever you have to hand – a plastic clip, an elastic band, a hair tie – and then snip off the end to give a roughly 1.5cm opening. Pipe swirls in the centre of each dip/drawn circle on your macaron matt/baking paper, leaving a little space around the edge as they will spread as they settle. Scatter the tops of one tray’s worth of macarons with cornflower petals, if wished.

Preheat the oven to 170°C fan. Leave the two trays of macarons on the side while it heats; they will form a soft skin. Rap each tray on the worktop a couple of tips to push any bubbles to the surface. Bake the macarons one tray at a time in the top of the oven for 13 minutes if using a silicone matt, 10 minutes if using greaseproof. Leave them to cool for five minutes on the tray before peeling them off and placing them on a cooling rack.

Meanwhile, make the ganache filling. Place the chocolate and cream in a bowl and heat gently in the microwave for a minute. Remove and stir to combine; the chocolate will continue to melt in the hot cream. If it needs more time to melt completely, continue in 30 second bursts, stirring after each, until melted. Stir to combine, then leave to cool on the side. Once cool, sit in the fridge for 20 minutes.

To create white, pipe-able ganache, whip up the chilled ganache with a hand mixer or in the bowl of a freestanding mixer for 3-5 minutes until it is pale and fluffy. Transfer to a piping bag, as before, and pipe circles on the bottom 28 shells. Sandwich with the top 28 (the ones decorated with petals, if you chose to).

I best like to eat macarons after a 24-hour resting period; simply store them in an airtight container until you’re ready to eat.

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Pear, hazelnut & chocolate cakes (GF)

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It has been a long year since I last posted on Pippa Bakes – sincere apologies to my avid followers, all two of you. Complaints on a postcard to my old landlord, because my last London rental came with the baker’s worst nightmare: a terrible, terrible oven. It was gas, the temperature varied by ten degrees from corner to corner and it took an hour to even vaguely reach temperature. Thankfully, I have now left that flat and it’s Terrible Oven for pastures new and considerably better equipped.

I have spent the past blog-less year writing a list of flavour combinations, and this one appeared twice, so it won by default. Individual cakes have such an elegance and delicacy; I like to think these wouldn’t look out of place in an Ottolenghi deli window. Here, the sponges are gluten-free (chocolate and hazelnut), baked with pieces of pear, and topped with hazelnut chocolate Italian meringue buttercream – a light foil to the slightly dense, rich sponge – and decorated with praline and pear crisps. This recipe has lots of steps, but not many ingredients, which is just the way I like it. Techniques such as making caramel, meringue buttercream and forming quenelles may sound intimidating, but I promise they are far simpler than they seem (and incur far fewer disasters in real life than on Bake Off).

A note on equipment: you will need a sugar thermometer, a standalone mixer, a food processor and a 12-hole dessert pan, mini-sandwich or cakelette tin – they’re often called different things but are all the same thing. I use this Lakeland 12 Hole Loose-Bottomed Mini Sandwich Tin. A friand tin would also do, though give a slightly different shape, or alternatively, skip the tin-buttering skip and make them in a muffin tin in cake cases.

For the sponge
160g blanched hazelnuts
2 ripe conference pears
160g butter, plus extra for greasing
160g dark chocolate
6 eggs, separated
160g caster sugar

For the praline, praline dust and chocolate praline paste
140g blanched  hazelnuts
200g caster sugar
60g dark chocolate

For the Italian meringue buttercream
40ml water
150g caster sugar
1 teaspoon golden syrup
1 egg white
200g unsalted butter, cubed
2 tablespoons chocolate praline paste (see above)

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Method
Grease the cake tin with butter. Preheat the oven to 180°C fan and place both lots of hazelnuts (300g total) on a baking tray. Toast in the oven for 15-20 minutes, removing when they are golden. Reduce the oven temperature to 160°C fan. Transfer 160g to a food processor and blitz until you have a fine flour. Be careful not to over-process, as the oils in the nuts will eventually produce a paste. Roughly chop the remaining 140g of hazelnuts and set aside.

Slice the pears in half width-ways, separating them into the narrow tops and bulbous bottoms. Set the tops aside. Peel and core the bottoms, then roughly chop into 2-3cm pieces. Set aside.

Melt the butter and chocolate over a bain-marie or in the microwave. Set aside to cool. Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until creamy and light. Add the butter-chocolate mixture and the ground hazelnuts and fold to combine.

In the bowl of a standalone mixer, whisk the egg whites until they hold stiff peaks. Stir a tablespoon of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to loosen it, then add the chocolate mixture to the egg whites in two lots, folding carefully together to combine while retaining as much air as possible.

Spoon the mixture into the cake tin until each recess is two-thirds full, then press three pieces of chopped pear into the top of each. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until risen and a cocktail stick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Remove from the tin and leave to cool.

While the cakes are baking, make the brittle. Ready a sheet of baking paper. Place the caster sugar in a thick-bottomed pan and heat over a low heat. Swirl the pan as the sugar melts to incorporate it all, but don’t stir. Once all the sugar has dissolved, continue to heat until it turns a dark copper colour, then stir in the toasted, skinned hazelnuts (140g). Working quickly, pour the mixture on to the baking paper and leave to cool.

Once the brittle has hardened, snap off 12 shards from around the edge to decorate the cakes and set aside. Roughly break the rest into a food processor and blitz until you have a fine dust. Remove a tablespoon for decoration, then continue to blitz until the oils come out of the nuts and a paste begins to form. To make the chocolate hazelnut paste, add the melted chocolate and blitz again until combined and as smooth as possible (it will still have some crunch).

Having removed the cakes from the oven, reduce the temperature to 120°C fan. Line the baking tray you used to roast the nuts with the sheet of baking paper from the brittle. Slice the pear tops you set aside earlier into thin (2mm) rounds; no need to peel. Space them out on the tray and bake for an hour, turning halfway through. Turn off the oven and remove the pear rounds to crisp up further as they cool.

Finally, make the Italian meringue buttercream. Put the water, sugar and golden syrup in a nonstick pan and fit with a sugar thermometer. Gently heat to make a syrup, stopping when it reaches 240°F. Meanwhile, whisk the egg white in the bowl of a standalone mixer until it holds soft peaks.

Remove the syrup from the heat and, with the whisk still going, pour into the beaten egg white in a slow, steady stream. Once it’s all in, leave the mixer going until the mixture is at room temperature – you can test it by feeling the sides of the bowl – and you have a smooth, glossy meringue. It may take 5-10 minutes.

Next, still whisking, add the butter a few cubes at a time. It may look like it is curdling, but carry on beating – I promise it will come back together! Finally, add two tablespoons of the chocolate praline paste (or more to taste) and beat to combine. You are now ready to assemble.

Form a quenelle of buttercream (pass a tablespoon of the buttercream back and forth between two identical spoons until it forms a smooth, even oval, slightly pointed at each end, as demonstrated here) and place it off-centre on each cake. Sprinkle a little praline dust over the top, then add a praline shard and a couple of pear crisps, as pictured.

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Hazelnut & Chocolate Biscotti

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I love biscotti. Any baked good that you can justifiably eat before 11am with your morning coffee (black, please) goes straight to the top of my list. In fact, I love biscotti so much that I recently had a dream about them; a very frustrating dream in which the person in front of me in a bakery bagged the last one. It was brutal. Ever since, I’ve been craving that seriously dangerous sweet-but-not-too-sweet flavour that means you can eat five in a row no problem; the satisfying crunch; the subtle flavours of citrus and nuts.

This is a deceptively simple recipe and one that is very easy to customise. The traditional additions are nuts and citrus peel, but you can add chocolate, freeze-dried fruit or any dry product that won’t add liquid to the dough. The only trick to this bake is good timing: left too long in the oven and your biscotti will break teeth (if this happens, a good dunk in a cuppa should help!). Follow the timings listed here precisely, and don’t worry that they will feel soft when you first remove them from the oven – like most biscuits, biscotti harden as they cool.

Ingredients
120g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
80g caster sugar
Half a lemon, zest finally grated
50g hazelnuts
50g dark chocolate chips
1 large egg
A splash of milk

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Method
Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and preheat the oven to 160°C fan.

Roughly chop the hazelnuts (or blitz in the food processor). Place the flour, baking powder, sugar and lemon zest in a bowl. Break the egg into a cup, add the milk and beat lightly with a fork to combine. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and stir to bring them together into a wet dough. If your egg is a little on the small side, you may need to add a little more milk to bring it together, but go easy: a too-wet dough will be difficult to handle and spread too much in the oven.

On a lightly floured surface, shape the dough into a rough log around 25cm long (don’t worry about getting it the same width the whole way along) and transfer to the prepared baking tray. Bake for 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and, using a serrated knife and a clean tea towel to protect your hand, cut the log into slices around 1.5cm thick. Turn them to lie side-up and return to the oven for ten minutes, then turn and repeat to bake the other side. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

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Salted Caramel & Popcorn Cupcakes

IMG_0211A cupcake with caramel as the central ingredient runs the risk of being on too sickly for even the most seasoned cupcake eater (ie, me), but paired with a not-too-sweet honey and oil sponge, and a light, airy Italian meringue buttercream, I’d say these are a pretty near-perfect combo. It is perhaps a slightly intimidating recipe as it involves a lot of elements and some intermediate skills, but I have made it as simple to follow as possible. And you don’t become a good baker by playing it safe with a Victoria sponge, eh?

A note on equipment: you will need a sugar thermometer (you can buy a cheap jam-making one for about £8) and – unless you are/are dating a bodybuilder – a standalone mixer: the buttercream takes a good 20 minutes of continuous whisking to come together.

For the sponge
110g margarine
120g clear honey
1 egg
50ml sunflower oil
60g dark brown sugar
170g plain flour
3/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
12 cupcake cases (I used muffin wraps)

For the salted caramel
70g caster sugar
4 teaspoons water
2 teaspoons golden syrup
60ml double cream
4 teaspoons butter
Maldon sea salt

For the Italian meringue buttercream
1 egg white, at room temperature
40ml water
150g caster sugar
1 teaspoon golden syrup
235g unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into small cubes
1/2 a batch of salted caramel, above

To finish
Salted caramel or toffee popcorn
Maldon sea salt

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Method
Preheat the oven to 160°C fan and line a 12-hole cupcake tin with cases. Melt the margarine and honey in the microwave or a bain-marie. Leave to cool for 5 minutes.

In the bowl of a standalone mixer (or a bowl with an electric hand whisk), beat the egg with the melted margarine and butter. Follow with the oil and sugar and beat together. Finally, add the flour and bicarbonate of soda and mix until combined.

Spoon the mixture into your lined cupcake tin and bake for 20 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from the tin and cool on a cooling tray.

While the cupcakes are cooling, make the caramel. Place the sugar, water and golden syrup in a nonstick pan. Measure out the cream and butter together in a bowl and warm gently in the microwave for 30 seconds to a minute (this will help prevent the melted sugar from seizing when you add the cream and butter). Gently heat the sugar mixture, whisking until the sugar has dissolved. Stop stirring and leave to darken to a copper colour, then remove from the heat.

Immediately add the butter and cream and whisk together until combined. The mixture will fizz up at first when the cold hits the hot, but stir through it. If the mixture does seize and the sugar hold in clumps, gently heat, stirring the whole time, until it is smooth. Add a pinch of salt (or more to taste) and stir. Pour into a bowl and leave to cool.

While the caramel is cooling, make the buttercream. Place the egg white in the bowl of a standalone mixer and whisk on medium, until it holds soft peaks. While it’s going, place the water, sugar and golden syrup in a nonstick pan and fit with a sugar thermometer.

Gently heat to make a syrup, stopping when it reaches 240°F. Remove from the heat and, with the whisk still going, pour the syrup into the beaten egg white in a slow, steady stream to make a meringue. Once it’s all in, leave the mixer going until the meringue is at room temperature – you can test it by feeling the sides of the bowl. It may take 5-10 minutes.

Next, still whisking, add the butter a few cubes at a time until it is all used up. The meringue may well look like it is curdling, but carry on beating – I promise it will come back together! Finally, weigh out half the salted caramel and beat into the icing.

You are now ready to construct! Spoon the icing into a piping bag fitted with a wide, plain nozzle (about 2cm across, or just cut the end off the piping bag, sans nozzle). Pipe a swirl on top of the cupcakes, drizzle around a teaspoon of the remaining salted caramel over each, decorate with popcorn (I used five pieces per cake), and finish with a light sprinkle of salt.

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Gin & lime cake

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This cake really needs no explanation, because, well, what better things are there in the world than gin and sugar?

A couple of notes on ingredients: if you want to leave out the gin, this also makes a delicious lime alternative to your traditional lemon drizzle – simply skip the syrup step and leave the booze out of the icing. You’ll find juniper berries in the herbs and spices section of big supermarkets, but if you can’t get them, you can leave them out.

Now, without further ado…

For the sponge
2 limes
2 tablespoons milk
10 juniper berries
150g unsalted softened butter
150g caster sugar
3 eggs
150g self-raising flour
20g cornflour
1 teaspoon baking powder

For the syrup
50ml gin
50ml tonic
50g caster sugar
5 juniper berries

For the icing
200g icing sugar
1 tablespoon gin
Extra lime zest to decorate, if wished

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Preheat your oven to 170°C fan and grease and line a loaf tin. Zest the limes, juice them and set aside the juice.

Gently heat the milk in a mug in the microwave (or on the hob) until warm. Lightly crush the juniper berries in a pestle and mortar then add them to the milk. Set aside to infuse.

Meanwhile, beat the sugar and butter together in the bowl of an electric mixer or with a handheld beater until pale and fluffy. Weight out the dry ingredients and have ready in case the mixture starts to curdle when you add the eggs.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating between every addition. Add a spoon of dry ingredients to bring the batter back together if it begins to curdle (having your butter and eggs both at room temperature before you begin should help prevent it).

Strain the juniper berries out of the milk and discard. Add the milk to the mixture, along with the lime zest. Beat to combine.

Pour the mixture into your prepared tin and bake for 30-35 minutes, until it is golden brown on top and a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Meanwhile, lightly crush the juniper berries for the syrup in a pestle and mortar. Place them and the rest of the ingredients for the drizzle in a nonstick pan and heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Simmer for around five minutes until it reduces by about half.

Once the cake is out of the oven, pierce all over with a skewer or knife (to allow the syrup to penetrate more easily). Leave it in the tin. Sieve the syrup to remove the juniper berries and pour it over the sponge, making sure it’s fairly evenly distributed.

Leave the cake to soak and cool in the tin while you prepare the icing. Simply mix together the icing sugar, reserved lime juice and gin until smooth. If it looks too runny, add a little sugar to stiffen it up – the consistency will vary a little depending on how much juice you get out of your limes.

Keeping the cake in the tin, pour the icing over the top and spread evenly over the top. Sprinkle the top with extra lime zest, if wished. Leave to set completely in the tin before removing and peeling off the paper to serve.

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Milk chocolate praline cookies

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There is a very dangerously placed Ben’s Cookies that stands between my office and the tube platform, and it is only a slight exaggeration to say that restraining myself from nipping in for one of their milk chocolate praline numbers is a daily battle. But everything is better for you if you make it yourself, right? Thus, inspired by Ben’s, I gave my usual Eric Lanlard cookie recipe an update. Here’s the result – soft, chewy, chocolatey, nutty glory.

Ingredients
100g blanched, roasted hazelnuts
175g unsalted butter, melted
200g soft dark brown sugar
100g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg, plus 1 yolk
250g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
100g milk chocolate chunks
1 box Guylian shells (or similar), chopped into chunks

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Method
Preheat the oven to 160°C fan and line a couple of baking trays with greaseproof paper.

Divide the hazelnuts into two batches of 50g. Using a food processor, blitz one until the nuts are in small, rough pieces. Blitz the second to a fine grind. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat together the melted butter and two sugars together until smooth. Then add the egg, yolk and vanilla extract and beat again until the mixture is light and creamy. Next, sift in the flour, ground hazelnuts and bicarb and mix until combined.

With a wooden spoon, mix in the roughly chopped hazelnuts, chocolate chunks and chopped Guylian shells.

Drop heaped dessert spoons of the dough onto the prepared baking trays, around 6 cookies per sheet (they spread a lot). If you want to get your cookies perfectly round, I recommend using a small ice-cream scoop or melon baller to get a sphere of dough. Don’t flatten them out – they will do this themselves in the oven.

Bake for 17 minutes, or until the edges are golden. They will feel very soft when you first take them out of the oven but will harden up as they cool so don’t be tempted to leave them in for longer if you want that lovely gooey centre.

Cool on baking trays and tuck in!

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Crunchie Caramel & Chocolate Crown Cake

IMG_7400What a lovely lot of Cs that is. This cake was inspired by the humble Crunchie bar – a firm favourite – for a friend’s birthday. I vamped up my usual chocolate sponge with darker sugar for a slightly moister, fudgier cake, then layered it with caramel sauce, covered it in milk chocolate honey icing and finished it with chunks of Crunchie and a ‘crown’ of gold and silver candles. It’s a beaut.

Ingredients
50g cocoa powder (I find Green & Blacks gives the best colour)
3 eggs
50ml milk
175g self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
100g margarine
175g soft brown sugar
100g caster sugar

180g caster sugar
120ml double cream
24g unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

100g milk chocolate, ideally Dairy Milk
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
50g clear honey
50ml milk
500g icing sugar

2 Crunchie bars, cut into 1-2cm pieces (use a sharp, strong knife and stand, putting all your weight behind the blade, to get a clean cut)

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To make the sponge, preheat your oven to 160°C fan and grease and line two 18 inch cake tins. Meanwhile, boil the kettle.

Take one large bowl and add the cocoa powder, then pour 6 tablespoons of just-boiled water and mix until it forms a smooth paste. Add the margarine and beat until smooth.

Then add the rest of the sponge ingredients to the bowl and mix, divide equally between the two cake tins and bake for 25-30 minutes until a knife into the middle comes out clean.

While the sponges are cooling, make the caramel sauce. Place the sugar in a heavy-bottomed pan over a low heat and cook until it melts. Don’t stir it, do swirl the pan gently to help melt all the sugar. Once it’s all melted, continue to cook until it reaches a deep copper colour.

Remove from the heat, then quickly stir in the cream, butter and vanilla extract. It will froth as the cold cream hits the hot sugar, but keep stirring and it will calm down. Pour into a bowl and set aside to cool slightly.

To make the icing, gently melt the chocolate in the microwave or over a bain-marie, then leave to cool slightly. Place the softened butter into the bowl of a standalone mixer (or into a mixing bowl with separate hand mixer) and beat until smooth. Then add the honey, milk and melted chocolate and beat to combine. Lastly, add the icing sugar – a little at a time to minimise icing sugar clouds – and beat for a couple of minutes.

To finish, place one sponge on a plate and spread the top with the caramel. Sandwich with the second layer and leave to set for 15 minutes or so at room temperature to prevent the top from sliding around as you ice it. Spread the icing around the sides and top of the cake with a palette knife. If you find the icing becomes too stiff to work with after a while (as it cools the chocolate will harden, making it more difficult to spread), place a couple of spoonfuls in a separate bowl and microwave to loosen for about 30 seconds, then stir back into the main bowl to loosen it up.

Finish the top in a loose swirl with the palette knife, then top with a ring of Crunchie pieces and candles, if wished.

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Loaf cake, three ways: lemon drizzle, chocolate pecan & banana

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The humble loaf cake is an under-appreciated thing. Quick, simple – hello no icing – and not too fragile to transport in foil on the underground (a very real and pressing concern of mine), they’re not going to qualify as a showstopper anytime soon, but they sure do go down well with a cup of tea. It’s all about priorities.

I’ve got three different recipes for you, all of which can be made in a standard 900g loaf tin. The lemon drizzle is one of my most popular cakes and still manages to keep that lovely citrusy tang which is so often lost in baking; I like to finish it with some cornflower or rose petals as the bright colour makes a beautiful contrast to the yellow of the sponge, but it’s just a frivolity really. My chocolate pecan has a hint of coffee in it to help bring out the depth of flavour in the cocoa powder and is lovely and dense (thanks to a much higher flour-to-egg ratio than the lemon); perfect warm with a dollop of sour cream and a cup of something hot. And lastly, the banana bread – not the prettiest of things, it has to be said, but it is one of the few cakes that I think you can justify eating for breakfast, and for that, it’s my favourite. The riper the bananas the stronger the flavour but you don’t have to wait until they’re black if you don’t have some to hand when the craving strikes; just make sure they’re soft enough to mash easily.

Lemon drizzle

150g unsalted softened butter
150g caster sugar
150g self-raising flour
25g cornflour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 eggs
3 lemons
150g granulated sugar

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Preheat your oven to 180°C fan and grease and line your loaf tin. Grate the zest of 2 lemons and juice one of them (keeping the spare fruit for later).

Place the sugar, flours and baking powder in a bowl and mix. Add the butter, eggs, and lemon zest and juice and beat together for as short a time as possible to blend evenly together. With an electric beater, it should take no longer than a minute.

Pour the mixture into your prepared tin and bake for 35-40 minutes, until it is golden brown on top and a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Leave it to cool slightly in the tin while you prepare the drizzle. Simply juice the remaining two lemons and mix in the granulated sugar. If you prefer a smoother glaze to the traditional grainy version, give the mixture a few short bursts in the microwave until the sugar dissolves a little.

Pierce the top of your loaf with a knife, roughly every 2cm, stopping just before the bottom of the tin. Pour the drizzle over the top and leave to set in the tin.

Chocolate pecan loaf

200g unsalted softened butter
200g soft light brown sugar
140g plain flour
60g cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon coffee granules (espresso if possible)
1 tablespoon milk
Around 50g pecans, finely chopped (I use a food processor for this)

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Preheat your oven to 180°C fan and grease and line your loaf tin. Dissolve the coffee granules in one tablespoon of boiling water and stir in the milk. Set aside.

Cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, weigh out the remaining the dry ingredients.

Add the eggs to the butter and sugar mixture, one at a time, beating between each addition. If the mixture begins to curdle, add a spoonful of the dry ingredients to bring it back together.

Lastly, add the dry ingredients and the coffee and mix until combined. Pour the mixture into your prepared tin and scatter the pecans over the top to cover. Bake for about an hour, until a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Banana bread

125g unsalted softened butter
175g light muscovado sugar
280g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 eggs
125ml of milk
3 bananas, mashed

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Preheat your oven to 180°C fan and grease and line your loaf tin.

Cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, weigh out the remaining the dry ingredients.

Add the eggs to the butter and sugar mixture, one at a time, beating between each addition. If the mixture begins to curdle, add a spoonful of the dry ingredients to bring it back together.

Next, add half the milk, followed by half the remaining dry ingredients and beat together. Repeat. Lastly, mix in the mashed bananas and pour into the prepared tin.

Bake for about one hour, until it is golden brown on top and a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean. If the top begins to brown too much before the centre is cooked, cover with foil to stop it burning.

For best results, make all three at once at let cake-carnage ensue.

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Cardamom & Maple Brioche Buns

IMG_6839My very wonderful grandparents gave me some individual fluted brioche moulds for Christmas last year (niche baking equipment is the way to my heart, FYI Ryan Gosling) – and it took me this long to get round to using them. I christened them with a twist on my usual brioche recipe: cardamom and maple. Cardamom is one of those  flavours, along with rosewater, that make Paul Hollywood do that “do you really think that’s a good idea?” face on Bake Off (clue, it’s not), but luckily my housemates aren’t such fussy judges.

I used whole pods, lightly toasted to release the oils, to infuse the milk and brushed the finished buns in maple syrup. The result is a fragrant, sweet but still breakfast-appropriate flavour that has something wonderfully gin-like about it (but then I think Diet Coke has aftertaste of carrots, so don’t take my word for it), and the contrast between the crisp, sweet crust and the soft, fluffy dough is quite something. Plus the fluted shape is a brilliantly simple way to make something Parisian-patisserie-window-worthy with minimal effort, which, let’s face it, is what we’re all after really.

Ingredients

500g strong white bread flour
7g salt
50g caster sugar
10g easy bake yeast
140ml milk (full fat gives the roundest flavour)
4 cardamom pods
5 medium eggs
250g unsalted butter, softened
130ml maple syrup
Demerara or pearl sugar, for coating

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Method

We’re going to follow the same process as my Chocolate Brioche Tear & Share loaf for the first few steps. So, put the flour in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook and add the salt and sugar to one side and the yeast to the other.

Toast the cardamom pods in a small saucepan over a medium heat for a couple of minutes to release the oils, then reduce the heat and add the milk. Heat it gently, stirring occasionally, for a couple of minutes, never letting it boil, so that the cardamom has a chance to infuse. Remove from the heat.

Add the infused milk and eggs to the mixer and beat on a low speed (about 4 on a KitchenAid) for 2 minutes, then on medium (about 6 on a KitchenAid) for a further 8, until your dough is soft and glossy.

Add the butter and mix for another 5 minutes until the butter is incorporated, then tip the dough into a large mixing bowl (no need to grease due to the butter content), cover with cling film and chill overnight, or for about 7 hours.

When the dough is cooled and firm enough to shape, take the dough from the fridge and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Fold it over a few times to knock back, then divide into 12 equally-sized pieces (if you don’t have any, it will also work in the tear-and-share style – divide into 9) . For matching buns, weigh each piece to make sure that they’re within 10g of each other.

Shape each piece into a ball by cupping your hands around it on the work surface and turning quickly, folding any join into the bottom. Lightly grease your brioche flutes and place a ball in each.

Cover with a plastic bag and leave to prove at room temperature for 2-3 hours, until the dough has risen to the top of the tin.

Twenty minutes before you’re ready, preheat the oven to 170°C fan. Bake for 15-20 minutes, turning after the first 10 minutes for a more even bake if necessary, until the buns are golden brown and crisp. Leave for 10 minutes before removing from the tin.

Spread a thin layer of demerara sugar on a plate. When the buns are cool enough to handle comfortably, use a silicone pastry brush (worth investing in to avoid getting stray bristles on your bakes) to coat the tops and sides of the buns. The coating will be easier when the buns are still a little warm, or, if they are completely cool, heat the maple syrup for a couple of seconds in the microwave to ease it. Finish each bun by lightly rolling the top in the sugar, topping up the plate as necessary.

These are best served fresh with butter and jam or compote, but can be salvaged when they’re a few days old with a quick burst in the microwave.

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Double Chocolate Salted Caramel Brownies

IMG_4996“Foodies” will tell you  that salted caramel is too ubiquitous nowadays to be considered trendy. Luckily, we’re not too fussed about trendy — because it still tastes so darn good. I spent a while playing around with my basic brownie recipe to work out the maximum chocolate content and minimum cooking time it could take and still remain a brownie rather than a chocolate-y gooey mess (and thoroughly enjoyed ‘tidying up’ the ones that ended up as the latter). I’ve also added brown sugar for a greater depth of flavour and white chocolate chunks because, well, more chocolate is always a good idea.

The caramel is surprisingly simple, so don’t let it put you off having a go, and looks really beautiful as it sinks in and creates little rivers through the brownie as it bakes. De-licious.

Ingredients

90g caster sugar
60ml double cream
a tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
A good pinch of fleur de sel (plus extra for decorating)

200g dark chocolate
175g butter or margarine
200g caster sugar
125g soft light brown sugar
130g plain flour
3 medium eggs
100g white chocolate chunks

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Method

Preheat your oven to 170°C fan and grease and line a square, preferably loose-bottomed 28cm cake tin.

Start by making the caramel. Place the sugar in a heavy-bottomed pan over a low heat and cook until it melts. Don’t stir it. Do swirl the pan gently to help melt all the sugar. Once it’s all melted, continue to cook until it reaches a deep copper colour — sort of like a 2p (or 1p!) coin. Watch it like a hawk as it will turn very quickly. Remove from the heat, then stir in the cream, butter, vanilla extract and salt. It will froth as the cold cream hits the hot sugar, but keep stirring and it will calm down. Add more salt to taste, pour into a bowl and set aside to cool slightly.

Now for the brownie. Put the chocolate and margarine in a mixing bowl and melt in the microwave or over a bain-marie. Add the caster and brown sugars to the bowl and stir until it’s well-mixed. Next add the flour and repeat, followed by the eggs. Mix until you’ve got a thick, smooth batter, then add the chocolate chunks, holding back a handful for scattering on the top. Stir until well-distributed then pour into your lined tin.

Drizzle your salted caramel across the surface of the brownie. Don’t worry if it falls in blobs rather than elegant lines, we’ll fix that in a minute. Once it’s all on and roughly evenly distributed, take a sharp knife and drag it across the surface from one side of the tin to the other and back again in a zig zag sort of like the coils on the back of the fridge. Repeat in the other direction. Scatter the remaining chocolate chunks over the top and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, depending on how gooey you like your brownies.

When they’re done, sprinkle the top with a little more salt and leave to cool in the tin. When it comes to cutting them, a hot knife will make your life a little easier. You may find you need to pop the brownies in the fridge for a while to firm up before attempting it. I suggest you cut them into small squares as they’re quite rich — you can always have two.

This is one of those brilliant bakes which improves over time, too, so leave for 24 hours before tucking in to let the flavours develop and they also freeze really well.