The Great British Parkin-Off

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Unless you have some kind of connection with Yorkshire, the likelihood is you have no idea what parkin is. Well, it’s a kind of gingerbread cake made with oatmeal and treacle. It’s moreish and not too sweet, and it’s easy to make. It also happens to be a Bailey-family favourite and is made in the shed-load by my northern lass of a Grandma, Irene, before she visits us in London.

So you can imagine how excited I was when I picked up a copy of Paul Hollywood’s latest book, British Baking, and found a recipe for – you’ve guessed it – Yorkshire Parkin. Well there was nothing for it but to have a little competition between the two. This week, my favourite little sous-chef, chief-taster and fellow parkin-fan, Joe, got in on the action too.

First up, Grandma Bailey. She usually measures this recipe with the same cup every time, but seeing as we don’t have access to that cup (I’m expecting to have it bequeathed to me in her will), she has very kindly converted it into grams for us.

Ingredients
100g margarine
1 tablespoon black treacle
1 tablespoon golden syrup
125g medium oatmeal
125g wholemeal bread flour
90g caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
210ml milked, boiled

Method
Preheat your oven to 160°C fan and grease and line a roughly 20x20cm cake tin.

Melt the margarine, treacle and syrup in a bowl in the microwave or on the hob. Add the dry ingredients and stir together. Lastly, add the milk and mix. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 30 minutes.

NB: Parkin is best left to sit, wrapped in greaseproof paper and foil, for 24 hours before eating, to let the flavours mature and to develop that characteristic sticky top.

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A little family joke, spotted on holiday in Barcelona last year

Now, over to Paul…

Ingredients
225g margarine
110g golden syrup
110g black treacle
2 eggs
125ml milk
225g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger
225g dark muscovado sugar
225g medium oatmeal

Method
Preheat your oven to 160°C fan and grease and line a roughly 20x20cm cake tin.

Again, melt your margarine, syrup and treacle in the microwave or on the hob.

Lightly beat the eggs into the milk with a fork.

Add the dry ingredients to the melted mixture and stir, followed by the eggs and milk.

Pour into the tin and bake for 45 minutes. Just like Grandma’s parkin, I recommend you leave this to sit for a day or two before tucking in. It may be hard to resist, but it’s definitely worth the wait.

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Grandma Bailey’s, left, and Paul Hollywood’s, right

The verdict? If you like your parkin slightly denser, egg-free and lower in sugar, Grandma Bailey is your girl; it really is the cake of my childhood. On the other hand, Paul’s is lighter textured and has a richer, more adult flavour. At risk of being forever excommunicated from the family, I’m a Paul-convert. By a fraction. Please forgive me Grandma. But, to be honest, you can’t really go far wrong with either; both are delicious – Joe certainly seemed to think so.

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Cinnamon Buns

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Something about the weather at the moment just makes me crave sweet, doughy goodness (particularly, it seems, if I’ve been to the gym that day, too). Well yesterday I went to the gym in the morning, so I just had to balance it out by making some cinnamon buns in the afternoon.

This recipe comes straight from Signe Johansen’s wonderful Scandilicious BakingIt’s a really simple, no-knead enriched dough and easy to alter for different occasions: replace the cinnamon with cardamom for a more grown-up flavour, or even ditch the filling altogether and instead swirl with nutella, pureed fruits or toffee and pecans. I made 24 individual buns from this recipe, but you could cut it into seven pieces instead and make a tear-and-share loaf, like I did with my brioche recipe.

Ingredients
225ml milk
150g butter
300g plain flour
125g wholemeal flour
120g caster sugar
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
A pinch of salt
10g fast action yeast
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
A little demerara sugar

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Method
Start by heating your milk and 75g of the butter in a pan on the hob. Stir until melted and then heat until nearly boiling, without letting it burn. Set aside to cool.

You can make this dough in a standalone mixer with a dough hook or with a bowl and wooden spoon. Whichever you prefer, tip the two flours, yeast, salt, 70g of sugar and one teaspoon of cinnamon into the bowl. Lightly beat one of the eggs and add it to the bowl. Lastly, add the now-warm milk and butter mixture on top and stir/mix until combined. It should give you a soft, smooth dough.

Now, the best bit – there’s no need to knead. So pop it in a lightly oiled bowl, cover it with a tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.

While that’s going, cream together the remaining butter, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla extract until smooth. Line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.

Once your dough has risen, tip it out onto a lightly floured surface. Cut it roughly in half and set one half aside. Roll out the other half to form a rectangle that’s about 25x15cm, then spread half the filling over the top with a palette knife. If it’s too stiff to spread, try warming it in the microwave for 10-20 seconds to loosen it up again.

Then, long side towards you, roll it up to make a long, thin roll. Divide into 12 equal pieces (start with in half, then in quarters to make it easier to judge), and place, spiral up on the baking tray.

Repeat with the second half of the dough, then cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for another half an hour – or until doubled in size. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 180°C fan.

When they’ve risen nicely, lightly beat the second egg and brush it over the exposed sides of the buns, then sprinkle with demerara sugar.

Bake them, one tray at a time, for about 14 minutes until golden brown. Then, all that remains to do is to eat as many as possible while they’re still warm.

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Chocolate & Vanilla Mini Madeleines

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As well as my usual Christmas presents of cookbooks and history tomes (A History of the Viking World, anyone?), I was lucky enough to pick up a couple of new bits of baking kit. Among them, a silicone Mastrad mini madeleine pan. So, obviously, I had to test it out for you all.

Madeleines are one of the most unassuming delicacies you’ll find in Parisian patisseries, but that buttery nuttiness and beautiful shell-shape arejust too good to resist. I mixed up two flavours – vanilla and chocolate – and made a nice little batch of each, plus some marbled ones. I’ve included the recipe for vanilla ones below, but to make them chocolate, simply take 10g each out of the almonds and flour and add 1 1/2 tablespoons of cocoa powder. Madeleines this size are perfect to pop one on your coffee saucer – though, to be honest, you’re probably going to end up eating at least three.

Ingredients
125 butter
100g icing sugar
40g ground almonds
40g plain flour
3 egg whites
2 teaspoons clear honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Extra icing sugar for dusting, or chocolate for dipping if you prefer

Makes: around 40 mini madeleines, or 12 large ones

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Method
First, liberally greasing your madeleine tin with a little butter or margarine and set aside.

Madeleines get their moistness and golden colour from beurre noisette; a technique that roughly translates as ‘brown butter’. To make it, melt the butter in a non-stick saucepan over a medium heat, then continue to heat gently until it turns a beautiful golden brown (being careful not to let it burn). Pour the butter through a sieve to strain it and leave to cool completely.

In the bowl of a standing mixer (or a mixing bowl with an electric beater), whisk the egg whites, vanilla extract and sugar together until light and at least doubled in size.

Sift the almonds and flour into the bowl and gently fold together. And I mean gently; to get the light crumb of a madeleine you need to avoid developing the gluten.

Next, pour over the beurre noisette and honey and fold together. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for 40 minutes.

Spoon into the moulds, filling them almost to the top around the edges. Don’t be afraid to mound them higher in the middle; that gentle dome on the bottom is part of the madeleine’s charm.

Refrigerate again, uncovered, for about 20 minutes to let a skin form. While you’re waiting, preheat the oven to 170°C fan. Bake the madeleines for 8-10 minutes (10-15 if you’re making large ones) and then turn out onto a baking tray immediately.

Repeat until you have used all the mixture, then decorate with a dusting of icing sugar or half-dip them into a little melted chocolate. If you want to make marbled ones, simply spoon a little of each mixture into the moulds and swirl together one at a time. Then serve up with your mid-morning coffee or, for an extra-decadent treat, dip them in hot chocolate.

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