Focaccia

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Unfortunately for him, my eldest brother doesn’t like cake. He does, however, inhale bread and olive oil. Focaccia is his weakness. The first time I tried to make this for his birthday I couldn’t get the dough to rise and I gave it up as a lost cause – until I realised that the yeast I’d been using from my Mum’s cupboard was a couple of years out of date.

In fact, much to my brother’s delight, focaccia is a simple bread to make. Drizzled in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and oregano, this loaf rarely lasts more than a few hours in our house.

Ingredients
500g strong white bread flour
10g table salt
10g easy bake yeast
350ml cool water
100ml virgin olive oil
Sea salt and oregano

Makes two loaves.

 

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Method
Grease a large bowl with olive oil and set aside.

Put the flour into the bowl of your standalone mixer. Add the yeast and table salt to opposite sides of the bowl (direct exposure to salt retards yeast).

Pour 50ml of olive oil into the bowl along with two-thirds of the water. Mix on a low speed until, adding the rest of the water a bit at a time until all the flour has come away from the sides of he bowl and a rough dough has formed.

Continue to mix for 5-10 minutes until you have a soft, elastic dough. It will be wetter than traditional bread doughs.

Tip into the pre-greased bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise at room temperature (if your house is below 22 degrees, pop the heating on).

When recipes say “leave to rise for xx, or until doubled in size”, doubled in size is what you’re aiming for. If it takes longer than the recipe says, wait. If it takes longer than four hours to rise a dough like this, it’s time to give up and start again. In this case, it should take about an hour.

In the meantime, line two baking trays with greaseproof paper and drizzle with oil.

Once your dough has doubled in size, gently tip it out onto an oiled surface – we’re using oil here to avoid adding extra flour to the dough. Often at this stage you’d knock back, but we want to keep as much air in the focaccia as possible so handle it gently.

Divide the dough in two and stretch each piece out to form a rough loaf shape, tucking the ends under neatly. Transfer the two loaves to your baking trays, cover with clean plastic bags (the supermarket kind do just fine) and leave to prove for an hour, or until the dough is soft and springs back immediately when pressed with your fingertip. 20 minutes before time, preheat your oven to 200°C fan.

Use your fingers to make holes into the loaves at regular intervals, pushing right through until you feel the baking tray. Drizzle with more oil and sprinkle with flakes of sea salt and oregano.

Bake for 15 minutes, until the loaves are evenly golden-brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Drizzle more oil over the top for good measure and tuck straight in.

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Gingerbread (& my little sous chef)

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This weekend, I spent some time doing my favourite thing with my  favourite person (my little brother, Joe), making his favourite thing: gingerbread. I’m quite surprised we actually had enough biscuits left to decorate after the rigorous rounds of quality control – i.e. eating – that he enforced at every stage. What can I say, he learnt from the best.

This recipe uses golden syrup, rather than dark muscovado sugar or treacle, to produce a light and slightly childish-flavoured biscuit, which – in my opinion – is exactly how gingerbread should be, and is also simple enough to make with your favourite mini sous chef.

Ingredients

350g plain flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
100g butter
175g soft light brown sugar
1 egg
4 tablespoons golden syrup

IMG_0848Method

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

Mix the flour, ginger and bicarb in a bowl, then add the butter and rub in to form regular-sized crumbs.

Stir in the sugar, then add the egg and golden syrup and stir to combine roughly, before using your hands to bring the dough together. Depending on how heaped or otherwise your spoons of syrup were, you may need to add a little more to get all the flour from the sides of the bowl.

Turn out onto a floured surface and knead a couple of times to bring into a neat ball. If you don’t want to have gingerbread coming out of your ears for the next week, you can freeze half the dough before rolling for use another time. We just ploughed ahead with the cutters.

Place your gingerbread shapes on the prepared baking trays with a centimetre or two between them to allow for spreading (you may have to do a few loads’ worth) and bake for 10 minutes. They will feel soft to the touch when you first remove them from the oven but should firm up within a minute or two.

If you want the biscuits to hold their shape without spreading, it helps to refrigerate them for 15 minutes on the trays before baking. It’s something I would normally do if I were making these for adult company, but it turns out that five year olds really aren’t that fussed about how uniform their shapes are.

Once the biscuits have cooled, decorate! We went old-school with Smarties and writing icing pens. If you want to make something a little more grown up (and seasonal), try buying a set of bauble-shaped cutters, decorating them with royal icing and tying ribbons through the top to hang on the Christmas tree or give as gifts.

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Coffee & Biscoff Cupcakes

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My relationship with coffee cake is a troubled one. I consider it to be my favourite flavour – and yet I don’t think I’ve ever eaten one that I actually liked all that much. Hence, the perfect coffee cake has become something of a Holy Grail for me. This one isn’t quite there because it’s nothing like that traditional coffee cake that your Nan used to make in the eighties, but it’s still pretty darn good. For a start, it actually tastes of coffee.

This recipe is a combination of several different versions I’ve tried along my quest and uses buttermilk, brown sugar and bicarb for a moist, dark and slightly denser sponge than your traditional coffee cake. I’ve also thrown in a few spoons of Biscoff spread for good measure. If you haven’t discovered it yet, Biscoff is made from those little caramelised Lotus biscuits in the red packets that come with your coffee in Europe and is fast replacing Nutella as my eat-it-out-of-the-jar-in-a-crisis food.

If you close your eyes and concentrate really, really hard, you could almost be sipping a smooth, black Americano, overlooking the canals of Amsterdam. Sort of.

Ingredients
115g cooking marge
2 tablespoons instant coffee granules
150g plain flour
150g caster sugar
75g soft brown sugar
1 large egg
60ml buttermilk
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

125g butter
250g icing sugar
2 heaped tablespoons Biscoff spread
Crushed biscuits, to decorate

Makes 12, plus a couple of extras for testing and leaving one at home for your Mum (I made a slightly larger batch for the pictures).

 

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Method
Preheat the oven to 160°C fan. Line a muffin tray with paper cases.

Melt the margarine in the microwave or in a pan on the hob. Dissolve the coffee in 125ml of boiling water. Retain a tablespoon for the icing and mix the rest into the melted butter.

Stir the flour and sugars into the margarine and coffee mixture and leave to cool it slightly.

In a separate bowl, lightly beat the buttermilk, egg and bicarb with a fork, then add to coffee mixture and mix until combined.

It is a thin batter due to the high liquid content so don’t panic if it doesn’t look like your usual Victoria sponge – it isn’t meant to.

Spoon the mixture into your cupcake cases to the usual two-thirds full and bake for 20-25 minutes (mine take 22, but ovens do vary).

When a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean, remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly in the tin, before transferring to a cooling rack. Take the butter out of the fridge to soften in the meantime.

For the icing you will need either a standalone mixer or a handheld electric beater. Cream the softened butter for a minute or two until smooth, then add the icing sugar a little at a time while mixing on low speed. Once combined, continue to beat until light and fluffy – about 4-5 minutes.

Add the Biscoff spread and beat until combined, then add the remaining dissolved coffee, a teaspoon at a time to taste. When you’re happy with the result, fit a disposable piping bag with a large star nozzle (I used a Wilton 1M) and spoon the icing into the bag, twisting and securing the top with an elastic band.

Starting at the outside of the cake, pipe swirls clockwise, pushing down and pulling away to end when you reach the middle. Sprinkle with crushed biscuits: whatever you’ve got lying around – I used amaretti – or Lotus biscuits if you’re being really authentic.

A caffeine-related warning: these may be ones to enjoy instead of your mid-morning coffee rather than with it. Unless you’re having one of those kind of days, in which case, go for it.

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Chocolate & Hazelnut Macarons

IMG_0569 23.36.22Macarons have a reputation for being notoriously difficult; the kind of thing only mastered by sexy French chef-types like Eric Lanlard and people who win the Great British Bake Off. But they’re actually pretty simple once you know how. My favourite thing about making macarons has to be their versatility: once you’ve mastered the basic recipe, you can experiment with different nut flours, flavourings and fillings. Basil and lime macarons? Why not.

Variations

This particular recipe is a slightly jazzed-up version of the basic ‘blank canvas’ almond shells, which uses hazelnut flour and cocoa powder as well as almonds; to make the originals, simply take these extras out and use 100g of almonds instead. You can also try making them with pistachio flour, or adding natural flavourings in everything from cherry to champagne. I recently discovered Foodie Flavours at the Cake and Bake Show and am a complete convert. If you want to add a little extra colour to your shells to get that class Parisian patisserie-window brightness, use paste colours so you don’t destabilise your egg whites by adding lots of liquid food colouring.

Equipment

You will need an electric beater for this, preferably a standalone mixer, as you have to whisk the egg whites for about 10 minutes.

I use two silicone macaron mats, primarily because I can never be bothered to draw circles onto greaseproof paper to use as guides, but you don’t need these.

A disposable piping bag, no nozzle required.

Ingredients

120-125g of egg whites (from 3-4 eggs)
40g caster sugar
100g icing sugar
50g ground almonds
50g ground hazelnuts (if you struggle to find these in the supermarket, buy them whole or chopped and grind yourself in a food processor)
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
Nutella, or other chocolate spread

Makes: 56 shells, 28 once sandwiched

 

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Make sure your mixing bowl is spotless and completely grease-free as any traces of fat can stop your whites from whisking properly. Either place your silicone macaron mats on two baking trays, or line the trays with greaseproof. If you think you’ll struggle to pipe consistent-sized circles without guides, draw rough 4-5cm circles on the paper.

Place your egg whites and caster sugar in the bowl and, if you are using a standalone mixer, fit it with a whisk attachment. Turn your mixer to a low-medium speed (around 4 on a KitchenAid) and beat the egg whites and sugar for 3 minutes. Then, turn the mixer up to a medium-high speed (around 7 on a KitchenAid) for further 3 minutes, and lastly up to a high speed (around 8 on a KitchenAid) for the final 3 minutes. You should now have a stiff meringue that sticks inside your beater. (If you wanted to add any flavourings to your macarons, this is the time to do it.)

Next, add the almonds, hazelnuts, icing sugar and cocoa powder to the bowl. There is no need to be ceremonious about it; macaronage (yes, that’s a thing) is all about knocking the air out of your batter.

Using a spatula, begin to fold your dry ingredients into the batter. At first, it will look like they’re never going to come together; don’t panic, that’s normal. After about 20 folds, you should have a well-incorporated mixture. Don’t stop there. You need to continue to fold until you’ve achieved a ‘molten’ consistency, where a little mixture dropped from the spatula into the bowl sits on top for around 10 seconds before recombining with the rest of the mixture.

If your mix is too stiff, it will be difficult to pipe and will form a peak rather than a nice flat top on your macaron. If you start piping and find that it is too stiff, you can always return the mix to the bowl and give it a few more folds. If your mix is too loose, it will just run everywhere and won’t stay in nice round circles on your baking tray. Try not to reach this point.

When your mix is ready, fill your piping bag, secure the open end with an elastic band and snip the other to form a nozzle about 1cm wide. Pipe circles on your trays, starting from outside and piping inwards in a swirl. Once you’ve used all your mixture, give each baking tray a few firm raps on the work top to burst any bubbles and leave to form a skin for about 20 minutes.

In the meantime, preheat your oven to 170°C fan.

After 20 minutes has past, your macarons should have formed a very thin, slightly matte skin.  Bake, one tray at a time, on the top shelf of your oven, for 14 minutes if using silicone mattes or 10 minutes if not.

Once your macarons have baked, leave them to cool for five minutes or so before peeling them off and cooling completely before filling. I filled these with Nutella, but you could use any chocolate spread. Whole Earth do a nice one which is whipped and slightly less cloying than Nutella. If you’re being really particular, pipe it in a circle with a star nozzle on one half of the shells, before sandwiching together, or just spread with a knife. Et voila.

Macarons are best eaten a day or two after baking, so pop in some tupperware and leave to rest for at least a couple of hours.

A longer version of this post, with step-by-step pictures, was first published by Lippy Magazine.

Chocolate Brioche Tear & Share

IMG_0088Brioche is one of those things that it’s really worth making from scratch. The shop-bought stuff is just never quite the same – and this bake makes your kitchen smell like a little Parisian bakery. This loaf is baked in a round tin in a flower shape so, when it comes to serving, no knives necessary – just tear off a chunk. Brioche is an enriched dough, meaning it contains butter, eggs and sugar, and must be left to rise in the fridge so that the dough is cool enough to handle without leaking butter everywhere. I recommend preparing the dough the evening before, leaving it to rise in the fridge overnight, then proving and baking in the morning just in time for brunch.

A note on equipment: unfortunately, you will need a mixer for this one; the butter content just makes it too sticky to knead by hand.

Ingredients

500g strong white bread flour
7g salt
50g caster sugar
10g easy bake yeast
140ml warm milk (full fat gives the roundest flavour)
5 medium eggs
250g unsalted butter, softened
100g plain chocolate chips

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Method

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.

Add the milk and eggs and mix 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. Lastly, stir in the chocolate chips.

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, grease a deep 25cm cake tin. 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 nine equally-sized pieces. I weigh mine to make sure they’re within 10g of each other, but I’m just a bit like that.

Shape each piece into a ball by cupping your hands around it on the work surface and turning it rapidly. Place one ball in the centre of the tin, then arrange the other eight around it. 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.

When you’re 20 minutes off, preheat the oven to 170°C fan. Bake for 30 minutes until a skewer in the middle comes out clean, then leave for 10 minutes before removing from the tin and cooling on a rack. If you want to add a little extra shine, brush with heated apricot jam.

 

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Raspberry friands (GF)

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Friands are small, oval-shaped teacakes made with almond flour and egg whites, originally French but – for some reason I have yet to glean – very popular in Australia. They’re a close cousin of the loaf-shaped financier, the main difference being the shape and the absence of beurre noisette. This recipe is easily divided in half to just make six for a little afternoon tea.

In honour of a very old (time we’ve known each other, she’s only 22) and very lovely friend of mine who recently moved Down Under, I’ve made theses ones gluten-free, but you could use normal flour instead. Unless you have a specialist cook shop near you, the tins are a little hard to find in store (for once, Lakeland failed me) – I got mine on Amazon – but you could make them in muffin tins, though I think the shape is half the charm.

Ingredients

200g unsalted butter
6 egg whites
250g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
50g gluten-free plain flour
170g ground almonds
180-200g fresh raspberries

Makes 12.

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Method

Lightly grease your friand (or muffin) tin and preheat the oven to 180°C fan.

Melt the butter in the microwave or in a pan on the hob and set aside to cool slightly.

In the bowl of a standalone mixer or in a second mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form soft, floppy peaks.

Mix the icing sugar, flour and almonds together in a large bowl. Add the egg whites and stir until combined, then do the same with the melted butter.

Spoon the mixture into the tin, then press two or three raspberries into the top of each one.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

When baked, leave to cool for five minutes in the tin to allow them to shrink away from the edges of the tin slightly, then loosen with a palette knife and remove. Dust with icing sugar and serve with fresh raspberries.

Ciabatta

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One of my favourite dinners to share with friends is a good spread of fresh salads and antipasti, and a good loaf of homemade ciabatta is great addition to the table to satisfy that carb-craving. This is a great loaf for dinner because you can make it ahead of time because you can reheat it in the oven to crisp it up right before serving.

A note on equipment: this is a very wet dough to get that light, aerated crumb, so you will need a mixer with a dough hook to make this one. I wouldn’t like to attempt to knead it by hand – though, if you do give it a go, please let me know how it goes!

Ingredients

500g strong white bread flour
10g salt
10g easy bake yeast
40ml olive oil
400ml room temperature water
A little semolina for dusting (optional)

Makes four loaves.

Method

Grease a large bowl with olive oil and set aside.

Put the flour into the bowl of a standalone mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the yeast and table salt to opposite sides of the bowl (direct exposure to salt retards yeast).

Pour 40ml of olive oil into the bowl along with two-thirds of the water and mix on a low speed until. As the dough comes together, add the rest of the water a bit at a time until a rough dough has formed.

Continue to mix for 8 minutes until your dough is smooth and stretchy.

Tip into the pre-greased bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise at room temperature until your dough has at least doubled in size – about 2 hours.

In the meantime, line two baking trays with greaseproof paper and preheat the oven to 200°C fan.

Once it’s ready, dust the work top with flour and a little semolina, then gently tip the dough onto the surface. It will still be very wet, but try to handle it as little as possible to keep the air in.

Dust the top of the dough with more flour and semolina, then cut into four. Stretch each piece out to form a rough loaf shape, tucking the ends under neatly and place two on each baking tray.

Ciabatta, unlike many breads, doesn’t need a long second prove; simply set the loaves aside for 10 minutes to rest, then bake for 25 minutes, until the loaves are evenly golden-brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Leave to cool on a rack and eat fresh or reheat for 5 minutes on 180-200°C fan before serving.

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