Apricot and cherry crumble

Tesco’s had a glut of reduced price whole apricots the other day, so I picked up a punnet intending to combine them somehow with the whole bitter almonds I have. In the end though I couldn’t find a recipe that used whole bitter almonds instead of extract, so I ended up mixing them with some cherries and turning them into a crumble for pudding.

I halved the apricots, removed the kernels, then chopped each half into quarters. The cherries got cut in half and stoned. I then mixed together a bit of sugar and flour and mixed the cherries and apricots into the flour and sugar mix. This got tipped into the baking dish, and had a couple of tablespoons of orange juice drizzled over. It as topped with a crumble topping that I made about two months ago and put in the freezer ready for a crumble occasion. It had about 30 minutes at 180C.

I was expecting the apricots to yield up more juice than they did, hence the flour, so was a little disappointed that it came up slightly dry. But the flavour was great. My flatmate thought it was too tart (usually my complaint), but I didn’t think that was an issue, and it didn’t stop us devouring more than would have been an ordinary portion.

Now, to find a use for those whole bitter almonds…

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Maize flour focaccia

Once upon a time I visited a then-new store on High Street Kensington, called Whole Foods. I’m not often in Kensington, so I made the most of finding myself there by buying lots of things that I thought would be hard to find elsewhere, and that sounded suitably exotic. Today I finally used up the last remnants of the only remaining item from that shop: maize meal.

It’s sometimes said that the English and Americans are separated by a common language, and that’s certainly true when it comes to the kitchen. Just what exactly is maize meal in British-English parlance? I never did really find out. It wasn’t semolina, nor was it polenta. Or was it? Are they all the same? Was it actually cornmeal? It had the colour and consistency of gram (chickpea) flour, but wasn’t as cloying. So, whatever it was, I was never really sure of what to do with it, and instead it just got used up here and there.

Today, while watching the Spanish Grand Prix, I used what remained in a focaccia, and to my surprise it turned out quite well.

I didn’t follow a recipe as such. I had about 150g of maize flour, and added another 350g of strong white flour, along with 10g of salt, 10g of fresh yeast and a tablespoon of malt powder. For the liquid I used about 30g of olive oil and made the rest up with water to take it to about 70% hydration. I then did the three-ten-second-kneads method and left it for an hour before turning it out onto an oiled tray and dimpling it all over with my fingers. It rested for half an hour, then got covered in salt crystals and rosemary before another dimpling. It then went into a 250C oven for five minutes before being turned down to 200C for another 20 minutes or so.

As the picture shows, it’s got some big holes, but the crumb structure is actually quite tight overall (probably because I didn’t stretch and fold the dough). It’s ever so slightly biscuity in texture, but actually has quite a nice earthy flavour and a subtle yellow colour from the olive oil and maize meal.

So, I wont be rushing out to buy some more maize meal, but its final hurrah will go very nicely with the chorizo I picked up the other day and the rocket that’s growing in our windows boxes.

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Chocolate custard muffins

When a recipe proclaims that it produces “the best chocolate muffin you’ll ever eat” you know that you’re either in for a revelation or a huge disappointment. When the recipe also involves custard, practically my favourite thing ever, both of those results are only going to be magnified.

So, with that in mind, last night I turned out a batch of Dan Lepard’s chocolate custard muffins. The picture isn’t good due to the lighting, but they look amazing. They rose right to the top of my already oversized cases, so you’ll need large cases to fit these in. The craggy tops reminded me a little of ‘The Thing‘ from the Fantastic Four, and they certainly look dramatic.

The recipe’s unusual in that it’s made in a saucepan, and you begin by making a sort-of custard (no milk or eggs to begin with), and then you melt everything into it. The smell as the custard cooks is wonderful. Because of the cornflour the mixture is quite thick, and it took a while to spoon it into the cases but the resting didn’t seem to harm the end results.

They’ve got a lovely light texture, and a great chocolatey flavour. I don’t mean it in a bad way when I say they taste a little like a packet-mix muffin (I think it’s the cornflour) but without all the nasties. They also cooked with a lovely crisp top, far removed from the soggy and slightly sweaty affairs you buy in the shops.

There’s one thing holding me back from endorsing them as the best ever chocolate muffin though, and that’s that they taste slightly oily. The recipe uses 75ml of oil and 75g of butter. In future I might change that ratio slightly in favour of the butter, or even better, substitute a nut-oil (I’m thinking that hazelnut would be good), for the sunflower oil, which would probably mask the oily taste slightly while adding another flavour into the mix.

So, certainly the base for the best ever chocolate muffin. I don’t think these will be lasting long.

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Potato and rosemary rolls

One of the first proper bread-baking books I bought (try saying that quickly!) was Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. It’s a lovely book, written by a man who is clearly passionate about bread in all forms and who runs his own blog. Unfortunately I think the book was too advanced for me when I bought it, and I remember some particularly memorable failures involving bagels and brioche. As a result it’s often just sat on my shelf, occasionally thumbed through, but not often baked from. However, there is one particular bread in it that I do come back to, namely his potato and rosemary bread.

The original recipe calls for the dough to make two round loaves, but I prefer it as rolls. Ironically, these rolls were probably the least successful batch that I’ve made from the recipe, and they ended up like little UFO saucer shapes, but I have at least four explanations as to why that might be.

First, the biga I used had been sat in my freezer since I last made a batch of this bread, back in September. The intervening eight months had not been kind to it; it had been badly freezer burnt and had developed a thick crust. Undeterred I brought it up to room temperature and pulled away the crusty bits, but I doubt it would have much good left in it given the sorry state it was in.

Secondly, I subbed 60 g of the white bread flour for rye flour, which I wouldn’t have expected to make much of a difference, but it has made the crumb noticably darker than it usually is.

Thirdly, the dough was incredibly slack. This might have been due to either of the above, or I might have added too much water, but it was very difficult to shape, and the rolls flattened out dramatically as they were rising. I probably baked them a little bit early as I was concerned that I’d end up with a sheet of flat bread if I waited much longer. Partly due to the slackness there are huge holes in the crumb in places, which makes me think that it might have worked well had I shaped it like a ciabatta.

Finally, our oven clock runs five minutes faster than all the other clocks in our flat (and neither of us can figure out how to change it). Usually I remember this, but today I did not, and consequently under baked them by about five minutes, so they’re a bit gummy in the middle (despite passing the hollow-bottom tap test).

But, despite all that, they taste lovely and they filled the flat with the smell of rosemary as they were cooking. I didn’t use the optional roast garlic as I couldn’t be bothered to roast some up just for this recipe, but I’ve used it before and it does go well with the rosemary flavour.

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Walking through Crouch End last week my flatmate and I walked past Dunn’s Bakery, which I’m led to believe is something of a Crouch End institution, although I have to confess to not having yet ventured inside. When we walked past they had a giant doughnut in the window, apparently made in a bundt-tin (so, technically a cake dressed up like a doughnut) and piles of ring doughnuts. Why the doughnut overload? Well, it turns out this week is National Doughnut Week, raising money for the Children’s Trust.

I mentioned in my cider rye post below that I was looking through my copy of Dough by Richard Bertinet and I rediscovered his recipe for doughnuts. So, what better time to get deep-fat frying than during National Doughnut Week?

His recipe is easily available online with a quick Google. I’d tackled his recipe a couple of times before in my previous flat. Once successfully, and the second time less so after the doughnuts weren’t at all cooked in the middle. So, being a bit more cautious this time my flatmate and I opted to go for ring doughnuts to give the middle a better chance of cooking properly, and this was a good decision.

The dough is essentially a sweet white dough, enriched with eggs and butter, shaped into 30g doughnuts that are then deep fried for about 45 seconds on either side. Unfortunately the sugar thermometer we used only went up to 150C, and the correct temperature for frying dough is 180C, so we guessed the right temperature by extrapolating from the rate of increase before the temperature went off the scale. I think we got it about right as we only had a few ‘ball’, as opposed to ring, doughnuts that were a bit doughy in the middle.

The ring doughnuts were fantastically light, and not at all oily on the outside and dry on the inside as shop or stall bought ones can be. Doughnuts are one of those things that are far superior if made at home. We started off with 500ml of oil, and after discarding the dregs left in the bottom of the pan and pouring the remainder back into the bottle, we’d only lost around 50ml of oil into the 25 doughnuts we made, which is barely anything. Of course, deep drying makes a hell of a mess and smell if you don’t have a dedicated fryer (I don’t, so had to use a saucepan), but you get fresh doughnuts out of it, which has to be worth it.

The only thing that I think might improve the recipe is some vanilla essence in the dough. We coated them in vanilla sugar before eating (only do this right before you’re going to eat them, otherwise they go soggy and sticky), but they were a touch bland.

As there are only so many doughnuts two people can eat, only half of the dough made it into the fryer, with the other other half being shaped into a little loaf and baked in the normal way. I over baked it slightly after I got distracted by the TV, and it’s come out almost cake-like in consistency, but will make lovely toast, as any enriched loaf will.

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Cider rye

Last week I boiled a ham in some cider that’s been sitting unopened on my shelf since I bought it for some long ago forgotten purpose. It made zero difference to the taste of the ham, but did succeed in making the kitchen smell like slightly sour cider for a few days afterwards. There was about 250ml left in the bottle, so I decided to use it up in some bread.

Dan Lepard has a recipe for a cider rye loaf, but I’m not a fan of 100% rye, so I decided against looking for a recipe, and went off by the seat of my pants, so to speak. I mixed the remaining cider with 15g of fresh yeast (from the freezer) with enough rye flour to make a thick batter (I didn’t weigh it out). I then put this in the fridge overnight. The next morning the sponge was showing no signs of progress, so I left it on the kitchen worktop for about six hours, until it was beginning to bubble slightly.  I then added another 10g of (frozen) fresh yeast (to compensate for a loss in potency post-freezing), a bit of salt and enough white bread flour to make a soft dough. I used Dan Lepard’s “three ten-second kneads over 30 minutes” approach, and left the dough to rise for an hour in a bowl.

I then shaped it into a log, popped it in a 2lb loaf tin, left it to rise, covered in poppy seeds and slashed, before baking it for about 50 minutes and leaving it to cool overnight. Unfortunately it’s a little undercooked in the middle, but from the bit I tried it has a nice flavour; slightly apple like, definitely savoury. Would be very nice with cheese.

After I finished making the dough, I happened to look in my copy of Dough by Richard Bertinet which also has a recipe for a cider rye loaf, which might be worth trying in the future, should I ever come into possession of another bottle of cider.

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Raggy rolls

Earlier this week I made some spicy lamb burgers, but only today did it occur to me to make some proper burger baps to give the remaining burgers a suitable home. So, whipping out my cuttings, I pulled up Dan Lepard’s recipe for soft white baps that I’ve made a few times before, although not for a while.

If you’re about my age you might remember growing up with a kid’s TV show called Raggy Dolls about some misfit dolls rejected at the end of their production line. As you can see, these Raggy Rolls came out all shapes, sizes and colours too.

I made a few changes, subbing 100g of the white flour in the sponge for rye (and reducing the amount of white flour in the final dough by about 50g to compensate for the extra absorption of the rye), and using malt powder instead of sugar. These also marked a return to my using fresh yeast, after I rediscovered a bag of frozen fresh yeast at the back of my freezer. The usual conversion is something around 1g of instant = 2g of fresh, but given that it had been in the freezer for ages I took advice to err on the side of caution and doubled that, so I subbed in 4g of fresh for ever 1g of instant the recipe required.

The yeast worked admirably. After three hours I had a bubbly sponge, and the rolls rose nicely before and once popped in the oven. I scaled each roll to around 140g, which is just about right, perhaps a bit too heavy for a burger bap (you wouldn’t want more than one or two at a BBQ!). I took them out after about 17 minutes at 200C (fan assisted), and they’re ever so slightly undercooked, but will be lovely once lightly toasted. They have a nice soft, thin crust and a light crumb, just like those really cheap supermarket rolls you can buy, but without any of the additives. The photo has made the one at the back left look burnt, but it’s not that bad. I quite like the misshapen results. If I were running a bakery, I’d call them ‘rustic’ and add 50p onto the price.

My exams start next week and go until the end of May, so I may not have quite so much to blog about until then, depending on how well they go, and how much I need to get away from law books.

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