Petit fours: small bite sized cakes, pastries and desserts, named after the small oven they were traditionally baked in. In my case petit fails is a more appropriate term. The challenge was to make three varieties of petit four, meringue, choux pastry and macarons. Oh boy!
1. Meringue. I chose a traditional French petit four known as a miroir. The method gave me no idea of how big to make them or how many I could expect to get. Sooo, they ended up about four times as large as they should be, but they were jolly nice. Meringue with ground almonds in it, filled with frangipan and glazed with fruity jam. Yummy!
2. Choux pastry. I’d never made choux pastry before so decided to keep it simple with just a cream bun. Everything was going pleasantly smoothly, but…they did not puff up in the oven as expected, so I ended up with a tray full of claggy, sweet-salty scrambled egg patties. Even my usual jokes about “shoe” pastry seemed inadequate to describe the obcene eggy monstrosities. I had to spit my mouthful out, so did small boy. Mr Crumbs declared them delicious, he can be very odd sometimes.
Now I have a new found respect for people who can whip up a batch of profiteroles at a moments notice.
The second technical challenge in series 1 of the Great British Bake Off was scones, Paul Hollywood’s scones to be precise. I did try them a while back but to be honest they weren’t anything special (try for yourself here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/paul_hollywoods_scones_70005) So rather than recreate his rather fussy recipe I’m going to share the recipe that I think makes the perfect scone.
A good scone should be light and fluffy, not dry and crumbly. It shouldn’t have so much baking powder in it that your teeth feel squeaky clean after eating it (like baking soda toothpaste) Enter Mrs Simpkins, author of the absoloutley essential ‘Tea With Mrs Simpkins’ http://www.mrssimkins.co.uk/
She has a lot to say about the art of making scones and quite frankly they are the best, and very simple to make. I didn’t think they could be improved on until today when I tried using buttermilk instead of milk, just that little extra moistness and richness of flavour, wow!
Mrs Simpkins Scones
8oz (240g) plain flour
1½oz (45g) very soft butter
1oz (30g) caster sugar
2tsp cream of tartar
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
5floz (140ml) warm milk or buttermilk Although you get a better rise with warm milk, it will work just fine with milk from the fridge
Makes from 4 to 8 scones depending on the size of the cutter used.
Pre heat the oven to 200°c/400f/gas mark 6. Grease a baking tray and find your biscuit cutter. I recommend a 2½ inch diameter cutter, they do grow much larger than this in the oven!
Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar into a large bowl. Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs then stir in the sugar.
Mix in the milk or buttermilk to make a sticky dough. With floured hands, briefly knead the dough on a floured surface only just long enough to bring everything together. If you overhandle the dough you will get tough scones!
I find it easiest to pat the dough out with my hands rather than trying to use a rolling pin, it is VERY sticky. Pat or roll if you must, till the dough is about an inch/2.5cm high. Stamp out rounds using a floured cutter, or if your’e feeling lazy just divide it into balls or cut into squares/wedges.
Place well apart on the baking tray and bake for around fifteen mins or until light brown ontop. I bake at 200º degrees even though most recipes say to go higher, but I know that my oven is rather fierce. It’s worth investing in an oven thermometer to check how your oven is performing.
You can brush egg wash on top if you like, I think it’s a waste of time and egg.
Cool on a wire rack. To serve, split in half and spread thickly with jam and clotted cream.
In England jam first v’s cream first can cause heated debates. Jam first is the Cornish way and cream first the Devonshire way. I prefer to spread the cream first because it is easier to spread the jam over the cream than vice versa, however I do think that jam then cream looks prettier…Gah, a very British dilemma!
Biscuits a.k.a cookies, I love them (except custard creams, they’re rank), and whereas I’m terribly snobby about shop bought cake, I’m just as happy with a mass produced biccie as a homemade one.
I suppose my signature biscuit would have to be a Cornish Fairing. Homemade they are crisp on the outside, slightly chewy on the inside, with a warm spicy flavour. They have great sentimental value too because I made them for the first time one summer holiday, with my dear departed Grandmother, aged nine or ten (me, not Granny). The recipe was copied into a recipe folder she had given me for Christmas and I’ve been making them ever since.
Recently I’ve been experimenting with spices other than ginger, aniseed worked well, and even crumbled Daim bar http://www.butteredcrumbs.co.uk/?p=202 But today I give you the original recipe in all it’s unadulterated glory.
6oz self raising flour
a pinch of salt
¼ tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp mixed spice (apple pie spice)
3 oz butter
3 oz brown sugar
3 tbsp golden syrup
Preheat the oven to 200ºc / 180 fan. Grease a couple of baking trays.
Sift the flour, salt, baking powder, ginger and spice into a large bowl. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles crumbs. Stir in the sugar.
If it’s a cold day you will need to warm the syrup to make it runny, otherwise just drizzle it into the bowl. Mix together with a wooden spoon till it starts to clump, then use your hands to knead it into a smooth dough. Add a small drop of milk or water if the mixture seems too dry.
Break off pieces of dough about the size of a walnut and roll them into a ball. Place well apart on the baking tray and flatten slightly. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes, or until a rich golden brown. Allow to cool slightly before trying to get them off the tray, they are very soft when they come out of the oven but harden fairly quickly. Cool on a wire rack.
Did you know? Biscuit comes from the French for “twice baked” because the first biscuits were just pieces of bread hardened off in the oven.
Following small boy’s brief that a chocolate party cake should have “booze in it and be covered in sweets” (which caused eldest son great annoyance, as he disapproves of small boy using the word booze) I present you with the Irish cream chocolate fudge cake. Topped with handmade boozy truffles, sprinkles and flaky chocolate:I simply replaced the sour cream in my favourite chocolate fudge cake with a budget brand of Irish Cream liqueur. You could use good quality bought truffles on top, but don’t forget the sprinkles for the right level of kitsch-chic!
Strictly speaking, according to the WI (Women’s Institute) a true Victoria sandwich cake should be layered with nothing more than a good raspberry or strawberry jam and be sprinkled with caster sugar. We live however, in an age of extremes and would be disappointed without cream or buttercream in the middle. Sprinkling with icing sugar allows for creative patterns on the top.
So tonight Crumbies (may I call you Crumbies?) we will be judging between a traditional recipe Victoria sponge, a shop bought equivalent and my own sponge recipe, all sandwiched with jam and buttercream.
Bring those cakes to the judging table!
1. Sainsbury’s own raspberry sponge sandwich: “Sponge sandwich filled with raspberry jam and buttercream, finished with a light sweet dusting” Containing fortified wheat wheat flour (though to be fair, all white flour in England is fortified with calcium, iron, niacin and thiamin) reconstituted egg white, rapeseed oil, palm oil, humectant (glycerine), dried egg, glucose syrup, emulsifiers (mono and diglycerides of fatty acids) and preservative (potassium sorbate). Impressively the buttercream does have butter in it but also contains glycerine, glucose syrup, cornflour, preservative and emulsifier. The “light sweet dusting” is helped along with cornflour and palm oil. All fairly typical of a supermarket cake.
2. The traditional recipe: typically made to a pound cake recipe, meaning equal amounts of fat, sugar and flour. Some people weigh the eggs, others would add two eggs to every four ounces of flour. This cake is sandwiched with homemade buttercream and Ringtons strawberry jam http://www.ringtons.co.uk/ . Dusted with icing sugar.
3. Buttered Crumbs own recipe. Sugar is a natural humectant i.e. it keeps things moist. Increasing the amount of sugar in the recipe enables the reduction of fat and eggs. The resulting sponge is lighter and less greasy tasting. The jam is homemade raspberry made with frozen raspberries bought from a local farm shop.
The judges were asked to rate each cake based on moistness, texture, taste, aftertaste and jam quality, each cake having a potential score of up to 25. Cake 1 scored between 8 and 14, one comment being “could have been worse”, the cake itself was very small and fairly ugly, being misshapen and almost entirely lacking the “light sweet dusting”. It was dry and tasteless as you would expect of a cake made with palm oil but the jam was surprisingly fruity.
Cake 2 received very positive comments: “first bite was like the joy of childhood”, and scored from 17 to 24 points. I was very disappointed by the blandness of the jam, whereas one judge preferred it to the home made (he won’t be getting any tea tonight).
One judge commented on the “powerful” vanilla taste of cake 3, which was interesting considering there was no vanilla in it! Scores ranged from 19 to 25.
Voting with a show of hands was a draw because one judge was at home with a tummy bug. When it came to adding up the numbers though, cake 3 won with a score of 134/150. I wonder what the casting vote would have been?
How long is it till the next series of The Great British Bake Off? Septemberish? Too long at any rate. Yes, I am a Bake Off addict and haven’t missed an episode. I love the whole feel of the show, so nostalgic-ly Britsh, Paul Hollywood’s male posturing, Mary Berry (a national treasure), Mel and Sue’s ridiculous humour and often wonder could I complete the challenges? Could I do better, or would performance anxiety give me a “soggy bottom”?
To fill in the time till the next series I intend to go through each signature bake, technical challenge and showstopper from the very beginning. Bring it on!
Series 1 Episode 1: Cake
Signature bake: A signature bake should be something that say’s a lot about the kind of baker you are. Shouldn’t it also be something you have made on a regular basis (if possible), going in and making something brand new and ambitious as your signature bake, to me say’s “I’m a show off” or “I’m winging it”!
My signature bake is a raspberry sponge made to a recipe I’ve spent the last few years perfecting, filled with homemade gooseberry jelly and clotted cream (or whipped cream when clotted is unavailable) If I need to make a cake at a short notice, this is the one I’m most likely to make. The preserves and fruit can be varied according to the season (blackberries, tayberries, blueberries etc). It can also be made with frozen fruits.More on homemade preserves and my special sponge recipe next time, when we look at the technical challenge: Victoria sponge