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The baker is busy

30/09/2011

Many changes at Yummy Nice HQ and sadly baking is on the back burner for now.  I’ll still post the odd birthday cake or fun sunday project, but for now – we’re off on tangential adventures!

To be continued.

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Recipe: chocolate chunk cookies with walnuts

30/05/2011

I got home late from my class and D got home late from work, so nobody felt like cooking.  It was getting to be too late for dinner anyway, but we were really hungry. A quick run to the corner shop turned up some tinned soup and sandwich fixings, and a craving for cookies.  But store-bought cookies are sooooo depressing.  I don’t know where the energy came from, but I mustered enough of it to say NO to the store-bought cookies and yes to baking.

Back home I turned to Joy.  She’s not always my first port of call for baking, but in an hour of need, when what I want is American measurements and the comforts of home, she’s there.  So, this is the bastardised chocolate chip cookie recipe I cranked out in about 30 minutes.  And all thoughts of dry, nasty store-bought cookies were gone.

Chocolate chunk cookies with walnuts 

(based closely on the chocolate chip cookie recipe from the Joy of Cooking, cut in half – we really didn’t need a few dozen cookies.  I’ve got the newest edition, but the note under the recipe says it’s been unchanged since 1943).

As always, measurements are American.  If you want metric, turn to the internet for the equations, or buy some cheap measuring cups and spoons.

Preheat the oven to 375F / 177C.  Line 2 baking trays.

Whisk together in a medium bowl:

  • 1/2 cup + 1 T all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 t. baking soda
Beat in large bowl til well blended:
  • 1/4 cup  salted butter (it’s what they had in the shop)
  • 1/4 cup caster sugar
  • 1/4 cup dark brown molasses sugar
Add and beat til well combined:
  • 1 small/med egg
  • 1 t. vanilla
Stir in the flour mixture until well blended and smooth.  Stir in:
  • 1/2 bar Divine dark chocolate, chopped into small chunks
  • 1 handful well-chopped toasted walnuts
Drop the dough by heaping teaspoons onto the lined trays, about 2 inches apart. (Dip the spoon into a small glass of water between scoops for easy dropping and less mess).
Bake 1 sheet at a time for about 10min, or until the cookies are slightly coloured on top and the edges are golden brown.  Take out of the oven and let stand for a few minutes, and then move to a rack to cool completely.  Take at least one cookie from the rack to eat standing up, sucking air in over your almost burnt tongue, while you relish the molten chocolate.  Yum.

Recipe: Grandma Toots’ shortcake

30/05/2011

“Strawberries on the table?  Here’s the shortcake:”

Strawberry shortcake at the picnic (photo by Polly Bowman Wright)

Those are the lines written atop the dog-eared original recipe card for my grandmother’s shortcake recipe.  This was my all time favourite cake as a child (ok – in the winter, maybe a close second to black magic chocolate cake).  The recipe yields a crumbly, sweet, slightly salty, biscuit base (biscuit in the American Southern sense, not the British).  It’s heavy with the fragrance of nutmeg, and pure heaven when split in two and topped with macerated strawberries and a great dollop of sweetened cream.  And just 10 minutes in preparation and 15 minutes in the oven – very little trouble on a warm day in early summer when the strawberries are waiting.

The recipe below, in American measurements as always.  If you prefer metric – take to the internet for equivalents, or buy a cheap set of measuring cups:

Grandma Toots’ Shortcake

yields approx 8-10 portions

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 4 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • Nutmeg (the recipe doesn’t specify, but my mother insists on a good grating of the fresh stuff, as I’m sure her mother did – maybe equalling 1/2 t.? )
  • 1/3 cup Crisco shortening (or Cookeen or Trex, but I think Crisco is nicer) or butter (I use mostly Crisco as my mother does, but cut a bit of butter into it for the flavour)
  • 1 free-range egg
  • 1/3 cup milk

Preheat the oven to about 450F, 220C.

Sift all the dry ingredients into a large bowl.  Gently incorporate the shortening into the dry ingredients with your finger tips – it helps if your hands are a little cold.  (If it’s a warm day, wash your hands in cold water and run the cold tap over your wrists for a few seconds – it cools the blood flow into your hands).  The mixture should look like rough breadcrumbs.

Whisk the egg and drop it in along with the milk.  Roughly stir until everything is incorporated – don’t overdo it.

The pan you choose for baking is up to you – my mom used a 9in square pan.  In college I liked using a round pan to create a pie-wedge per portion.  Recently D suggested making them in a cupcake pan for individual portions and that turned out nicely – it made about 10.  So, it’s really down to personal preference and how you plan to serve up.  Either way, butter your pans and dust with a little flour to ensure you can get the cake out in the end.

Bake for 12 – 15 minutes, or until the tops are golden and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake/a cake comes clean.  Cool on a wire rack for about 15 minutes.

Prep strawberries: Roughly chop or gently slice your berries, or mash them to a pulp if it suits you.  Mix in a bit of castor sugar depending on how sweet the berries already are and your personal taste.  Ideally, leave a little time for them to stew in their juices before serving.

Again, it’s hard to say how many berries – this is one of those recipes that isn’t pre-planned – you just happen to have the berries that you have, so the shortcake must be made to suit.  If you have a few cakes left over, well you’ll just have a very nice breakfast tomorrow with butter and jam.  fOr if you’re left with too much berry mixture, there’s few things nicer than having those dregs poured over yogurt or ice cream.  But generally speaking, approximately 700grams of berries, or 1.5 quarts will provide a good helping of berries per portion.

Prep the cream: About 450ml or 2 cups of whipping cream or double cream should do it.  Add a little castor sugar and vanilla to taste (I like just a little hint of sweet vanilla, not overpowering), and whip until the cream holds gentle peaks.

To serve:  Slice each small cake or portion in half and lay each set of halves in shallow bowls.  Adorn with a big spoon of berries and a dollop of the sweet cream, and dig in, preferably while sitting in the sun.  Yum.

Birthday cake

26/05/2011

It was our friend Tim’s birthday last week, so we grilled a big ol’ steak and had a little party.

He got to blow out the candles twice –

once for the big stack of meat straight off the grill,

and once again for the black forest cake.

Both cakes were really good, in their own ways.

Happy Birthday Tim!

Inspiration

07/03/2011

I used to get my baking inspiration from books.

When I lived in Chicago, we had a little pantry with a window, and my roommate and I totally geeked out on this feature – it was so perfect for sitting in the sun and flipping through the pages of our favourite cookbooks….ahhh.

10 years later and I still sometimes get them off the shelf to browse recipes and pictures on a Sunday morning… but much more often I’m skimming through cookery and craft blogs instead.  There are so many clever cooks and crafters out there and they are so good with their cameras and computers – I’m hoping this comes with practice…

My current favourites:

1. Smitten Kitchen

SO good - chocolate peanut-butter cake

Smitten Kitchen is the amazing blog of Deborah Perelman. It’s inspiring and also a little irritating, just because she’s so on it!  The recipes are well written with lots and lots of detail, the photos are beautifully shot, and the site is so easy to navigate, which helps when you’ve got sticky fingers and a cake on the go, and just want to see what Deb has to say on the matter.  But the absolute best thing about this website, is that it’s comforting.  As Julian Barnes said of Edouard de Pomiane in his wonderful Guardian column, the Pedant in the Kitchen:

A lovely book

The moment I realised that De Pomiane was not just sympathetic but deeply on my side came in his recipe for Boeuf à la Ficelle (top rump suspended in boiling water by a string). When it is done, you are told to:

“Lift the beef from the saucepan and remove the string. The meat is grey outside and not very appetising. At this moment you may feel a little depressed.”

Isn’t that one of the most heartening and pedant-friendly lines a cook ever wrote?


Read more…

Recipe: raspberry oat and almond muffins

05/03/2011

What lovely muffins, if I do say so myself! Very sweet, with a nice hit of tart raspberry, and some oats to make you feel a bit better about having something so decadent for breakfast.

Why did these three ingredients leap to mind this morning?  I wanted to make something sweet, but didn’t want pancakes as usual, especially as we’ve run out of real New York maple syrup (which often beats out Canada and Vermont in taste tests, thank you very much).

I had extra frozen raspberries in the freezer, from the last time I made raspberry curd, ground almonds in the cupboard just waiting for the next batch of cherry bombs, and there’s always porridge oats kicking around for winter breakfasts.  This little trinity combined in my imagination, so I turned to Google, looking for a pre-existing recipe….

but there isn’t one.  At least not one that’s exactly – there were raspberry muffins, oat blueberry muffins, ones with chocolate added, etc.  But I wanted a sweet but wholesome, simple morning muffin, with exactly those three ingredients.

The next source I turned to was Nigella Lawson’s Feast (our copy has a different cover – no smug smiling Nigella). Our copy also has a well-worn page (one of those spots that the book naturally flopped open at, it’s been referred to it so often), for rhubarb wheatgerm muffins.  Healthy but sweet and comforting, perfect for Saturday morning – and very similar to the taste I was thinking of.

So, with this recipe as a guiding light, I arrived at the recipe below (apologies for the mix of measurements styles – I’m an American who’s lived in London for almost 10 years – this is how I roll):

Oven fresh muffins - they smelled so good!

Raspberry oat and almond muffins

makes approximately 18 muffins (12 if you use big tulip-style muffin wrappers)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar (this is my favourite)
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 230ml (1 cup) yogurt
  • 175g frozen raspberries
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 2/3 cup (approx 75g) ground almonds
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats/porridge oats
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  1. Preheat the oven to 190 C and line the muffin tins.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the sugars, egg, oil, vanilla and yogurt.  Add the frozen berries and gently fold into the mixture.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix flour, oats, almonds, baking soda and powder.  Gently stir the flour mixture into the large bowl, until just combined.
  4. Spoon into muffin cups (about 2/3 full) and sprinkle sugar and a little cinnamon over the tops.
  5. Bake for approximately 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick or thin knife inserted into the middle of a middle muffin comes out clean.  Remove from the oven and let them cool on a rack for about 5-10 minutes.

Yummm..... very moist crumb, nice tart berries

Eat warm with your coffee, or if you have the willpower to save them for later, they’re equally nice once cooled, and should keep for about 4-5 days in a sealed container.

Enjoy!

Sweet schadenfreude…

04/03/2011

When I get a new comission to make a special cake, I always have a little moment of self doubt and worry that I might not pull it off….

And then there are the days when someone has uttered the horrible phrase, “It’s just cake,” and a different sort of doubt can creep in – is cake making really something to build a business on?  Is there really skill involved in all this frivolity?

Yummy Nice wedding cake

It’s these moments when I turn to cake wrecks and scroll through all the monstrosities and failed attempts at greatness.  Because I know that no matter what my failings, I would never force a cake like this on anyone….

Stairway to Heaven (courtesy of Cake Wrecks)