I lost my mother earlier this month. It was by no means a surprise, but it hurt not one bit less.
I’ve been holding up ok, mostly, unless someone really insists on “talking about it”. I’m a crier, always have been, so it’s easy to get the waterworks going, even with the best of intentions. On the other hand, you can’t really say I bottle it up…
And then, there are ambushes. Grief hits at random moments. Last night, I was watching Salvage Hunters, and they found some porcelain eggs for broody hens. I bawled like a baby for 5 minutes because Mum collected decorative eggs.
And again this morning. I got up late to bake the Tuesday office tuck-shop goodies. I made a salted caramel, almond and dark chocolate torte, and realised I was out of double cream to fill profiteroles, so decided to bake plain old “chouquettes”, empty choux topped with a few grains of pearl sugar.
Mum’s favourite treat, one of the only things she would eat outside meal times. There go the waterworks again…
- 125 ml water
- 125 ml semi-skim milk
- 110 g butter
- 140 g flour
- 1 tsp salt level
- 5 eggs medium
- pearl sugar to taste
- In a saucepan, heat up the water, milk and butter over medium heat until the butter is melted.
- Turn the heat down, dump in the flour and salt, and with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir vigorously. Make sure there are no lumps, and still stirring, let the flour in the dough cook and absorb until the dough forms a ball.
- Take the pan off the heat and keep stirring for a few minutes, to help the dough cool off a bit.
- Turn the oven on to 200 degrees, 180 fan. Line 2 baking trays with parchment paper.
- Crack the eggs in a bowl and give them a quick whisk to mix in the yolks.
- When the dough (and the pan) has cooled down to hand temperature (so the eggs don't curdle), add about a quarter of the eggs and stir until they are thoroughly mixed in. Add a second quarter, mix, a third, mix. After each mix, the dough must be totally homogeneous.
- For the last quarter, proceed with caution. The trick now is to add just as much as needed. The finished batter must hang in a V shape from the spoon when you lift it from the bowl (look up videos, there are hundreds of them).
- Spoon the batter into a piping bag, fitted with a smooth round nozzle (or a star nozzle if you're feeling adventurous).
- At this stage, it is possible to refrigerate the choux pastry for a while, even overnight. According to Philippe Conticini, this makes for a less bumpy item when the pastry bakes.
- Pipe the pastry in small rounds, about 4cm in diameter. Tamp down the "nipple" on each chou with wet fingers. Sprinkle with a bit of pearl sugar.
- Put both baking trays in the oven and let bake for about 30 minutes. DON'T open the oven door until you can see that the chouquettes are well puffed-up and a burnished colour. One of my other indicators is a strong smell of well-cooked egg.
- Take out of the oven and place on a cooling rack. They should not sag or collapse.
- If the chouquettes in one of the trays look paler than the others, leave them in until they are done as well.
- Lovely with a cuppa or the coffee drink of your choice...
Pour toi, maman.
After one year of rather intense baking, things are wearing down.
- I broke the plane I use to grate citrus zest (and occasionally cheese and nutmeg).
- The non-stick coating on a muffin tin got unstuck. I just have to rummage through a year of receipts to find the right one and get a replacement for the tin.
- The light in the oven goes on and off during the bake. Not ideal.
- My hand mixer sounds decidedly wheezy.
On the other hand, after a few episodes where they didn’t want to release the cakes, my 8″ sandwich tins are behaving themselves again. They’d better. *sends a stern look*
I’m no stranger to social media. I started back in the last millennium with newsgroups – from which I retain a number of real-life friends. Then came blogging on LiveJournal (mostly under an alias). I gave up on Facebook when I moved to Britain, as I found that my personal and work life would get uncomfortably entangled. Nowadays, I only use my account to update the Romsey Choral Society page.
Instagram. I tried it and uninstalled it at once. I’m not as paranoid as I should be when it comes to data protection, but I balked when I saw all their app wanted access to.
So Twitter it is. I’m trying to keep this account mostly about cooking and baking, but sometimes, my opinions spill over a bit. This isn’t helped by the newer Twitter algorithms that blur the line between likes and retweets (something I often grumble about). But I do also retweet pics of adorable animals, in the hope that this makes up for that.
Nevertheless, Twitter lets me interact with some local Romsey accounts, such as King John’s House, where Mrs Moody’s Tea Room sells my cakes, as well as the Visitor Information Centre (I often go through the Centre when delivering my cakes, they’re getting to know me!). I’ve started chatting a bit with the Beggars Fair team lately, after I made a cake decorated for the occasion.
I can also announce when I’ve delivered fresh cake to the above-mentioned Tea Room, or biscuits to Luc’s. I’m not sure how much good that does, mind you, but every little bit helps.
Twitter is also somewhere where I can connect with other cakeheads. When what I bake matches the prompt, I post to #TwitterBakeAlong, a competition of sorts where people post pictures of things they have baked for a different prompt each week. It is brilliant to see how a single prompt can launch so many bakes!
After a few weeks of hot weather, I’ve been reflecting on the influence it has on baking.
Disclaimer: I lived for 8 years near Toulouse, in south-western France. I consider it is really hot when it stays upwards of 25°C at night. At my day-job, the Brits have the air-con going on one side of the room, whereas us foreign types (Japanese, Italian and French, respectively) keep it off on our side.
Nevertheless, when it comes to baking, the effects of the current 25 to 30° we’ve been having are noticeable.
There are advantages: for once, it is easy to cream room-temperature butter with sugar when making sponge. The kitchen in my current home, besides having the best view (see above), is also the least insulated room – it is a narrow and deep extension with very little in the way of insulation. It can be cold, damp, hot…
Anyway. As I was saying, the hot weather helps with some aspects of baking – those that require things to be soft. Marzipan turns into a thin, flat sheet to cover battenbergs in half the time it does in “normal” weather. Room-temp butter mixes in easily into cream cheese frosting. Yeasted doughs rise faster (or, if you’re like me, of the no-knead, long rise persuasion, require less yeast).
On the other hand… Even with a perfectly cooled-down sponge, that same cream cheese frosting must be refrigerated to set after being spread on the cake – and there’s no hope of piping it into pretty shapes. Buttercream is chancy – depending on the recipe you use, it can collapse, split or turn unless you refrigerate the cake just after decorating it.
This weekend, I brought a salted butter caramel cake to King John’s House Tea Room with a skewer planted in the middle, to keep the two tiers together in the short distance between my kitchen and theirs… and told the ladies to refrigerate it, if at all possible, to help it set.
I wouldn’t want to try to make puff pastry in this weather. On the other hand, I have found you can make short-crust pastry easily if you work quickly – and preferably, with a food processor. Short-crust wants the butter to be very cold, or even frozen, and cut in small cubes. Blitz the butter, double its weight in plain flour and a pinch of salt until you reach a fine sand consistency, then add cold water almost teaspoon by teaspoon, pulsing until the dough comes together.
All that process should take less than 2 minutes – no time for the butter to melt. Take the dough, place it on cling film, shape it into a rough disc, then cover with more cling film and refrigerate immediately for 30 minutes.
Using cling film that way is very useful with other types of pastry as well. You can roll the pastry between the two sheets of cling film without adding any flour, and thus without altering the balance of ingredients.
One last point about hot weather and bakers: do check the temperature of your fridge. I do that daily, to detect a problem before spoilage happens, and as per food hygiene regulations, but a thermometer is a really cheap piece of kit that will bring you peace of mind.
Whipping up a batch of biscuits is, in general, a quick and easy job.
What biscuits do you like best?
Coconut and lime was always in the list of cakes I offered to bake for King John’s House tea room, and they have started to take me up on it.
The sponge – 3 layers of it – is a variation on the one used for my lemon bundt cake. It’s both light and moist and carries a lot of flavour.
The frosting has a white chocolate base, with coconut cream and dessicated coconut, and a dash of lime extract.
I’m making it again tonight 🙂
Not long ago, there was a wine tasting @LucFineFoods and I decided to make Simon Hopkinson’s Parmesan biscuits. These have the usual advantage of being egg-free (if you skip the final glaze), and they pack a fantastic amount of taste.
Since then, these have been very much in demand both at home and at work (my day-job, that is).
– For consistency, I have decided that the “pinch” of cayenne is a level 1/4 teaspoon.
– I don’t do the final glazing and sprinkling anymore.
– I make a double batch of dough, roll it up into a 5cm-thick cylinder and wrap it in cling film. I keep that in the coldest part of my fridge, and make slices as and when needed (at least twice a week, nowadays).
– Take out of the oven when the centre is still paler than the edges.
When I bake for my colleagues, I bake whatever I feel like – or whatever fits what I have in my fridge and on my shelves.
This one matches both: I wanted to make a cheesecake, and I had some leftover salted butter caramel.
You’ll find the recipe as decribed by its author, Chetna Makan, here:
Salted butter caramel is the food of the Breton gods.
Well, maybe not, but it’s both Breton and divine, so…
For those who, like me, grew up in a house where unsalted butter was nearly unknown, salted butter caramel is an evidence. That the whole world only twigged to it over the past 10 or 15 years is amusing.
Salted butter caramel sauce
200 g sugar
90 g salted butter (room temp, cut in small cubes)
120 g double cream
1/2 tsp sea salt flakes (I use “fleur de sel de Guérande”, of course)
In a medium, thick-bottomed saucepan, heat up the sugar and a drop of water over medium heat. Do not stir, do not touch until it turns a rich reddish brown and smells lovely.
Take off the heat, dump in the butter. It will sizzle and splutter. Do not stir, do not touch until all the butter has melted. Now, stir well with a rubber spatula until you get a smooth, uniform paste.
Add the cream and salt, stir more until all is dissolved, and Bob’s your uncle.
Salted caramel cream cheese icing
250 g cream cheese
150 g (to taste) salted butter caramel sauce
75 g unsalted butter, soft
Put all three ingredients together in a bowl, whip until smooth and fluffy.
300 g cream cheese
100 g salted butter caramel sauce
90 g icing sugar, sifted
75 g salted butter, soft
First mix all the ingredients together in a bowl with a wooden spatula (to avoid a cloud of icing sugar), then whip with an electric whisk until smooth and fluffy.