How to connect – Social media for bakers

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.

Romsey Choral Society (pic by Peter Hilton-Robinson)

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.

Salted butter caramel cake, Beggars Fair edition

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!

Eclairs au chocolat for #TwitterBakeAlong chou pastry week

 

If you can’t stand the heat…

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).

Orange marmalade battenberg cake

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.

Salted butter caramel cake (2 layers), Spiral edition
Salted butter caramel cake (2 layers), Spiral edition

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.

Sweet biscuits

Whipping up a batch of biscuits is, in general, a quick and easy job.

What biscuits do you like best?

 

Coconut and lime cake

Coconut and lime cake

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 🙂

Money makers

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).

My tweaks:
– 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.

Recipe: Salted butter caramel

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.

Banana cupcake, salted caramel cream cheese icing

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.

OR

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.

 

Recipe: Parfait au miel et au safran

I was on Twitter, as usual, and was asked what my favourite flavour of ice cream was. And my answer was immediate: Honey and saffron. It’s a flavour mixture that hits all the buttons for me.

Where do you find it? Well, you make it. You don’t need an ice-cream maker, just a good electric whisk.

I got the parfait au miel recipe over 15 years ago on Usenet, from a now sadly departed lady named Claudine Cowen. I added saffron on an impulse, and it was glorious.

I try not to make it too often, as it never stays long in my freezer. But go ahead, do it and share it: it’s definitely worth it.

Parfait au miel et au safran
(serves 6)

4 eggs
25 cl very good honey
1 pinch of saffron threads
1 tsp lemon juice
1 pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
25 cl double cream

In a mortar, grind the saffron to a powder.

In a medium-sized, thick-bottomed saucepan, slowly bring the honey to a boil. Crack the eggs into a large bowl. Whisk them with the pinch of salt until foamy.

When the honey boils, pour it very slowly into the eggs and keep whisking. Once you’ve mixed in all the honey, pour the mixture back into the saucepan, add the saffron, and return it to a medium heat. Keep whisking until the foam thickens.

Pour back into a bowl (preferably a clean one), and whisk on until cooled (that goes much faster if you put your bowl in an ice bath). Add the lemon juice and the vanilla extract.

Now, whisk up the double cream into soft peaks, and fold into the honey foam. Pour into a container and freeze for at least 4 hours.

Note: I think the saffron here could be replaced by cardamom with good results.

Recipe: Snickerdoodles

I first encountered the American author Jean Johnson online through her very steamy Harry Potter fanfiction. Yeah, I know. So sue me.

She and I happen to have the same birthday. I became one of her beta readers for her fanfiction, then for her fantasy/romance novels. Despite having a 9-hour time difference between us, we chatted online through my mornings and her late nights. We finally managed to meet for real a few years ago during the World Science Fiction Convention in London.

But back to our subject: to celebrate chapter 100 of one of her fanfictions, Jean included a recipe for her favourite biscuits, I mean, cookies: Snickerdoodles. These are nicely rounded, rather soft in the middle, and covered in crunchy spiced sugar.

Snickerdoodles

Here is her recipe, translated to British English:

Snickerdoodles

3 ¼ cups sifted plain flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon bicarb of soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 ½ cups light brown sugar
3 eggs, well beaten
1 cup hazel nuts, coarsely chopped (optional)
1 cup butter

½ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 dash of nutmeg

Preheat oven to 180° C.
Thoroughly sift together flour, salt, bicarb of soda, and 1 tsp cinnamon. Set aside.

Melt the butter, add the sugar and mix. Beat the eggs into the butter-sugar mixture thoroughly. Stir into the flour until you get an homogeneous dough.

Mix together the remaining ½ cup sugar, ½ tsp cinnamon, and dash of nutmeg in a shallow dish.

With a teaspoon, take a walnut-sized lump of dough. Roll it between your hands  into a ball, and dredge in the sugar mixture. Cook 10 to 13 minutes on a greased baking tray (or non-stick baking parchment). Cool on a wire rack.

 

 

Tarte Tatin

Tarte Tatin

I am extremely happy with how this came out. It looks as pretty as it tastes.

I used my Mum’s recipe, with a little salted butter and a weft of cinnamon in the apples, and shortcrust rather than puff pastry.

Presentation-wise, I nicked a trick from Raymond Blanc, using small Braeburn apples and standing them up, for an excellent apple-to-crust ratio.

Tarte Tatin