Friday food links

September 19, 2014 § Leave a comment


Summer is still just hanging on, even as the conkers tumble down (causing me to lower the pushchair hood, just in case). I’m starting to get better at breaking recipes into stages, so that I can get things done between naps/feeds/shouts.

Friday food links

September 12, 2014 § Leave a comment

First conker

Glad that the glorious weather continued for a few days after we got back from holiday. However, I seem to have already switched to autumn mode for cooking: we’ve had toad-in-the-hole, mushroom risotto and Rosie Ramsden’s beef shin chilli for dinner this week.

Behind the sweets – part 2 – chocolate and tempering

September 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

Dipped truffles 2

This is part two looking at the techniques used in the BBC series ‘Sweets Made Simple‘. Part 1 looked at sugar work and caramel.

Kitty Hope encourages you to temper chocolate for any of the recipes that involve making a chocolate shell or cup to contain a filling. She also makes it look quick and simple – which it is if everything goes right. But why bother tempering chocolate, rather than just melting it?

As they say on the programme, tempered chocolate is smooth & shiny and has a ‘snap’ when you break or bite it. It will also shrink away from moulds, making it easy to unmould, and resists melting on your fingers, but melts all at once on your tongue. All chocolate bars that you buy should be tempered when you get them.

To see the difference, break up part of a bar of chocolate (dark shows the difference most clearly, because it only contains cocoa fat (cocoa butter) and no milk fat). Something like a bar of Lindt 70% is usually well tempered and you can really hear the snap with the thin squares. Melt a couple of squares, stir it around and leave them to set again on a piece of baking parchment – something you can peel them off easily.
When they are solid again, you will likely be able to see swirls and speckles of white on the surface, and if you break it, it will seem more crumbly than the stuff straight from the packet. Added to this, if you taste it, it will melt less smoothly, perhaps tasting a bit grainy.

untempered chocolate

Why the difference?
Cocoa fat/cocoa butter turns put to be quite complicated stuff that can form six different types of crystals. Tempered chocolate contains just one or two types that stack neatly together and melt all at the same temperature. When you melt and resolidify chocolate without tempering, you get a mix of all the types, melting at different temperatures, and stacking together in a jumbled way.

Tempering melts all the crystals out, then, by controlling the temperature, encourages just the good crystals to form.

So with tempering, you’re trying to encourage even crystals to form; with sugar work, you’re usually doing everything to prevent those nice even white sugar crystals forming in your syrup.

How to temper chocolate

I won’t provide a list of steps for tempering chocolate, as others have done this much better:

Kitty Hope from the series has this article on how and why to temper chocolate.

Alice Medrich, Californian chocolate queen, goes into some detail about the method and pitfalls of tempering.

Using tempered chocolate

Some of the things you can use tempered chocolate for:

  • Coating chocolate truffles
  • Making chocolate shells or cups to fill with ganache or cream
  • Dipping candied orange peel to make orangettes
  • Coating biscuits or florentines
  • Dipping fruit such as cherries

Friday food links

September 5, 2014 § Leave a comment


A brief post due to being on holiday in sunny Devon this week. Today’s mission: cream tea!

Banana granola

September 2, 2014 § Leave a comment

Banana granola

I have always been keen on breakfast. I can’t leave the house without it, and if I am forced, by travel or illness, to miss out, I know I will feel worse for the rest of the day. My pre-baby regime was a bowl of cereal and muesli at home, usually followed by a muffin, a smoothie or a pot of yoghurt and fruit at the office.
Post-baby, breakfast has taken on a talismanic importance. The first meal after a long night, I load up my bowl with as much cereal, muesli and fruit as it will hold, and then hope that baby will sleep long enough for me to finish it!

I tend to eat granola as a sprinkling on top of this bowl, rather than having it on its own. This is somewhat healthier, as well – if you’re going to eat granola, you need to come to terms with the fact that it’s basically another form of biscuit.
This recipe is better than most, with a fairly scant amount of fat and sugar. The bananas provide the additional sweetness and stickiness that is needed for the oats to stick together a little. I tend to use brown rice syrup because I keep it around for another granola recipe (Nigella’s Fairfield granola), and because I find it leads to a crunchier result than either honey or golden syrup.

Banana granola recipe

I got this recipe from Green Kitchen Stories. It perfectly fit the brief of a simple-to-make granola, with the added benefit of using up a couple if ripe bananas. What I wasn’t expecting was the fruitiness of the mix – not precisely smelling of bananas, but a harder-to-place fruit fragrance. Combined with the coconut oil, this is a wonderful scented granola, with a texture balanced between crisp and chewy. It’s the perfect thing to have for an energizing breakfast after a sleep- interrupted night with a newborn.

Recipe lightly adapted from Green Kitchen Stories

  • 375 g rolled oats
  • 150 g flaked almonds (or chopped whole almonds, or a mixture)
  • 150 g pumpkin seeds (or a mixture of other seeds – sunflower, sesame, flax)
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp runny honey or maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp brown rice syrup (or replace with honey/maple syrup)
  • 2 large, very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed

Warm the coconut oil, vegtable oil and syrups or honey until all is combined. (I use a table spoon to measure the vegetable oil first, then the syrup, so it slides out).
Break the bananas into the mix in pieces and mash until smooth.
Mix the liquid with the oats and nuts.
Spread on an oiled baking tray and toast for around 30-40 minutes at 160C/140C fan, or until some of the oats and almonds have become golden brown.

Friday food links

August 29, 2014 § Leave a comment

I’m finally starting to figure out how to get some time for writing in between naps, nappy changes and feeds, so I’m trying to resume some sort of posting schedule here. What I have the most time for, though, is reading, phone in one hand and (usually sleeping) baby in the other. So here are a few highlights from my food reading this week:

  • New Bon Appetit – September’s Bon Appetit is dedicated to their top 10 restaurants list. Usually the restaurant issues of magazines aren’t that interesting – the last thing I want to make at home is restaurant food. But perhaps because home cooking is now very much in vogue in the sort of hipster places that Bon Appetit profiles, there are quite a few things here I want to make. The Forager sandwich particularly caught my eye: a soft potato roll filled with marinated mushrooms, Swiss cheese, scrambled egg and sauteed kale.
  • Dinner: the Playbook – I’m a big fan of Jenny Rosenstrach’s book and blog, Dinner: A Love Story. Many of her recipes have made it into regular evening meals. So although we’re not quite ready for family dinner, her new book ‘Dinner: The Playbook‘ sounds like it will come in handy in due course. But I particularly love this unique spin on the book launch post, where Jenny’s other half Andy, the co-author of the blog, tells us everything that Jenny won’t about why the book is so great. The pride of a spouse shines through.
  • The FT featured a Food writing special in the FT Weekend magazine last weekend (£). I haven’t finished it yet, but I particularly loved the first piece in the magazine on the language of food, examining the words used in restaurant reviews and menus.
  • I’m a dreadful banana-neglecter, so I’m always looking for recipes to use up ripe bananas. So I can’t believe it took me until this week to read about one ingredient ice cream. On the to-do list.
  • Brown butter pistachio doughnuts – I am staunchly against deep frying at home. The waste oil, the splatter, the smell of grease, the need for careful temperature control – it all means too much hassle for small quantities. But doughnuts are the thing that tempts me to fire up a pan of oil the most. Thank goodness for cake doughnuts.

Behind the Sweets – part 1 – sugar and caramel

August 27, 2014 § 1 Comment

Chocolate caramels

I’ve been enjoying the new food TV series ‘Sweets made simple‘, catching up on the first two episodes on iPlayer.
They successfully rattle through four or five recipes an episode, and succeed in making the finished sweets look both tasty and, yes, simple.
In fact, I think they make both caramel making and chocolate tempering look a bit too simple – it’s quite possible to come across problems with both of these techniques, which they don’t really address.

As usual, my particular bugbear is their lack of explanation of the various rules and instructions (although I concede that exploring these would create a rather different programme). Here are some of the techniques and tips they mention, with a bit of further explanation about them. So here’s a bit of a breakdown of some of things they mention in passing, with a bit more on what’s behind the advice.

Part 1: Caramel making and sugar syrups

Heavy bottomed pan

They are sure to mention that you should use a heavy-bottomed pan when making a caramel. What’s so special about a heavy bottom? What they really mean is a pan that has a sandwich of metal on the base, typically a disc of aluminium, fused to a stainless steel pan. This type of pan will help distribute the heat evenly across the base, as aluminium is a good heat conductor, much better than steel. This will help to avoid hotspots, which can be a particular problem with sugar syrups and caramels, where you are trying to reach a specific temperature across the whole mixture, and where stirring could create crystals that cause the whole lot to become grainy.
In fact, an alternative to the recommended ‘heavy bottomed pan’ is a distinctly lightweight (though not cheap) unlined copper pan, as copper is an excellent heat conductor.

Temp goes fast and then slow

Kitty sensibly mentions that when making a sugar syrup, the temperature will rise fast to 100ºC and then go slowly. The temperature of the syrup is related to how concentrated it is. As it heats up, more and more water boils off, leaving a more and more concentrated sugar syrup behind. While the mixture is mostly water, the temperature will remain at, or very close to 100ºC. It’s only when the syrup is almost all sugar that the temperature can start to rise again. For instance, if you heat to 260F/ 127C you have reached ‘hard-ball’ stage, which is used to make marshmallow, for instance, and the syrup will be 92% sugar and 8% water (see here for more details on the link between temperature and sugar concentration).

This is why the specific temperatures are so critical with sugar work – they determine what the texture of the cooled sugar will be. To make a caramel, all the water has to be boiled away, until you have just molten sugar, which when heated further, will caramelise, firming new molecules and turning first golden, and then dark brown.

Caramel - 3

It will froth up

I’m thinking particularly of the marshmallow recipe, where soaked gelatin sheets are added to sugar syrup, but this applies to anything where you add something containing water, like cream, butter or soaked gelatin, to a syrup or caramel where most or all of the water has been boiled off. As the watery ingredient hits the hot syrup, the water instantly boils, producing a huge mass of bubbles that make the syrup froth and foam. This is why it’s usually a good idea to use a high-sided saucepan when doing sugar work.

Using liquid glucose

A couple of the recipes have suggested adding a small quantity of liquid glucose or golden syrup to the white sugar used for most of the recipe. The reason for these is the same as why Kitty often tells you not to stir as the mixture is heating. When you heat up sugar and water, and start to concentrate it by boiling off the water, it’s easy to trigger the sugar into crystallising again. This produces a grainy white mess in the pan. Putting in a spoon can give the sugar something to crystallise on, which is why sugar recipes often advise you only to swirl the pan. Adding a liquid sweetener like liquid glucose or golden syrup disrupts the crystallisation process, adding in sugar molecules that don’t fit, and making it difficult for the white sugar crystal to reform.

Back soon with more on chocolate and tempering.


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