Monday, January 18, 2016

Homemade Burger Buns – no longer just a bit on the side!

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For me the burger bun is too often just a bit on the side. Even when eating half decent restaurant burgers, the love seems to go into the filling and the bread is an afterthought, frequently overly sweet and cakey.  I find myself tipping the burger and the salad onto the plate and discarding the bun as just NWTC (Not Worth The Calories). At its very worst, the burger bun is something you could practically squirt soap onto and wash down the car with.

In the past, I bought some supermarket offerings as a vehicle for homemade burgers but I was really put off by the alarmingly long list of ingredients and the extraordinary shelf-life of some of the products on offer, which seemed in inverse proportion to the amount of flavour involved. More often than not they too got left on the plate and later thrown to the birds (sorry birds). Now they just get left on the shelf. If you are going to take the time and the trouble to make good burgers, then they need an equally good mode of transport to your mouth.

With a few simple ingredients and the alchemy of a little time and a little yeast, you can easily pull together a self-respecting burger bun that won’t become expensive bird food. In fact, I love these so much that I often leave out the burger and simply eat the bun!

For 8 awesome buns that won’t be left on the side, you will need… pre-heat the oven to 190C before baking

450g strong white flour (bread flour)
1 x 7g sachet of dry active yeast
 teaspoons of fine table salt
1 egg at room temperature, beaten
30g runny honey
100mls warm milk (approx 38°C)
150mls warm water, (approx 38°C). Note, you may not need to use it all
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

a little beaten egg
sesame seeds (or other small edible seeds such as sunflower, poppy, or celery seeds)

Combine the flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl and add the egg. Dissolve the honey in the warm milk and add to the bowl, along with the olive oil. Mix well. Finally, add as much warm water as necessary until the dough comes together in a ball (you may not need all the water). Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Alternatively place the ingredients in a stand mixer and mix with a dough hook until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes).
Cover with lightly oiled cling film and leave until doubled in size. (I leave it to develop overnight in the fridge for a bigger flavour but in a warm, draft-free spot, it should take about an hour and a half, or less.)

Next, turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured work surface and knead gently to deflate. Divide it into 8 even pieces – I weigh each piece, which is usually approximately 105g.

Shape each piece into a smooth, round ball. I use the ‘claw method’ for this: Using a wooden chopping board - or similar - as your work surface for this. Form a claw with your hand and trap a chunk of dough between your palm and the board. Using your fingers as a cage to stop the dough escaping, press down and rotate at the same time, moving the dough against the board until it comes together in a smooth round ball. The trick here is not to use a lot of flour. The dough needs to stick ever so slightly to the surface as you work it. When you master the method, you can do one in each hand, flying through the process like an old pro.
When you have 8 smooth, round balls of dough, lightly flour your hands and flatten the dough balls into discs, roughly 9cm (3½ inches) across.
Place the discs of dough on a lightly-floured or parchment-lined non-stick baking tray. Cover loosely with lightly oiled cling film and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size.

Brush the buns gently with a little beaten egg and sprinkle over pinches of sesame seeds (or other small edible seeds)

Pre-heat the oven and about a minute or two before baking, place a roasting dish on the bottom shelf of the oven and add a cupful of hot water. (The steam will help the buns rise and help create a shiny crust.)  Bake the buns on the middle shelf of the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes, or until risen and golden. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack.
Split across the middle when completely cold. Freeze or use within 24 hours.

You're going to need a good burger for the filling. Try the cheese and chive-filled Elvis Burger from the book, or if you fancy a veggie option, check back in a week or so (or subscribe using the box towards the top right of this page to get the recipe direct to your inbox ).

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Orange, Cardamom & Coriander Madeleines – It's not what you've got, it's how you use it!

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For Café Europe - a cultural initiative held as part of Austria’s EU presidency in 2006 - Ireland offered scones, and France offered the Madeleine. While very different products, scones and Madeleines have some things in common – flour, sugar, butter, and social ambition. While both had relatively humble beginnings, they were adopted by high society – the scone becoming an essential part of ‘Afternoon Tea’, made fashionable by a rather peckish Anna Duchess of Bedford in the mid-nineteenth Century. The Madeleine (according to one account) was already a favourite at Versailles, adopted by the Court of Louis XV a century earlier. Both got a little lift from the invention of baking powder. There the similarity ends. Perhaps it's a lesson in "It's not what you've got, it's how you use it!"

In Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust’s narrator famously has a foodgasm brought on by the Madeleine. He doesn’t mention scones.
For 24 foodgasm-inducing Madeleines you will need…
… 2 x 12-hole Madeleine tins (you’ll get away with 1, just let it cool between bakes)
150g butter
3 eggs
130g caster sugar
a teaspoon of finely grated orange zest
1 teaspoon coriander seed, finely ground
the seeds from 2 fat green cardamom pods, finely ground
¼ tsp salt
130g plain flour
¾ tsp baking powder

a little extra flour for dusting the cake tins

Icing sugar for dusting over the finished cakes

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over a medium to high heat (use a light-coloured saucepan such as stainless steel if possible as it allows you to see the colour change in the butter that indicates it has reached the right point). Once melted, let it continue to foam and splutter, swirling occasionally to make sure it is heating evenly. As the foaming and spluttering dies down, the butter will continue to darken from yellow, to golden, to toasty brown. The butter will also begin to smell a little nutty. The milk solids in the butter will separate out and sink to the bottom. Remove the pan from the hob and pour into a heatproof bowl or jug to cool to room temperature, leaving as much of the milk solid residue behind as possible (If you leave the melted butter in the pan, it will continue to cook in the residual heat and may burn).
Remove 2 tablespoons of the melted butter right away – you’ll need this to brush the cake tins later – cover and keep it at room temperature so that it remains liquid.
Put the eggs in a large bowl and add the sugar. Whisk until pale, pale yellow and has thickened to the ‘ribbon’ stage – the whisk will leave a trail as you move it through the mixture and when you lift the whisk, the batter will fall in a ribbon and stay on the surface for a couple of moments before slowly disappearing back into the mixture.

From top left to right, you can see the colour change as you whisk the batter

Add the salt, orange zest and ground spices.  Trickle in the cooled butter, whisking all the while until incorporated into the batter.
Add the baking powder to the flour and sift about one-third onto the surface of the batter. Using a metal spoon such as a dessertspoon, gently fold the flour into the batter. Repeat twice more until you have folded all the flour into the mixture.

Cover with cling film, pressing down lightly so that it is in contact with the surface of the batter.
Chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour or overnight if possible.
When ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
Brush the Madeleine tins lightly with the reserved melted butter and sprinkle lightly with flour, tapping off the excess. Divide the batter evenly between the tins filling no more than about three-quarters full (an ice cream scoop or piping bag is good for even portioning). Don’t bother to spread the batter out to the edges - gravity will do the work for you.

Don't bother spreading the batter to the edges - gravity will do the work for you!
Transfer to the pre-heated oven and bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until risen and golden and spring back under the touch of a finger. If the God of Madeleines has been kind, they should have formed a ‘dromedary’ hump (which I always thought was a defect, but turns out to be Madeleine perfection – who knew!). 
A ‘dromedary hump’ is desirable...
Remove from the oven and leave in the tin for a minute or so before tipping gently out of their shells onto a wire rack to cool. They freeze marvelously and are restored to oven-fresh magnificence after about 12 seconds in the microwave. If you are going to freeze them do so now, without their sugar dusting.

If they are to be eaten now, once cool, dust with icing sugar and consume with a decent cup of tea or a glass of sticky dessert wine.
You could also dip them in good dark chocolate or white chocolate.

A bit of quality control… baker's privilege ...

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Pigs in a Duvet - Sausage Rolls with an Education !

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Rouen is a very charming French city with the dubious honour of having flambéed Joan of Arc at the tail end of the middle ages. I was there some years ago for a romantic break with my beloved. Unfortunately, he fell ill and was confined to the hotel for 3 days.
I ended up exploring the city alone for the most part. Luckily the trip accidentally coincided with the 24-hour boat race on the Seine so there was a lot to see and do and there were plenty of stalls selling many delicious things. This was one of them - a version of saucisson en brioche. 

For 6 Pigs in a Duvet you will need...
... to pre-heat the oven to 170°C when ready to bake
6 good-quality meaty pork sausages, (about 350g in total) cooked – they should be cooked just before you start the dough - any excess fat patted away with paper towel - and left to cool to room temperature

350g strong white flour (bread flour)
40g caster sugar or honey
1 teaspoon fine table salt
1 x 7g sachet of fast action yeast
175ml milk at between 27°C and 35C° (this is when the milk feels neither hot nor cold to the touch)
2 egg yolks, beaten
75g butter, in small cubes, softened

To glaze, one egg white

Dried herbs and/or seeds to complement flavours in the sausage (optional) 


Place the flour, sugar (or honey), salt and yeast in a stand mixer with a dough hook, and quickly combine.
With the mixer running, add the milk, beaten egg yolk, and butter.
Leave the mixer running on low for about 10 minutes or until you have a smooth soft ball of dough.
Remove the dough hook and cover the bowl with a damp tea-towel or cling film. Leave in a warm place for about an hour or until doubled in size.
When the dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface and gently knead for a minute or two.

... and s-t-r-e-t-c-h...

Lightly flour a rolling pin and roll the dough out into a rectangle approximately 50cm x 30xm.
Mark 3 notches into each long side, at intervals of one-third – see diagram. Using a pizza wheel, pastry wheel, or non-serrated knife, cut 6 triangles as shown. (You can cut a small wedge off the bottom if you want a perfectly level base, but it’s not really necessary).

Mark 3 notches into each long side... then cut into 6 triangles as above

Taking the first triangle, place it with the short edge closest to you. Make a small cut in the middle of the edge, about 3cm long. Place a sausage along the length of this side, just clear of the cut you made. Taking a corner of the dough in each hand, tug it apart gently as you fold it over the sausage. (If you are good at patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time, this is your moment to shine!) 

Now, roll the dough-wrapped sausage away from you with one hand, while at the same time, take hold of the tail – the long pointed bit of the triangle - keeping the dough taut. Keep rolling and when you reach the pointy bit, roll over it so that the very tip of the point sits just underneath the roll. Repeat with the remaining 5 triangles. 

Tug, fold, roll

Roll so the tail sits underneath

Sit the dough-wrapped sausages on a non-stick baking sheet (or one lined with baking parchment), leaving about 6cm between them to allow for rising. Cover loosely with cling wrap and leave in a warm place for about an hour or until doubled in size.

Repeat with the remaining 5 triangles

When the oven has been pre-heated, place a roasting tin in the base and carefully add about 250mls of boiling water to create the steam that will allow the best rise for this savoury.
Uncover the rolls and brush gently with a little beaten egg white (egg yolk makes this bake too dark). Sprinkle with dried herbs and/or seeds if desired (I used dried thyme and fennel seed this time though sesame and poppy seed are also good)

Place in the pre-heated steamy oven and bake for about 20 minutes or until well risen and a dark golden brown.
Place on a cooling rack until at room temperature. These are great for a picnic, an interesting change to a sandwich, and are even more delicious with a smear of French mustard or onion relish. These rolls don't hang about and are best eaten on the day of baking. Just as well they fly off the cooling rack !

Having a duvet day!

If you want these for breakfast, make 'em the night before: once you have assembled the rolls, cover and place in the fridge to rise overnight. Then, in the morning, bake as instructed. You may need to give them a few extra minutes in the oven but keep an eye as brioche can darken very quickly. 

Taste-tester verdict: "Is it ok if I have another?"
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Monday, October 12, 2015

Spiced Apple and Almond Cobbler – Tempting!

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"Autumn is the mellower season, and what we lose in flowers we more than gain in fruits."

-Samuel Butler

Mmmm, I do love Autumn. It is the season when some of my favourite fruits are at their best: plums and damsons, blackberries, apples – all delicious in a pie, or its even easier, lazier cousin, the cobbler. Today, I’ve gone for spiced apple and almond version.
You’ll notice the slightly unusual ‘cake tin’ I’ve used – a 24cm frying pan. If you don’t have an ovenproof non-stick frying pan, you can cook the filling in a regular non-stick frying pan then turn it into a lightly buttered baking dish of similar proportions and spoon the almond batter on top. 
Anyway, first to the recipe…

To conjure up a delicious Autumnal cobbler for 8 you will need…
For the filling
750g apples, prepared weight (peeled, cored and each cut into 8 wedges) Drop the prepared apple wedges into a bowl of cold water with a little lemon juice added, until ready to use. This stops them going brown.
30g butter
50g Demerara sugar, or brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 whole cloves, ground to a powder using a pestle and mortar (or your imagination)
1½ teaspoons cornflour
a little cold water

For the Topping
150g plain flour
100g butter, cubed
75g ground almonds
50g Demerara sugar, or brown sugar
2½ teaspoons baking powder
½  teaspoon almond extract
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
a pinch of salt
175mls milk

2 tablespoons slivered almonds

icing sugar to dust

First prepare the filling: Melt the butter over a medium heat in a non-stick frying pan suitable for use both on the hob and in the oven, and large enough to contain all the apples.
Dry the apples in a clean tea towel and add to the pan. Cook gently for about 6 minutes, turning occasionally, until beginning to soften. Add the sugar, cinnamon, and cloves and continue cooking until the sugar has melted and all the apples are coated with the mixture.
Mix the cornflour with just enough water to make a runny paste. Stir this into the apple mixture until any juices that have escaped into the pan have thickened up. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside while you make the topping.
Sugar and spice and all things nice...

For the Almond Batter you will need…
… to pre-heat the oven to 180˚C.
Put the batter ingredients - except the milk, slivered almonds and icing sugar -into a food processor and pulse until combined into a crumbly mixture like fine breadcrumbs. (If you don’t have a food processor, place the flour and butter in a large bowl. Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs, then add the rest of the ingredients and mix until just combined.)
Add the milk and pulse (or mix) until it comes together into a thick but smooth mixture.
Dollop large spoonfuls of batter onto the surface of the apple mixture. Sprinkle evenly with the slivered almonds, and place in the pre-heated oven. Bake for about 25 minutes or until risen and golden brown.
Remove from the oven and dust with a little icing sugar. Serve warm or at room temperature with good vanilla ice cream.

Come and get it!

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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Asian Smashed Cucumber Salad – Bish ! Bash ! Bosh !

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Is cucumber really at its happiest cut into slippery slices, the sole, straight-laced player in a sandwich for a prim tea with the vicar? 

Doesn't it secretly long to luxuriate in a dish of cool yoghurt, garlic and herbs as part of a classic Tzaziki? Wouldn't it be happier doing the backstroke in a bowl of Gazpacho

On its own, it is nothing. With the right company, it can be a star. Here, it is smashed into rough-edged chunks to join the riot that is Asian Smashed Cucumber Salad. Smash ! Mix ! Serve !

For a cucumber salad with personality you will need…
2 English cucumbers (long, narrow, smooth-skinned), ends removed

Dressing ingredients
3 tablespoons groundnut oil or sunflower oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 red chilli (hot is best, but go mild if you must), very finely chopped
1 small clove of garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon of caster sugar
2 tablespoons of very finely chopped spring onions
1 teaspoon of very finely chopped fresh ginger (optional)

To serve
a handful of coriander leaf (cilantro)
1 teaspoon of toasted sesame seeds (optional)
salt, to taste

Bish (well, bash really)

Bish:  to prepare the cucumber, place on a chopping board and bash with a rolling pin, mallet, or other suitable object, until broken (but not mashed). Discard any seeds that come loose and cut or break the cucumber into bite-sized pieces. (You may want to cover the cucumber with a clean tea towel to prevent splashes, and bits escaping).

Place the pieces in a colander, and place the colander in a bowl. Put a plate or saucer on top so that it is in contact with the cucumber. Weigh it down - with food cans, a water-filled saucepan, whatever - to help squeeze out the excess juice. Set aside for about 30 minutes while you make the dressing.

Bash: For the dressing, simply mix together the ingredients – I put them in a jar with a screw top lid, and give it a good shake.

Bash (well, mix really)

Drain and discard the juice from the cucumber and place the pieces in a shallow serving dish. Pour the dressing over. Cover and place in the fridge. Leave to bask in the reflected glory of the dressing for a few hours.

Bosh: When ready to serve, mix through the coriander leaf (and scatter with the toasted sesame seeds, if using). Taste and add a little salt and a touch more sugar only if necessary.

Bish, bash, bosh (but mostly bash, really).

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Monday, August 31, 2015

Courgette Soup with Mint and Lemon – how to make a glut vanish !

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At some stage over what remains of the summer, a friend will drop in with a slightly desperate look in their eye. They will ask you how you are and there will be small talk as you wait for the kettle to boil. The friend will be clutching (but studiously ignoring) a mysterious newspaper-wrapped parcel and you’ll frown and wonder if they bring it everywhere with them.

Halfway through a pot of tea, the friend will suddenly ‘remember’ the mysterious parcel and casually mumble through a mouthful of chocolate biscuit crumbs:  Oh, by the way, I brought you some courgettes, fresh from my garden.” If you haven’t got a courgette plant churning out the little blighters almost by the minute, accept gratefully and make this light, summery soup. If you have got a courgette plant, you’ll almost certainly produce a newspaper-wrapped parcel of your own as the friend takes their leave…

The friend will be clutching a mysterious newspaper-wrapped parcel...

For 3-4 servings of light summery soup you will need

25g butter (or 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon of finely grated lemon zest
500g courgettes, sliced
1 litre of well-flavoured chicken or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon of very finely chopped fresh mint

Melt the butter (or heat the olive oil) in a medium saucepan. Add the onion and lemon zest and cook gently without colouring for 8 - 10 minutes or until translucent. Add the sliced courgettes, followed by the stock. Simmer gently for about 10 minutes or until the courgette is soft.

Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add in the fresh mint and blend until you’ve turned the vegetables into a smooth liquid – a stick blender is the perfect tool for this. Taste and add salt and pepper only if necessary.

Serve it just as it is, or with a sprinkling of fresh herbs and/or a swirl of cream.

OK, that's 3 courgettes taken care of. Only another 7 to go...

...What’s your favourite recipe – savoury or sweet - for making a crop of courgettes vanish?
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