18 April 2014

Cocoa Brownies

It’s Easter weekend and even though this isn’t celebrated here in Japan, I don't let that stop me from my annual pleasure of baking Hot Cross Buns, warm and fresh from the oven, if there's something better, I'd like to know about it.  However, Easter is also about indulging in chocolate but who says it has to be of the egg variety? In fact, who says it has to be actual chocolate at all … these squidgy brownies were made without an ounce of chocolate coming to within a bunny hop of them. I was a little skeptical at first, using just cocoa suggested these may be a ‘lesser brownie’ but they proved otherwise. The cocoa definitely is the star of the show here, providing an intense flavour without being too sweet. The gorgeous texture isn’t cakey at all, instead it’s dense, soft and moist and if that’s not enough, they come together in about 10 minutes using just one bowl so it doesn’t get any easier than that. You’ve still got plenty of time to bake and enjoy these over this Easter break, so what are you waiting for!


Cocoa Brownies
Recipe by Alice Medrich via Food 52

80g unsweetened cocoa powder
140g unsalted butter
225g white sugar
¼ tspn salt
½ tspn vanilla extract
2 cold eggs
60g plain flour

Heat the oven to 160c. Using baking paper, line the base and sides of a 20 x 20cm tin (I used a 24 x 18cm and it was fine), making sure that two opposite sides have a decent hang over of paper to make removal much easier.

Grab a shallow frying pan and pour in a couple of centimetres of water, bringing the water barely to a simmer over a low heat. Put the butter, sugar, cocoa powder and salt into a heatproof bowl and place this bowl into the water, leave it until the butter starts to melt then stir occasionally. When the mixture is completely melted and feels hot to the touch, remove the bowl from the water and allow to cool until it is just warm. Stir in the vanilla. Crack in the eggs, one at a time and mix vigorously with a wooden spoon after each addition. The mixture should look thick and shiny. Tip in all of the flour and stir until it’s completely incorporated. Now it’s time to give those arm muscles a workout – beat the mixture vigorously for 40 strokes. Spread the batter into the tin and bake for 20-25 minutes. It’s ready when the surface feels firm and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out with just a trace of batter. Leave it in the tin on a wire rack to cool completely. Lift it out using the parchment paper and cut into small squares, mine made 20.
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15 April 2014

Italian Panini Buns

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from living in Japan, it’s how to make decent bread and really, it’s been out of necessity as the bread here can hardly be described as bread at all. Don't get me wrong, there are lots of things that I truly love about Japan but the bread sure isn’t one of them … it's way too sweet and way too soft. Sure, there are a few bakeries that sell a passable baguette but as far as loaves and rolls go, nope, not a fan. I first started making bread over thirty years ago and have always loved doing it every now and then but it’s only since being in Japan that I’ve had to start baking every week and this has reawakened not only my interest in bread baking but also my desire to discover all the different and varied ways of putting together those four simple ingredients. There’s something really powerful about combining just flour, water, salt and yeast and watching it transform.

These beautiful tender buns are made with a biga which is basically just a mixture of yeast, water and flour that is left overnight to develop it’s wonderful flavour before being added to the remaining ingredients. Now I know these panini take almost 24 hours to make from start to finish so sure, they do take some forward planning but the end result is so worth it, believe me! Served fresh, these are fantastic and toasted the next day, they’re just as wonderful too.


Panini Buns
Slightly adapted recipe from Italian Food Forever

Biga:
¼ tspn instant dry yeast
1 cup warm water
2 cups plain flour

Dough:
Biga from the day before
3 cups plain flour
1½ tspns instant dry yeast
2 tspns salt
1½ cups warm water

Biga: combine the flour and yeast in a large bowl, pour in the water and stir to combine. Don’t worry if it seems a little too stiff as it will soften over time. Cover with cling film and let it sit for 6 hours at room temperature. Now give it a quick stir, cover again and pop in the fridge overnight (or at least 12 hours).

Dough: mix the flour, salt and yeast together in a large bowl. Tip in the biga and then pour in the water, using your hands or dough hook, give everything a really good mix. It will feel very shaggy and quite wet but that’s good. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead by turning and folding for about 5 minutes until it’s smooth. The dough will seem too sticky but this is where your trusty scraper comes in handy … use your left hand to fold and with the scraper in your right hand, scoop up the dough from underneath to keep it moving and folding. Don’t worry if you think it’s still too wet, just as long as you keep folding the dough and getting air into it and don’t add extra flour, that’s the main thing. Place the dough into a large bowl and cover with cling film, leave for 30 minutes then give it a quick fold and cover again for another 30 minutes, repeat the fold again and leave for a final 30-60 minutes until it has doubled.

Sprinkle two baking sheets with semolina or cornmeal. Divide the dough into 8-10 pieces (depending on how large you want your panini to be). Gently shape them, being careful not to knock out too much air, you’ve worked hard to get it in there! Now lightly roll them in extra flour and pop onto the trays. Gently press each one down to flatten a bit and create a disc, cover with clean towels and leave for 45 minutes.

Heat the oven to 200c. Put a shallow dish or tray onto the bottom rack of the oven about 10 minutes before baking time and fill it with water. Now place the tray with the buns in the middle of the oven and bake for 20 minutes until the buns are light golden and feel hollow when tapped underneath. Leave to cool on a wire rack. Makes 8-10.
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11 April 2014

Lemongrass Chicken

This is one of those tasty recipes that manages to extract the maximum amount of flavour in the shortest amount of time. You could marinate the chicken for a couple of hours if you wanted to but it’s definitely not essential for this one. I love Thai flavours and as soon as I see ingredients such as fish sauce, lemongrass and chillies, I’m all over it. The caramel gave the sizzling chicken a gorgeous golden colour as well as sweetness, which was a delectable contrast to the heat of the chillies. Definitely a keeper.


Lemongrass Chicken
Recipe from Food & Wine

2 tblspns fish sauce
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tblspn mild curry powder
½ tspn sea salt
2 tblspns sugar plus 1½ tspns extra
750g chicken thighs, skinless & boneless
3 tblspns water
3 tblspns canola oil
2 fresh lemongrass stalks, white part only, finely chopped
1 brown shallot, thinly sliced
3 serrano chillies, seeded and finely chopped
handful of fresh coriander

Cut the chicken into 5-7cm pieces and place in a bowl with the fish sauce, garlic, curry powder, salt and 1½ tablespoons of the sugar, toss to coat. You could marinate the chicken for a couple of hours if you wanted to.

In a small pan, mix 2 tablespoons of sugar with 1 tablespoon of water and cook over a high heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Now cook without stirring until a deep golden caramel forms, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in 2 tablespoons of water then pour into a small heatproof bowl.

Heat a wok over a high heat and pour in the oil. When it’s shimmering hot, add the lemongrass, shallot and chillies and stir fry about 1 minute. Toss in the chicken and caramel and cook over a moderate heat until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce has slightly thickened, should take about 8 minutes. Transfer to a serving place and top with fresh coriander. Serve with rice. Serves 4.
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05 April 2014

Banana Puddings with Caramel Sauce

What do you do with a single banana that is moments away from being a science experiment? Turn it into pudding, that’s what. We all know that the browner the banana, the more delicious it is for baking and this pudding was seriously delicious. I can’t tell you how much I love caramel sauce, so to have this warm, tender pudding doused in it in generous proportions was decadent indeed, never mind the addition of runny cream. The batter was easy to put together and I baked them a few hours ahead of time, simply heating them through briefly in the oven (or microwave) when needed. The Chief actually isn’t a fan of dates (weird, I know) but he had no complaints at all about this dessert treat.


Banana Puddings with Caramel Sauce
Recipe by Donal Skehan via UK TV (quantities adjusted)

85g pitted dates, chopped
80g butter
95g soft brown sugar
1 egg
½ tspn bicarb soda
100g self raising flour
1 banana, mashed
½ tspn vanilla extract

Sauce:
50g butter
75g soft brown sugar
1½ tblspns golden syrup
75ml cream
½ tspn vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 180c. Grease 4 pudding moulds, capacity about 1 cup.

Pop the chopped dates and 150ml of water into a small saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium high heat. Turn the heat down and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the dates are softened and the liquid has almost all been absorbed. You can now either blitz the dates with a hand blender while still hot until smooth or just mash with a fork as I did.

Place the butter and sugar into a bowl and blend using an electric hand mixer until it is light and pale in colour. Add the egg and mix again.

Stir the bicarb soda into the hot date mixture then fold this into the butter with the flour, banana and vanilla. Mix to a smooth batter. Divide the batter between the moulds and bake for 20-25 minutes until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. When ready to eat, invert onto serving plates and pour over the caramel sauce. Serves 4.

Sauce:
Place the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a small saucepan and bring to a gentle boil until the sugar has dissolved. Now pour in the cream and vanilla and whisk together. Simmer for about 3 minutes until thickened slightly.
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30 March 2014

White Loaf using an Autolyse

I know I’ve posted about bread a couple of times lately but my fascination with this most basic of foods remains as I continue to uncover ways of developing dough that I’d never even heard about, not to mention unique kneading methods and don’t even get me started on hydration levels! The more I delve into bread baking, the more I realize just how much there is to learn and to make matters worse, every so-called ‘bread expert’ has conflicting opinions to the other! Yet, still I persevere.

Don’t be scared by the word ‘autolyse’. It’s just a fancy way of saying ... “mix your flour and water and leave it alone for half an hour while you have a cup of coffee”. In a previous post, I mentioned using a poolish, which is basically a portion of the dough mixture left overnight to ferment, allowing the dough to have much more depth of flavour. The ‘autolyse’ method used here is a quicker alternative, which is basically the dough ingredients combined (minus the salt) and left to sit for around 20 minutes to give the dough it’s flavoursome kick-start. In another version of the autolyse method, the yeast is added after the resting period along with the salt but in this particular recipe, it gets added with the flour (see what I mean about conflicting opinions). One thing that everyone agrees on though is that using the autolyse method means that the flour has time to absorb the moisture, making it easier to knead and shape as well as giving it more taste and texture – so a win, win all round.

This dough was a dream to knead, retaining just a hint of stickiness but very workable due to the resting period. The result was a loaf that had a lovely soft crumb with plenty of air bubbles and a beautiful crispy crust. You can adapt any of your bread recipes to incorporate the autolyse method, so I’ll definitely be working my way through some old favourites to see what difference it can make.


White Loaf using an Autolyse
Recipe from A Bread A Day

540g bread flour
1½ tspns instant yeast
1½ cups warm water
1 tspn salt

In a bowl, place all but a handful of the flour and all of the yeast. Now pour in the water and mix it all together for about a minute. You can do this in your stand mixer if you like. Cover the bowl and leave to stand for anything between 15-45 minutes.

If you’re doing this by hand, tip the dough out of the bowl, sprinkle over the salt and continue to knead for about 8-10 minutes until it becomes elastic.  Form the dough into a round ball, transfer to a bowl, cover and leave in a warm place to double in size four about an hour.  If using a mixer, simply sprinkle in the salt and knead on medium low speed for 6-8 minutes until it clears the sides of the bowl, adding the reserved flour only if you need to.

When risen, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently flatten into a rectangle shape. Fold the two furthest corners into the centre then, starting with the point, roll the dough towards you into a cylinder. Press the edges gently to seal and place the dough seam side down onto a tray lined with parchment paper. Cover with a towel and leave to rise again until doubled, about an hour.

Heat the oven to 220c. Use a sharp knife or razor to make three slashes in the top of the loaf. Put the tray into the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes until golden brown. If the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when you tap it, the loaf is done so remove it to a wire rack and cool completely.
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21 March 2014

Ricotta Gnocchi

To be honest, I’m not a fan of the traditional potato gnocchi, which I always find too heavy and a bit like eating mouthfuls of gooey, flavourless dough. But these fluffy little pillows are made with ricotta, so they’re much more light in texture as well as being delicious. They’re ridiculously easy to make, the secret is not adding too much flour, which will just add to the denseness. Only add enough flour to bring the dough together and then with a gentle hand, roll into logs, cut into pieces and boil … job done! If you’re feeling a little crazy, you could add some chopped fresh herbs to the mix or a little steamed and finely chopped spinach, it’s your call. As for the sauce, you could use your favourite Bolognese or pesto or even just browned butter drizzled over the top. I opted for simple tomato that I’ve mentioned below. Yum.


Ricotta Gnocchi
Recipe from Delicious Days

250g ricotta
1 egg yolk
¼ tspn sea salt
30g freshly grated parmesan or pecorino
50-75g plain flour

Drain the liquid away from the ricotta through a colander then tip the cheese into a bowl and mix with the egg yolk, salt and parmesan. Add about half of the flour and give it a really good mix around, then add more flour, a little at a time, until it has come together but is still soft and fluffy, it doesn’t get kneaded like regular pasta, just mix it together with your hands until a workable dough has formed. Don’t keep adding flour if you don't need to, the more flour you use, the denser the gnocchi will be and you want to keep it light.

Divide the dough into four then, on a floured board, roll each portion into a log, roughly about finger width. Cut each log into pieces about 2cm long and place onto a floured tray. Bring a large pot of water to the boil and add some salt. Tip in the gnocchi and boil until they float to the surface. It will only take a few minutes. Drain through a colander and serve with a sauce of your choice … I made up a simple sauce by melting a little butter and oil, quickly sautéing some halved cherry tomatoes, then I poured in about half a cup of tomato passata. I let this simmer for a while before mixing through some shredded basil, salt and pepper and topping it all with some extra freshly grated parmesan.  Serves 2.
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18 March 2014

Italian Semolina Rolls

It’s no secret that I love baking bread, I’m always hunting out new recipes and methods for bringing those few humble ingredients together to create the magic that is beautiful, fresh bread. Because these rolls have a long overall rising time of four hours, it may seem like a lot of work but once they’re left to do their thing, you too can get on with other chores, or just sit back and relax with a coffee and a good book and just check back with them every now and again. Truly, they were very easy to make and the reward for your patience will be flavourful rolls with a soft, tender crumb on the inside and a gorgeous, crunchy crust on the outside. The semolina flour adds a distinctive ‘Italian’ taste and aroma but if you can’t get it, just substitute with plain flour and a little less water (plain flour absorbs less water), although semolina is definitely worth using if you can.


Italian Semolina Rolls
Recipe from Manus’ Menu

350g plain flour
150g fine semolina flour (durum wheat flour)
2¼ tspns instant dry yeast
270ml water
1 tblspn honey
35g soft butter (or lard)
10g (1¾ tspns) salt

In a bowl, mix the flours and yeast together, put aside. Using another large bowl, pour in most of the water (hold back about 2 tablespoons), honey and half of the flour. Start bringing the mixture together, either with your hand, or dough hook if you’re using a mixer, gradually add more flour a little at a time. When all the flour has been absorbed, tip the dough out onto a bench and add the butter. This will be all gooey and messy and you’ll wonder if the butter will incorporate but keep folding and kneading and after about 5 minutes or so, it will be a beautiful, silky dough. Now sprinkle over the salt and continue to knead for about 15 minutes, slowly adding the remaining water a little at a time until the dough is really elastic and smooth. Put it back into the bowl, cover with cling film and let it rise for about two hours until it’s doubled in size.

Now tip it out of the bowl onto a work surface and give it a quick knead just for a minute then form it into a ball and cover again with cling film and leave it alone for a further hour to double in size yet again.

Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Use your hands to flatten each piece into a rectangle shape then roll up from the long side and press to seal the edge, give them a gentle roll and have the seal underneath. Place some baking paper onto a tray and sprinkle this with a bit of semolina flour. Place the rolls on top and dust them with flour. Don’t have the rolls too close together as they will rise and spread. Pop a clean towel over them and leave them to rise for a further hour, or until doubled.

While the rolls are rising, heat your oven to 220c. Use a sharp knife or razor blade to make diagonal slits on the top of each roll then place them in the oven for about 20 minutes until cooked and sound hollow when tapped underneath. Leave to cool completely on a wire rack. Makes 8.
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13 March 2014

Pizza Revisited

I know I’ve posted about pizza long ago but that’s one of the wonderful things about cooking, I’m always discovering and learning new ways of making things … you can never know everything and can never have too many recipes I say. In the past, I’ve seen doughs that have a starter, or poolish, but have never experimented with it. Poolish is simply a mix of flour, water and yeast that is left for between 8-16 hours (roughly) to ferment before getting mixed in with the rest of the ingredients needed to complete the dough. Even though that may sound like a lot of fiddling around, it really only takes just a moment to put together and then can be forgotten for the rest of the day or overnight until you’re ready to make your final dough.

For this pizza, I just made the poolish straight after breakfast and then left it to do its thing until around 5pm when I was ready to complete the dough for it’s final proofing of about an hour before getting baked. Why use a poolish you ask? Well, because the mixture has had time to develop a maximum of flavour and I must admit that the final product was pretty darn good. Next time I’ll leave it even longer and see how much difference that makes. Because the yeast used in the poolish is such a tiny amount, precision digital scales are recommended and the longer you leave the mixture, the less yeast you need to initially use. Check the amounts given on the ‘Weekend Bakery’ site. So because I left my poolish for 8 hours, this meant I needed only 0.3g of yeast, which equates to approximately 1/8 of a teaspoon.

Have a look here to see what your poolish looks like when it’s ready, it should be all bubbly and stringy. That's normal. Even though I’m dealing with a microwave convection oven, this recipe still managed to create a really tasty pizza crust, lovely and crispy underneath with a beautiful flavour. Please yourself what you top it with, I just smeared on a bit of homemade tomato sauce (recipe below), together with a few fine slices of red onion, prosciutto, mozzarella and of course, the obligatory anchovies. When I took it out of the oven, I drizzled over a little basil oil (see below). Even though this recipe looks a bit long winded, it truly is so easy to make and you’ll be rewarded with the best tasting pizza ever!


Pizza
Recipe from Weekend Bakery

Poolish
100g bread flour
100g / 100ml water
0.3g instant yeast (1/8 tspn)

Mix the above ingredients together in a bowl until thoroughly combined, cover with cling film and leave at room temperature for 8 hours.

Dough
250g bread flour
8g salt
5g instant yeast (1½ tspns)
120g / 120ml water

Tip your poolish into a large mixing bowl or the bowl of your standing mixer. Now add the flour, salt, yeast and water, knead for either 7 minutes in the machine or about 10 minutes by hand. Tip it out onto a lightly flour dusted work surface and divide into 4. Gently roll each piece into a ball and place onto a tray that has been lightly greased with oil. Cover with a towel and leave to rest at room temperature for an hour.

Preheat your oven to as high as it will go, this is usually around 250c. Have an oven tray in there also heating up or a pizza stone if you have one. Take each ball of dough and gently press it out to around 25cm diameter and place onto some baking paper (I like to sprinkle the paper with a little semolina first, this gives a crunchy base). Spread a little of the tomato sauce on top, not too much, then top with ingredients that take your fancy, try to stick to just a few though, less is better in this case. Put the pizza in the oven and cook until golden brown. It’s really hard to give times because of different ovens, mine took about 9 minutes. Remove to cutting board and slice. Makes 4.

Tomato Sauce
This is a simple sauce courtesy of Peter Reinhart, I’ve adjusted the amounts to suit enough for 4 pizzas: stir together half a can of crushed tomatoes, ¼ tspn salt, freshly ground black pepper, ¼ tspn dried oregano, ¼ tspn garlic powder (or 1 clove fresh minced) and ½ tblspn red wine vinegar. No need to cook this sauce, just spread directly onto the pizza base.

Basil oil (an Ottolenghi favourite) is just a matter of whizzing up 25g basil leaves, salt, pepper and 75ml olive oil. This keeps in the fridge for a few weeks and any left over is great drizzled over grilled vegetables.
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10 March 2014

Korean Fried Chicken (the other KFC)

Here’s another delicious addition to my ‘finger food’ collection. I love gochujang paste, it’s a thick, rich, fiery Korean condiment that’s easy to find in any Asian section of your supermarket or online but at a pinch, if you can't find it, some other chilli sauce would be OK, although wouldn't have the same richness. The secret to these cute little chicken drumettes is deep frying not once but twice to give them that extra crispy crust then tossing them around in that gorgeous sticky, chilli sauce until they’re smothered in all that garlicky, glossy goodness. Totally addictive.


Korean Fried Chicken
Recipe from Saveur

Oil for deep frying (not olive oil though)
5 garlic cloves
2.5cm piece of ginger
3 tblspns soy sauce
3 tblspns gochujang (Korean chilli paste)
1½ tblspns rice vinegar
1 tblspn sesame oil
1 tblspn honey
2/3 cup flour
1 tblspn cornflour (cornstarch)
16 chicken wings (I purchased just the drumette sections)

Chop the garlic and ginger roughly and place in a food processor. Add the soy, gojujang, vinegar, sesame oil and honey. Blitz this until it’s a puree.  At this point I deviated slightly from the original recipe and tipped it all into a small saucepan to simmer for a few minutes, just to cook off some of the raw garlic taste.  Now pour the sauce into a large bowl.

Heat the oil in a deep pan or wok until Stir together the flour, cornflour and 2/3 cup of water in another bowl. If you’ve purchased complete chicken wings, chop off the pointy tip end and discard then separate the remaining two sections. Add these to the flour mixture and give a good toss to coat. Working in batches, fry the chicken pieces until they’re lovely and golden, about 6-8 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towel. Repeat with the remaining chicken. Now fry the chicken pieces again for another 6-8 minutes and drain again. Toss them into the bowl of sauce until they’re completely coated.
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06 March 2014

Bagna Cauda

If you hate anchovies then look away now. Mind you, hating anchovies is a concept that I just don’t understand. I mean, you are really missing out on some fabulous ‘umami’ and eating them straight from the jar is just one of the pure pleasures in life. Sometimes on a Friday night I opt for a tapas type dinner, giving me a chance to sample new finger food recipes that I’ve come across and so when I see anything that involves anchovies, it was a no brainer that I would make this luscious Italian vegetable accompaniment. Bagna Cauda literally means ‘hot bath’ in Italian and while there are a few variations to this recipe going around, I opted for Jamie Oliver’s version which seemed a little kinder to the waistline, what with many others containing a truck load of butter and cream. Now, having just said that this is supposed to be hot, to be honest we preferred this at room temperature, the flavours seemed to be more intense and it thickened up just slightly too upon cooling. What we didn’t eat as a vegetable dip, I used over the following days drizzled over roasted vegetables which was simply delicious.


Bagna Cauda
Recipe by Jamie Oliver

6 cloves garlic, peeled
300ml milk
10 anchovy fillets in oil
180ml extra virgin olive oil
2-3 tblspns white wine vinegar

Vegetables of choice such as:
Carrot sticks
Baby fennel
Baby radishes
Sliced capsicum
Grilled asparagus
Raw mushrooms
Cucumber
Celery
Etc. etc.

Prepare your vegetables and place on a serving board. Put the garlic, milk and anchovies into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10-20 minutes or until the garlic is nice and soft, making sure the milk doesn’t boil over. Using a stick blender, whizz it all up or tip it into a blender. Now slowly pour the oil in while the motor is still running, a little at a time, along with the vinegar. It will thicken up slightly like a mayonnaise. Taste and adjust the seasoning. You can serve it straight away as is the tradition or leave it to cool slightly to room temperature.
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