Saturday, 18 May 2013

Chocolate Biscuits

I've been obsessed with the idea of chocolate biscuits all last week. Its not that I even like chocolate (I know, I know, I am weird in that way), but the idea of making biscuits with little Ms Rantlet got stuck in my head and it wouldn't go away. 

So on Friday I got my weekly grocery delivery with everything that one would need for making biscuits, so all was left to do is find a recipe I like. A friend from Oz sent me a recipe from Edmonds, a classic - but it required condense milk, one thing that I did forget to order, so it was back to the drawing board. I've been following Jo Whatley on Twitter for a while and her recipes always look very inspiring, I am even considering buying her book - A Passion for Baking. I found her recipe for Chocolate Chip cookies online and decided to follow it (with a few variations) before making a final decision on the book

Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from "A Passion for Baking"

100 g unsalted butter at room temperature
100 g dark brown sugar
70 g caster sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
200 g plain flour, sifted 
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp white vinegar
a pinch of salt
100 g dark chocolate drops

Preheat the oven to 150C in a fan oven or 170C in a conventional oven. 

Cream the butter and sugars in a bowl until light and fluffy - I used electric hand mixer for the job. Add eggs and vanilla and beat again until all the egg's been incorporated. 

Add flour, baking powder, baking soda and vinegar. Normally recipes never mention vinegar, but I find if you add soda without "activating" it, the taste of soda comes through too strong. Place the soda in a teaspoon, and poor vinegar over it to "activate" it - it will fuzz away. 

Mix everything on slow speed until the dough resembles cookie dough - won't take a minute. Add chocolate drops and mix in with a spoon until all the chocolate is evenly distributed. 

Hand-roll the dough into little balls - about the size of a small apricot. Line cookie tray with parchment paper and place the cookie balls on the tray - leave plenty of space between the balls, they spread quite a bit. I did three rows of four balls on each baking tray. 

You might want to use two cookie trays, so you can pre-roll next batch one while one is baking it. Not essential, but speeds things up a bit.

Bake the cookies in batches on the middle shelf of the preheated oven for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and sharply bang the baking tray on the work surface a couple of times to deflate the cookies, then return to the oven for a further 8 minutes until light golden colour.
Allow the cookies to cool on the tray before transferring them onto a plate.

I think I got about 60 - 65 biscuits from this recipe, hard to say cause Ms Rantlet kept stealing them off the plate. She wasn't that interested in helping me make them, much more interested in tasting them. She has a particular technique of taking a bite of a cookie, dropping it on the floor and reaching for another one, while the cats are swooshing in to pick up her left overs. As you can tell, baking is fun in our household ...

Well, what can I say, the cookies turned out okay, but I am not wild about them. Firstly, they are waaaay too sweet for my taste, and I was after a different texture completely. I was craving something more shortbread-like with some melted chocolate chunks, but what this recipe produces is a light crunchy, snappy biscuit. 
Don't get me wrong, the recipe still makes nice biscuits and they are incredibly easy to make, however I will carry on searching for that chocolate biscuit of my dreams

Friday, 17 May 2013

Books Review - Bread: baking by hand of bread machine

One would think that a new house bigger house would also mean more space, more space for cookbooks. Apparently it means more space to unpack all the boxes we had sitting in storage for years and years. And unsurprisingly most of these boxes contain cookbooks that Mr Ranty and I have collected over the last decade or so.
Our cook books are very much split into “his” and “hers”, with not much cross over in the middle :
- anything to do with spice (Thai, Mexican, Georgian), anything weird (Molecular and Methodical) or Kiwi is in “his” pile
- anything to do with bread and preserving is in “hers” pile
And to be honest, Mr Ranty has been experiencing with some spicy and odd combinations preserves, so that is slowly migrating into “his” pile, and all I have left is bread - which suits me just fine.
So, I am going to do a review of some/all books I have, starting from easy, beginner style books to more advanced sourdough books, with some cakes and cupcakes thrown in for entertainment purposes.
First on the list is “Bread:baking by hand of bread machine” by Eric Treuille.
This is a DK book, and I must say I absolutely love DK cooking series – find their travel guides a waste of time, but they have really nailed it with the cook books.
If you are an absolute novice, you will love this book, I can guarantee it. But even if you have been baking for a while you may still find the book very interesting.
Section 1 – Gallery of Breads
Really, its bread porn under a different name. Nice, if a little bit old-fashion photographs, they will definitely get you going/drooling – great ideas for breads for all occasions
Section 2 – Baking Essentials
A punchy chapter, covering different types of flours in a very non-technical way with plenty of pictures to show what different flour looks like and what is brings to the table. Also includes other ingredients – yeast, liquids, salt, sugar, enrichments and a couple of pages on basic equipment you will need for bread making.
Section 3 – Basic Techniques
This is proper for dummies section, but I remember reading it religiously when I just started baking, and still like to flick through it now and then.
It even includes a sourdough starter page, and a small “old dough” section – something I am yet to try.
Kneading covers hand kneading, mixer kneading and food processor kneading – I must say I would only use food processor for pasty, but each to their own.
A few pages are dedicated to shaping, and as I mentioned, some really good basic techniques.
Glazing and Toppings are my favourites, as they give you a really good idea on different ways of finishing off your bread.
It also has a page on bread machines, but honestly, if you are using a bread machine, you don’t need this book
Now, the exciting part Recipes (Section 4)
It starts off nice and easy with Basic Breads, covering Pain Ordinaire, Country Oatmeal, Victorian, Baguette, Bagels and a few other English and European traditional breads. The beauty of this book is that it has at least a couple of variations at the end of each recipe, which gives you many more recipes that are listed in the book and makes you look like a baking pro from the work go.
For example a recipe for Baguette also tells you how to make Pain d’Epi (Ear of Wheat), which just looks super cool.
Plus, once you have mastered the basic recipes I encourage you to experiment with the mix of flours in the recipes – try making a Wholemeal Baguette of White with a bit of Rye Baguette, or White Baguette with Sesame or Poppy coating. Same simple recipe, but a lot of different versions you can try out.
Next recipe area is Sourdough or Breads Using Starter.
Now, they are saying “starter”, but what they really mean is yeasted “poolish” – don’t worry if you don’t get the difference. Pretty much I would only call “starter” something that has started from “wild yeast” – no actual yeast, just a combination of flour and water. Anything that has started as four, water AND yeast (even a tiny amount) in my head in not a “proper” starter, and I would refer to it as “poolish”. But that’s probably more to do with me being arsy about definitions rather than the book. If this is the first time you are making a sourdough bread from this book and it turns out half-decent, you should give yourself a pat on the back, and stick to fingers in my direction :)
The very first recipe in this area is Pain de Campagne and it is still one of my favourite recipes, also this is the first time I saw dough proving in a basket – crazy I thought at the time, now I have no less than 5 bannetons (a fancy basket) and am still looking to buy more.
San Francisco sourdough is an absolute classic, and a recipe that I am yet to master even after years of baking – sometimes it turns out okay, sometimes less so, but I will keep on trying.
I have had 100% success with the Ciabatta recipe, its one of the most satisfying and also one of the hardest to make if you haven’t got a standing mixer. I remember Mr Ranty going mental with a bowl of dough and a wooden spoon for nearly half an hour – his arm was dead after that. However, once the bread was ready and we dipped it in a rather large bowl of grassy olive oil with some balsamic vinegar, it was all worth it. Man, just the memory of that makes me salivate and makes me want to make a batch of Ciabatta.
The section also includes a few more European sourdough breads which I haven’t had a chance to try but do look quite tasty.
Flavoured Breads come next.
Assuming that you feel comfortable with the basic recipes, this is just a nice to have from my point of view, but still makes a good idea-generation section of you get bored with your every day breads. I recommend you experiment with the basic breads before you move into flavoured breads – use 50/50 milk and water, or juice and water as see what it does to bread’s flavour and texture first.
Pumpkin Bread, Pain aux Noix (Walnut Bread) and Dark Chocolate Bread look particularly appetising. Focacia Farcita (Filled Italian Hearth Bread) is not for faint-hearted – it’s a vision of goodness, willed with blue cheese and herbs!!
You will find a lot of inspiration in this area of how to make your breads look and taste better.
Once you are comfortable adding flavours to your bread, Enriched Breads is the next step for you – requires you to have more confidence in handing wetter, more complex dough. Brioche, the first one in this section is a classic, and I do love it, I prefer it baked as a loaf, lightly toasted, with lots of pate on top. These are a few other breads that look very interesting – Pane Di Ramerino (Rosemary Raisin Bread), Zopf (Swiss Plaited Loaf, a bit like Challah), PartyBrot (German Party Bread – you gotta love it just for the name :)
I had great success with Cinnamon Raisin Bread, and Prune & Chocolate Bread – really nice toasted, with chunks of chocolate melting slowly.
Flat Breads is probably my least favourite section, as I find small flat breads tend to get dry quickly and lack in flavour. I did try make Naan, Ekmek (Turkish Country Bread), Pain Tunisien (Tunisian Semolina and Olive Oil Bred) , Pide (Turkish Seeded Bread Pouch) and they make a very nice quick-ish afternoon snack or accompaniment to dinner.
Quick breads is the smallest and probably the least explored part of this book for me, I just didn’t find it particularly exciting. But it does have some classics – Irish Soda Bread, Muffins, Classic Corn Bread, and Yoghurt Bread and some others.
I like the Festive Breads section, it is very pretty and full of possibilities, but I must confess that I only tested a couple of recipes from this chapter. Christmas Stollen is a traditional, but I find it too sweet for my taste. I do want to try making Fougasse one day after seeing a whole pile of then at a French market. Personally I like Challah, but Mr Ranty is not a fan, so I don’t make it as often as I like. You will find  nice looking recipe for Panettone here as well, but I much prefer flavour of sourdough Panettone, its much lighter and keeps better.
Recipes Using Bread is a nice addition, with a few good ideas on how to get rid of slightly stale bread – Bread & Butter Pudding is a personal favourite
All in all it’s a great book, if you are looking for a book to guide you through your first bread baking experience, look no further!

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Sunday morning Bagels

Mr Ranty has been boasting on Twitter about my bagel making abilities, shaming me into admitting that I haven’t made them for over a year.

Now that I have a shiny new oven and boxes full of flour and chillies, I have no excuse, so this weekend seemed perfect for bagel baking. Yes, chilies, you read that right, I have boxes and boxes of the stuff, thanks to Mr Ranty who is prepping for a Chile Cook Off event, but that’s a subject for another post.
I was debating which recipe to go for – I’ve only ever tried Julia Child (with Lauren Groveman) bagel recipe, after getting inspired by her video, but the last couple of times I used that recipe the bagels turned out a bit dry. So I researched bagel recipes and settled on Sophisticated Gourmet and A Beautiful Mess recipes – which a pretty much identical. The flour to water ratio in the recipes made sense and it was fairly close to what I was used to with Julia’s recipe.

When it comes to the flavour of the bagels, I would really love to be more adventurous, but I normally stick to either plain white with lots of different toppings, or jalapeno and cheddar bagels, as it is Mr Ranty’s absolute favourite flavour.
What I would really love to do one day is Everything Bagels – not just the topping, but the proper mix of different flavours of dough inside a bagel, and I would love to know how to make proper American Pumpernickel Bagel, and Honey Wholemeal Bagel, and Blueberry Bagel, and Chocolate Chip Bagel, and, and, and …

So this time around I settled on two flavours – Jalapeno and Cheddar (of course) and Cinnamon and Raisin …
Jalapeno and Cheddar Bagel
Makes 8

350 ml water, warm
1 (7g) pack of active dry yeast
1 ½ Tbsp caster sugar
500g very strong white flour
1 ½ tsp salt
20g cheddar, grated on the finest grater you can find
1-2 Jalapeno pepper (fresh or dried), finely chopped

Cheddar cheese, grated
Egg white

Cinnamon and Raisin Bagel
Makes 8

350 ml milk, warm
1 (7g) pack of active dry yeast
2 Tbsp soft brown sugar
500g very strong white flour
1 ½ tsp salt
20g butter
80g raisins
2-3 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp vanilla (optional)

Soft brown sugar
Egg white (you will only need one egg white for both lots of bagels)

For boiling
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda

This is a two-day recipe, so start on Friday evening for Saturday morning/afternoon bagels or Saturday evening for Sunday morning bagels.

As always, I use a standing mixer with a dough hook attachment for my dough recipes, but this dough is very easy to make by hand.

Place warm water (milk), yeast and sugar in a standing mixer, and leave for about 5 minutes to activate the yeast. Add flour and salt and mix for about 5 minutes on speed 1, until the dough comes together and wraps itself around the hook. Add grated cheese and chopped jalapenos (or raisins, cinnamon, soft butter and vanilla) and mix for another 3 minutes on speed 2.

For jalapeno and cheddar bagels, use any jalapeno you like – fresh, frozen, dried, etc. Mr Ranty buys his from Cool Chile Co, and asked me to use Chile Chipotle (Meco) variety to see what flavour it adds to the bagel. I chickened out and only used one chile, but it can easily takes two or maybe even three, so add as much as you like. Don’t use too much cheddar in the actual bagels themselves, as too much cheese would impact the texture of the bagels, better to add more on top later when you bake them.

For cinnamon raisin bagels, I’d say 80g of fruit is about right, but it could take up to 100g if you prefer your bagels more fruity. After years of not liking cinnamon, I finally made my peace with that spice, and now I am a big fan of it. Always use more cinnamon than you think you need, the dough can take it. I wasn’t sure about vanilla, so I added a little bit of it – haven’t really made that much difference to be honest. Oh, plus when I started mixing the dough, I discovered that what I thought was a bag of raisins is in fact a bag of currants, but I figured – same same, right?

Mix the dough until its reasonably soft in consistency, soft but not too sticky, the dough should come away from your hands and/or counter reasonably well. Try not to add too much flour, its better to err on the soft side, total amount of flour used shouldn’t be more than 530g.
You will notice that I am using cheese/butter in my recipes unlike most of the bagel recipes you find online. I do feel that Julia has is right – that extra bit of shortening – whether its cheese or butter – adds to the flavour and structure of bagels. I might stick with water from now on, I think milk tends to make bagels a bit too much bun-like.

Anywho, grease a large bowl (or two in my case, one for each flavour) with melted butter, cover with cling film and leave in a warm place for a couple of hours, until the dough has doubled in volume. Its not terribly warm in London at the moment, so I came up with a little trick for proving – place the bowl with dough in the oven and turn the light on, without turning the temperature on. The little light provides enough heat to warm up inside of the oven, and makes a perfect temperature for proving.

Once the dough has doubled in size, knock it back, and place it covered in the fridge overnight. In here again I deviate from most of bagel recipes and follow Julia’s approach. First, cause you just don’t mess with Julia, do you? And secondly cause it fits my schedule better.

Next morning – take the dough out of the fridge and leave at room temperature for 1-2 hours till it warms up a little bit, but it doesn’t have to be room temperature or anything.
Turn the oven on at 220C and place a large pot of water on the stove to boil while you are prepping your bagels
Divide each dough in 8 equal parts and shape them into tight little balls – cover with a tea towel and leave for about 10-15 minutes.
Shape the bagels – cover with a tea towel and leave for another 10-15 minutes. There are two schools of thought on shaping the bagels – what I call “sausage and join” or “hole and stretch”. Either roll each ball in a sausage and join to ends to make a bagel, or poke a hole in the ball, and use two index fingers to stretch it to make a bagel. I prefer the later, as I think it makes a fluffier, more even bagel shape, plus the join method one sometimes come apart during the boil. Always make the hole in the middle much later than you think it should be, the dough strings back A LOT during the boil and the bake, otherwise you end up with a bun rather than a bagel.

 Once the water came to boil, add sugar and soda to it, and turn the heat down (to medium) so the water is just simmering. Place 2-3 bagels in the water (depends how wide your pot is) at a time – they shouldn’t sink to the bottom, but rather float on top. Boil for a minute or so before flipping over and boiling for a minute on another side. Take the bagels out with a slotted spoon, and place them on a baking tray lined with parchment. Pat the tops of bagels lightly with paper towels to take off any excess moisture.
Put an egg white through a strainer, to remove any stringy bits – it seems like a lot of faff, and you end up with bugger all egg white, but it really is worth it. I tried it once with egg white as it is, as the tops turned out too egg-y.
Brush the tops of bagels with the egg white and sprinkle with desired topping – cheese for jalapeno and cheddar or sugar and cinnamon for cinnamon and raisin bagels.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until the bagels are golden-brown and the bottoms sound hollow when tapped. Try not to over-bake them, and they will go too dry. Leave bagels to cool on a cooling rack, covered with a kitchen towel.
Eat them plain or toasted, with plenty of butter/cream cheese/jam/whatever your heart desires