Saturday, November 26, 2005

Let's bake breakfast...

Sometimes when you are swept up in an urge to cook you spend the day embroiled in ingredients, being vaguely visible to others through a flurry of food.

Today I had such a day. It started when I woke up, determined to bake breakfast. There is something profoundly pleasurable about this activity - you wake up to a peaceful flat, and quietly work away undisturbed. Yet you are also graced with the knowledge that you aren't necessarily alone and that when everyone else wakes up, they'll do so to the smell of something delectable wafting under their bedroom door.

I'd had my eye on a recipe in Baking and the Art of Comfort Eating: Norwegian Cinnamon Rolls, which looked like perfect breakfast fare and had just the right amount of effort for a morning. Being a bread recipe it made it doubly cathartic too - it's clichéd, but there really is an inexplicable joy about the work that goes into things that need yeast. I've made muffins and such before for breakfast, but you just throw everything into a bowl and they aren't nearly as satisfying to make in comparison. There's a fantastically basic quality to bread and all the different stages it needs to go through that make it seem like a bona fide achievement, which is to me exactly how I want to feel at the start of my day.

Norwegian Cinnamon Buns from 'Baking and the Art of Comfort Eating' by Nigella Lawson (words by me)

For the dough:
  • 600g strong plain flour
  • 100g sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 sachets/3 level tablespoons of easy-blend dried yeast
  • 100g melted butter
  • 400ml milk
  • 2 free range eggs

for the filling:

  • 150g softened, unsalted butter
  • 150g sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 free range egg (for glazing)

Line a large, deep roasting tin or deep cake tin (roughly 33cm x 24cm) - round or square, doesn't matter - with baking parchment.

To begin making your dough, place all the dry ingredients in a capacious bowl. In another container, beat the eggs and milk together and then whisk in the melted butter. Pouring a steady stream, add the milk mixture to the flour and stir until combined. Bring the dough together with your hands and then turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until puffily elastic. Shape into a ball, and place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm and set it aside for 25 minutes somewhere warm-ish to let it prove and rise.

During that time, whip all the ingredients for the filling together in a small bowl. Once the dough has had its time, pull of a third and roll it out so it fits the base of your tin. Roll the rest out into a rectangle about 25cm x 50cm and then spread the cinnamon butter over, covering the surface's entirety. With the longest side facing you, roll the dough up as if you were forming a Swiss roll. You should end up with a long, thick cylinder. Cut this dough sausage into 2cm slices. You should end up with roughly 20 pieces. Places these rounds into your tin to cover the base (they may not fit together tightly but post-proving, they will). Slather the tops with the egg glaze and leave once more for 15 minutes. They will rise and swell and grow together. It's probably a good idea to put the oven on now to preheat, to 230C.

Once the swirls are sufficiently inflated, bake for 20-25 minutes until risen and golden. Let cool for 10 minutes, and then tear and share whilst warm.

Due to the quantities of the recipe making much more than Gareth or I could eat alone, I halved it. Or at least I thought I did. As I was adding the liquid ingredients to the dry, I noticed that the mixture was looking worryingly wet and I still had lots of it left. Looking back on the recipe I then realised that I put the stated two eggs in, instead of halving the quantity. After momentary annoyance, I figured it wouldn't be too much of a disaster, threw in a little more flour and hoped that the only difference would be a richer dough (which is by no means a catastrophe as far as I'm concerned).

The rest of the recipe went as planned, although after 10 minutes of baking it seemed that the bread does need to be in a deep tin as the gooey butter/sugar/cinnamon mix will ooze down the sides of the tin and gleefully spread itself all over the bottom of your oven. No matter though. The result was sticky, pillowy snails of richness (sounds odd but just go with it). The dough is akin to a brioche with a sugary crust and sinfully sweet cinnamon butter marbled through it. Its formed especially to break off individual rolls by hand. Definitely best carried ceremoniously back to bed whilst oven-warm and enjoyed with oversized mugs of coffee.

However, there was the small matter of the milk/egg/butter mix that was eyeing me from its jug. I couldn't face chucking it away; good free range eggs and butter and delicious organic milk do not deserve to end their life being poured into a kitchen sink. So, knowing that Gareth's brother was coming round the next day, and that I'd be cooking a dessert anyway, I decided to make a cake from it. I also had a bowl of cut orange segments (with peel) that no one was going to eat, but couldn't bear to dispose of so I thought about incorporating them in some way. My recipe follows as such but please, I urge you to double it for a result more substantial in size than mine - I was just using what I had.

For the Cake:
  • 75g self raising flour
  • 25g cocoa
  • 90g butter
  • 50g dark brown sugar
  • 50g golden caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • completely unmeasured egg/butter/milk mix (about 100ml of it)

For the Marmalade Syrup
  • ½ an orange, with peel left on, cut into thin segments
  • 2 tbsp of sugar
  • 1 tbsp water

Cream the butter and sugars together until pale and fluffy. Beat in the egg and then the milk mix. Sift in the flour and cocoa powder and fold it carefully in. Bake in a small tin at 175C for around 15-20 mins or until the cake is risen and springs back when pressed.

Whilst the cake is in the oven, place the syrup ingredients in a pan, cover with a lid and bring to simmering point. Simmer until the orange peel is soft enough to bite into and then uncover to allow the syrup to reduce. I reckon if you have some orange liqueur to hand it wouldn't be a bad idea to slug some into the mix at this point. Actually, some Amaretto may also work in this syrup (based on my love of Amaretto and orange juice). If the liquid thickens too much, add a drop of water. It needs to be of a consistency that will allow the syrup to soak through the sponge.

Once the cake is cooked let it cool down a little (but not get cold as such) and turn it out onto a plate. What we are looking for here is moistness, so placing it onto a plate will allow less steam to evaporate from the cake and keep its crumb subtly damp. Using a thin sharp knife or a cake tester, prick holes all over the sponge and evenly pour the syrup over a little at a time (holding back the oranges with a spoon), allowing it to soak through before pouring on more. Once all the syrup has been absorbed, pile on the orange segments. This is excellent served with double cream - it soaks into the sponge and makes it a mile more luscious.

Note: There's nothing particularly innovative about the recipe but it makes a good basis for experimentation. If you were feeling particularly exploratory, you could add a scant amount of fresh red chilli strips to the syrup or you could play around with the cake mix and use polenta or ground almonds instead of flour. The whole idea as such begs to be meddled with - plain cakes with ginger and lime syrup or an amaretto syrup topped with toasted almonds. Frangelico syrup poured over an intense mocha sponge, topped with some chocolate covered espresso beans - the list goes as far as your own taste and imagination take you.

I digress. Still not tired from this I strode on to make a fabulous Steak and Guinness Pie as previously discussed. We didn't make the aforementioned pudding on account of the fact that waiting three hours for it would be kitchen overkill. However, we did bake the shortcrust pastry lid separate to the pie, which worked out much better than past attempts. A nice cold kitchen helped it remain really short and buttery too.

A mildly productive day then, I guess.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Malteser Displeaser

Nigella doesn't get it right all the time.

I was treated to some company this afternoon by my friend Sophie, who I met whilst working in the recruitment agency (she temped through us). Given she currently works about three minutes away from my flat, we thought it silly not to see each other. Coffee and cake were on the agenda, and given that I am trying to save pennies as I currently have no income, I thought going out for this would be far too decadent. Also, I've been itching to make a cake for a couple of days now.

Knowing that chocolate is usually Sophie's Choice* for something sweet, I checked out Nigella's Chocolate Cake Hall of Fame in Feast. I'd already made the 'Quadruple Chocolate Loaf' cake from the section with tremendous results, so eagerly decided to try another. I selected 'Chocolate Malteser Cake', given that I had all the ingredients to hand, and exactly the amount of eggs for the recipe, which for some inane reason is always a clincher for me. The cake looked fun and childlike from the picture, which is how I always think of mine and Sophie's friendship, given we mostly talk about how clumsy we are over bags of Haribo. Perfect.

So, everything was going swimmingly until the addition of the flour, Horlicks and cocoa powder whereby everything but the flour incorporated properly into the mix. I'm not sure why this happened, but I was left with a very wet cake mix with tiny white lumps suspended in it. I folded away, attempting to smoosh the coagulated flour bumps against the side of the bowl to disperse them and had I really been bothered, I guess I could have eradicated them with the magic of the sieve. However, time was paramount so I pressed on, and, having got all the big lumps out, poured the mix into the tin (well, it should have been in two tins but I only seemed to have one suitable one), taking comfort in the fact that American muffin batters go into the oven barely stirred and that when I pulled the cake out of the oven, it would probably look beautiful and homogenised.

30 minutes into the baking time, I checked on the cake's progress. On the cake's surface, the tiny white bits had now cooked solidly into, er, tiny white bits. SIGH. I put the cake back in since the middle clearly wasn't springing back to the touch of an inquisitive finger.

15 minutes later, the cake still didn't seem fully cooked and now was rising slightly unevenly, a dent occurring an inch from the centre on one side, and a large nubble rising proudly on the other. Maybe the oven needs calibration, I'm not sure. I place it back in the oven once more.

10 minutes later I decide the cake is cooked before I even see it in the oven, and frustratedly pull it out. What was a nubble is now a majestic peak, and the dent now looks akin to the sea of tranquillity. More worrying still is the leathery resistance the cake has when touched. I pray that what it lacks aesthetically, it makes up for gastronomically.

After leaving it to cool a little, I flip it out of the tin. This is where I really can't believe my bad luck. It would seem that the crater in the cake not only exists on the top, but on the bottom too, meaning that at one point, the cake is roughly a centimetre thick (the rest is about four). In an odd way, it looks pleasingly stylish because the contour of this dip is, at least, remarkably smooth and chicly off-centre. Deciding that this is now a plus, I go on to slather the thing in buttercream and then as well as studding the circumference with maltesers, I fill the concave part with a mini pool of the little devils. It actually looks passable.

Sophie arrives and in anticipation of culinary disaster, I apologise before I cut her a slice. My instincts were correct. The cake is not entirely unpleasant, but in terms of texture it has a terrible rubbery quality and its taste has a tangy bicarb finish, which I suppose is part of the cake's malty oeuvre, but coupled with the former problem, becomes a problem in itself too. I apologise once more and she graciously comments "The icing's really nice". Subcutaneously, the flour lumps barely exist, but the top of the cake, which has now become the bottom of my finished cake has a bit of a crust and when I clear Sophie's plate I can see that she's quietly left it there like people do with fish skins and anything else that belonged to their food that they didn't want to eat.

I think my oven was partly to blame, as was I for not splitting the mix into two tins as the cakes may have risen more evenly in thinner layers. However, I am not entirely sure that the recipe is solid either. The cake has very little fat in it and quite bizarre ingredient ratios and realistically, I think that even if everything had gone to plan, it would still have a definite boing boing factor. I think you could make a sufficiently malty chocolate cake by adding the Horlicks to an existing choc cake formula (and subsequently removing an equal weight of flour), rather than concocting an off-the-wall ritual involving melted butter and hot milk. I actually ate one (sans maltesers) from Waitrose's Patisserie section which was fantastically soft whilst being densely chocolatey and maltily resonant. I imagine it was not made with the Nigella method either.

In support of my disaster, I've found numerous accounts of this recipe failing in other peoples' blogs. I'm not publishing the recipe, by the way, because I think it's a waste of time.

She gets it wrong. I've tasted it with my own mouth, man. Despite claims to being a (domestic) Goddess, she's just like the rest of us imperfect mortals.

*I really couldn't resist the pun. I do apologise.

Monday, November 21, 2005


Actually, there are many more reasons for loving winter, including all the sweet, comforting cakes and puddings which cold weather calls for.

I have already knocked out two crumbles in the past week – both plum and apple to use up a glut I had in the fruit bowl. I added cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla to them, but what works even better (but I did not have them to hand at the time) are thick strips of orange zest tossed in with the fruit and then some grated fresh ginger. I am a firm believer that additional flavours should be added to the fruit, not the crumble mix. For me the crumble topping should remain virgin in order to provide the sweet, buttery foil to the scented layer of jewelled fruit underneath. The recipe I use is fool-proof. Some stubborn, luddite part of me always measures it out in imperial. It just seems appropriate, somehow.

per 2 pretty hungry people, 3 slightly peckish people or 4 extreme dieters. Double, quadruple etc etc as necessary. If I was serving more than two people however, I would probably make more just because I know my friends are a hungry lot. Infact I think this recipe mysteriously benefits from being doubled.


  • ½ pound of fruit (Any fruit you like – just not bananas, unless you are extremely perverse. I personally think topical fruits of any kind do not work as well as their local contemporaries, but if you must…)
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of sugar (vary this depending on your fruit - unrefined sugars are great for autumnal/winter fruit mixes)

  • Crumble

  • 4 oz plain flour
  • 2 oz cold butter (if the butter is too soft you might end up making a dough rather than a crumble mix)
  • 1 ½ oz golden caster sugar (or granulated if you want even more crunch)
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C. Cut your fruit into chunks and place in an ovenproof dish so they cover the bottom in an even layer. Sprinkle over the sugar and any other flavouring you're going to use.

    Now onto the crumble. As I am still manual in my mixing, I put the butter into the flour and sugar and then using a sharp knife, cut through the butter and continue like this until the butter is in tiny pieces and is part way mixed into the flour. Then, either with one hand (keeping the other free to answer the phone from potential employers, in my case) or a fork if you're feeling prim, rub/smoosh the butter into the dry ingredients. It should look like breadcrumbs.

    Tip the mix over the fruit, and shake it slightly to make sure the crumble covers everything. Bake until the crumble is a pale gold and, if you can see it, the fruit has become translucent and jammy.

    I can't decide whether I like this best with double cream or a corresponding ice cream (had Haagen Daaz Praline and Cream with the last plum crumble and it was luscious) . I just go with whatever is available. Gareth likes custard with his crumble. Custard made with Birds Custard powder, more precisely. I'm not saying anything.

    Sunday, November 20, 2005

    Easy as...

    The temperature has dropped considerably in the last two days, so my thoughts are now turning to dishes that can act as mini internal radiators.

    I look forward to winter for two reasons: hefty, intense, meaty pies and substantial soups. I think this coming week may involve a trip to the butcher to get some cubed braising steak to make my absolute favourite, favourite pie: Steak, mushroom and stout. Why no kidneys, I hear you ask? I have nothing against offal itself – if anything, I think that using all the parts of an animal is wonderful and unwasteful but I am not the biggest fan of the texture of our filtering friends. That and they process URINE. URINE. When you buy kidneys, they still contain traces of it. Urgh. Yes, I know that in these times of molecular gastronomy and offal renaissance, I am being rather square. A girl has to have principles though. In the place of kidneys I choose portabella mushrooms to simulate that resistant, juicy mouthfeel without any of the ick factor.

    The recipe I'll make this weekend comes from, in method, a Delia one for individual pies, but I make one big, fat pie. I'm not sure whether to use puff or shortcrust pastry, wherever the mood takes me, I guess.

    The recipe is pretty longwinded, so I won't pain over putting it in here, but you can find it at,720,RC.html

    Delia makes her own pastry, but for convenience, I buy the stuff from the supermarket. I've made this recipe lots of times and continue to tailor it. I like to cut the onions small, never have beef dripping to hand so just use a combination of olive oil and butter, and substitute half the beef stock with Guinness Extra Stout. It still reduces down to the most sublime, unctuous tar. I'm quite excited this time too because I've just acquired some Geo. Watkins Mushroom Ketchup, which I think will make a rich substitution for the Worcestershire sauce.

    Although in total, this does take some time to make, you can break it into stages rather than doing it all in one go. A word of caution: if you must do this all together, please let the filling cool before you attempt to top it with pastry - otherwise you'll find that the pastry starts sagging and tearing before you can even get it anywhere near the oven.

    The end result is just fantastic. I would quite like to try making a pudding version of this too...perhaps I'll try it this week. Exciting!