A Pie In The Hand Is Worth Two In The Mouth

I spent yesterday evening hanging out with my good friend Allen, who will soon be departing for Colorado, and what better way to say farewell than to make some awesome food. Allen is the world’s biggest fan of Smitten Kitchen, and so the recipes we used came from there. For dinner we had pasta with sugar snap peas, lemon and ricotta, which was super tasty – recipe here. Then came the rhubarb and cream cheese hand pies.

Hand pies. Who knew such a thing existed? When I saw the picture I was like, hey they’re kind of like pasties. But no, no they’re not, they’re like 100 times better than any pasty you have ever eaten. Okay, so maybe you’ve had some really good pasties, but trust me. The beauty of these things is that they’re hand-sized (no s**t), so you can have one as a snack or you can eat three…I ate three. Also, awesome for picnics. I think I might eat them all summer.

We formed a kind of production line where I was responsible for rolling out and cutting the pastry into squares, Seb was on egg-wash duty and Allen did fillings and put the tops on. And then we all switched about a bit, because I can’t cut straight – anyone who has ever seen me cut a slice of bread will attest to this. Allen took over and suddenly the pies became much more square. I videoed a bit of Allen constructing, so you can see how delicious they are:

They’re pretty straightforward to make (even more so if you have 3 of you assembling them), and only take 15-20 mins to cook. You can find the recipe here. I think if Peyton & Byrne is my favourite book, Smitten Kitchen might be just about to become my favourite website.

Also a quick shout out to the lemon curd cupcakes I made the other day for Father’s Day – AMAAAZING. For a more extensive post on this subject, click here.

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muffins. as you’ve never seen them before.

The muffin is a beautiful thing.

Unfortunately, the muffin’s true potential is often overlooked on account of the overabundance of styrofoam-textured, glucose/fructose-stuffed wannabes on the market today. The cheap knockoffs you find at most coffee-shops under the presumptuous label of “muffin” simply don’t live up to the name.

For those of us who really love baking – and really love muffins – calling one of Tim Horton’s stale old cake blobs a muffin is like serving a slice of bologna and calling it a steak. Sure, they technically belong in the same category. But they are not the same thing.

It’s time to reclaim the muffin.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall agrees. Recently when I was asked to bring an appetizer to a wedding shower for a colleague, I decided to google recipes for savoury muffins. (You heard me. Savoury. Muffins don’t even have to be sweet – that’s how radical I am.) I came across a Guardian article by the above-named chef and promptly created two of his suggestions.

What was even better,  I made mini-muffins. Now, you might think: Hey, Jordi, if muffins are supposedly so awesome, why wouldn’t you want them as big as possible? And my answer to that is: Don’t be stupid. Muffins are all about texture. And everyone knows the top of the muffin is the best because it’s perfectly golden and crispy at the edges. So making shallow bite-size muffins means you get, essentially, loads of little morsels of muffin top. Who doesn’t want that?

Actually, I should give partial credit to my husband for the idea of the mini delights. Recently, when he attempted to make me dinner, he nearly burned down my parents’ kitchen because he didn’t know how to turn the oven on. He pressed a power button, but instead of turning the oven itself on, it turned on the warming drawer beneath the oven. The  drawer happened to be full of tea towels that promptly caught fire. But beneath the charred remains of these cloths Robbie discovered (also charred) mini-muffin tins. And they inspired me. So thank you Robbie. Btw, my mom wants more tea towels.

The first recipe I tried, the ones I brought to the shower, were the bacon, cheddar and red onion variety. They were delicious when they were piping hot, fresh out of the oven, but I was a bit disappointed in them by the next afternoon. It wasn’t their fault; Like any muffin, prime eating-time is within an hour after baking. Muffins are not meant for long-term packaging (and yes, I’m talking to you, Starbucks).

But the next muffins I tried actually held up surprisingly well for a couple days post-baking. They were the moistest, juiciest, most succulent savoury muffin I have ever had. Even though they sound like they belong in an organic, vegan delicatessen or something, they are stupendously moreish.

Honestly, you’ve got to try these carrot, spinach, and cumin muffins. They positively burst with flavour – the onion is rich and salty, the carrot is sweet, the spinach is earthy, and the cumin adds intrigue. The seeds, of course, bring a brilliant crunch to the mix.

mmmmuffins

What can be said about the muffin being disgraced by its pretentious, insalubrious name-bearers, can also be said about the cupcake.

The cupcake, too, is beautiful. It’s more delicate than the muffin – airier, ethereal, and elegant, where the muffin is voluptuous, rowdy, and vibrant. In short, cupcake = Nicole Kidman, muffin = Drew Barrymore.

To prove it, I made the coconut and raspberry fairy cakes from my good ol’ Peyton and Byrne book and they were lovely. Loooooovely.

Easy rules to remember: A cupcake should not be so dense you  could play baseball with it, and not so sweet your teeth ache. Just pretty and precious and feathery and fun. Cupcakes, unlike muffins which serve a more functional purpose (breakfast is not a joke), cupcakes are simply little frolics for your mouth.

And I’m not going to give the recipe here because, let’s face it, you should simply own this book. Go buy it. Make some delicious stuff.

On Cookies and Cookery Books

By day, I am a bookseller. My love of reading means that I already buy more fiction than I even have time to read, and there are still more that I have to restrain myself from buying (the staff discount makes it even more tempting). The problem only grows when I start flicking through cookery books when I’m lost for ideas for dinner or looking for something different to bake. My cookery book collection has grown substantially since I began working with books, and the worst part is… I never use them.

Never is a strong word, and perhaps somewhat inaccurate. But considering I make myself dinner every day, and bake at least once a week normally, the frequency with which I open any of my large number of cookery books in no way matches the amount I cook. Cooking for oneself tends to become a matter of convenience, of sticking to what you know when you’ve got other things to do in the evening and can’t be bothered messing about with a recipe that has far too many ingredients and takes three times as long to prepare as anything you’d normally cook. So why can I not resist?

In order to stop myself from buying even more books, I sometimes borrow recipes from books. I like to think of it as a test, where if the recipe is good enough, I might just buy the book. Or not. Maybe. So the other day I was flicking through Green and Black’s Ultimate Chocolate Recipes (I know, the title immediately says BUY ME), and I came across this recipe for cookies. The best cookies ever. I’m willing to start a cookie contest with anyone who dares to enter, my cookies would pretty much definitely win. Just saying.

30g plain flour

1.5 tsp baking powder

100g milk chocolate

100g white chocolate

100g blanched hazelnuts

250g dark chocolate (70% cocoa)

2 eggs and 1 yolk

110g caster sugar

1. Preheat your oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4/350F.

2. Chop the milk and white chocolate and the hazelnuts into small pieces, and combine with the flour and baking powder.

3. Melt the dark chocolate, and let it cool for a few minutes.

4. Whisk the eggs and yolk with the sugar until light and fluffy, add to the dry ingredients and then pour in the cooled chocolate. Mix.

5. Spoon cookie-sized lumps of mixture onto a greased baking tray, and then bake for 10 mins. No more than that, because after 10 minutes they are awesomely gooey.

So I haven’t bought the book yet, but there’s a pretty good chance I will, just because, who doesn’t need loads of chocolate-based recipes they will probably never actually use.

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The flip side of this woeful tale of my unused cookery books is that there is one book that I do always use, which is Peyton and Byrne’s British Baking. In fact, I am just about to go and make the carrot cake from it right now. It is the best carrot cake I have ever consumed, and if you want to know more about that carrot cake, you can see here where I wrote about it last year. Anyway, any cookery book that tells me I can actually make crumpets has my vote (no, seriously, before I got this book I just kind of assumed that crumpets were a factory-made supermarket item. I wish I was kidding). All I can say is, if you only want to have one cookery book in your kitchen, have that one. At the very least it means you’ll be eating cake all year round (and crumpets).

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A Birthday Sponge

For my first baking adventure back in Canada, I decided to pay tribute to The-Nation-That-Didn’t-Want-Me with the most classic of English cakes: The Victoria Sponge. I’m actually not a huge fan of sponge cakes so it’s surprising that I chose this one… basically, my only reasons were that it’s pretty and I had the ingredients on hand. Also, it’s summery and over here in Saskatchewan, where there is still snow on the ground, we can use all the warm-weather encouragement we can get.

Now, we all know a sponge should be light and airy and should swell like a pufferfish. Well, my mother’s oven and I have had some issues in the past and this time was no different – the beginnings were promising but the final result bore a distinct resemblance to an inner tube. I salvaged the situation by baking another cake (which also fell, naturally) and slicing the top half off each (the unsightly cake bits can be used for cake balls, or trifles, or just for eating; I chose to do the latter) and then sandwiching the bottom halves.

And what made THIS particular Victoria sponge rather exceptional were three things: 1) It was stuffed to bursting with fresh, sliced strawberries (not just jam!), 2) I used my mother’s raspberry jam under the cream, which is the juiciest, tastiest, fruitiest jam in the world, and 3) the decorations were completely original, courtesy of yours truly.

All things considered, it looked great. I didn’t eat any because I brought it to a birthday party (for a girl named Twyla, obviously) and it got gobbled up, and also because I’d gorged myself on leftover sponge cake bits and was feeling a bit ill by that time. Needless to say, the cake is rather tasty.

I used the recipe from my beloved Peyton and Byrne book, a gift from the splendid Miss Erwood. Here’s the trimmed-down Jordi-version of the recipe:

Weigh 4 eggs in their shells. Measure out an equal weight of unsalted butter, caster sugar, and self-raising flour.

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees. Butter and line a 20cm round cake tin.

In a big bowl, beat the butter and sugar till pale and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, plus a tablespoonful of measured-out flour. Once it’s all well-incorporated, add the rest of the flour and mix gently.

Scrape it into your tin and bake 35-40 minutes, until it’s springy. Cool.

Saw that sucker in half, then slather it with jam, cream, and strawberries. Make it sandwich-y and then sprinkle, liberally, with icing sugar. If you’re feeling creative, you can do what I did with the top…

Draw your message/name in hollow letters on a piece of paper, then cut the letters out (I had to carve them out with a jackknife, ’cause the scissors couldn’t get in there). Place the paper over the top of the cake and sprinkle your sugar – voila, sugar writing. Totally magic.Image

On Breakfast (an Ode to Granola)

Last week I was feeling a little lost. I ran out of granola, and instead of finding alternative breakfast solutions spent the week not eating any. This led to a week of questionable levels of productivity and general hunger. A cup of tea does not suffice.

Up until the last year or so I never ate breakfast, or rarely at least. Much of my childhood was spent with my parents trying to convince me to eat something before I left for school, but it always made me feel sick or I didn’t have enough time or many many more excuses. That said, my friend’s mum used to let me eat ice cream for breakfast when I was in primary school, and I was totally cool with that. Unfortunately these ice cream breakfasts were few and far between. I kind of wonder how things would’ve been if I’d actually eaten breakfast every day. Maybe I’d be taller? Or have got better grades? Or maybe I would’ve been the same, just…less hungry.

Anyway, there ends the tale of woe of a breakfast-less childhood. Now I find it hard not to eat breakfast, and don’t really understand why I spent the best part of 23 years not bothering.

You guys, breakfast is AWESOME.

Know what’s even better? Granola. YES. This is where this is going. Back to the empty granola container on my kitchen counter. When I decided granola should be my breakfast of choice a few months ago, I started eating Dorset Cereals, which is fantastic (particularly the chocolate stuff), but prohibitively expensive. £5 for 550g? No thanks. I would weigh it into 50g portions so that I knew it would last a long time. Please, don’t judge me, it’s sensible okay! But what turned out to be more sensible was to make my own, which is a) cheaper, and b) tastier.

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GRANOLA

Enter Leon.

I love Leon, and it always makes me sad that they don’t have one in Cambridge, but their Ingredients and Recipes book helps me to pretend that I am there all the time. They have a pretty amazing granola recipe, which I have adapted slightly because I really like banana chips, and you can adapt it too, because you can put anything in granola. Even chocolate. And you could probably eat it with ice cream, if you’re anything like 6 year old me.

You will need:

150g honey

60ml sunflower or groundnut oil

250g rolled oats (the porridgey kind)

100g oatbran

150g sunflower seeds

100g hazelnuts

150g dates

100g dried apricots

100g sultanas

100g wheatgerm

(I substitute the dates with dried banana chips and more apricots, and I put 50g pumpkin seeds and 75g dried cranberries in too. I have never used the wheatgerm, because I couldn’t find it anywhere when I first made it, and it was fine without, so I don’t think you need it.)

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4

2. Pour the honey and oil into a pan and heat gently until the honey has melted

3. In a bowl mix the oats, bran, sunflower seeds (and pumpkin seeds if you got them!), then pour the honey mixture on and mix well until everything is coated. Spread it out on a large baking tray

4. Roast for 20-25 mins turning everything 3 or 4 times, then leave to cool.

5. Roughly chop the hazelnuts, dates and apricots, and when the oats are cool, mix everything together with the wheatgerm (if you want) and store in an air-tight container. It’ll last about a month (unless you eat it all really quickly).

Writing out this recipe has made me want to eat breakfast again.

 

– Lizzie

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Returns

So, remember that time when Jordi came back to England and we stopped transatlantically baking? So do I…. It was a year of joy, where we baked and ate together and…mostly drank a lot?

Sadly, the UK Border Agency had other ideas for my dear friend, and as a result, her, and her fantastic husband Robbie are returning to Canada. “But wait!” I hear you say…”does that mean that The Royal Moose is no longer defunct?”

YES.

In fact, I just baked a pretty awesome loaf of bread.

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Probably the Chocolatiest Cake Ever Baked (TM)

SO. There’s been rather a delay in updates. The main news that has occurred over this three month silence is that one Jordi Wieler is returning to England! Hurrah! So perhaps this will continue in a slightly less transatlantic way.

The main baking news of the last three months is that I started making peanut butter pies, which have become wildly popular with my boyfriend. No one else really gets the chance to eat them, because he demolishes them so quickly – a whole 10″ pie within 24 hours. I’m not sure impressive is the word I want to use, but it’s definitely something like that.

Anyway, to the topic today, which is chocolate! It was my dear friend Laura’s birthday on Monday. Laura loves chocolate in a way that most people love their pets…or maybe even more than that. It’s hard to say. She heroically gave up chocolate for Lent, and to many people’s surprise, managed to stay strong and go the whole 40 days without caving in (so proud of Laura). So even though she’s been able to eat chocolate for a few weeks again now, I vowed to make her the chocolatiest cake I could find.

A Chocolate Brownie Gateau.

This cake is not for the faint-hearted. Or the easily sickened. The cake itself contains 1lb of chocolate, and the icing is made from even more chocolate and double cream. The slice I had was at the widest end not much more than an inch, and I had difficulty finishing it. So if you’re feeling extravagant, or you just love chocolate as much as Laura does, here is the recipe:

450g plain chocolate

225g unsalted butter

3 eggs

225g light muscavado sugar

75g self-raising flour

1 tsp vanilla extract

175g chopped walnuts

For the filling:

150ml double cream

100g plain chocolate

1. Preheat the oven to 190C or Gas Mark 5. Grease 2 7″ cake tins and line with baking paper. Roughly chop 115g of the chocolate and set aside.

2. Break the remaining chocolate into pieces and melt with the butter, in a bowl set over a pan of lightly simmering water. Beat together the eggs and sugar. Stir in the melted chocolate, sift in the flour and add the vanilla extract, chopped nuts and chopped chocolate.

3. Divide the mixture between the two tins and bake for around 30 mins, until the surface has a sugary crust and feels firm. Loosen the edges with a knife and turn onto a cooling rack, leaving the cakes in the tins until cool, then remove.

4. Break the chocolate into pieces and put into a pan with the cream, heat gently until the chocolate melts. Allow to cool, then whisk until stiff and use to sandwich the cakes together.

This recipe came from Easy Everyday Desserts.

Finally, a picture of Laura and Julian cutting the cake as if it was their wedding day.

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(Laura just texted me saying she had some of the cake for breakfast. Seriously.)

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Dispatch from the Great White North

It’s beautiful in Moose Jaw today… a balmy +5! That means I can stop eating soup. Last week the weather dipped below 30 and I found myself making batch after batch of soup.  I enjoyed these healthful concoctions from within the cozy comfort of my igloo, my whale oil lamps burning, the sled dogs snuggled up beside me (might have to shave those poor brutes now…); there’s truly nothing like muskox-tongue stew to warm the bones.

You know what I mean, right? Certain climates call for certain cuisine. And now that Saskatchewan is having a hot flash (seriously, this province has moods that make menopause look like a joyride), I can get back to eating solid foods. Like raw buffalo organs – or whatever it is that people of other nations think us uncivilized Canadians eat.

Anyway, before I go out on the hunt, as I will inevitably do since I live in a totally uncivilized territory (I have been called a “moose strangler” and if you have seen my extremely muscular build, you will know that, indeed, I pose a threat to many large mammals), I shall tell you about the fabulous french onion soup I made recently…

It was fabulous.

That’s about all I have to say. The recipe can be found here. (You don’t have to use homemade chicken stock. Unless you have a couple extra live chickens hanging around that you want to squeeze the juices out of.)

I know it’s not baking, but it will have to do. But speaking of baking, I have had a special request from a recent Canuck-ized Englishman, to post the recipe of his favourite brownies. We enjoyed a batch of these on his last birthday while drinking Moosehead lager in The Maple Leaf – a lovely Canadian joint in the heart of Covent Garden. It’s rather unrealistic, though, what with the lack of polar bears walking around, offering piggyback rides to the locals… sigh. I guess one can only expect so much from London. You’ll just have to come here, Lizzie, if you expect to mount a pleasantly-mannered furry white beast.

So here it is, Robbie Sutton, and anyone else who enjoys simple chocolatey pleasures:

Toffee Brownies

Ingredients:

350g/12oz dark chocolate (50-60% cocoa), broken into pieces

250g/9oz unsalted butter, cut into pieces

3 large eggs

250g/9oz dark muscavado sugar

85g/3oz plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

Preheat the oven to 160/Gas 3/fan 140. Butter and line the base of a shallow 23cm/9in square cake tin. Melt the chocolate and butter together, then stir well and cool.

Whisk the eggs until pale, then whisk in the sugar until thick and glossy and well combined. Gently fold in the melted chocolate mixture, then sift in the flour and baking powder and gently stir until smooth.

Pour into the prepared cake tin and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until firm to the touch. Test by inserting a wooden cocktail stick into the middle – there should be a few moist crumbs sticking to it. The mixture will still be soft in the centre, but will firm up on cooling.

Cool in the tin on a wire rack for at least 1 hour, then cut into 16 squares and finish cooling on the rack.

These are very yummy and gooey, and taste like toffee ’cause of the dark sugar. They’re pretty much a can’t-fail hit at parties as well (or picnics! Remember, Lizzie? Sigh… that was when we were just getting to know each other… in the ‘honeymoon phase,’ so to speak, and I was trying so hard to impress you…). They can also probably be found on the BBC Good Food website but I didn’t check.

Oh, and because I don’t have a recent picture of the brownies, I thought I’d take a picture of me eating the recipe of them instead. It’s almost the same.

 

The Pastry Moose

A moose stumbles upon a salted caramel tart...

A Merry (Khaki) Christmas to you all, and a Happy New Year

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!

I finally got to do some baking the other day, after weeks of work stress, my first choice was to spend some time making red and green velvet cupcakes. Normally you just get red velvet cupcakes, but I’ve been thinking about doing green ones as well for a while because, well, it seemed more festive. My downfall was not having the foresight to realise that when you mix green food colouring and cocoa powder you get… khaki. Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t affected the taste, but they are slightly less exciting looking than the bright deep green I had envisioned, as can be seen here:

Oh well.

The recipe came from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook and can be found here (but a word of advice, you might not want to make as much icing as it says – all Hummingbird recipes have far too much icing…unless you want more icing than cake)

The lovely display stand the cupcakes are on was given to me by my friend Ffi. The result of me displaying the cakes in this way was that my Dad didn’t want to eat them because they looked too pretty. I have made a mental note to set anything I make for anyone else out this way to stop him eating it – honestly, it’s the only way. 

One of the more exciting results of Christmas was that I received many many new cookery books. I sat on Christmas morning looking through them all thinking “I don’t want to go back to work…I want to stay at home and bake”.

 

My favourite book so far is the Peyton & Byrne, which is the best British baking cookbook ever, and everything just looks beautiful – I think it’s something you really need to own Jordi. I always choose cookery books by the way they look – there have to be plenty of photos and the food has to look reaaally good – which is at least partly why I love Nigel Slater so much, because Jonathan Lovekin, who does all his food photography, is brilliantly talented. 

On New Year’s Eve I made Nigel’s potato and mushroom pie, and chocolate truffles for my friends. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of those, and the truffles didn’t really set enough because we wanted to eat them, which ended in us consuming very squishy truffle mixture (which is melted chocolate and cream mixed together in case you’re wondering).

Incidentally it is one of my new year’s resolutions to bake more – which is starting this evening, as I am going to bake lots of exciting things (salted caramel tart included) with my friends, so there will be more to follow this in the next few days…

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