Category Archives: baking

Butter-less pastry – can such a thing exist?

Last week was British Pie Week (no, really), so what better time to post about my recent attempts at pastry. It never figured that highly on my baking priorities, what with not being cake, and having been put off in childhood by my mum’s claims that it was my brother, not me, who was the natural pastry chef. However, after a particularly pathetic-looking bunch of mince pies this Christmas (delicious, with homemade mincemeat made following this recipe, but very unattractive), I set it as a 2012 challenge to myself to get good at pastry. I knew I would be ok, for I would have Dan Lepard as my guide.

Dan's fantastic baking book, which I got for a Xmas present

As I live with (and often cook for) my lactose-intolerant friend, pastry is one of those things that is safer homemade. I’ve noted, though, that many commercial pastries, particularly the cheaper ones, are dairy free and vegan – thanks to cheap industrial palm oil, I guess. It’s still nowhere near as cheap as flour and fat, though, and a lot less fun. One of my first attempts was to make a hearty winter dinner pie, and for the filling I followed Delia’s ‘Not Pork’ Pie recipe – green lentils, vegetables, herbs and spices – with some variations – I swapped the tomatoes for mushrooms to get something a bit heartier and I’m glad, as any more sweetness would have been too much – and used Dan’s hot mustard shortcrust (halved). Apparently the key to short shortcrust is using crisp, hard (ie animal) fats and keeping them cool. My new approach, then, is freezing, freezing and more freezing.





It seems to work. I improvised them into a loaf tin with a foil divider to make simple, square pies, though I did also have a go with recycled foil pie containers (from Linda McCartney pies. Which are actually pretty good. Don’t judge). The squares were simpler (and bigger, which made for a more satisfying, if  sometimes somewhat immobilising meal). It does look nicer with an eggwash (sorry vegans)…



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Coffee – a double post

After my last self-pitying post, I decided to try and drag myself back into action, beginning with baking (of course). I turned to Dr E for inspiration (as ever) and her request for ‘coffee cake, with icing’ came back pretty quickly. I’ve never really made a coffee cake I’ve been very happy with, so I knew this meant trying a new recipe. A quick scour brought me to the Hummingbird Cake Days book – a leaving present from my last job, and one that has only had a few outings so far.  At first, I was torn. Expresso Cupcake, or Mocha Cupcake? The addition of chocolate is usually only a good thing, but I wasn’t sure it was coffee-ey enough, so I improvised, with what I will now call my Cappuccino cupcake. I used the full coffee cake batter with a coffee and chocolate frosting. I’ve heard some criticisms of the Hummingbird recipes, and they are definitely more of the wet , milk-based type than the sponges I’m used to. (I’m sure they wouldn’t thank me for posting recipes though.) But actually this recipe worked fine with soya and heating the milk first and dissolving instant coffee granules (the recipe called for instant expresso powder but where do I find that on a Sunday night?) into it was an excellent way of thoroughly combining a lot of coffee flavour without any curdling or splitting. The results were light fluffy cupcakes, perhaps a bit unevenly risen – did I overmix? Use too much baking powder? Was the oven a bit too hot? Or was it just the wetness of the mix? Nevertheless, the flavour was great, and Dr E proclaimed them ‘the coffeeeyist cake I have ever had’. They lasted pretty well too, better than a sponge-type cupcake.




The frosting also used a lot of milk, with coffee melted in, rather than the straightforward buttercream, and I added a couple of dessertspoons of hot chocolate powder along with the icing sugar. At first, I thought it was a bit of a failure – dairy free frostings are hard to get right and this seemed to have split/curdled slightly, but I found it set perfectly overnight, helped by its disguise of dark chocolate shavings.




In other coffee news, I finally managed to pay a trip to 27 Duke Street, Bold St Coffee’s December pop-up coffee shop and a pretty serious coffee-drinking enterprise. It was quiet, making it ideal for sitting down with a delicious cup and the paper. It feels old-fashioned in slightly shabby cool way, dominated by the bar in the middle of the store and complete with chalk boards rammed with info about the beans, sacking-lined walls and polystyrene cup fairy lights. The coffee purism can be intimidating, but it’s worth it. As a black-no-sugar coffee drinker, I couldn’t help smiling at the ‘no sugar’ rule. Last week’s coffee was from El Salvador and was absolutely packed with big, fruity and, to my mind, caraway flavour. I also had a totally delicious goats cheese and tomato sandwich on focaccia.






It was a perfect spot for sheltering from the rain after visiting Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction, the Ceri Hand Gallery’s exhibition at CUC. These are two Liverpool cultural institutions soon to be departing and I hadn’t visited either yet (I’m not suggesting a causal link, mind) and thought I really should. CUC is housed in an enormous converted warehouse and a totally beautiful space – I really hope it manages to find a new life after January. The exhibition was in the Attic Gallery, a vast, atmospheric space with great views out to the city. Ceri Hand have managed to bring together lots of nice pieces from loads of massive name artists, and it’s nice to see some smaller, less well known pieces, and lots of etchings, drawings and prints. I particularly enjoyed the Hockneys, as they seemed to reflect on the process of making art as well as the end product, and had never heard of Paula Rego before but the two pieces there by her were stunning and I will definitely look her out more. I can’t afford to buy any of it, of course, but if you do have a spare few grand and want to own some art, it’s definitely worth a visit  (closes tomorrow!)…

Ottolenghi’s Orange Polenta Cake

Commissioned to provide dessert for dinner at friends’ and without time to go to the shops, I looked round the kitchen for inspiration. I couldn’t help noticing these oranges languishing in the fruitbowl – the good intentions we had when shopping just didn’t seem to have the same impact when grazing for snacks. So I had a flick through some of my less-used baking books for a new idea to use them up. I was quickly disheartened though as I was missing some key ‘exotic’ ingredients such as, er, cocoa powder. But really, I knew in the back of my mind what was going to happen. I was going to make a second attempt at this beauty.

It’s an ‘upside down’ cake, with a glossy layer of caramelised sugar and slices of orange, topped with a moist, crunchy cake layer, dense with ground almonds and polenta and scented with zest and orange blossom water.

From the moment I saw it in the fabulous Ottolenghi book, I knew I was going to give this a go. Fruit, almonds, polenta, caramel – all lovely things. I waited, at
first, because I just knew it would be just perfect for my Dad’s birthday – he loves oranges, it’s both his favourite fruit and colour. And he’s bloody hard to buy presents for and nothing says filial love like home baked goods, right? But I messed it up. I didn’t leave enough time for it to bake (actually I panicked and
turned it into individual orange upside down cupcakes which was actually pretty neat) and, worse, I lost my nerve at the caramelising stage. So my first attempt produced lovely, moist, orangey, syrupy cupcakes (which my dad loved) but inside I knew they just weren’t right. This time round, I steeled my nerves and waited for proper browning (and a little burning round the edges). I also cut the cake ingredients by a third as would have made a pretty massive quantity for four and I wanted it to cook in a slightly shorter time (hmm, theme here..?) I lined my trusty springform tin, as advised by the cautionary tale in the book about caramel/juices spilling in a new oven. I didn’t do it well enough – there was still some leakage. And I suspect I took it out a wee bit early as it felt a little delicate when turning it over (ok, it sort
of broke). I had the genius idea of making up some more caramel to pour onto the top to disguise the fact and make up for the stuff that spilled. Certainly no one complained, and I was pretty happy with the finished result. It still had a gorgeous texture, moist with crunch (the book said use quick-cook polenta but I like the grittiness), and full of juicy orange sweetness, deepened by caramelising, and disappeared pretty fast…

Fathers’ Day Ginger-Nut biscuits

So, this year, I sort of forgot about Fathers’ day until what we might call the last minute. It’s ok, I thought, what my dad would really appreciate is some baked goods. So it needed to be quick, Dad-friendly, and for the ingredients to be available in my store cupboard. I turned to the inestimably brilliant Dan Lepard for inspiration. I think I knew in my head I was looking for ginger biscuits, my dad’s always liked gingernuts, and so it all made sense to me when I found this. Except I didn’t have any macadamias, or time to go to the shops. It’s ok, though, I thought, I’ll sub with some hazelnuts I have that are taking up space in the cupboard, with a stir of salted peanuts for the salty tang Dan recommends. For good measure, I tossed the hazelnuts in salt with a drop of water to make it stick, and popped them in the oven while it was preheating.

The next hurdle was sugar. Dan asks for light brown soft. Now I buy a lot of different sugars very often, but do have a bit of a tendency to think of my storecupboard as infinite, and it appears that I had used up, and not replaced, the light brown soft.So instead I finished up a packet of billington’s light muscovado, with a crumble of molasses sugar and topped up the rest with white caster (in my head, the latter two sort of balance out. But the molasses doesn’t mix brilliantly in biscuits).

The rest went according to plan. Pretty much. Except I was a bit nervous about when to take them out. And I was late to meet the folks – that’s not the biscuits’ fault though.  The end result? My dad was thrilled, of course. They’re not my favourite biscuits I’ve ever had. The peanuts were a mistake – they dominate. With the ginger and coconut, though, there’s a definite south east asian vibe and I sort of think of them as satay biscuits.  The texture is a soft, chewy cookie texture which is often hard to achieve and rather pleasing but if I was doing them again I’d leave them in a little longer as I felt the flavour was a little pale and premature. The fault of me, my shitty oven and lack of focus on the clock rather than Dan, although it would have been nice to have a clue about how  they should look beyond 15 minutes (some of us have shitty ovens…)

Oh and we went to see School for Scandal at the Barbican. Really fun and pacy, staging and costumes great. Also, the cafe latte ice cream at the Barbican is really yum.