Monday, September 30, 2013

Probably Pumpkin Pie

It's officially autumn! You can tell by the mushrooms that are popping out of the ground, the leaves that are changing colours and the cold weather, but most importantly:  I feel like Halloween.

My sister's been looking up crazy ideas from pumpkin cake pops to burnt toast in the shape of a hand and spiderpies (for me to make of course). In the meanwhile I was looking up Halloween traditions such as pumpkin pie and caramel apples.

I chose to bake the one I'm absolutely fan of: pumpkin pie. No, I have to admit I never actually had pumpkin pie. But I really like the taste of pumpkin and I've been craving pumpkin pie every Halloween for years now, so I think I'm allowed to be a fan! And now, the time has finally come to get into my kitchen and create the Pumpkin Pie. (Well, its Probably Pumpkin Pie. I couldn't really know for sure, with never having tasted one before.)

Pumpkin Pie
1 large pie - inspired by Pastry Cook and JoyofBaking

Pastry crust:
200 grams flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
90 grams butter
1 egg yolk
1-3 tablespoons cold water

Pie filling:
450 grams pumpkin puree
3 eggs
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons spices *
1/2 teaspoon salt

Pastry crust:
1. Sift the flour with the salt. 
2. Press the butter into the flour until you end up with 'crumbles'. I like to use a fork for this.
3. Add the yolk and the water and work the dough until it's consistency is firm and even. Try to minimize the kneading as heat will change the texture of the pastry.
4. Wrap in foil and leave in the fridge for 30 minutes.

5. Lightly beat the eggs. If you made pumpkin puree yourself you might need to sieve it to get rid of the juices and have a slightly thicker consistency.
6. Add all the other ingredients and stir until you have an even batter.

7. Heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius or 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
8.  Press the pastry dough into a tin. (Or two. Or many mini's.) Cover it with a baking sheet or aluminium foil and fill the inside (on top of the sheet or foil) with baking beans, dried beans or rice. (You can be creative with this, but it needs to be heavy enough to keep the sheet/foil -and with it the pastry- down and above all not burn in the oven.)
9. Put the tin into the oven for about 10 minutes until the sides start to colour.
10. Take the pastry crust out of the oven, fill with the pumpkin filling and pop in the oven again at 190 degrees Celsius or 375 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30-40 minutes.
11. Leave to cool a bit and it's ready to serve. With maple syrup and cream please! 

* If you have special pumpkin pie spices in your storage: go for it! If you don't then think of using cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and dried orange shreds. Use at least 1 of the 2 teaspoons for cinnamon. I made my own spice-mix and should be posting that soon!

If you have any pumpkin left: go and Google pumpkin recipes. No, I'm serious! You'll be Amazed and Inspired at what people came up with that includes pumpkin. But if you don't feel very creative and what you have left is less than a handful, then try this: Pumpkin Pie Smoothie (adapted from a Love a fare). Put a handful pumpkin puree in a blender with 1 banana, 1 spoon maple syrup, a dash of cinnamon and enough milk to get the right consistency and blend until smooth(ie).

I have to ask because I'm soso very curious: What are your Halloween (food) traditions? When you google it all you can really find is pumpkin pie and caramel apples and some Irish Barmbrack (which to be honest looks very delicious). I remember celebrating Halloween back in Thailand, but all we really did there was trick-or-treat and I can't remember any caramel apples or pies. Back in Holland we have no Halloween celebrations at all. Well, I have some crazy friends who decide every year that it would be an Awesome Idea if we went and watched horror movies and walk through a dark forbidden forest at night. Is that what you're 'supposed' to do?

Kitty helps me with the maple whipped cream
Please let me know about all the things you do at Halloween and tell me everything about all your Halloweeny foods! Pleasepleaseplease pretty please with cherries on top?

And here's an update with a new recipe!

Pumpkin Pie with a bit of Bite
1 pie - inspired by Good Food and CrumblyandCrispy

1 Probably Pumpkin Pie recipe
1 apple
1 cup dates and mixed nuts
1 tablespoon Oats

1. Chop the apple into chunks and add the apple to the pumpkin filling (step 6).
2. Chop the dates and nuts more or less finely and add the oats. Evenly spread the mix on top of the baked pastry crust (step 10), before you top it with the pumpkin filling.

Picture with courtesy of my sister (Thank you!)

Monday, September 23, 2013

Queen Victoria Sponge Cake

Queen Victoria Sponge Cake. I think it sounds so fancy! But what seemed to me as a lovely light, fluffy and very delicate cake turns out to be a pound cake. A POUND CAKE! Do you feel me? Queen Victoria ate pound cakes! I mean, the cake fit for a Queen was apparently the most basic of basic cakes that's been traditional throughout the whole of northern Europe for centuries? Well, fine.

So if you want to feel like Queen Victoria herself, bake a Pound Cake into a round tin. Cut the cake in half (per own insight), spread a thin layer of jam in between (the Queen liked raspberry) and top it with powdered sugar. Add a little bit of clotted cream to the side and voilĂ ! Cake fit for a Queen.

For all those of you who want a light, fluffy and very delicate cake: I know just the thing! Which can of course still be sliced in half and filled with jam and cream and topped with sugar. And you can still feel like a Queen while eating this. I, for one, feel a lot Queenier with this cake!

Queen Victoria Sponge Cake
1 round cake (20cm/8inch) - from Cakes & Cake Decorating

4 large eggs
115 grams sugar
115 grams flour

1. In a heatproof bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar until it's about to fluff.
2. Boil water in a large pan and then turn the heat to medium/low. Put the heatproof bowl over the pan and whisk until the eggs turn thick, pale and fluffy. This may take up to 10 minutes.
3. Take the bowl off the heat and continue to beat until the bowl has cooled down. If you can't hold your mixer this long, just leave it to cool while you come back to whisk for 10 seconds every 0,5-1 minute.
4. Sift the flour over the cooled egg batter and fold in gently.
5. Bake in a preheated oven of 180 degrees Celsius or 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 12-15 minutes when making cupcakes or Swiss roll or 25-30 for a round cake.
6. For the Queen Experience: leave the cake to cool. Slice in half and spread a thin (thin is just relative really) layer of jam in between and top with (powdered) sugar.

*Cake should be consumed within 1-2 days as it will dry and stale quickly. 

Tadaa~ Now you've got two traditional English/Northern European cakes! Let's call them both British and serve at the fancy high tea party we suddenly feel like organizing. Will you invite me?

On a little side note: if I say light and fluffy I mean really light and fluffy ok? I mean in the sorts of: if you place a fork on it you'll have a perfect fork imprint on it. Or as in: if you put fondant over it it'll diminish to less than a quarter of the original size. But also: if you take one bite you'll find that suddenly the whole cake is gone! Ohoh, last one: it's kind of like coke! It's got more bubbles than actual food! Making it perfect for those people on a diet who refuse to actually go on a diet. (you'll have to omit the jam though. And the cream. The sugar too.)

But, remember: Never trust a skinny cook! So, we can afford to make two of these so we can try different jams. Or one with jam and one with nutella. And one with fresh fruits too. I suddenly feel very trustworthy!

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Quarter Pound Cake

I can get really frustrated about pound cakes. Logically and traditionally it uses one pound flour, one pound sugar, one pound butter, several eggs and occasionally baking powders and flavourings. Yet there are loads of recipes with double the amount of butter, or double the amount of sugar, half the eggs or three quarters of the flour. No, actually, I dare you to find one recipe that uses pounds. Guys, the point of a pound cake is to use pounds!

You think people forgot? Or don't know what a pound is? Well, let me explain.

Ahem, a pound is 500 grams. (Don't stare at me like that! I'll get embarrassed..) Let me then tell you that with 500 grams of each of the ingredients you can make around 4-5 cakes. So then I'll have to admit that the recipe I'm sharing is not an actual Pound cake. I took the recipe and halved it, then halved it again and ended up with 1 cake: The Quarter Pound Cake.
(I know what you're thinking, but did you really want me to call it the 500/5x1,5 Pound Cake?)

(Quarter) Pound Cake
makes 1 cake

150 grams butter
150 grams sugar
3 eggs
150 grams flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon flavouring

1. Cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy.
2. Add the eggs one by one and whisk until fully incorporated before adding the next.
3. Add the flavouring and mix again.
4. Sift the flour with the baking powder and stir this into the batter. *
5. Spoon the batter into a greased tin and leave in a preheated oven of 160 degrees Celsius or 320 degrees Fahrenheit until the crust is golden brown and a skewer comes out clean (around 40-50 minutes).

* This is the perfect time to test what milk can do for a recipe. Add 3-5 tablespoons milk and be amazed at how much softer and fluffier it gets! 

This is the most versatile of cakes. I'm serious. Not only can you adjust the recipe to your liking; like adding flavours, spices, nuts, dried fruits, glazes, icings, fondant or whipped cream with sprinkles. You can also use the cake in different ways: think of plain slice of cake with your tea, or sliced through a trifle, or topped with custard and strawberries, as a base for petit fours or layered cakes, etc. Along with Madeira cake this is what you'll want to use for a fondant-covered birthday cake as it has a strong crumb.

Mom's Quick Pound (Cup)Cakes
12-15 cupcakes or 1 cake

150 grams butter
150 grams sugar
3 eggs
150 grams flour
1 tablespoon vanilla

1. Turn the oven to 150-160 degrees Celsius or 300-320 degrees Fahrenheit.
1. Place your kitchen machine on the counter top and plug it in. Put the butter and the sugar in the machine and turn it on until the butter and sugar are thoroughly mixed and fluffy.
2. Add the eggs one by one, making sure each egg is incorporated before adding the next. Add the vanilla and mix again shortly.
3. Dump the flour into the mixer as well and mix until it is incorporated. Try not to overbeat, but you'll doubt there'll be a difference if you do.
4. Make sure your oven is hot enough, quickly grease a tin or fill a pan with cupcake cups, spoon the batter into the tin and shove it into the oven.
5. Walk away and come back after 15 minutes if youre making cupcakes and 50 if you're making another cake. The (cup)cakes will be golden brown and a skewer will come out clean: they're perfect!

My mom's a very fast and practical baker. I tried to write the way she actually cooks. "Shoving into the oven" is something shes does. And then she walks away, she doesn't even set timers! AND she manages to do this whole cake baking thing in less than half an hour. That includes the baking time. I thought the kitchen machine was the magic ingredient, but I still can't beat her.

Happy Birthday Special Person!
You'll also notice theres no baking powder in her recipe. And her cakes look exactly the same as mine so I really wonder why I use baking powder in my recipe. It should do something, but it just doesn't. I'm blaming the eggs.

Always blame the eggs. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Pizza: the real thing and the cheat

School's started again and everyone's been so busy it's like vacation only happens in distant places to rich foreigners.
Yes, you heard me. School. 

The people who say they're 'studying at a University' are just trying to sound smart. They're just going to school, just like me. Maybe its a big school for big kids, but its still just a school for a bunch of kids who still know nothing of the world. At least I'm assuming they know about as much about life as I do which is practically nothing.

But I know a pizza recipe or two? I'm not sure if this makes up for my lack of wisdom about the world and the meaning of life, but it gets me through the day. Or through dinner time at least.

Ready for the oven: pizza inspired by Grilled Feta

Pizza - the real thing
makes 1 large square or about a 22cm/8" round pizza

1 1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 tablespoon olive oil

1. Sift the flour into a bowl together with the salt and the yeast. 
2. Make an indent in the middle of the flour and add the water and olive oil. Knead until everything comes together and then keep kneading for another 5-10 minutes. Add more flour or water if your dough calls for it.
3. Leave to rise until doubled in size. In a warm place this might take an hour, but in the fridge you can keep it overnight.
4. Heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius or 390 degrees Fahrenheit.
5. Shape your pizza and place it, without topping, in a preheated oven. Leave until it starts to brown: around 10 minutes.
6. Once it's about to brown, take it out of the oven, leave to cool a bit and cover with your topping. Brush some oil on those bits of dough that are sticking out at the sides for extra browning.
7. Then bake for however long your topping takes. 

Pizza with goats cheese, honey, figs and walnuts
Is my pizza wisdom working for you? Here's a second recipe; it works very well in a pinch and it's perfect for sweet pizzas where the taste of yeast could easily become overpowering. It's also perfect for all those of you who think of yeast as some magical deffo-fail ingredient that should be avoided no matter what.

Pizza - the cheated way
makes 1 large square or about a 22cm/8" round pizzas

1,5 cup self-raising flour*
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup water
3 tablespoons olive oil**

1. Heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius or 390 degrees Celsius.
2. Sift the flour with the salt into a bowl. Make an indent in the middle of the flour and add the water and oil. Mix until everything comes together.
3. Shape the pizza and bake until it just starts to brown (around 5-10 minutes).
4. Take it out of the oven and let it cool slightly before arranging your topping on top. Brush some oil on the sides for extra browning.
5. Bake pizza for as long as your topping takes. 

* Or use 1,5 cup flour with 1,5 teaspoon baking powder.
** For sweet pizzas, use sunflower oil instead.

The point of steps 5/6 for the normal pizza and step 3/4 for the quick pizza is to prevent the bottom from getting soggy. By baking it separately first you give it a chance to rise and bake after which you can spread the topping on top. You can omit this step, but beware theres a large chance it'll become thin and soggy. Just don't overdo this step: your topping needs time to heat up and bake as well and you don't want your crust to burn in the meanwhile. Bake it until it justjust gets a colour.

A quick & sweet pizza just before it goes in the oven

If I were you, I'd invest in figs and goat's cheese. Together with honey, it's a combination I've been obsessed with. Obsessed. I mean it: we've had goat's cheese&honey cheesecake, we've had goats cheese&fig pizzas, we've had fig chutney and jams with cheeses and toast, we've had smoothies in this direction and next up I'm going to make this ice-cream. I haven't heard anyone complaining about my tiny obsession yet, so I'll take it as a good thing.

One last note: I apologize for the lack of imagination from my photography. I was so busy I didn't have much time for my photography as I'd like. I did have a bunch of time to make pizza. Twice. No, I really was truly and really busy, but I have something to make up for it. Please enjoy this picture of figs:

 That makes you feel better doesn't it?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

This is your agent speaking: Please prepare to rise.

I really wanted to capture all the rising agents in one post, to clarify the difference between them. I thought that, but when I went ahead and started writing there was so much to say about each and every one of them that the post ended up being so long it was ridiculous. So, unlike my other posts I won't be focusing on one ingredient and all the properties and side-effects, but in stead on the uses of all the rising agents I could find. So please expect very short explanations on each and every one of them, and don't worry because I will definitely get back to these in depth later on.

There are several kinds of leavening agents which fall into the categories: natural leavens, chemical leavens and mechanical leavening.  

The three most common leavening agents displayed.
Natural leaveners
There is one natural leaven that we use: yeast. Yeast is a living organism which, given moisture, will convert sugars into gas. This gas is trapped in the gluten of the dough, which creates the air pockets we see in our breads. Yeast requires moisture and sugar to activate and will often ask for warmer temperatures to speed up the rising process. Generally it takes 1-2 hours for a dough to double in size. There are several types of yeast such as fresh, dried, fast-action dried and easy blend dried yeast. Most people will prefer a dried yeast because of the ease of use and storage, but fresh yeast is considered to be superior in flavour and reliability. Because of it's pronounced taste, yeast is most often used in savoury items.
Not always does one need to add yeast to benefit from it's leavening properties. Yeast spores occur naturally in flour, dairy products, plant matter, spices and even the air around us. Sourdoughs rely on these wild yeasts. With enough flour and water a batter will start to ferment spontaneously if it is given sugar or starch to feed it. This type of dough can be used for a long time if it is occasionally fed with flour and water to keep the process going and will even become more flavourful over time.

Buttermilk scones made with baking powder and baking soda
Chemical leaveners
For most of our sweet bakes we turn to chemical leavens. Unlike yeast, chemical leavens don't create airpockets of their own, but instead they release carbon dioxide. This carbon dioxide will quickly saturate the dough and is then released into the air. This enlarges the air bubbles that are already present in the batter through mixing, creaming, whipping and beating the ingredients.
One of these chemical leavens is Baking Soda or Bicarbonate of Soda. Baking soda requires moisture and an acidic component to activate. Acidic ingredients include yogurt, buttermilk, chocolate, citrus juice, fruits, honey, sour cream, cream of tartar and molasses. When baking soda comes into contact with one of these acids and moisture, there is an instant reaction of chemicals and the leavening process is started. Because of it's fast acting nature baking soda is always added last to a batter, which is placed in the oven shortly after. The heat of the oven sets the gluten and proteins around the air pockets before it has a chance to collapse.
Another chemical leaven we often use is baking powder. This is the agent used in self-raising flour. Baking powder is a mixture of baking soda and acidic chemicals (often cream of tartar). It has the same properties as baking soda, but because it includes it's own acidic component, there is no need of including any acidic ingredients. Baking powder comes in two variations: single-acting and double-acting. Single-acting baking powder works the same as baking soda instead simply requiring non-acidic ingredients. Double-acting baking powder, just like baking soda and single-acting baking powder, starts it's leavening process once it comes into contact with moisture. Unlike the other two however, double-acting baking powder continues it's leavening process once the batter is heated in the oven.

Baking powder in action.
Other leavening agents? 
There are still more natural and chemical leavening agents to discuss, however these aren't used as often. Think of brewer's yeast or ale barm. This was the only known leavening agent until around 1800. Because of it's bitter taste it is no longer used for bread making, but you may still find it in old recipes. Baker's ammonia or hartshorn is another leavening agent you will rarely hear of. It is a type of baking powder, which gives very light and airy textures as result and is most often used in German or Scandinavian cookies. Pearlash or potash is another unknown leaven similar to baking powder, often used together with baker's ammonia. In most modern recipes these two leavens have been replaced by baking soda.

Mechanical Leavening
There are sponge cakes, pound cakes, soufflĂ©s and a lot of other baked goods that will rise without using any of the leavening agents we mentioned above. Through the 'mechanical process' of mixing, creaming, whipping and beating our ingredients we incorporate air into our batter. Once the batter is baked the moisture in the batter will turn to steam which increases the size of the air pockets, at the same time the gluten will harden and trap the air inside. But there is a magical ingredient here: eggs. Eggs, especially the whites, can hold a lot more air than any of your other ingredients can achieve. The elasticity of the proteins in the egg will ensure the air stays in the batter. Egg proteins tend to set fairly quickly when heated (around 70°C/160°F), thus trapping the air inside before it has a chance to collapse. Eggs also provide a lot of steam to enhance the leavening. Thus eggs cause cakes to rise through the incorporation of air before baking and providing steam during baking as well as ensuring the batter does not collapse by setting quickly.

Savoiardi are made with only sugar, flour and eggs, yet still rise.
Thus there are three types of leavens: Natural leavens, such as yeast, Chemical leavens, such as baking soda and baking powder and Mechanical leavening which is achieved through the processing of ingredients, especially eggs. Note that however these ingredients in essence all do the same thing: leavening, they all have different side effects on taste, texture and colour. Like I said before: every ingredient will be covered again in depth to cover all these side effects and give a better view of their use and chemical process, so please look forward to those!

My References:
Bread by Christine Ingram and Jennie Shapter 
baking911 - Leaveners
Baking Bites - What is self-rising flour?
Chemistry - Difference between Double-Acting and Single-acting Baking Powder
Culinate - Kitchen Chemistry
German Food - Pearlash
Joy of Baking - Baking powder and Baking Soda
Joy of Baking - Eggs

Monday, September 2, 2013


A little over a few weeks ago my sister left us to go live in the busy Barcelona for half a year. That sort of thing gets you thinking. About food mostly, because what to do the Spanish eat? What kind of things would I have to try when I go there?

I'm sure most other people would be wondering how she's doing, but I don't have to ask to know she's just fine. Other people would ask her what the house looks like or what she does every day. I asked her to take pictures of the things she'd eat. I suppose I'm just flawed that way.

A whole load - from Donuts

60 grams butter
125 ml water
1/4 teaspoon salt
75 grams flour
2 (small-medium) eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
oil for frying
100 grams sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Melt the butter with the water and salt in a small pan.
2. Add the flour and stir vigorously. Keep stirring with the heat on medium for 1 minute.
3. Take off the heat and add the eggs one at a time, adding the next only when the previous is fully incorporated. Keep stirring as the mixture comes apart, but eventually comes back together again. (Curse you if you have a mixer with paddle attachment! If, like me, you dont: build some muscles! Fast.)
4. Lastly stir in the vanilla essence and spoon the batter into a piping bag with a star attachment. 
5. Prepare the oil for frittering. If you're using a pan on the stove go for a medium to low heat. For a fryer start with around 180 degrees Celsius or 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
6. After the oil is hot enough (you can test it with a bit of dough), start piping lines into the oil. When you think the churro is long enough, cut the end off with scissors or knife. Don't make too many at once: give them some space to float.
7. Fry the churros for about 2 minutes, then turn them around and fry the other side for another 1 minute. Once the first churros are done, place them on a paper towels to absorb some of the fat.
8. Repeat step 7 until you run out of batter. Be patient, it will run out at some point.
9. Take a large box and fill it with the sugar and cinnamon. Place the lid on top and shake until the cinnamon is evenly distributed throughout the sugar. Place the churros inside, close, and shake again until all churros are covered in sugar.
10. Serve warm with chocolate sauce or enjoy cold from the hand!

Note that the size of the star attachment on the piping bag will decide how much time you have to stand frittering and how big the churros are. I used a Wilton 21 tip, which gives churros of about 5 mm thickness before you put them into the oil. I'd definitely recommend using a larger tip if you have any. I'd also recommend using a large frying pan to fry as many churros as possible at one time. I used a tiny pan that fit around 2-3 churros in at a time, which made this recipe one of the most time and attention consuming recipes I've ever done.

Churros are not meant to be stored. Serve them as soon as possible! With chocolate sauce. Or not. Because eating the sugary-cinnamon fritters just like that is just perfect. Just try to resist eating them all before serving. You MUST resist! Well, I'm sure no one will notice one or two missing. Or three. Did anyone know you were making churros in the first place?