Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Barmbrack Cake

It's almost Halloween! So before you start dressing up and stocking candy I want to share one more recipe. It's another traditional Halloween recipe, but this time all the way from Ireland. And it's a fruitcake!! Can you resist fruitcakes? Because if you can: congratulations to you! But I seriously eat half this cake in one day. What am I saying? A few hours!

Now I went ahead and said this was a traditional Halloween recipe, but if we really wanted to be traditional than this would be a bread. Also, we'd have to stuff the cake or bread full with little trinkets. Like a ring, a coin, a pea, a stick and a piece of cloth. There are different explanations for those, but the first two seem to consistently represent wealth, luck and marriage. So stick to a ring and a coin just to be sure whoever gets something will at least be lucky! Then again, anyone eating a whiskey fruitcake should be considered lucky.

Barmbrack Cake
a 22cm/8-9inch loaf - adapted from DonalSkehan and EatsAmazing

200 ml strong (Earl Grey) tea
50 ml whiskey
250 grams dried fruits * 
225 grams flour
2 teaspoons baking powder 
100 grams sugar
1 teaspoon spices
1 egg
1-2 tablespoons milk

1. Leave the tea to cool down to room temperature. Add the whiskey and dried fruits, together with the tea, into a bowl. Cover and leave to soak. (Ideally this'd be overnight: it really makes a difference! If you're in a hurry soaking while you prepare the other ingredients works as well.)
2. Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and spices together.
3. Add all the other (wet) ingredients into the bowl. Stir until you have an even, slightly liquid, consistency. The batter should drop off the spoon easily, but not instantly. Depending on how long you leave the fruits to soak you may need more or less tea at this point.
4. Pour the batter into a greased or lined tin and bake in the oven for about 50 minutes on 175 degrees Celsius or 345 degrees Fahrenheit. The cake is done once the top is browned and dry and a skewer comes out clean.

* think currants, sultanas, (glacé) cherries and cranberries, but anything will do.

Soaking the dried fruits in the tea and whiskey really makes a difference. I know I said that in the recipe, but I'm saying it again. The taste of the tea and whiskey will be much more prominent in the barmbrack as they won't get lost in the mixture of ingredients, but instead are captured inside the fruits. For this method you might need a bit more tea (or just water to add - up to 50ml).

I never actually soaked fruits for a fruitcake overnight before, but this time I started preparing the cake and then realized I didn't have time to make it after all. So they sat on my counter top overnight anyway. The next day, after the cake was baked and cooled, I was amazed by the difference. As soon as I took a bite of one of the fruits I could almost literally taste the tea and whiskey. I'm really glad I learned this by accident because I never want to do it differently again!

Also I'm quite happy that a cake made with tea turned out fine. I've tried making an Early Grey Poundcake before and it was horrible. Have you guys tried making a tea-cake before?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Toffee Sauce & Caramel Spread

It's nearly and almost Halloween! Which means there'll be caramel apples all over the place and I need to try caramel apples myself. But dipping a WHOLE apple into caramel seems like a whole lot of apple and not a lot of caramel, so I decided on apple chunks in caramel dipped into some topping.

It took me 2 weeks and several experiments to realize my idea does NOT work. It's nice, but the moisture of the apple doesn't work with the caramel. On the first try the caramel instantly hardened as soon as it touched my colder apple chunks. The second time the caramel never hardened and sort of melted and dripped off my apple. And, hell I don't even remember the 3rd, 4th and 5th all the way up to what? 7 times? So in the end I came up with this: a lovely toffee-caramel sauce I've known for a while, a chocolate sauce and apple chunks to go with it. Tadaa~ a Caramel, Chocolate & Apple fondue! I thought it was brilliant.

Caramel Sauce & Spread
1 small jar - inspired by SimplyRecipes among (lots of) others

1 cup sugar
1-2 tablespoons water (optional)
1/2 cup butter *
1/2 cup cream *
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence

1. Put the sugar with the water in a non-stick pan and turn the heat on medium to high. Occasionally stir until the sugar has completely 'melted' and turned into the perfect caramel colour. A very light colour will give a sweet sugary taste and a dark colour will turn bitter or burnt. So keep an eye on your sugar!
2. Melt the butter into the cream and pour the liquid into the pan with caramel. Stir vigorously until it all comes together. Add the vanilla essence, stir again, and leave to cool depending on what you feel like.
3. Toffee Sauce: serve immediately!
4. Caramel Spread: leave to cool in the fridge for an hour or two.

 * Variate the amount of cream and butter depending on whether you want the caramel to become rockhard (omit altogether), knead- or spreadable (use more butter), or a sauce (only cream). The temperature you serve it at also makes a big difference!

I add the water at the start just so the sugar doesn't burn immediately. I've tried the 'dry' method before but it just doesn't work for me. If you're comfortable with it feel free to leave the water out! Another note: the caramel can be kept fine in the fridge for several weeks.

Yup, that was brilliant. I ate it all myself. Not that I had much of a choice though: everyone's gone off to Barcelona without me. (*gasp* how dare they?) I hope they remember to bring me some food..

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Wauw! Its a New Banner!

If you've been here before you'll notice I completely changed my banner. I wanted to go for something a lot simpler and sophisticated.

In the new banner I added some more swirls. Because I LOVE those pretty swirls! Also you'll see a compass, which symbolizes the journey we're taking through the world of food. Because as long as I keep exploring the world of food, I will learn more and see more and get to taste so much more! Just thinking about it makes me so excited! There's sooo much food I still need to try from sooo many different countries, I'll be surprised if I ever get to learn half of it. But even learning a quarter of it would mean the world to me!

So here's that new banner: (if you haven't noticed it above)

Mind you, it's actually still a work in progress. I won't stop until I'm satisfied! (which can take a while, as I don't actually have all the time in the world to wonder about whether I'm satisfied or not.)

And here's the old banner:

It's so different! I'm still really proud of this banner. It took me loads of work to get it perfectly right, but in the end I didn't feel it reflected my blog the way I wanted.

What do you guys think? Please leave a comment with more inspiration for my banner or tell me which banner you like better!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Short notice - post delayed

There's a post! Finally! It's going to be a bit different because all the recipes I had in mind failed. Also, we had a lot of cakes leftover from the weekend, so I wasn't really allowed to bake much. (aww...)

Anyway, it was my sisters 18th birthday! (Happy Birthday!!) And even though I had an exam and I was studying myself to death.. I still managed to help her make a cake, destroy it, redo it and eventually save it. This took 5 times the amount of time I scheduled for it. (But I think I still managed to pass that test)

Here, the only picture that looked half decent of the cake that completely and utterly failed:

It was supposed to be a white cake with decorations on it. But the white chocolate icing didn't really want to look nice. At all. It fell off the cake, refused to harden and was separating from the cream it was beat into. After messing with it for an hour or so, I decided to do something completely different: I sprayed the whole thing grass-green and turned the pink and purple decorations into flowers. I pasted some Lego ponies on the sides of the cake and put a massive glittery plastic tower on top. My mom and I agreed it was perfect for a 5-year-olds birthday.

Unfortunately, my sister was turning 18. Yes. Not entirely what we expected. You'll understand then, why I was completely surprised when my sister said: "Oh, that looks quite nice". I'm sorry? Where did we go right?! (On a side-note: all her guests loved the cake as well and thought it was delicious. Perhaps I'm just a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to baking?)

So just to make it up to her I made a second cake after my exams:

That looks a lot better doesn't it? Of course I wanted to make an apple crumble cake and decided to put fondant over that. Have you ever tried putting fondant over an apple crumble cake? I mean, who does that?

Please look forward to another recipe next Monday! We'll be going back to the Halloween Spirit. And: I'll be updating my website-banner soon! I'm all excited about it and I really hope you'll like it too!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Sweet Spice Mix (Mixed Spice/Pumpkin Pie Spice)

BEST SPICE MIX EVER - Mixed Spice, the way grandma used it - Only pumpkin pie spice you'll ever need -  Heavenly, orgasmic mixed spices - Not your average pie spice!

Just to name a few titles I could've given this recipe. Any references to existing online recipes are completely coincidental. But in stead my recipe will go down in history as: *drums*

Spice Mix

It's good huh? Cuz it's a lot of spices, and we mixed them. So I thought it would work.
(Okay I added sweet because cinnamon calls for sugar. And because we use it mostly in sweet baked goods. Also because Spice Mix is so short, it could be anything. You know, not that sweet spice mix doesn't leave anything to the imagination, but.. oh stop it!)

Last week I shared a recipe on pumpkin pie.. and I told you about some awesome spice-mix I made that I couldn't exactly explain to you in that one recipe. This time I will! Especially now the winter season is coming up, and the autumn season with all its apples and pumpkins asks for a lots of spices as well, this is something you can't miss in your cupboard!

Sweet Spice Mix
1 small spice-jar

2 tablespoons cinnamon
1-3 teaspoons orange rind (1/4-1/2 the peel) *
2 teaspoons coriander
2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon cardamom

1. Put all ingredients in a jar and shake it!

* You might want to dry the orange peel before chopping it to tiny bits and using it in the mix. Don't bother to much with how much you use. This is the only ingredient (apart from cinnamon) of which "more = better".
** You might want to experiment with the quantities, adding different spices (such as allspice) or omitting spices you dislike. Every country (and every brand within a country) has it's own recipe!

I came up with the recipe above by buying all the ingredients it said on a spice-mix jar I bought from the supermarket. I experimented with the taste and came up with something I liked and you should totally do the same! Just look up some recipes, or ingredients on jars and start mixing, add/substitute a few ingredients and come up with a recipe that is totally your own!!

Now that you've got your own spice-mix.. What do we use it for?

Hah! I could write whole essays on what to do with a -or any- cinnamon-spice mix. Think of apples or pumpkins. Think of cakes, muffins, breads, pies, cookies, candy, pancakes, bread pudding. I don't know..!! Is there anything you CAN'T use this in? Oh, maybe savory food. Because a cinnamon-spice mix calls for sugar. Lots of it.

I hope you guys enjoy the cinnamon season! 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Yeast - My new Pet Friend

Do you remember the post about rising agents? Here I continue the chat on yeast. It was the one thing I was interested in the most. Besides eggs that is, I really want to know what eggs do too! Yet again this is a completely different post than the previous ones. I really wanted to accentuate the way yeast works, but will try to answer some practical questions as well!

The way it works
"One day, in a bakery far away, there was a little Fungi named Saccharomyces Yeast. The bakers gave him lots of food and water, which Yeast would happily eat all day. He'd make loads of friends and loads of babies and he'd burp and fart all day. The warm baker's hands would make him jump of joy and eat some more until the heat oven the oven took it all away."
Yeast is a living organism, which requires sugar and moisture to activate (food and water). A warm temperature speeds up the rising process, which generally takes 1-2 hours, however a fridge will give the same results over more than double or triple the time. In this time the yeast will duplicate itself (making friends&babies) and convert sugars into gas (burping and farting), which create the leavening we need for the texture of our breads. These sugars can be naturally present in the flour or are added manually. More precisely yeast converts glucose into carbon dioxide, alcohol and other organic compounds. The carbon dioxide expands and creates air pockets within the dough. When the dough is baked the yeast dies and the process is set. The air becomes locked into the gluten resulting in the 'fluffy' texture of the bread. The alcohol and other organic compounds effect the flavour (and texture) of the dough. This results in a pronounced taste, which is why you will most often find yeast in savoury items.
Dough with fast-action dried yeast after it's first rise
Different sorts of yeasts
There are many many many many many different kinds of yeasts. For instance, you have a different kind of yeast for every wine or beer you can imagine (can you imagine?!). Every sort of yeast will have different properties (such as resistance to alcohol or heat) and each will call for a different method. In essence all yeasts work the same as they need feeding, heat and time to rise and they can -to an extent- be used interchangeably. In baking we have three main categories:
- Dried Yeasts
There are several types of yeast in this category: dried, fast-action dried and easy blend dried yeast. Most home bakers will use a fast-action dried yeast (also: rapid-rise or instant) as it is most commonly available in stores. As the name suggests this yeast will rise faster than fresh yeast. It is also more resistant to high temperatures and is easier to keep. This is also the only yeast that doesn't need to be activated in water first and can directly be added to the flour.
- Fresh Yeasts
These yeasts must be stored in the fridge and also come in different types. Most commonly you will find Compressed/Cake yeast. A fresh yeast is considered to be superior in flavour, but home bakers will most often turn to driest yeast for the aforementioned reasons.
- Natural yeasts
Yeast spores are all around us: they occur naturally in the air, on the ground, in our dairy products, plant matter, flour and even on our skin. 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. There are many variations of sourdough, but all require a starter, time to ferment and the addition of water and flour to keep the yeasts active or to refresh the sourdough when part of it is used. Sourdoughs tend to become more flavourful given time. Note: Most sourdough startes now require the use of fresh or dried yeast to 'start' the process as waiting for natural yeast spores to activate can be time consuming and ineffective. Another Note: Even the wine industry sometimes makes use of 'starters', as just like bread, wine can be made with the wild yeasts naturally present in the air.

Different kinds of breads might call for different kinds of yeast
How do we use yeast? (Can we go wrong?)
- Temperature: These are so many different kinds of yeast that the perfect temperature for a yeast to grow or ferment is hard to find. Yeast will generally work at any temperature between -2°C and 45°C (28°F and 113°C). Beyond a point of 48°C-60°C (120-140°F) the yeast will definitely die. Ideally you will be using 'room temperature' which is around 21-25°C (70°F-77°F). At lower temperatures the yeast will become slow or even inactive.
- Changing the type: Dried and fresh yeasts can be used interchangeably, but will need to be converted. For example, you will need far less dried yeast than fresh yeast for a dough. Easiest is to look at the package and the amount of flour you're using and scale the yeast accordingly.
- Scaling:  The amount of yeast you need in a recipe, does not scale proportionally with the amount of flour you need. Meaning you will need more than half the yeast when you halve the amount of flour and less than double when you double the amount of flour.
- Using too much or too little yeast: When one uses too little yeast a dough needs a longer time to rise, but will most often barely rise at all. This will create a very dense, dry and tough bread and could very well resemble a brick. Too much yeast will result in a dough that is likely collapse. You might get a very crumbly or coarse texture, very large holes in the bread or a very dense and tough texture after it's collapsed. 
- Feeding it too much: Note that there is a limit to the amount of food a yeast can handle. Too much sugar or moisture will cause the yeast to die. This is one of the reasons you rarely find yeast in sweet goods.
- Feeding it too little: Unless you forget to add water, this is nearly impossible. Flour naturally contains sugars which the yeasts can convert. However, adding sugars (in the form of sugar, milk, fruits or other) will speed up the process as these sugars are more easily accessible to the yeast.

Just to summon it all up shortly: there are several types of yeast with different properties that require different methods. You'll find that bakers use either dried yeast, fresh yeast or natural yeasts. All these yeasts, in essence, work the same as they all feed on sugars and moisture, need a warm temperature and time to do their job properly and and exert gas (among other things). It's exactly this gas that causes the leavening in our breads. Thus yeast has an effect texture, but also on flavour (remember the other things). There are several points you can take into account when using yeast, such as the ideal temperature, the amount of yeast you need and how much you need to feed it.

Yes, I thought I'd stop here since it's starting to become a very long story again. If you want more information on yeast I'd invite you to read one of the following references. Some are very basic but some will give you even more useful (and technical) information on yeast I couldn't possibly all include into this one post.

My References:
Bread by Christine Ingram and Jennie Shapter - recommended
Zelf wijn maken by C.J.J. Berry
baking 911 - Yeast  - recommended
baking911 - Preferments
Culinate - Kitchen Chemistry
BBC GoodFood - Yeast
GermanFood - All About Yeast

* Please be critical towards the information you find on the internet. For instance, one of the authors in my references explained the process of yeast very well, but insists on using half of the yeast, as to minimize the amount of alcohol in her bread. I'm astonished she failed to understand that the yeast will duplicate when given time and that halving the amount of yeast will effect the taste and texture for the worse. (I could go on but my point is you really shouldn't worry about the >0,1% alcohol! Oh yes, and to read carefully: are you sure what I wrote is right?)