Friday, 31 October 2008

Crab Apple Jelly

These gorgeous little crab apples were growing in my garden. The branches were laden almost to the ground with fruit. A severe gale one night had me scrambling early nest morning to pick them from the ground. My fingers were frozen and my hair full of twigs but it was worth it for these little beauties. I bought the tree several years ago but unfortunately I have forgotten the name of the variety. They were crying out to be made into crab apple jelly. I want to use the jelly for Christmas gifts as the colour is so seasonal. It's so easy to make. I managed to drip 5 lbs of fruit in a sieve lined with muslin so a jelly bag is not essential. A wash is all that is required. No peeling or removal of twigs is needed as it is all going to be strained anyway.

Crab apples, ( I had 5lbs)
1 lemon
Sugar, 1lb per pint of cooked apple juice
Cinnamon stick (optional)


To start with, rinse the apples and cut them into quarters. Don’t worry about peeling or coring as you will be straining the fruit later.
Put the apples together with the halved lemon and cinnamon stick into a large saucepan, with a couple of inches of water in the bottom to stop them from sticking when you turn on the heat. You will need a large enough pan to hold TWICE the volume of the fruit and sugar. This is because to get the jam to set, you need to cook it at a “rolling boil”, which makes it double in volume.
Put the lid on tight and boil them to destruction – usually around 45 minutes to an hour is sufficient.

Now you need to strain the fruit.
I did this by placing a large sieve lined with muslin over a bowl. I stacked the fruit carefully and then left overnight. You want to get every last drop of juice
Do NOT squeeze or you will end up with a cloudy final product – the aim is to get a completely clear apple juice. The lemon is not completely necessary but gives a nice zing, and makes sure that the juice is acidic to help the setting process.

Once you have your clear juice, put it back in the cleaned pan, and add 1lb of sugar per pint of juice that you have extracted.
Dissolve all the sugar over a gentle heat. You’ll be able to tell when it’s all dissolved if you use a wooden spoon as you can no longer feel a crunch at the bottom of the pan.
Crank up the heat and get the mixture boiling – you need to achieve a “rolling boil”, which means that it is actively boiling (ie more than a simmer) but not rising up the pan. If you can not get rid of the bubbles with stirring, but it’s not rising up the pan, then you are at the right point.
Test for a set after about 15 mins by placing a dribble of the jelly on a cold plate. If it wrinkles to the touch after a few minutes you are done. If not boil a few minutes longer and so on.

This recipe is so good for beginners due to the high pectin content in crab apples. Pectin is a naturally occurring sugar found in some fruit and vegetables, and acts as a gelling agent, in the presence of acids and sugar, to make jam set. With some fruits, the pectin content is very low so you have to mix n’ match, or use additional pectin to get the jam to set, but this crab apple recipe seems fairly idiot proof and sets well.

In the meantime, you need to prepare your jars ready for the jelly.
Wash them and sterilise by popping them in a warm oven. You need them warm for the hot jelly anyway

As soon as your jelly is at setting point, take it off the heat and ladle it into your waiting jars,
I got 1 1/2 pints of juice out of 5lbs fruit which gave me six 8oz jars

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge - Pizza

This was my first challenge with The Daring Bakers. I was not and am still not sure if I'm up to the task but I thought it would be fun to have a go and stretch my baking horizons a bit. The challenge was titled "Bake Your Pizzas Like A Real Pizzaiolo" and was set by Rosa
I have made pizzas before so it wasn't a complete mystery to me. The tossing of the pizza dough was. My husband thought I'd lost it completely at this point. I did have a go but my photographer isn't happy with a camera and as the dough ended up full of holes and landed on the floor, much to the interest of our wee dog, I decided to exclude those particular pictures. It was great fun trying though but it's back to the rolling pin for me. It was a lovely pizza. The recipe made a lot of dough and I wouldn't make as much the next time as there are only two of us to cater for. I liked the idea of keeping the dough in the fridge for a few days. It was handy to make it in instalments.
We were allowed to make our own topping. There is far too much cheese on my pizza but I love lots of the stuff. The recipe was taken from "The Bread Bakers Apprentice" by Peter Rheinhart

I made my topping by draining and squishing two tins of tomatoes in a colander. I infused this with garlic black pepper and torn basil leaves. When the dough was ready I spread this over the top added black and green olives and some peppadew peppers for a little heat. I then added grated cheddar, parmesan and mozzarella cheese.

Recipe for the Dough

4 1/2 cups /20.25 ounces/607.5gms unbleached high-gluten, bread, or all-purpose flour, chilled
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1/4 cup/ 2 ounces /60 gms olive oil (optional)
1 3/4 cups /14 ounces/420mls water, ice cold (40°F)
Semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting

1. Stir together the flour, salt, and instant yeast in a large bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). With a large metal spoon, stir in the oil and the cold water until the flour is all absorbed (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment), If you are mixing by hand, repeatedly dip one of your hands or the metal spoon into cold water and use it, much like a dough hook, to work the dough vigorously into a smooth mass while rotating the bowl in a circular motion with the other hand. Reverse the circular motion a few times to develop the gluten further. Do this for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are evenly distributed. If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes, or as long as it takes to create a smooth, sticky dough. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet and doesn't come off the sides of the bowl, sprinkle in some more flour just until it clears the sides. If it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a tea- spoon or two of cold water. The finished dough will be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50 to 55F.

2. Sprinkle flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Prepare a sheet pan by lining it with baking parchment and misting the parchment with spray oil (or lightly oil the parchment). Using a metal dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you are comfortable shaping large pizzas), You can dip the scraper into the water between cuts to keep the dough from sticking to it, Sprinkle flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Lift each piece and gently round it into a ball. If the dough sticks to your hands, dip your hands into the flour again. Transfer the dough balls to the sheet pan, Mist the dough generously with spray oil and slip the pan into a food-grade plastic bag.

3. Put the pan into the refrigerator overnight to rest the dough, or keep for up to 3 days. (Note: If you want to save some of the dough for future baking, you can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag. Dip each dough ball into a bowl that has a few tablespoons of oil in it, rolling the dough in the oil, and then put each ball into a separate bag. You can place the bags into the freezer for up to 3 months. Transfer them to the refrigerator the day before you plan to make pizza.)

4. On the day you plan to make the pizza, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator 2 hours before making the pizza. Dust the counter with flour, and then mist the counter with spray oil. Place the dough balls on top of the floured counter and sprinkle them with flour; dust your hands with flour. Gently press the dough into flat disks about 1/2 inch thick and 5 inches in diameter. Sprinkle the dough with flour, mist it again with spray oil, and cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap or a food-grade plastic bag. Let rest for 2 hours.

5. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone either on the floor of the oven (for gas ovens), or on a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible, up to 800F (most home ovens will go only to 500 to 550F, but some will go higher). If you do not have a baking stone, you can use the back of a sheet pan, but do not preheat the pan.

6. Generously dust a peel or the back of a sheet pan with semolina flour or cornmeal. Make the pizzas one at a time. Dip your hands, including the backs of your hands and knuckles, in flour and lift I piece of dough by getting under it with a pastry scraper. Very gently lay the dough across your fists and carefully stretch it by bouncing the dough in a circular motion on your hands, carefully giving it a little stretch with each bounce. If it begins to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue shaping it. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss as shown on page 208. If you have trouble tossing the dough, or if the dough keeps springing back, let it rest for 5 to 20 minutes so the gluten can relax, and try again. You can also resort to using a rolling pin, though this isn't as effective as the toss method.

7. When the dough is stretched out to your satisfaction (about 9 to 12 inches in diameter for a 6-ounce piece of dough), lay it on the peel or pan, making sure there is enough semolina flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide. Lightly top it with sauce and then with your other top- pings, remembering that the best pizzas are topped with a less-is-more philosophy. The American "kitchen sink" approach is counterproductive, as it makes the crust more difficult to bake. A few, usually no more than 3 or 4 toppings, including sauce and cheese is sufficient.

8. Slide the topped pizza onto the stone (or bake directly on the sheet pan) and close the door. Wait 2 minutes, then take a peek. If it needs to be rotated 180 degrees for even baking, do so. The pizza should take about 5 to 8 minutes to bake. If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone to a lower self before the next round. if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone for subsequent bakes.

9. Remove the pizza from the oven and transfer to a cutting board. Wait 3 to 5 minutes before slicing and serving, to allow the cheese to set slightly.

Makes six 6-ounce pizza crusts.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Traditional Irish Breads

It's Autumn. The leaves are gold and red. The days are shortening and there's a nip in the air. Just the weather to get out the griddle and make some local bread. I make all my own bread of the yeast variety and I love doing it. What is it about throwing together soda farls potato farls wheaten bread and pancakes that is so comforting. They are rarely given time to cool but the vultures are on them. If there are any left they are great in an Ulster fry. Trust me the English don't know what a fry up is until they have tasted an Ulster. I have guests come from across the water trembling lest they don't get their fix of an Ulster fry but that is another story and another blog. Farls, the word comes from the Scottish Fardel meaning a quarter or fourth part. It is used by the Irish to describe their griddle bread. The Scots got very posh and and started to call them scones. A griddle traditionally was hung on a huge hook over the hearth fire to make these breads hence the big hooped handle. They are a pain to store and a nuisance when the handle loosens as it will over time and keeps crashing down. We have moved on here and manage on hobs. A big frying pan will do. You can buy griddles with frying pan handles now. They are just very shallow and flat. The one basic ingredient you need to make these breads is buttermilk. If you can't get it easily just add some lemon juice or vinegar to ordinary milk and wait ten or twenty minutes. It makes a good substitiute.

Potato Farls

A great way to use up last night's left over mashed potatoes. You can of course boil them up fresh for the occasion but if you are anything like me you will always have left over mash.
Knead the mash until it becomes like a soft dough.
Use about a third of it's volume in plain flour.
Knead again to combine. It will become easier as the flour is incorporated.
Roll out into a circle about 1.5cms thick and place in the hot griddle pan .
Cut a deep cross in it to divide in four.
Bake for three or four minutes
Flip over to do the other side.
Remove to a cooling rack and watch them disappear. Lovely fried later too with eggs and bacon

Soda Farls

This can also be used as oven soda. It's not so popular as the wholemeal variety known as wheaten bread. Soda farls done on the griddle are the thing. They are so good split and toasted too.
Don't bother with recipes that tell you to use a pound of flour. Far too much. The farls will be too thick and take too long to cook.

12 oz/325gms plain flour
1oz/25gms butter
1 teasp salt
1 teasp baking soda
1-2 teasps sugar
Approx 1/2 pint 250 mls Buttermilk.
In a large bowl mix together the dry ingredients
Rub in the butter
Add enough buttermilk to make a firm but soft dough (think scone here) err on the side of dryness. You do not want it wet.
Knead quickly and lightly on a well floured surface and roll into a round about 1/2 inch/1.2 cms thick.
Place on the griddle and cut deeply into four. Cook for about 5-7 mins on each side.
Split one of the farls to check if they are done. The dough will be dry inside.
Don't worry too much if they don't go quite right the first time. Sometimes the griddle can be too hot or the dough too wet. A good way to see if the griddle is hot enough is to sprinkle flour on and it will brown quickly when the griddle is hot enough.
Remove to a cooling rack and cover with a tea towel. Eat them while still warm. Toast or fry them later with an egg

Buttermilk Pancakes

These can of course be made with sweet milk and baking powder but somehow they are not the same.

40z/100gms plain flour
pinch salt
1 teasp baking soda
1oz/25gms caster sugar
1 egg
1/4 pint/150mls buttermilk

Put all the ingredients into a food processor and whizz until smooth.
Heat the griddle or frying pan over a moderate heat then rub the surface with white fat (not butter as it will burn)
Drop tablespoons of the batter onto the pan spaced well apart.
When they start to go bubbly flip them over with a spatula and cook the other side for a minute or two.
Keep them warm in a tea towel while you cook the rest. They won't last long mind you.
If there are any left they are also nice with the Ulster fry when they are past their best.

Just make sure you have the butter dish to hand. It doesn't take long to churn out all three breads. Might as well since the pan is on anyway.

This is the link for the Oven Brown Soda./Wheaten Bread. This can be done as farls too but it is much nicer baked as a loaf. For some reason these farls are not so popular as the plain soda.

Irish scones are also made with buttermilk. They are lovely and light. You can find the recipe here.
You might as well as you'll have the oven on making the wheaten bread anyway and there will be flour all over the place as it is.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Strawberry Jam

It's taken me a long time to come round to making jam and various other preserves. Not because I was unused to it, quite the reverse in fact. I grew up in post war Britain. My Mum was the stay at home housewife of the 1950s. Food wasn't too plentiful yet. My Dad grew everything in the garden and his allotment. We wanted for nothing in the healthy food department. As happens there is always a glut of produce when you grow your own. No freezers back then so it had to be pickled, chutneyd jammed or dried to enjoy during the winter months when fruit and veg were not so readily available. No Tescos then if you fancied strawberries in December. The very thought would have raised a howl of laughter. I digress. My Mum made copious amounts of jam and various other preserves. She seemed to spend the summer and autumn bent over her cauldron, as I liked to think of it, making jam out of everything. Even marrows. How disgusting is that? Why my Dad grew them I don't know as nobody liked them so of course they were turned into jam. I think it was that that finally turned me against jam. I feel as if I spent my childhood swimming in the stuff. I didn't eat it for years. I tried some store bought stuff on occasion and it didn't impress. Then it all changed. I had some strawberries that were a little past their best. I didn't want to waste them. To my horror a light bulb went off in my head and I thought I'd make jam. I seem to be turning into my mother as the years pass. Oh what a treat I've been missing in those intervening years and so easy to make. My grandson loves strawberry jam and I refuse to fill him with nasties in the manufactured variety. Thank goodness I have realised I don't need to make the vast quantities produced in my childhood nor a cauldron either. Fresh jam smeared on fresh baked bread or toast. Simply delicious.

Soft berries such as strawberries or raspberries benefit from having the sugar sprinkled over them and left overnight. It helps to keep the fruit whole in the jam. I can't be bothered. I have a strange family anyway. They like their fruit smushed up in jam. I did try it once and it worked really well with the strawberries. Big whole strawberries in the jam. It was greeted with horror so back into the pan it went and had some treatment from the potato masher.
Strawberries are very low in pectin so they don't set too well. You can add lemon juice and faff about with granulated sugar and pray that it will set but I find it easier just buy jam sugar. It has added pectin. Makes life a lot less complicated. I'm all for the simple route.

You need 1 pound of sugar for every pound of fruit.
About half a dozen sterilised jam jars ( I do this in the oven)
A large saucepan (or a cauldron if you have one)
Put the fruit and the sugar in the pan.
Heat gently until all the sugar is dissolved stirring now and again to stop it catching
Rack up the heat and boil pretty furiously for about 15 mins.
To test for a set put a wee dribble of jam on a cold plate. If it wrinkles after a few minutes your done. If not boil for another few minutes and so on. You won't have any bother with the jam sugar.
To get rid of the scum stir in a knob of butter and stir it round.

Let it sit for a moment or two then pot up in your nice warm jars.

Add the juice of a lemon at the start if you can't get or don't want to use jam sugar.

I have added this picture to a contest on this blog Jugalbandi. This is a new thing for me. The topic is Red.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Christmas Pudding

I know it is October and we haven't even reached Hallowe'en but I decided to make my Christmas puddings. There is something about the shortening of the days and the lighting of the fire to warm us that steers my thoughts to Christmas preparations. I also like to let the puddings mature. They taste so much better after a few weeks soaked in Brandy and wrapped in greaseproof paper and foil. Traditionally I should have waited for Stir Up Sunday which is Advent Sunday, the first of the four Sundays before the 25th December or the nearest Sunday to Saint Andrew's day. It is the traditional day for everyone in the family to take a turn at stirring the Christmas pudding, whilst making a wish. On Stir-up Sunday families returned from Church and gave the pudding its traditional lucky stir. Children chanted the following rhyme

Stir up, we beseech thee,
The pudding in the pot;
And when we get home
We'll eat the lot.

Christmas pudding is always stirred from East to West in honour of the three Wise Men. It is traditionally made with 13 ingredients to represent Christ and His Disciples. Every member of the family must give the pudding a stir and make a secret wish A coin was traditionally added to the ingredients and cooked in the pudding. It was supposedly to bring wealth to whoever found it on their plate on Christmas Day. The traditional coin was an old silver sixpence or threepenny bit. Other traditional additions to the pudding included a ring, to foretell a marriage, and a thimble for a lucky life. All these traditions are more Pagan than Christian harking back to a much earlier time. Along with the wishes and the money and charms there is the flaming of the pudding which represents the winter solstice celebrations in which fire light and warmth are sought in the chill darkness of mid winter.

I have been a bit disappointed in my puddings over recent Christmases. I like them black and rich. The recipes I had attempted were lighter and to me not what they should be. I found this recipe while looking around the internet. I will make no other from now on. The original recipe comes from Jo Pratt. I tweaked it just a little.

This delicious Christmas pudding can make 3x 900g/2lb or 2x 1.5kg/3lb puddings.

50g/2oz self-raising flour
175g/6oz plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1 tsp mixed spice
50g/2oz ground almonds
225g/8oz shredded suet
225g/8oz dark muscovado sugar
100g/4oz white breadcrumbs from a 2-day loaf
1.5kg/3lb mixed currants, raisins and sultanas
1 tbsp black treacle
1 lemon, finely grated zest and juice
1 orange, finely grated zest and juice
1 carrot, finely grated
1 medium cooking apple, peeled and grated
2 tbsp brandy or rum, plus extra for flaming
150ml/5fl oz dark ale or stout
4 eggs, beaten
flour and butter, for preparing the basins

1. Sift together the flours, baking powder and spices into a large bowl. Stir in the almonds, suet, sugar and breadcrumbs, mixing well. Add the remaining pudding ingredients stirring well after each addition. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge or a really cool place for 24 hours or up to 1 week if possible, stirring a few times.
2. Grease and lightly flour either 3 x 900ml/1½ pint or 2 x 1.2 litre/2 pint basins and pack in the pudding mixture. Top the surface of the puddings with a circle of greaseproof paper, then cover with baking parchment or aluminium foil. Fold around the edges of the basin and tie with string, or tightly scrunch the foil under the lip of the basin. Place in a steamer of boiling water for about 6 hours, topping up with water every so often, making sure it doesn't boil away (if you don't have a steamer, you can place the pudding on an upturned bowl in the bottom of the saucepan).
3. Leave to cool and remove the parchment/foil and greaseproof paper and replace with a new lot. The puddings can now be stored in a cool, dry place. On the big day the pudding should be steamed for about 1½-2 hours, or covered loosely and heated in the microwave for about 6 minutes on high power, checking its progress every so often by inserting a skewer into the centre and leaving for a couple of seconds. If the skewer comes out piping hot, the pudding is ready to eat after standing for 1 minute. For more accurate timings it is best to check the manufacturer instructions.
4. To flame the pudding half-fill a metal ladle with brandy (or use as much as you want) and carefully heat over a gas flame or lit candle. When the flame is hot enough, the brandy will light. Pour the flaming brandy over the pudding. Make sure the lights are out when taking to the table for a grand entrance.

Changes I Made

I used 500gms sultanas, 500 gms raisins, 250gms currants and 250 gms chopped prunes.

I also added 2 good tablespoons of cocoa powder. If you have ever tasted Nigella Lawson's chocolate fruit cake you will immediately identify with this addition. It works wonderfully in the Christmas pudding.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Bacon and Tomato Hash

This comes from Nigells Lawson's Feast in the Midnight Feasts section of the book. I have never made it at midnight I confess as I would not have the energy to cook at that time of night. Hunger would be assuaged by a quick sandwich or a session of fridge grazing. That said this makes a lovely quick dinner. A fry up with style is really what it is. I usually have a fried egg with it. Yes I know it is making your arteries scream but once in a while it is just what is needed especially as the colder days are here. Don't leave out the Worcestershire sauce. It is absolutely vital for the wonderful flavour of this simple dish.

4 rashers streaky bacon
2 teaspoons garlic-infused oil
1 tomato, diced
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
Serving suggestion: bread
Cut each piece of bacon into 3 or 4 pieces.

Heat oil in a frying pan.
When oil is hot, fry bacon until crispy (the bacon will also give up flavourful fat of its own).

Remove the bacon to a piece of kitchen towel.
Add the diced tomato, with all its seeded, gluey interior, into the hot oily pan, which will cause a great spitting and sizzling, and stir for a couple of minutes. Add the Worcestershire sauce and stir again, then put the bacon back into the pan, mixing it into the tomato before transferring to a plate.
Scatter with some parsley and freshly ground black pepper, and serve with bread to dip in the oily juices.

Tip: When the tomatoes are all diced up I add lots of freshly ground pepper to them

Ridiculously simple isn't it? It makes such a quick and tasty dinner.
The amounts given are for 1 person.