Thursday, 30 January 2014

Pear, Almond and Chocolate Loaf

I’ve been meaning to make this cake for so long. But each time I was ready to make it something got in the way. I didn’t have the ingredients, or something prettier or more useful came along instead. Finally, this weekend, with some pears ripening rapidly and a rainy Sunday crying out for cake this loaf finally graced my kitchen. And it was worth the wait!DSC_0055I wish now I hadn’t waited so long to get round to this cake because it is so good! It’s the perfect Sunday afternoon cake – not too big that you’re eating it all week, but not too small that it’s over as soon as it has begun. It has a smattering of melting chocolate to feel like a treat but the generous amount of pear and lack of icing mean it isn’t too rich and you don’t feel too guilty about having a second slice. Also, I made it as a simple afternoon loaf but if you made it in a round tin and served it with crème fraiche it would make a great dessert. It’s such an all rounder! DSC_0060I adapted this a lot from the original recipe, the main difference being that I swapped half the flour for ground almonds and added a dash of almond essence because my love for almonds means I’ll find a way to get them in anything I bake somehow. I also doubled the amount of pear, slicing and arranging one on top as well as just dicing it into the cake to make it extra juicy, and finally I used golden caster sugar instead of ordinary caster sugar for a more caramel rich taste. Overall I was very happy with the result – the cake is diminishing rapidly and I know it won’t be too long before it’s made again. Lesson learnt: it’s not always the fanciest, jazziest bakes that are the nicest. Enjoy!

Pear, Almond and Chocolate Loaf (adapted from Poires au Chocolat here)

Ingredients: 2 small ripe pears
125g unsalted butter
75g golden caster sugar
50g light brown sugar
2 eggs
1tsp almond extract
80g ground almonds
55g plain flour
1 & 1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
60g dark chocolate, chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 180’C. Line a 20cm loaf tin with a strip of greaseproof paper and butter the sides. 
Peel and core both pears. Finely dice one. Quarter and slice the second pear.
3. Cream the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs with 1tbsp of the flour to stop it curdling.
4. Mix together the flour, ground almonds, baking powder and salt. Stir in the diced pear and chocolate to coat in the flour and prevent them sinking in the cake.
5. Add this to the wet mixture and fold until combined. Spoon into the loaf tin and level out. Arrange the sliced pear on top of the cake and bake for 40 minutes – check after 30mins and cover with foil if necessary to stop the top browning too much. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Leiths: Intermediate Term, Week 2

Have you ever spent four days making a pie? Had a brain for breakfast? Sampled 6 wines before midday? Such is my life as a cookery school student, and pretty fab it is too. Here’s what went down in week 2 of the intermediate term… photo 1 (3)I was pretty apprehensive about Monday’s cooking session – making cullen skink (smoked haddock and potato soup) to a strict service time in exam conditions. This brought back bad memories of ‘Chewable Soup Gate’ on mock exam day, something I was in no hurry to repeat. Happily there were no such disasters this time around and the soup was delicious, hopefully dampening my pureeing fears for now. photo 5 (1)Wednesday’s schedule also had me arriving feeling nervous as we settled in for our first offal demonstration. When my friend asked what offal was I sent her Google’s definition: the entrails and internal organs of an animal used as food. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the example sentence Google provides is ‘eating pieces of braised offal turned his stomach’. Tempting as this all really didn’t sound, I was determined to go in with an open mind and stick to my rule of trying everything no matter what it was…even if that may be a deep fried brain. Above is the menu of everything we tried that morning (yep, offal for breakfast) and to be honest it was actually much better than I thought. Our teachers were really enthusiastic and knew they had a challenging, doubtful audience so it was interesting to see the different ways of using the meat – particularly since nose-to-tail eating has become more trendy in recent years and more prevalent on menus. Whilst I still don’t think offal would be the first thing I’d choose on a menu, it was good to once again vastly add to the list of foods I’ve tried.photocombo2After the unfamiliar ground of the offal demo, it was back to more well known territory with some baking. Dinner rolls meant practicing batch baking skills, rolling perfectly neat spheres and weighing each ball of dough. The main project of the week was a raised veal and ham pie, which was spread over four days and therefore it was quite a relief to finally bring it home unscathed on Friday – although our class must have looked a tad strange all arriving at the pub carefully balancing pies and tarts!photocomboLeiths describes the 3 terms of the diploma course like so – the first term is family food, the intermediate term is gastropub food and the final advanced term is Michelin fine dining. This week definitely saw more of an adjustment to the gastropub level as we did more plated dishes, practicing bringing several components together at the last minute and presenting them nicely. We may look back fondly to the Friday afternoon last term spent making brownies, compared to this weeks Friday monkfish with herby hollandaise, spinach and jerusalem artichoke puree (special mention to my puree partner Chelsie) followed by a pecan pie, but it is also satisfying so see how far we’ve come. Bring on week 3!

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Leiths: Intermediate Term, Week 1

After a long, relaxing Christmas break I was brought back down to earth with a bump on Monday with the start of my Intermediate term at Leiths. My class was straight back into the kitchen on Monday morning, all of us chatty and excited but also a little bit nervous. Would we remember the skills we’d learnt last term? Had we done enough cooking over the holidays? There was only one way to find out!

· After cooking a Middle Eastern buffet for 32 on Monday and cooking 2 dishes (including individual aubergine and prosciutto gougeres, below) to strict service times on Tuesday, our reward came in Wednesday’s cooking session where we made chicken kiev. Nothing like a midweek deep frying session to lift the spirits! I’ve always wanted to make chicken kiev from scratch but before starting cookery school (where I’ve worryingly discovered it’s one of my favourite things…) I was intimidated by the deep frying process and its many health and safety warnings. I can safely say that the results were worth it. Time constraints meant we ended up deep frying our kievs all the way through rather than just deep frying to colour and then finishing in the oven. It’s a hard life! photo 4 (1)· Another major skill we learnt this week was flaky pastry, again something I’ve often wanted to try but felt intimidated by due to the lengthy method. The actual process is not drastically technically complex, you just have to ensure you get the first stage perfect and then concentrate hard all the way through! Little things can make the pastry go wrong fast – butter getting too warm, folding it the wrong way, letting it dry out – so it was rather a relief to get to the end with my little pastry block unscathed. I was so proud of the hefty rise my chicken & red pepper pie managed (below) and it tasted rather delicious too – a good end to two days of pastry 2 (2)· One of the many perks of being a cookery school student is getting to try so many new foods. Our second Game demonstration emphasised this as nearly every dish had a new ingredient to me including wild boar, hare, rabbit and salsify. Cooking eggs benedict on Friday also stretched me having never actually eaten, never mind cooked, a poached egg before! Whilst I enjoyed making them, I was so rushed I never got a chance to eat the finished dish so am still yet to try one – I guess that gives me even more reason to practice.

·By the end of the week I’d learnt two main lessons alongside a wealth of new cooking knowledge: 1), the intermediate term is a heck of a step up from the foundation term and 2) its surprising how quickly you can lose the stamina you’ve built up! During my first few weeks at Leiths I was absolutely shattered by the end of the day but by the end of the term I was back to normal levels of energy. However, after 5 weeks of Christmas fun our class realised this had slipped away and by Friday evening I was struggling to stay awake past 7pm! Bring on intermediate term week 2…

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Mincemeat Streusel Slice

Sometimes the world of food can be a tad overwhelming. I decided to make mincemeat slice (half the battle – I’m the most indecisive person), had a cautious Google and was met with 795,000 results. For mincemeat slice?! So I ended up making two versions from two baking legends, Mary Berry and Rachel Allen, and doing a mini comparison. Sometimes indecisiveness can be a good thing – double the baking! The other 794,998 results will just have to wait until next year… DSC_0062The recipes differed slightly: Rachel Allen has a more classic approach of dividing one shortbread mixture in half to create two layers surrounding the mincemeat, whilst Mary Berry’s recipe has a very thin pastry layer as the base and a grated streusel topping. Both make a big trayful so we had plenty to compare! DSC_0060I added the zest of an orange to the shortbread in Rachel’s recipe which we all liked as we always have orange pastry in our mince pies at Christmas, and so this was notably missed in the plain pastry in Mary’s version. Also, Mary uses semolina in the streusel topping to add crunch, but none of us were really a fan of the gritty texture that this creates. However, one thing I preferred about Mary’s version was that the thinner base makes room for a thicker layer of mincemeat – useful for when you’re trying to use up Christmas surplus, a bit less heavy and also extra tasty! Mary’s also turned out prettier as the streusel melts into a fairly even top layer – all the photos in this post are her version. In the end we were torn – my parents preferred Rachel Allen’s version whilst I remain a loyal Mary Berry fan. The best result would probably be a combo of both: a bit less semolina in the struesel, a bit of orange to boost flavour and you’d have a winner! Maybe I’ll just have to make a 3rd batch to test this out… You can find the Mary Berry recipe here and Rachel’s version here (confusingly on Nigella’s website…) so you can decide which recipe sounds best to you. Enjoy!DSC_0064

Monday, 6 January 2014

Party Rings

Hello and welcome to 2014 on Teen Baker! I feel it’s appropriate to start the year with something healthy, like a colourful salad, as so many people go on a New Years diet. Or something that uses up the Christmas and New Years party leftover bits and bobs that are currently cluttering up people’s cupboards everywhere. But… well… all in good time. Party rings are just so much more fun!photo 1Party rings have been on my baking agenda since I started doing the homemade classics challenge but for one reason or another they kept falling to the bottom of the list. I don’t know if party rings are available outside the UK but (as the name suggests) they are a kids birthday party staple here with their pastel colours and pretty swirly pattern. Essentially they are just a vanilla ring biscuit with glace icing topping, but there is something addictive about them!photo 1 (1)I thought party rings would be a bit of a kerfuffle to make and certainly previous recipes I’d seen for them had been more fiddly, involving piping, icing borders, intricate patterns and other things I’m not very good at. However when I saw this recipe from the Oh Comely magazine blog I knew it wouldn’t be long until party rings graced my kitchen counter! Turns out party rings are super easy – dipping each biscuit in bowls of icing creates the base layer, and a quick drizzle of icing off the end of a teaspoon creates the signature swirly pattern. My tips would be to make your icing a bolder colour than you think – the beauty of party rings is their pretty pastels but you need them to show up and not look watery on the biscuit. Also after doing all the base layers, thicken your icing slightly for the drizzle – I thought thinner would be easier to drizzle but thicker icing holds the pattern better. See you next week for that healthy new years dish…or maybe some more baking. We’ll see!