Cakes (in jars)

This is the most excited I have been about baking for at least a fortnight…

I can’t recall when I first thought of the idea of cakes in jars, but it may have had something to do with receiving the lovely Meg Rivers catalogue and being introduced to the concept of postal cake.  I found myself wondering, in all seriousness, if I might have done better at University had I, rather than baking through my revision schedule, kept my head down and awaited a weekly delivery of postal cake.  The answer is probably ‘yes’.

I have some friends that live far, far away.  I thought  they would love to have some homemade postal cake but fretted about how to get it to them without it squishing, mouldering or incurring the wrath of customs officials.  I found the answer to these problems on the Instructables website (check it out, the Food section has loads of cool little experiments to try) in the form of cakes in jars.

Mix

Traditionally sent by American military wives, I thought ‘brilliant’!  Not only would the cakes stay in one piece, they’d be air-tight and – as you boil the jars and lids beforehand to get rid of any nasties – stay fresh long enough to make an overseas trip.  I decided to order some cute 1/2 pint jars from Amazon and get baking.

Cooked

My jar cakes were destined for 3 different people in 3 different places so I made up 3 different recipes.  Louise in Somerset would get apple & cinnamon cake, Ben in San Fransisco would get chocolate chip loaf and Matt in Wellington, NZ, would get vanilla sponge with elderflower icing*.  I’d love to work out how to jar-ify a victoria sponge or baked cheesecake but that’s a project for another day.

Jarred

If you want to ice your cakes in jars, remember not to overfill them with mix.  Another thing to remember is to carefully watch the baking times – this was my first attempt and it turned out OK but I imagine these are really easy to overcook.  If you choose not to ice your cakes, you can seal the jars when they’re hot out of the oven and – in theory – the cake should last for months in a cupboard (or even longer if you freeze it).

I carefully packaged up my rather twee-looking cakes, labelling them with hand-written luggage tags and tucking them into boxes with plenty of bubble wrap to avoid breakages.  Having sought out the correct customs forms and popped them in the post, I can’t wait to hear from the recipients.  My hope is that not only will they love the cakes, but they’ll re-use the jars by posting a long-distence pud back to me!

*if you’re interested in trying any of these recipes, I’ll be posting them here shortly.

Beurre blanc

I’m really keen to try and increase my knowledge of classic French gastronomy, starting with amazing sauces. Last night I pan-fried some trout fillets and served them with beurre blanc, based on a recipe by Valentine Warner. I don’t recall ever having beurre blanc before now, but it was rich and glossy, sweet and tangy, and utterly delicious.

Ingredients

  • 140g chilled unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 2 medium shallots, peeled, thinly sliced
  • ½ garlic clove, peeled, thinly sliced
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • 3 black peppercorns, crushed
  • 150ml white wine
  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar
  • sea salt flakes

Instructions

  • Heat one tablespoon of the butter in a pan over a medium heat. When the butter has melted, add the shallots, garlic, thyme, bay leaf and peppercorns and fry for 2-3 minutes, or until the shallots have softened but not coloured.
  • Add the white wine and wine vinegar and bring the mixture to the boil. Continue to boil until most of the liquid has evaporated.
  • Gradually whisk in the chilled butter cubes, one at a time, until all of the butter has been incorporated into the mixture and the sauce has thickened and is glossy.
  • Strain the beurre blanc through a fine sieve into a warmed bowl, then season, to taste.

The white wine that we had was probably a touch sweeter than it should have been, but it worked really well with the fish. I’d definitely be interested to see how using a dry white wine changes the flavour and what affect adding lemon juice would have. Either way, this sauce is now going into regular rotation!

Awesome things about San Food-cisco

We’ve been visiting Ben in San Francisco and, with only one day left in this city of seafood, cakepops and burritos, I thought I’d share with you some of the best foodie discoveries we’ve made.

  1. At the Knead Patisserie – hidden behind Local Mission Eatery – I ate one of the yummiest chocolate cookies I have had for a while.  The Eatery itself does a mean line in brunches and, if you simply must have something savoury before tucking into your cookie, I’d recommend the eggs, asparagus and hollandaise on brioche toast.
  2. San Francisco’s corner shops boast the widest range of sodas that I have ever encountered.  It seems that every store, from organic whole food purveyors to rough-round-the-edges mexican minimarkets, stocks the smooth, sweet and somewhat addictive Boylan’s Creme Soda.  Yay!
  3. If you fancy a beer in San Francisco, you won’t have to look far for a good one.  Every neighbourhood seems to have its own brewery and there’s a definite theme of keeping it local.  For the ultimate in beer choice – and a pretty tasty food menu – you’ll want to try The Monk’s Kettle.  With a choice of over 180 beers on the menu and staff that are both knowledgable and friendly, it’s a great place to spend an evening (provided you have plenty of dollars in your wallet and a tolerance for ale with a high % abv).
  4. We suffered a food coma of not inconsiderable proportions following Papalote burritos.  This place is also home to the best roasted tomato salsa ever to be made by man.
  5. Head to Sur La Table for foodie heaven.  This kitchen shop sells everything from deluxe espresso machines to tiny unicorn shaped biscuit cutters.  We settled for a set of cedar and maple planks for roasting fish, a number of tart tins and some ridiculous edible glitter (all of which I’m sure will feature in future munchmun.ch recipes).
  6. When you’re done spending all your holiday money on kitchen equipment, you should wander through the Ferry Building and marvel at all the foods that exist even when they clearly shouldn’t (vegan doughnuts, turkey jerky and mushrooms that are shaped like ears).
  7. The Bi-rite Creamery is so good.  Sadly, a million other people also know this.  Never mind, queuing for 10 minutes for a scoop of their delicious brown sugar ice-cream is worth it.  Particularly when the sales assistant happily lets you sample other flavours before deciding (seriously though, go for the brown sugar).
  8. For a really special evening out, Foreign Cinema is most certainly the place to go.  We sat in the courtyard and watched an early George Lucas film projected on the wall while eating oysters and sipping a cocktail called The Song Remains the Same.  This is a deceptively strong single malt whisky-based cocktail made with the juice of half a lemon, honey syrup, orange bitters and half and a good splash of cherry brandy.  It’s like a super-fruity Old Fashioned and might well be my new favourite thing.

A quick sardine pasta supper

Sometimes you don’t have the time, effort or ingredients to cook something complicated. Getting back from work late to bare cupboards, with no inclination to make the damp and windy walk to a shop. On those days there are a few basic recipes I try and fallback on – rather than immediately order take-away. It’s a Kitchenist recipe (one of my favourite food blogs) and a recent addition to that list.

Almost everything can come from the cupboard or freezer and will happily sit there for months, like the pasta, sardines and capers. A well stocked cupboard of basic ingredients can get you a long way. There are some cunning ways to cheat too. You can’t beat grabbing a fresh handful of parsley from a pot, but you can chop+freeze store bought herbs for later, it’s better than nothing (or worse, dried parsley).

You can also buy a pot of lemon breadcrumbs (kill two ingredients with one stone). Yes that’s incredibly lazy, but that’s kind of the point here, minimal effort on the days you still want something nice to eat.

Even cutting some of those corners the resulting dish is still lovely, a bright and flavourful dish that makes me smile on a rubbish evening. Check out the original kitchenist recipe and give it a go.

Prep for SF: red velvet cake

In EXACTLY one month we’ll be heading to San Francisco with the aim of munchmun.ching all that Ben’s fair city has to offer. In the meantime I thought I’d prepare for the trip by baking an all-American classic cake, using my new US cup measures and employing a traditional stateside frosting method (ie plonk on as much icing as possible).

I’ve made red velvet cake on two previous occasions using the Hummingbird Bakery and Magnolia Bakery cookbooks. The first recipe gave an overly greasy mixture and the second tasted of nothing but scarlet food colouring. Ick. I decided to take a leaf out of Goldilocks’ book and, lo and behold, the third recipe turned out just right!

DSCF0011

The recipe of win was this delight from Bakerella and I’d recommend it to anyone who has previously considered themselves defeated by red velvet cake…

Gravlax with Dill & Gin

Gravlax is made with a dry cure: a mixture of salt, sugar and herbs which both preserve and flavour the fish.  Here’s a really easy, really quick little recipe that, if prepared in advance, will provide the basis of a luxurious minimum input/maximum yield mid-week dinner.

Ingredients

  • A side of salmon, halved, or 2 large skin-on salmon fillets
  • 100g Maldon sea salt flakes (or similar)
  • 100g demerara sugar
  • A handful of fresh chopped dill
  • 3 generous glugs of gin – quality is irrelevant.  I used deathly strong gin home-brewed by one of David’s colleagues but it didn’t make a blind bit of difference.  Gin is gin when you’re using this much salt!


MixFish wrappedFish mix

Intructions

  • Pop the salmon in the freezer for at least two hours to kill off any unpleasant bugs then defrost it in the fridge.
  • In a bowl, mix together the salt, sugar, dill and gin.
  • Layer a third of the cure mix into the base of a flat-bottomed, non-metallic bowl.
  • Lay one piece of the salmon skin side down on this bed and scatter another third of cure mix over the top.
  • Place the second piece skin side up onto the first, press down firmly and cover with the remaining mixture.
  • Carefully wrap the fish tightly in cling film (leaving the ends of the package open to allow the juices to escape) and return to the flat-bottomed bowl.
  • Place a plate on top of the salmon and press down hard.  Then load the plate with as many heavy items as possible as the fish needs to be pressed whilst it cures.  I find that packs of butter and jars of jam do the trick.
  • Pop the whole lot in the fridge for three days and wait patiently.  After 72 hours the cure will have worked its magic and the dish will contain a good deal of liquid (a sort of concentrated brine).

Your flavourful dill & gin gravlax is now ready to eat.  Drain it, unwrap it and slice it very thinly.  This is perfect sprinkled with a little  lemon juice and served with crusty brown bread and butter.

Fish

The Company Shed

High up on my long list of things I love sits champagne and exploring.  Not far behind you’ll find the English seaside and all food associated with it.  Three years ago I discovered a place that combines all of these things.  That place is a wooden shack on the edge of an Essex salt marsh accessible only by a tidal causeway.

Sign

The Company Shed sits on the western edge of Mersea Island (1 ½ hours outside of London) and this fishmongers-cum-seafood eatery is one of my favourite date spots.  We’ve visited often to grab provisions for spring picnics but for the first time last weekend we braved the bleak landscape, frequent downpours and queues on the door to sit inside the shed itself and soak up its damp, salty, bustling atmosphere.

Oh, and eat the finest farmed flat oysters in the country.  And the crab.  And the prawns, peppered mackerel, smoked salmon, vinegary cockles, and crevettes.  Somehow the hot scallops with crispy bacon and the steaming mussels in cider also found their way on to our plates.  I genuinely have no idea how it happened, but we basically ate the sea.

We grabbed two plastic cups and a roll of kitchen towel from the shelf behind the fish counter and perched at our tiny table (stashing our champagne, salty butter and crusty bread brought from home on the floor).  Within moments the tide of seafood washed over our table and we had no choice but to dive right in.  And it was brilliant. Platter1

After an hour of munching, cracking and picking we’d amassed an impressive pile of shells of all shapes and colours and there was little more to be done than sit back and polish off the booze while failing to be subtle about eavesdropping on the conversations of other diners.

We settled up (our feast came in at £20 a head) and, before we left, invested £1 in two tubs of The Company Shed’s own fish stock to put to use in our own recipes at home.  There are so many great things about this place: the food; the price; and the atmosphere.  But best of all is the fact you can walk straight out of the door, onto the beach and immediately start walking off the inevitable food coma!

Beach

Straight from the sauce

My recent ‘Retro Puddings Workshop’ at Leiths School of Food and Wine was by no means ground-breaking in content. I can already whip up fairly respectable meringues, lemon curd and profiteroles and my pastry is improving with practice. Being back at cookery school was simply an excuse to mess around for five solid hours in an industrial kitchen, gossip with fellow foodies and enjoy the wonder of prepping in a space where all your equipment is stealthily taken away, washed-up and replaced by a wonderful team of kitchen ninjas.

In terms of recipes, the most useful ideas I came away with were for a selection of simple boozy sauces, toppings and fillings.

Limoncello Cream

For spooning over sweet trifles or citrus tarts

Ingredients

  • 120ml whipping cream
  • grated zest and juice of 1/2 a large lemon
  • 1 generous tablespoon Limoncello liqueur
  • 1 tablespoon of icing sugar – optional

Instructions

  • Dump all the ingredients except the icing sugar into a bowl and whisk together until well combined and the cream has thickened nicely
  • Taste
  • Decide whether or not to add the icing sugar for a bit of sweetness

Baileys Chocolate Ganache

For filling choux pastry when freshly made or rolling into truffles when left to set in the fridge

Ingredients

  • 170g double cream
  • 170g chocolate (75% cocoa solids or more), chopped
  • 3 tablespoons Baileys Irish Cream
  • 3 drops of vanilla extract

Instructions

  • Pour the cream into a small saucepan and heat through gently
  • All the cream comes to the boil, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the chocolate and Baileys
  • Stir until the chocolate melts
  • Thoroughly mix in the vanilla and then leave the mixture to cool completely (unless you want to use the ganache as an icing, rather than a filling, in which case, you will need to use the mixture while it is still warm enough to work with)

Chambord Raspberry Sauce

For drizzling on cheesecake or ice-cream or layering in a Vicky sponge or pouring over pancakes (basically this sauce is altogether quite brilliant!)

Ingredients

  • 220g raspberries
  • 3 tablespoons Chambord Liquer

Instructions

  • Pop the raspberries into a small saucepan and bring to the boil
  • Add the Chambord and boil to reduce to a thick puree
  • Push through a sieve and leave to cool

Cookery School

Savoury French Toast

Following my recent run of making sweet, Tartine-style French toast, a friend suggested adapting the recipe for a more savoury flavour. Rather than the usual sugar and vanilla based egg custard, we used a base of salt, pepper, fried garlic and oregano, and excellent, seed-filled slices of multigrain bread.

Sasha has written up our recipe on her blog, and provided a good step by step, pictured guide through the Tartine French toast method:

It did (of course) start with chopped garlic. Caramelized in butter and mixed into the egg/milk mixture my British friend insists on calling “custard.” A dash of salt, pepper, and oregano, and we’re pretty much set. (Although when I make savory french toast at home, I tend to use za’atar in the mix instead.)

Growing your own bread starter

When Ben visited us this christmas gave me a copy of the beautiful Tartine bread book. Since then i’ve been learning to grow my own yeast and making experimental sour dough with varying results. I’ve been growing my starter, dubbed Eric/B, for almost a month without killing him and produced 4 good loaves using the basic Tartine recipe. An off-cut of of Eric has even made his way to South London in the form Eric/B1, a gift to our our newest munchmun.ch contributor, Kriss.

I promised Kriss a post explaining how and when to feed his new friend, but if you’re not using an existing starter then you can make your own really easily. Just combine 100g flour mixture and 100g water follow the instructions for feeding the starter while omitting the kept start and add extra flour and water. Leave it a couple of extra days to get going before feeding, then continue as normal. This guide is a bit rough, but should be enough to get you going,

Tools of the trade

  1. A plastic tub to store the starter in. I’m using a supermarket humus-type pot.
  2. Kitchen cloth to go over the top of the pot, it might get messy. This helps avoid the mixture drying out too much/crusting on top
  3. Your flour mix, mine is 50% wholewheat, 50% white bread flour. Make a large batch of it up so you don’t need to mix it each time.
  4. Electric scales. You can use regular scales will do, but precision of digital and the easy of reseting to 0 make life much easier (I recommend these)

First question, what time to feed? I’ve been following the Tartine suggestion of doing it in the morning, but it seems theres no hard or fast rules. Find a time that works for you and stick with it, the most important thing is a consistant time. You’re “training” the yeast to rise and fall in cycle in preparation of using it to bake with.

Next, how does feeding work? The short version; remove 80% of the starter and replace the flour/water. This prevents the culture becoming too sour and vinegary while still developing the culture for baking with.

Take your existing yeast culture and clean off any dried bits round the top of the pot, or peel of any heavy crust that may have formed. Give the remaining mixture a good stir to get an even consistency, then remove all but 40g and reset your scales. Add 75g of your flour mixture and 75g of water and mix carefully. If you have a small pot then this will probably make a bit of a mess.

Pop the cloth over the top of the pot and put it somewhere with a reasonably warm consistant temperature. You can then decide how long you want to wait till feeding it again. Personally i’m feeding Eric once every 2 days, rather than the once a day I was doing, as i’m not actively baking at the moment and he was a lot of time/flour to feed everyday.

What if you miss a feeding? Don’t worry too much, it’s better to wait until the next planned feeding rather than feed out of your cycle. Your starter should be pretty resilient

I’ll be posting some recipes/pictures from my recent sough dough experiments soon, so once you have your own stable Eric you can bake with him. I just need to get the knack of it myself first, before I try and teach.