Monday, 27 September 2010

Our Weekend Adventure: Isle of Eigg

I didn't do any baking this week, I was super busy going out and putting on a gig and then on Friday headed off to the Isle of Eigg for the Fence Collective's Away Game. It was all kinds of awesome - the bands were amazing, views were stunning and everyone was incredibly friendly. Neither of us had been to a Scottish island before, or been camping for a long time so it was a pretty big adventure for us.

We took a giant bag full of food and booze, but nothing could compare to one of the loveliest breakfasts I've ever had at the Eigg Tea Room. Hot bacon rolls, brown sauce, coffee, water, some fruit - pure hangover food heaven.

There was also no need to bring along the blackberries as there were brambles everywhere.

We had to leave on the Sunday so we could get back to Edinburgh for stupid work on Monday but it was heavenly to sleep in my warm comfy bed after two nights of freezing camping. We managed to stop off for some of the best fish & chips I've ever had at Spean Bridge. All sense of proportion is lost in this photo but it was huge, freshly cooked with amazing chips.

A fantastic weekend with so many great people and experiences, I feel very lucky indeed. This week is all about the detox and then back to baking on the weekend. I'm just going to look at these pictures and think about breathing in the beautiful cold crisp fresh air.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Baking Sunday: Nutty Apple Loaf

The weather has been typical Edinburgh weather this week - at turns miserable and grey, and then suddenly sunny and gorgeous. It's definitely dropped a few degrees and as a result I've had a wee bit of lurgy. So even though the remains of summer are still hanging on, I'm thinking about cold-weather food - crumbles, pies, roasts, gravy, anything vaguely comforting. I recently went to the Valvona and Crolla food hall at Jenners and picked up some passion fruit curd and savoiardi biscuits so went through a few of my recipe books for an interesting pavlova or tiramisu recipe, when I found something I just had to make. The tiramisu could wait, I needed to make this Apple & Nut Loaf!

There's something about cooking with apples which I associate with comfort food - maybe because they are usually stewed, or crumbles and cakes. Definitely weather-turning-in food. This humble loaf doesn't look like much - it's not flashy and doesn't even get tarted up like a lemon loaf might with some icing or syrup. It just sits on the plate, knowing it tastes damn good. It's full of warm brown sugar flavour, apples, walnuts, cinnamon and a wee bit of dark chocolate. The only downside to this is that the mix needs to be left in the fridge for a few hours, preferably overnight but the result of this is that the apple flavour really infuses into the mix and the loaf is incredibly moist and deliciously more-ish.

Nutty Apple Loaf

175g unsalted butter, at room temperature
140g soft light brown sugar
2 tablespoons strawberry jam
2 eggs
140g plain flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon shelled mixed nuts, chopped
50g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
2 eating apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped

1.  Put the butter, sugar and jam in a bowl and cream with an electric whisk or paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well and scraping any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition.
2.  Sift together the flour, baking powder and cinnamon in a separate bowl, then beat into the butter mixture. Stir the nuts, chocolate and apples into the mixture by hand until evenly dispersed. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours, or overnight if possible.
3.  Preheat the oven to 170 degree Celsius.
4.  Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and smooth over with a knife. Bake in the preheated oven for 50-60 minutes or until brown and the sponge feels firm to the touch. A skewer inserted in the centre should come out clean, but for a little melted chocolate. Leave the cake to cool slightly in the tin before turning our onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Baking Sunday: Double chocolate and raspberry cupcakes

It is National Cupcake Week! I love that National Cupcake Week exists. My boyfriend wonders who decides which food group gets specified a particular week to be celebrated but that's not really getting into the spirit of things. The spirit being - yay, cupcakes! Let's eat lots of 'em! Cupcakes are one of my favourite things to bake, there are so many flavour combinations and decoration possibilities all in one little portable treat to enjoy all by yourself.

Here's some I made earlier (for a school fete!)

Bakeries specialising in cupcakes seem to have swept off in the past few years, with originals such as Hummingbird Bakery now with a best-selling recipe book and newcomers such as Cox, Cookies & Cakes, launched by designer Patrick Cox adding serious glamour. There are a number of cupcake ordering services in Edinburgh(notably Ever So Sweet), but whilst there are some excellent bakeries that sell cupcakes, the only cupcake focused bakery I've been to is the Cupcake Caffe (which is not so much bakery as part of the Scottish Cafe) though I am more than happy to be corrected!

Chocolate and raspberry is a classic flavour combination and happens to be my boyfriend's favourite too. These are chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate raspberry icing, filled with chocolate and raspberry ganache and topped with a chocolate filled raspberry. They were pretty yummy.

Can you tell I iced them in a hurry?

The cupcake recipe is a basic chocolate one from the aforementioned Hummingbird Bakery book. It is a high sugar recipe and works well every time. I always fill the cases only halfway as they do rise quite a lot.

The icing is a basic cream cheese buttercream with raspberry puree, and I had some extra ganache so filled some spare raspberries with this and popped them on top. These are very easy to do and always seem to impress people too so worth doing if you have some ganache handy (you can store unused ganache in the freezer, I always seem to use only half the mixture every time).

Chocolate cupcakes (makes 12)

100g plain flour
20g cocoa powder
140g caster sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
40g soft unsalted butter
120ml whole milk
1 egg
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas 3. Line a 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases.
2. Put the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt and butter in a large bowl and beat on a slow speed with an electric hand mixer until well combined and a sandy consistency.
3. Whisk the egg, milk and vanilla extract together in a jug and add half to the dry mixture. Beat slowly to combine and then more quickly to beat out any lumps.
4. Add the remaining liquid mixture and beat slowly to combine. Do not overmix.
5. Transfer the mixture into the cake cases until 2/3 full (I always do half) and bake for 20-25 minutes in the preheated oven until they spring back to the touch. A skewer inserted should come out clean.
5. Remove from oven and allow to cool on a wire rack before frosting.

White Chocolate Raspberry Icing

85g white chocolate, melted and then cooled
115g cream cheese
50g butter (softened)
1 teaspoon raspberry puree (mash up a few raspberries in a bowl and then push through a sieve)
1.5 cups icing sugar

Beat cream cheese and butter in a mixer or with an electric mixer until well blended. Add cooled white chocolate and raspberry, mix well. Gradually beat in confectioners’ sugar until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes).

Putting it all together!

1. Using a small sharp knife, cut a cone from the top of the cupcake, to halfway - important: not so it reaches the bottom. Cut off the pointy end of the cone to make a little "hat" for it.
2. Spoon a small amount of ganache inside each cupcake. Do not overfill! Put the ganache in the fridge (if you are making the chocolate filled raspberries. Replace the top of the cupcake.
3. Ice your cupcakes however you please.
4. The ganache should be less runny now - put some chocolate ganache into a piping bag and pipe directly into raspberries. Place on top of the cupcakes, admire your pretty work and then eat!

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Cafe Piccante - disco chippy with deep fried Mars Bars!

Broughton Street is a bit of a foodie's haven - there are some lovely places to eat, some great places to drink, Real Foods, Crombies and various delis. But I have a confession to make: there is a place at the top of Broughton Street which I have never been into sober. I'd be surprised if half the people there in the evening are sober. This place of which I speak is also known as the Disco Chippy and here's why:

Piccante is an amazing place to go on a boozy night out. It's full of people, noise, IT HAS A DJ THERE (I can't get over how brilliant this is), the smell of chippy sauce and has plenty of good chippy grub to tempt you. Not only do they sell fifteen different forms of chips, ribs, pizza, kebabs and have a low fat fish special cooked in foil with olive oil, onion, peppers and tomatoes, they have a fish and chips deal which comes with wine or beer - pure class.

On a night out recently, I gave in to an altogether more unwholesome temptation. I don't quite know what came over me, other than morbid curiosity combined with booze fuelled bravado. Oh and this neon sign:

Even the smiley face doesn't look too happy...

So for £1.50 you can try a deep fried Mars Bar with two scoops of powdery white ice cream. The ice cream is that kind of awful-but-you-can't-stop-eating-it and as for the deep fried Mars Bar - well, it tasted as good as it looked.

Maybe if I'd seen it first, I wouldn't have ordered it! I could manage about two bits before the sickly sweet greasiness overwhelmed, and just ate the rest of the ice cream which was not a wise move - it just made that greasy feeling linger a little longer. But hey, it was an experience! Not one I would recommend necessarily, but I'm glad in a culinary adventure type of way that I tried it at least. That's what I told myself the next day when I had a sore tummy anyway. Piccante chippy is all kinds of ace though and they do home delivery too, but a disco chippy is surely best experienced on a night out.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Baking Sunday: Chocolate Meringue cake and Coca Cola cake

Baking is a massive love of mine. I think about baking a lot - what my next project will be, which seasonal fruit to use, what herbs would be nice in which dough and quite often I think about good old chocolate cake. I can go through phases of not baking very often to making three cakes in one day. I am going to try and bake at least once a week and have given myself a Baking Sunday challenge - making something different every week.

I've decided to start with Edinburgh baking lady Sue Lawrence's Book of Baking. After winning Masterchef when it was in its original form, Sue Lawrence wrote for the Sunday Times and for Scotland on Sunday and often has an emphasis on traditional Scottish cooking - her other books include Scots Cooking, Scottish Kitchen, and A Cook's Tour of Scotland. There are a mix of sweet and savoury recipes and range from the very Scottish haggis bread, cullen skink bridies and Dundee cake, to more traditional favourites like Victoria sponge, olive oil loaf and chelsea buns. There are a few quirky inclusions which are really interesting too: lemon berry damper, chocolate-crusted lemon tart, focaccia stuffed with taleggio and ham and sour cream raisin pie. In typical enthsiastic fashion, I picked two chocolate cake recipes to make from the more unusual side of things chocolate meringue cake and chocolate coca cola cake.

The chocolate meringue cake was amazing, light chocolate cakes with a meringue topping sandwiched together with a lemony creme fraiche. I used an orange curd instead of lemon and if I'd had raspberries to hand, I would have added them in the middle as well. A version of this was published in the Sunday Times and apparently was one of the most popular which is not a surprise. It's easy and straightforward to make and tastes divine.

Chocolate Meringue Cake recipe

For the cake:
115g unsalted butter, slightly softened
115g golden caster sugar
3 large free range egg yolks
55g cocoa powder
100g self-raising flour
50mL milk

For the meringue:
3 large free range egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
140g golden caster sugar

For the lemon curd cream:
2 heaped tablespoons of lemon curd
200g creme fraiche

1. Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees C/325 degrees F/Gas mark 3, and grease two 20cm/8in sandwich tins.
2. Beat together the butter and sugar by hand for 4-5 minutes or with an electric beater for 2-3 minutes; it must be light and fluffy.
3. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Then gradually sift in the cocoa, flour and a pinch of salt. Pour in the milk and stir lightly until smooth. Spoon half the mixture into the prepared tins, smoothing down.
4. For the meringue, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt and the cream of tartar until soft peaks form, the gradually add the sugar and continue to whisk until thick and shiny.
5. Spoon the mixture over both cakes and bake for 20 minutes until the meringue is golden. Cool completely in the tins on a wire rack.
6. Remove from tins and carefully place one cake, meringue-side up, on a serving plate. Beat together the lemon curd and creme fraiche and spread this over the top of the meringue. Top with the second cake, again meringue-side up. Either refridgerate or eat within a couple of hours.

The chocolate coca cola cake I just had to make. It's coke! In a cake!! Despite having cola in both the cake and the frosting, it's not an obvious flavour, combined with all the cocoa, but gives a deep richness to the cake - it is super dark, dense and moist with a very fudgey texture. The frosting is particularly delicious but I would add the coca cola mixture in a litle bit at the time to the icing sugar (as always) and you probably won't want to use all of the liquid. The only other thing I would add is this cake doesn't freeze very well (I am in the habit of freezing all of my cakes) - I found that the texture doesn't really recover when defrosted. Very rich so only wee slices required!

Chocolate Coca Cola cake

250g self raising flour
3 heaped tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
280g golden caster sugar
200g unsalted butter
250mL coca cola
100 mL milk
2 large free range eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

150g unsalted butter
50mL coca cola
3 heaped tablespoons cocoa, sifted
400g golden icing sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C/350 degrees F/Gas mark 4, and grease a 24cm/9 1/2 inch springform cake tin.
2. Sift the flour, cocoa and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl, and stir in the caster sugar. Slowly melt the butter and coca cola in a pan over a low heat. Add this slowly to the dry mixture, with the milk, eggs, and vanilla, stirring all the time.
3. Once thoroughly (but gently) combined, tip the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for about 40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted until the middle comes out clean. Leave in the tin on a wire rack for about 10 minutes then remove the sides of the tin. Cool on its base on the rack.
4. To make the frosting, slowly melt the butter with the coca cola and cocoa in a pan over a low heat. Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and slowly pour the liquid over it, beating until smooth.
5. Wait until the cake is cold then remove to a plate and top with frosting.