Saturday, 23 June 2012

Baking Sunday: Cherry Coconut Meringue Cake

I've always loved meringues - obviously I love the eating of them but I love making them too. Maybe it's something to do with being brought up in Australia, where baking reputations are made (or can fall) upon the quality of one's pavlova and an appreciate of our national dish is practically law. It's amazing that the humble egg white can be transformed into so many different meringue variations with the simple addition of sugar (and a few other ingredients for something fancy). Once you've got the knack of making meringues it becomes easy peasy - it took me about 10 minutes to make the meringue mix for this cake, from cracking the eggs to putting the tins in the oven. I know baking is all about science but it's still magical to me that a tasty cake is the result. 

My top meringue tips are similar to most of the others you'll read. Make sure there's not a trace of yolk with the whites, clean and dry your bowl and whisks thoroughly and add the sugar gradually and continuously after soft peaks form. My other top tip is to add a teaspoon of cream of tartar to the egg whites before you start whisking - just sprinkle it on and it'll add stability and volume. Adding vinegar also helps to stabilise them but these additional ingredients are by no means essential. It'll just help things along by altering the pH of the egg whites to prevent them from deflating.

This is kind of a summery cake that's not too sweet and a good standby recipe when you have leftover egg whites or just fancy making a light dessert cake.  I'd really recommend using coconut flakes instead of desiccated coconut as it gives a better crunch (I got mine from Real Foods). The original recipe called for chopped hazelnuts, so you could use these or flaked almonds instead if you don't like coconut with a vanilla essence however it would be lovely as just a plain meringue cake too.  I added cherries as we had a punnet of them in (it is summer somewhere, believe it or not) but any berry would be delicious in this. My Tealicious co-conspirator Michelle is always saying that she has too many leftover egg whites from making creme patisserie and curds so maybe she'll appreciate this cake as a way to use up leftover egg whites.

Coconut Cherry Meringue Cake
(adapted from Supper with Rosie)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 egg whites 
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
250g caster sugar 
1 teaspoon coconut essence (if available)
1 teaspoon white vinegar
100g flaked / desiccated coconut
275g double cream
200g cherries, pitted and quartered
icing sugar, for dusting
flaked coconut for decoration

1. Line two 20cm round cake tins with foil and grease with vegetable oil. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
2. Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in a large bowl and whisk until stiff. Gradually fold in the caster sugar, whisking continually, then add coconut essence (if using) and vinegar. The meringue should have stiff peaks and should hold its shape (you can do the old "hold bowl of meringue over head" test at this point if you so desire). Gently fold in the coconut, making sure to do this carefully so as not to lose any air.
3. Divide the mixture evenly between the cake tins and smooth down. Bake for 10 mins at 200 degrees and then turn the temperature down to 170 degrees Celsius and cook for a further 20 minutes. 
4. Remove the meringues from the oven and leave to cool. Only remove them from their tins when they are completely cold (which won't take as long as a cake - about 30 mins). They will be very delicate so do take care.
5. Whip the double cream until it forms firm peaks, then fold in the cherries. Put one of the meringue cakes on a serving plate and spread the cream mixture over. Seal with the second meringue cake on top and then dust with icing sugar and sprinkle some coconut flakes on to serve. Keep cake refrigerated.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Baking Sunday: Nutella Bread Pudding

Sometimes I plan meticulously what I want to bake and other times I find baking inspiration strikes me when I'm out and about.  I was doing my usual groceries shop the other day when I chanced upon something quite wonderful - milk choc chip brioche loaf from Warburtons. Brioche is already a rich buttery treat on its own, but choc chip brioche takes it to a whole other level and the first thing I thought was "I must buy this!" quickly followed by "This would make amazing bread pudding!" It just so happened that there was a jar of Nutella in my trolley as well and the idea for this dish was borne. It's super easy to make - just like making a few Nutella sandwiches really and it makes the kitchen smell gorgeous whilst it bakes. You can of course use normal white bread but the brioche makes it an extra rich treat.  So if you want to pretend it's November again and have some winter comfort food (because it sure feels like it in Scotland at the moment) then this is perfect for the job. 

Nutella Bread Pudding

12 slices choc chip brioche loaf, or white bread
1 jar of Nutella
230ml single cream
250ml milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
50g sugar
3 large eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 170° Celcius and lightly grease a square baking dish with butter.
2. Make 6 sandwiches with the bread and a thick spread of nutella. Cut each sandwich into 4 pieces and place them evenly into the prepared baking dish.  If there's room for any more, spread nutella over a couple of single slices and place these on top. 
3. Whisk together the sugar and eggs in a bow and then mix in the cream, milk, salt, and vanilla.
4. Pour the mixture over the bread. If you have time, you could let this soak in for 30 minutes but it doesn't matter if you skip this step.
5. Bake on the center rack of the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, checking after 20 minutes - the pudding should be golden brown, and if it looks like it's browning too much, cover with foil for the remainder of the cooking time. The finished pudding should be puffy and golden brown on top, wait for 5 minutes for the pudding to settle before serving.  Best served on the day of making with some cream or ice cream. 

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Baking Sunday: Fruity Flapjacks

I was recently asked on Twitter if I had a good flapjack recipe. I immediately thought of these fruity flapjacks made by Smitten Kitchen. They're listed as granola bars on Deb's site but are really more of an upgraded flapjack because American's don't have flapjacks (or downgraded, depending on your views on dried fruit and flapjack purity). I would always prefer this version over a regular flapjack, which I like, but generally find too sweet and a wee bit plain. I decided to make two versions of flapjacks though - just to be 100 per cent sure I wasn't missing out on anything and to see whether the simple pleasure of a plain flapjack could compare. I had a look online and made Felicity Cloake's flapjacks from her How to Cook the Perfect... series. This is a defiantly traditional flapjack, with the only real point of note is that two types of oats are used - jumbo rolled (usually the pricey kind) and quick-cook (usually the cheapest kind). The quick cook oats are a thin lot but make the bars stick together well. Instead of buying two different types of oats though, you can quickly pulse some through a food processor for the same effect. These were a doddle to make and very tasty, but I really couldn't stop eating the fruity ones and can now definitely say that these are my favourite flapjacks to eat. The additional fruit and nuts add a bit of flavour variety and texture and means you can also decrease the amount of sugar added as well. I just used pretty much what I had in the kitchen; my favourite inclusions are coconut, sunflower seeds and dried apricots. You can pretty much add anything you want - rice krispies, sultanas, dried cherries, pecans, chocolate chips... whatever you like! Other non-traditional ingredients are some peanut butter or tahini, which help the mix to stick together more, and some corn syup - a very American inclusion, but one that  helps to 'set' the mix (however is not essential, just helpful). It's a wee bit more work than your traditional flapjacks but definitely worth the effort. Don't worry about the mix being too liquidy, just make sure that you let the flapjacks cool completely if they need to be cut up and not crumble. You can speed this up by popping them in the fridge or freezer after about 20 minutes. Another note - these also freeze really well if you're able to stop eating them straight out the oven! Just cut into slice and pop into a freezer proof box or wrap in cling film. 

Fruity Flapjacks
(adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

170g porridge or jumbo oats plus 30g of quick-cook or processed oats
100g sugar 
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
2 cups mix of dried fruits and nuts (total of around 285g - I used a mix of dessicated coconut, sunflower seeds, pistachios, walnuts, dried apricots, dried 'cherries and berries' mix and rum soaked sultanas)
75g peanut butter or tahini
85g melted butter
60mL honey or golden syrup
2 tablespoons light corn syrup (optional, if available)
1 tablespoon water

1. Preheat the oven to 175°C. Line an 8″ x 8″ x 2″ pan in one direction with parchment paper, allowing it to go up the opposing sides. Lightly grease the parchment paper and the exposed pan, or coat with a non-stick spray. Note: You will need something slightly bigger than a brownie pan, I used a roasting tin.

2.Stir together all the dry ingredients, including the fruit and nuts. In a separate bowl, whisk together the melted butter, golden syrup, corn syrup (if using) and water. Toss the wet ingredients with the dry (and peanut butter/tahini, if you’re using it) until the mixture is evenly crumbly. Spread in the prepared pan, pressing them in firmly to ensure they are molded to the shape of the pan. (A piece of cling film can help with this, as you press down on the back of it.)

3. Bake the bars for 30 to 40 minutes, until they’re brown around the edges — don’t be afraid to get a little colour on the tops too. They’ll still seem soft and almost underbaked when you press into the centre of the pan but do not worry, they’ll set completely once completely cool.

4. Cool the bars in their pan completely on a cooling rack. (Alternately, after about 20 minutes you can use your parchment “sling” to lift and remove the bars, and place them in their paper on the rack to cool the rest of the way. This can speed the process up.)

5. Once cool, use a knife to cut the bars into squares. If bars seem crumbly, chill the pan of them further in the fridge for 30 minutes which will fully set the “glue”, then cut them cold. To store, wrap the bars individually in plastic or stack them in an airtight container. In humid weather, it’s best to store bars in the refrigerator.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Independent Edinburgh: Office Lunches

As it's increasingly common for cities to be flooded with chains, I love that there is such a strong independent food scene in Edinburgh. There are local businesses who are genuinely passionate about food and want to provide something different and inventive - there's no substitute for these independent voices amongst a bland backdrop of Pret A Manger / Pizza Express / ad nauseum. Sadly, in recent times, quite a few of these independent shops and cafes have closed - RIP the Bruntsfield branch of Peckhams, Black Bos and most sadly for me, Tea Tree Tea and Tollcrust where I would often go to get some awesome sandwiches for lunch. 

Lunch time at Milk, Morrison Street
I try to support independent shops where I can and an easy way to do this is if I get my work lunch from out and about. If you follow my twitter feed, you'll have been 'treated' to some of my #lunchtweets - yes, I'm one of those annoying people who do actually post pictures up of my lunch. I work near Lothian Road where there are plenty of lovely independent cafes and shops to get lunch from and it's nice to give them a bit of exposure. It's good to spread the word - I first heard of Two Thin Laddies after my friend mentioned their legendary macaroni & cheese when I started working in this area. In the spirit of such, below are my choice picks of Independent Edinburgh to hit up in your lunch break. Remember - if you don't use 'em, you lose 'em. These are all takeaway places I actually visit in my lunch break so very much limited to the Lothian Road / Tollcross area. Feel free to add your own suggestions as it's by no means intended to be an exhaustive list or guide, just some lovely places that I like to visit.

Hula Juice Bar and Cafe, 103-105 West Bow. Edinburgh, EH1 2JP
Hula sell the best fresh juices and smoothies in Edinburgh – they’ve got a great range with cute names like the Whirling Dervish, Betty Ford, Ginger Jack and the legendary Sunshine In A Cup (peach, mango & orange and my favourite!). Their lunches revolve around a range of toasted bagels, wraps and soups, with lovely options like pesto chicken with sun dried tomato, roasted vegetable and guacamole and chilli tuna. Soups are not your standard fare either and they’ll have fun soupy specials like Aussie Shiraz & sweet potato for Australia Day. Their lunch deal is £4 for soup and a toasted bagel or wrap to take away. They’re also big Independent Edinburgh supporters, and sell Artisan Roast coffee and Burgh Bakes marshmallows as well as holding events which feature other local independent shops like Godiva and Love Materialise and supporting events like Record Store Day at Avalanche Records

Illegal Jacks, 113-117 Lothian Road, Edinburgh, EH3 9AN
When you want something a bit more substantial than soup or a sandwich for lunch, Jacks is the way to go. Burritos, tacos, quesadillas - all your Mexican favourites are there for takeaway and you can sit in for some sizzling fajitas and nachos too. The portions are generous and there are comfy booths (and free wifi) in the large seating area if you want to sit in – you can even reserve your table via Twitter! There’s a lunch deal of a burrito and a soft drink for £5 takeaway and a good selection of beers and cider if you’re lucky enough to be able to sneak one in at lunch. 

Loudons, 94b Fountainbridge, EH3 9QA
With huge glass windows, Scandi-minimalist decor and their own bakery underneath, Loudons is one of the nicest places in town to visit.  They always have takeaway friendly hot lunches, with daily quiche, pizzas and soups and have interesting sandwich choices too: current favourites are almond chicken with allspice tomato chutney on a wholemeal cheesey bap and rare roast beef with brie and house pickled onion on zopf egg bread.  There's always a selection of their excellent artisan bread available to buy as well as a large selection of cakes (and there's always gluten free options available too).  Loudons get even more bonus points for stocking The Rock Lobster handmade chocolates and another Independent Edinburgh shop, La Cerise's ice creams. 

Love Crumbs, 155 West Port, EH3 9DP
Not exactly a takeaway lunch destination, but a brand new vintage-style café that just sells cakes. They actually have a cupboard that is full of cakes – not your average traybakes either, I’m talking about proper lovely rose and raspberry cake, peach meringue pies, salted chocolate tarts, Vicky sponge and madeleines. There are teas from the very lovely Anteaques too (including a lush violet flavour) - another Independent Edinburgh love-in!

Milk, 232 Morrison Street, EH8 8EA
A visit to Milk takes me past Edinburgh’s perfunctory heavy roadworks and corporate glass facades to escape to a charming 1950s style café with white tiles, good music and some superb food. There’s a seasonal menu which offers a real alternative to the many boring sarnie shops on Morrison Street – brie with chilli jam & rocket, roast chicken with rosemary, almond & slow roasted tomato pesto and slow roasted pork with coleslaw are some of their very tasty spring menu options with none above £3.50. Their artisan bread is from local baker Au Gourmand and is excellent. Hot dishes are available to take away too and the lamb tagine with chickpeas, fennel and apricots (£5.40) is a top pick, along with thai green chicken curry and veggie chilli. With nearly everything made on premises, including some lovely cakes too, it’s a real foodie lunch treat.

Parma ham, cheese & tomato panini
 from Pronto
Pronto, 32 Morrison Street, EH3 8BJ
A newbie to the lunch scene, selling excellent Italian style sandwiches and grilled paninis - only really included for two reasons: a) it's the closest decent sandwich shop to my work and b) they sell Fonzies (which are Twisties for any Australians) - kind of like a crunchy Wotsit, but much better! Their name belies the pace of their service somewhat; however, they've only  been open for about a month so hopefully that will improve. Top picks are the Italian deli grilled sandwiches such as grilled zuchini, goats cheese & rocket and baked goods such as chorizo stromboli or vegetable panzarotti.

Thyme, 44 Earl Grey Street, EH3 9BN
There's usually a queue going out the door at Thyme - it comes as no surprise as their inventive sandwiches, soups and soups are worth the wait. Their speciality is huge salads which you can get with a mix of cous cous and salad leaves and add-ins like falafel, roast peppers, spicy chickpeas, edamame, roast sweet potato and all the usual suspects. Their range of sandwiches is also good and they're all freshly made of whatever you'd like - I'm very partial to their coronation chicken with mango chutney and their turkey brunch combo with avocado and coleslaw. They have some lovely soups and on the sweets front, there are traybakes available too.

Specials board at Two Thin Laddies

Two Thin Laddies, 103 High Riggs, EH3 9RP
A bright yellow family run cafe that wears its roots proudly, there's a real DIY feel to Two Thin Laddies - with handwritten signs for their "legendary macaroni cheese", "mother in law's carrot cake" and their "world's finest cheese scones" they're clearly not above bigging themselves up either! And frankly, they do have good reason - the cheese scones and macaroni are damn fine. A little bit pricier than other options (only by a fraction), you do get very large portions (I once nearly ruined a dress after some of my chicken and green herb risotto leaked out of its very full container). Visiting Two Thin Laddies is a really homely experience and their comfort food means it's a good destination for a naughty Friday lunch - chicken enchiladas and homemade beef chilli and rice are my other faves, along with their range of home baking. 

Union of Genius, 8 Forrest Road, EH1 2QN
This is probably as far as I'd venture for my lunch, and it's absolutely worth the journey as their ever changing daily soups range from beautifully turned out classics such as spiced double lentil, butternut & bacon, and Moroccan harira to the type that I really must make a special effort to travel out there for (even in the rain) to try like roast cauliflower & gorgonzola, Hungarian stew with dumplings and beetroot & apple. You can also get bread bowls to hold your soup in and they have a recycling scheme for their plastic soup bowls. It's everything you'd want from a soup cafe really. Not only this but the soups are served with bread from Dough Re Mi, and Artisan Roast coffee is available along with cakes from Love Pure Cakes and hot chocolate from The Chocolate Tree and Coco Chocolate. Union of Genius are absolutely embracing the Independent Edinburgh ethos.