Saturday, 31 October 2009

Vampire Fairy Cakes

It's Halloween today - how do I know this? Because at the centre where I was teaching my music classes this morning there were kids in fancy dress - vampires, bats, devils... Quite a lot of them too. At 10am on a Saturday morning. Which is really quite keen in my book! Anyway, I'm off to a Halloween party tonight - two in fact and I thought it was a good excuse to go in for some silly baking to take along. After a trawl of the web for ideas, I was taken by the Vampire Cupcakes on Baking Bites. And, lo, here are my fang-tastic creations...
I love the fact that the 'blood' in the bottom picture is even slightly heart shaped :o)

Since I like in Scotland and Corn Syrup and Cherry Pie Filling are not things that I generally have to hand or are easy to come by, I substituted some light Agave Syrup and used straight jam for the filling, so it's not quite as oozy as the original version. I also only had golden caster sugar, and forgot to put the water in to the icing, hence the fact that it's a slightly funny colour and a bit gritty!!!!! Ah well - all part of the learning process...

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

The Daring Bakers Challenge - French Macaroons

Sadly I find myself having to write this post about a baking failure. And not a one off - a repeated failure! October was my first month participating in the Daring Bakers challenge. This month's challenge was chosen by Ami S, and it was a hard one... the challenge recipe was macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern - delicate and refined French Macaroons.
Enjoy the beauty and then read on forewarned - mine did not look like that!

It seems that macaro(o)ns are many things to may people the world over - of course there are the stunning pastille coloured French ones - the subject of this challenge - made famous by the sophisticated likes of Laudree and Pierre Herme.
Then there are coconut macaroons, Australian in origin, and enjoyed the world over as a mouthfulls of chewy gooey coconutty goodness.
But here in Scotland macaroon is something completely different... it's a ridiculously sweet confection made with mashed potato and vast quantities of icing sugar, often dipped in chocolate and rolled in toasted coconut (for that 1970s exotic touch ;o).
It's even made and sold commercially by Lees along with other traditional sweeties such as tablet, fudge and coconut ice.
But I digress... I guess what I'm saying is that the chances of someone who thinks macaroons are made mainly of cold potatoes being able to conjure up some beautiful elegant pastel coloured french beauties should probably be considered slim to none... and in that case I have managed to live up to all expectations!

Batch No. 1 - no photographic evidence but they were flat and tragically sad looking. No little feet. No gently rounded tops. They were chai flavoured and still tasted fab sandwiched together with jam and happily received as a birthday present for a friend. In retrospect I should have taken a picture but at that point I was still confident I could crack it!

Batch No. 2 - I wondered if it was the ground almonds rather than almond flour that was letting me down - so I investigated what other nut flours were out there I could substitute. After scouring the nearby healthfood shops I could find only chestnut flour. But, I thought to myself, chocolate and chestnuts go well together...so it could work. As I was tipping in the chestnut flour I thought it smelled a bit odd - kind of savoury, but I read the pack again. Ingredients - organic chestnuts - suitable for cakes baking and pastries - and I ploughed on. As they were cooking away in the oven and I was tidying up, I picked up the bag of flour and turned it over. The other side was written in French, and my French is not amazing, but I'm pretty sure it said 'flour made from chestnuts dried over a wood fire' - hence the weird savoury flavour. Smoked chestnut flour.
As well as tasting disgusting, Batch No. 2 was also a flat failure. In fact the best picture I have of them is of the frenzy they caused when I fed them to the birds!!!!
Batch No. 3 - Things are looking up.... a little! I decided I hadn't been vicious enough in my egg beating making my mixture too runny. So this time I gave them an extra hard beating and went for 100% unadulterated plain almond mix. They did not have feet or shiny tops. But they did however taste very nice and get rave reviews from everyone that ate them.
I had great plans for further experiments - with some properly exciting flavour combos up my sleeve too. But then rather unfortunately I got swine flu. Which means that instead of baking macaroons I have mainly been lying in my bed thinking the world was coming to an end. I am soooo much better now but still with a horrible cough, and baking and coughing in my book do not go well together - here have some homemade cakes and a nasty virus is not a good gift for friends! So I will have to settle for Batch No. 3 as the best batch so far, but watch this space - I have been bitten by the macaroon bug and I will not be beaten...

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Easy Peasy Cheesy

I made this recipe a wee while ago when friends came round for dinner, and the praise it received seemed totally disproportionate to the the effort involved in producing it - which makes it a pretty good dish in my book. It was lovely served at room temperature with some freshly made tomato and pepper relish and mini bagels rubbed with garlic, drizzled with oil and grilled. It really felt quite like summer, despite the fact that it has recently turned into winter here (after deciding to bypass Autumn all together).

Marinated Feta

(inspired by these recipes for brandied manchego and marinated cheese at Carina Forum)
Serves 6 as a starter
  • 400g feta cheese
  • 150ml olive oil *
  • 3 tbsp runny honey *
  • juice of 1 lemon *
  • 1 clove or garlic crushed *
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh basil *
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme *
  • ground black pepper *
  • dash of tabasco sauce *
Cube the feta. Whisk together all the marinade ingredients marked with the asterisk (*) in a medium sized bowl. Add the cheese to the marinade and mix gently until well coated. Leave for at least 3-4hrs before serving. Serve at room temperature (not chilled).

I made a fresh tomato and pepper relish to go with it (which I stupidly forgot to photograph) as follows:

Tomato and Pepper Relish (an original concoction)
Serves 6 as a starter
  • 1 small onion
  • Approx 20 small poblano green peppers
  • 4 tomatoes
  • A glug of olive oil
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 1 heaped tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 2tbsp red wine vinegar
Heat olive oil in a frying pan. Finely dice the onion and fry in the oil for 2-3 minutes. De-seed and chop the peppers - add to the pan with the brown sugar and cook for approx 5 minutes until the sugar has melted and the onion is soft. Chop tomatoes (leave the skins on) and add to the pan along with the red wine vinegar. Cook over a moderately low heat until the liquid evaporates and the mixture thickens. Serve hot or cool, but taste before serving. The peppers can vary quite a lot in spiciness - from mild to having a fair kick to them! But if you find you've got a mild bunch, then you might want to add a little shot of tabasco or dried chili to taste.
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