Thursday, 27 March 2014

Daring Bakers' March 2014 Challenge - Nougat

It's Daring Bakers' posting time again. I had my daring moment a couple of nights ago, and I'm going to award my self 60% - a B pass, for what I created. A solid effort, most of the basics there, but quite a long way from perfect. At one point, it looked like it was going to be a a 30% - not even a graded fail, but thankfully, things picked themselves up at the last minute!

Let's start with a good photo :-)
Blog Checking Lines:
The March 2014 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Rebecca of BakeNQuilt. She challenged us to learn to make classic nougat and to make it our own with our choice of flavours and add-ins.

Squirrel wafers - distracting you from the disaster...
Now, given my dubious success, I'm not going to post that recipe here, but direct you instead to the challenge recipe, on our host's blog and wish you at least 40% more luck with it than I had! You can find it here.

Splat! It was in a tin. It seemed set. It lifted out. I left the room and an hour later… super splat :-(
Now, I'm not trying to make excuses, however I can think of a variety of reasons why mine was a bit short of the mark…
  • I halved the recipe - always a possibility I divided / measured wrongly
  • Because I halved it, I used a smaller pan, and I couldn't use my usual sugar thermometer
  • I didn't have corn syrup, and substituted golden syrup instead
  • It was a cold, wet and miserable night, and the air was damp
  • I don't have a stand mixer, so was using a hand whisk, which made adding the syrup a two person job (no husbands were burned in the process)
I think 5 excuses is probably enough!

What was left after hacking out the wafer coated pieces from the middle
If I made it again, I'd double the nut quotient, and use a milder tasting honey. And get it right!

Nougat - with added cling film and parchment (for fibre….?!)
 If you cook your nougat like I did, to a point of not quite set, semi solid, incredibly slow flowing liquid, it is absolutely the stickiest thing in the world. It sticks to parchment. It sticks to worktops. It sticks to cling film. It sticks to hands, arms, pans, spoons, knives. In order to cut the good slices out of the middle I had to wash the knife 6 times - or rather interrupt Mr E 6 times, who was washing the dishes. You've been warned!
And another good one to finish with - forget the !

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Cranachan Cake

I used to have a food blog. I cooked stuff. I took (bad) photos. I wrote blog posts.
That process doesn't seem to be working so well at the moment!
I still cook stuff. Quite often it doesn't work out. Fairly frequently I take photos - disappointingly often they have no natural daylight and are on my phone. And occasionally I find the time to write a post.
I seem to have gone from about 3 posts per week, to one every three weeks.
Must do better!!!!

Does this photo make you hungry?
If someone could add a few extra hours in the day that would be lovely. And about 4hrs at least of extra daylight in each day. And if the kitchen gods could smile of a few more of the things I cook over the next little while, that would also be appreciated…

That said, this particularly cake worked out well enough to be posted. Phew.

It's Cranachan Cake - a raspberry, whisky and oatmeal sponge with honey icing.

Oh look - I took this one on my phone, at night - bad lighting!
Cranachan is a mixture of cream, whisky, honey, raspberries and oatmeal. Aside from the fact that it's very obviously not dairy free, I've never liked cranachan. It's often served at mass-catered function in Scotland - weddings, Burns Suppers and the like, in which cases it is sadly often a weird gloopy mixture of whipped cream that has lost its shape, mixed with oats that have gone soft and gelatinous, some long defrosted frozen raspberries, and an overpowering after taste of cheap whisky. Served inexplicably in a wine glass.

Hungry yet? 
But they are conceptually nice flavours! So I baked them into a cake. Which is dairy free :-)

Cranachan Cake (Makes 1x 2 lb loaf tin)

  • 100g dark brown sugar
  • 100g dairy free margarine
  • 2 eggs
  • 50ml whisky
  • 100g raspberries
  • 25g pinhead oatmeal
  • 125g self raising flour
  • 25g rolled oats

Honey Icing

  • 50g non-dairy cream cheese (I used Tofutti as it is nice and mild)
  • 25g dairy free margarine
  • 25g set honey
  • 200g icing sugar

Preaheat the oven to 170C (160C fan). Grease and line a 2 lb (large) loaf tin.
Cream together the brown sugar and margarine then beat in the eggs and whisky.
Add the oatmeal, flour, rolled oats and raspberries and mix until well combined.
Pour into the prepared tin and bake for around 45 minutes until golden on top and pulling away from the edges.
Remove from the oven and cool in the tin for a few minutes, then on a wire rack.
Whilst the cake is cooling, make the icing by mashing together the toffuti, margarine and honey, then sieving in the icing sugar 50g at a time then beating until completely smooth.
Once the cake is completely cold, spread with the icing.

Cracked - but cover it in icing and no-one will ever notice...
I had planned to sprinkle some aesthetically pleasing toasted oats on the top. But time was not on my side! Although at least this one was photographed in the daylight. Better that than toasted oats in the dark I say ;o)

Cake! You know you want some :o)

Friday, 7 March 2014

Mini-M's Meerkat

A few days ago I got to work and discovered Mini-M's Meerkat in my handbag. I have to confess it wasn't actually a massive surprise, since in that super unsubtle small person way, I could hear her "hiding it secretly" very loudly and obviously whilst I was making my lunch to take with me.

However I played along, and since I'm generally half asleep in the morning, had genuinely forgotten about it by the time I got to work, and when I went looking for my phone in my bag mid-morning, it really was a surprise.

Following the success of her mouse teddy going to Mr E's work, and the awesome photos of some recent Edinburgh Library teddy sleepovers (Corstorphine here and Leith here) which we missed (gutted!) I took a few snaps of Meerkat enjoying his (her?) day.

Some extra help with my spreadsheets
Apple for morning snack
A quick lunchtime walk in the sunshine 
Signing out in the register at the end of the day 
Sitting next to me in the passenger seat on the way home
This took about 2 minutes out of my day and admittedly earned me a few funny looks from colleagues, however it definitely caused more than 2 mins of interest, smiles and happiness. So as a bit of fun, and as a way to help explain to your child what your particular day at work involves, then I highly recommend it - although possibly not if, say, you work in an A&E trauma team, or are a jet pilot etc, in which case staged teddy photos at work might get you into trouble!

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Stained-Glass Your Living Room!

Want a multicoloured, immensely satisfying way to entertain a toddler, yourself, and bathe your living room in a rainbow glow? What's not to like really there! In which case… I can wholeheartedly recommend making a stained glass window.

Your very own stained glass work of art - minus the lead and soldering
Go big - cover an entire window for a big impact. It makes me smile every time I walk into our living room and see our handiwork glowing.

Smile - it's a glowing rainbow
All you need is some sticky back plastic (feeling like a Blue Peter presenter as I type, which was my childhood ambition - to be a Blue Peter presenter, rather than to feel a little bit like one, whilst sitting on the sofa blogging, just to be clear) and some tissue paper. And a window to hand. And a little bit of Blu Tack. Not too many things.

Starting off...
Good progress...
Chair required - nothing beats sticking, whilst standing on a chair!
Here's some simple steps to help, just in case small people are scrambling your brain cells at the point of execution…

1) Cut your sticky back plastic to fit your window size. (Hint - most rolls have squares marked on the back which helps keep it neat)
2)Blu-tack your sticky back plastic to the window
3) Carefully peel off the backing paper
4) Reposition the blu-tack a little bit if necessary - the sheet went slightly slack after peeling off the backing
5) Tear up pieces of paper and stick them on
6) Try to vary colours and sizes, - don't worry about them overlapping a bit.

If you're so inclined, you could co-ordinate your colours to match your living room decor. Needless to say we went for the embrace the chaos and clash with everything rainbow option! Even one colour, with the overlaps providing darker contrast, would look lovely.

Mini-M loved this - we did it when Mr E was away for the weekend, and she was very proud to show off her handiwork when he got back.

Happiness is a rainbow window
If you look carefully you can see a large orange rectangle - a word of caution…. once your paper is stuck, you can't reposition it! Mini-M discovered this early on in the process - piece number 3 I think. She also stuck herself to the window at one point, whilst stretching to reach a high piece, but thankfully people un-stick much more easily than paper, with minimum fluff left behind.

And it's only fitting to finish with a huge thank you to the friend who found a big roll of sticky back plastic in the attic and sent it our way - it's coming back your way the next time we meet :o)

Homebrew Everything Cookies

For part of Mr E's Christmas present, I made him a Pinterest board of beer related recipes. (It's here, if anyone is interested!). Don't worry, that's not all I got him, however we were working to a self-imposed £12 limit, so a virtual pinboard was a free addition. I said that his he chose is favourite 12 from the board, I'd make them throughout the year, one each month. It's March and prior to these cookies, I'd made zero. Still - I've got another 9 months to catch up in…

Mr E's also brewing at a slightly faster speed than drinking, so we've got a small but increasing homebrew stockpile. This recipe knocked 1 off it - small steps!

Underneath an inconspicuous exterior like beer cookie awesomeness
I started off with good intentions to follow this recipe for 'Pub Cookies' by The Beeroness because a) that's what was on my pin board, and b) they look delicious.

But I didn't quite have the right ingredients. I never do. How is it possible to have a kitchen full of ingredients, but not the required ones for any single recipe?!?!?! So I substituted whilst trying to keep within the general ethos of the cookies - beery, sweet, salty, pub-y.

Substitution central!
Here's my concoction

Homebrew Everything Cookies (Makes 16-24 depending on size)

  • 500ml homebrew porter
  • 100g margarine
  • 150g dark soft brown sugar
  • 75g golden granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 120g plain flour
  • 80g strong white bread flour (if you've not got bread flour, use more plain, however it is the higher gluten content of the bread flour that makes them chewier)
  • 1tsp cornflour
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • pinch salt
  • 200g dark chocolate, chopped into chunks
  • 100g mixed nuts (unsalted)
  • 1 bag ready salted potato rings (Hula Hoops) crushed
  • 30g raisins

Pour the porter into a small pan and heat on medium for about 20 mins, stirring from time to time to begin with and more frequently as the mixture reduces. You're aiming to get it down to about 2tbsp of concentrated beer.
Preheat the oven to 180C and line 2 or 3 cookie sheets with parchment. I lined too, but needed three. I don't have three trays, or 3 shelves, so had to bake tin 2 batches and it worked out fine.
In a large bowl, beat together the margarine and both sugars for a couple of minutes until fluffy.
Add the concentrated beer and vanilla and beat until well combined, then add the egg and beat that in too.
Add the (plain, bread, cornflour), bicarb and salt and give a gentle mix, then add all the interesting bits - chocolate, nuts, crisps and raisins and mix until well combined.
Place heaped teaspoons of the mixture (or tablespoons if you want to make uber giant cookies!) of mixture on a the prepared trays, a couple of inches apart. They will spread a bit, but not too much.
Bake for about 12-15 minutes until golden brown.
Cool on the trays for a few minutes, then carefully peel off and finish cooling on a wire rack. They're pretty fantastic warm too!

I defy you not to eat at least one whilst still burning hot!
So the big question… do they taste of beer. It's a bit of a tricky one. Not overtly, but definitely they have a completely different extra dimension to regular cookies, and it's a really tasty dimension. So, if you don't like beer, don't be put off - they don't taste 'beery' in the classic way, however they do taste really really good. A way to enjoy your homebrew in a totally different way - and one that is generally much more acceptable mid-morning!!!!

If you've got a Dad (or small child/husband) that likes beer, or makes beer, then you know what you need to do… bookmark this and make them for Father's Day!

Maybe I can make my fortune making bespoke batches of homebrew cookies… the possibilities are endless, whilst staying true to the pub theme: pretzels, peanuts, roasted nuts, bacon, porter, stout, lager, ales, and any chocolate or sweets you can imagine - although I do draw the line at Scampi Fries! And there's part of me wondering right now what cider cookies would taste like…

Choc-full of everything deliciousness


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