Monday, 30 March 2015

Pantry Chat

I take pride in a well stocked pantry.  Well, it isn't pride as much as a bit of an obsession.  The minute a baking supply gets below the half full mark I write it on the grocery list to be replenished.  It's nice to know I can bake almost anything that takes my fancy at any time.  

When I was young and had my first home, it was really expensive to stock a pantry.  Almost everything available to purchase was a branded item. For example, Gold Medal Flour was an excellent product but the clue is in the name, gold as in costly. 

Times have changed and consumers have a so many choices. I still like to try artisan products like the flour milled at our local medieval watermill - but for everyday baking I find most store brands are perfectly fine to use and will keep your baking costs under control. 

I usually have three types of flour in my pantry:

 Plain Flour -  general all purpose for cakes, cookies, scones, etc.
 Strong Bread Flour -  for making bread and all things bread-y like pizza crust
 Self-Raising Flour -  for cakes, scones, and some traditional puddings 

I don't use self-raising flour very often so I purchase it in small quantities and try to use it well before the best by date.  Be sure to store all flour in an airtight container to keep it fresh, dry, and free from any wee beasties. 

You can't bake bread or cake without some kind of raising agent.  These are the ones in my pantry today.  I am not fussy about the brands but they must be fresh and stored in a dry environment.  NEVER put even a slightly damp measuring spoon into your leavening product or you will ruin it's effectiveness. 

I purchase rapid rise yeast in bulk because we bake all of our own bread. If you only bake bread on special occasions,  yeast in individual packets may be more efficient for you.  

Lots of British recipes call for Golden Syrup or Treacle.  I love the old fashioned Lyle's tins but let us be honest here, the store brand of golden syrup will do the job for a fraction of the price. 

Treacle, molasses as we would call it in the States, is a different matter all together.  I am rather partial to the Lyle's variety....simply because it's the only one I see in my local shop.  

This leads us to the spice section of the pantry.   Now here I am VERY picky.  I firmly believe you should use the BEST vanilla extract you can find.  If you use gallons of the stuff, like I do, you can make your own.  CLICK HERE for the instructions to make VANILLA EXTRACT.

I am very fussy about ground cinnamon.  I like BART Ground Cinnamon the best.  The supermarket variety just isn't as beautifully scented or as tasty. 

One of the most confusing issues in recent years is which oil we should be using for cooking and baking.  You can drive yourself mad trying to figure out which oil is best ... I keep it simple.  I always use canola (rape seed) oil for cooking and baking.  I purchase the store brand and I immediately decant it into a glass bottle.  It's just a weird thing I have... I like pretty bottles.  

I also keep a small bottle of extra virgin olive oil and a tiny bottle of sesame oil in the pantry.  I use these for savoury dishes. I know there are olive oil cake recipes out there.. I just haven't tried to make one yet. 

Now, here comes the controversial part... butter vs baking margarine:

I know this is going to upset some bakers but let me explain.  I bake A LOT and if I used butter for everything I baked, I'd be bankrupt.  I use baking margarine in most of my cakes, cookies, and some of my scones.  The reigning Queen of Cakes, Mary Berry, says it's best to use the stuff in some recipes.  Who am I to argue with Mary Berry?

If you know the recipe will suffer if you don't use butter, then butter must be used.  It is the taste of your baked goods that matters most.  But don't be bullied into thinking that only the most expensive products will work. 

Good baking is more about technique than the cost of the ingredients.  Take your time, be patient and thorough, read the recipe twice before starting, assemble all of the ingredients before you begin to make sure you have everything  you need.  Give the oven time to really heat up... this is often one of the biggest problems in home baking.  Finally, enjoy the creative process of baking.  It sounds corny, but the most important ingredient really is love. 

PS-  I do not do product endorsements.  The store brand, Tesco, is featured simply because it is our local supermarket.  I also use the store brands from all the major UK supermarkets with equal success.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Hot Cross Buns Hollywood Style

Do you remember this nursery rhyme?  Hot cross buns! Hot cross buns!  One a penny, two a penny,  HOT CROSS BUNS!

I was raised in Missouri.  We'd never seen a hot cross bun let alone eaten one, but we learned the nursery rhyme.  Now I live in Britain and at Easter time you can't help but eat a Hot Cross Bun. There are stacks of them in every supermarket and neighbourhood bakery.

The shop bought buns are delicious, especially when you split them in half, toast them, and slather on lots of salty butter.  But, mad person that I am, I wanted to try to bake them myself.  

So I asked a few of my friends what recipe they used and Paul Hollywood's name kept cropping up.    I did a little 'research', as in Google, and found this:
Paul Hollywood's HOT CROSS BUN RECIPE. 

I must confess, I tinkered around a bit with the recipe.  I added extra cinnamon and left out the mixed peel and still the buns were lovely and had that traditional taste. If you fancy having a go this recipe  is a good place to start. Unfortunately, I have the nursery rhyme stuck in my mind...Hot Cross Buns! Hot Cross Buns! 

Thursday, 26 March 2015

English Muffin Toasting Bread

They say man can not live by bread alone, but I make a good attempt to do so. I was raised by a bread-a-holic family, so I am always looking for new recipes. This one comes from The King Arthur Flour Blog and is called English Muffin Toasting Bread. 

When I read the description of this bread I knew I had to give it a try:

'A purely mix-it-slap-in-the-pan-bake-and-eat-it loaf!'

The only unusual ingredient needed to make this loaf is corn meal for dusting the inside of the pan.  You could use  semolina if you have that in your cupboard or simply dust the pan with plain flour.

You don't have to knead this dough, just follow the instructions and use the paddle attachment of a good, heavy mixer.  Slap the dough into the pan...

Wait an hour for it to rise... and bake!

Best of all, the RECIPE FOR ENGLISH MUFFIN TOASTING BREAD has a handy conversion button so you can bake it American style using cup measurements or European style using ounces or grams.  

Now let's get out the butter and jam and have some toast!   
PS:  Click HERE for the recipe...enjoy!

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Vintage Bakeware aka Antique Madeleines

I've been look for old fashioned baking tins for ages!  They are rare as hen's teeth these days.  Every food photographer, kitchenalia collector, and food blogger has snapped up anything that looks remotely like antique kitchenware. 

Well, you can imagine how delighted I was to learn that GIRL'S OWN STORE has just the sort of thing I had been wanting.  In just a few mouse clicks and less than two days, I was ready to bake Madeleines in my very own oyster shell bun tin. 

I love the subtle shell pattern on these little cakes. I must confess my imagination got the better of  me. I wonder who used this bun tin and what sort of cakes they baked all those years ago. 

For now, this is going to be my Madeleine tin.   If you'd like to bake a batch for yourself, you can find the BUN TIN MADELEINE RECIPE HERE.  Antique bun tins are not required to bake them but they do make Madeleines just a little bit more special.  

Monday, 16 March 2015

DIY Haircut HOW TO

Fringe is a funny thing. One day it's the perfect length....the next morning you can't see out from under it.  The stuff grows overnight!  Oh sorry, when I say 'FRINGE' I mean 'BANGS'.  It's one of those words that has a completely different meaning in the States.

Now, I don't go to the hairdressers often, maybe four times a year, but you have to keep that fringe under control.  I've learned it's best to trim it myself. It may seem obsessive but I trim it about every two weeks, taking just a tiny snip off at a time.   I've just tried a new technique.  It's called Twist Cutting and it really gives the fringe a nice shape and it's EASY to do.  

CLICK HERE FOR A HOW TO VIDEO....   and keep those Bangs looking brilliant!  

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Nutella Rolls with Coffee Icing

I must confess, I sometimes purchase things on impulse.  Usually this happens when I go grocery shopping.  That's how I ended up with two big jars of that chocolate and hazelnut spread.  One jar had caramel mixed in with the chocolate so how could I resist! 

Now, I like Nutella.  I can eat it out of jar with a spoon, matter of fact I usually do, but I thought it would be a good idea to use some of it for baking.  First I thought of using it to frost cupcakes but then Pain au Chocolat came to mind. That seemed too complicated so I thought why not make a chocolate filled roll. 

Here's how to make them.

Place the following ingredients into a large mixing bowl and beat with a wooden spoon to make a soft dough:

2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon dry yeast
1 Tablespoon caster sugar
3/4 cup warm water
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in a warm place to let the yeast work. While the dough is rising, prepare the baking tin. 

I used a six hole giant muffin tin to make these rolls.  You can also use ceramic ramekins.  To make the paper liners, cut baking paper into 7 inch squares  and press a square into each of the muffin cups.  You could use large paper cupcake liners or just butter the tin well.  I just like the look of the baking's a girl thing.

Back to the baking.....

After about an hour the dough should have doubled in size.  Stir in the following ingredients:

1/4 cup plain flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
tiny pinch of salt (optional)

By now the dough should be rather stiff and you may prefer to turn it out on a floured surface and knead it for a minute or two to incorporate the baking soda and baking powder.  

Roll the dough out into about a 14 inch square.  Spread 5-6 tablespoons of Nutella over the square and roll it into a long sausage shape.   Cut the dough into six equal pieces and place them into the prepared baking tin.

Place the rolls in a warm place to rise for a second time.  Heat the oven to 350F/180C. I like to give the oven a long pre-heating to assure the rolls bake evenly.

When the rolls have doubled in size you are ready to bake them. I brushed the tops with a little milk before putting them in the oven but this step is optional. Bake for about 15 minutes.  The rolls are done when they have grown tall and taken on a light golden colour.

Now, you could eat them as they are or dust them with icing sugar but I prefer to let them cool for a few minutes then add a little icing.

Simple Coffee Frosting

1/2 cup icing sugar - sifted
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules mixed with 4 tablespoons hot water

Add two teaspoons of the strong coffee to the icing sugar and beat with a spoon.  Continue to add the coffee a drop at a time until you have a smooth, spreadable icing.  Spread the icing over the rolls and enjoy!  

Saturday, 7 March 2015


Nothing is more British than tea and crumpets.  At our house they are a firm favourite for breakfast.  We are curmudgeonly about crumpets, only Warburtons will do.   Then I saw them make crumpets on THE GREAT COMIC RELIEF BAKE OFF and I had to give crumpet making a try. 

Now the thing about making crumpets is you have to use crumpet rings.  I know, I didn't know there was such a thing either.  A shopping trip was required.  Fortunately, my mum-n-law gave me Lakeland vouchers so I could shop to my heart's content.  

Now all I needed was a crumpet recipe.  Oh, there's one on the back of the crumpet ring package:

200 grams sieved bread flour
50 grams plain flour
1 sachet dried yeast (I used two heaped teaspoons)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
50 ml water
325 ml milk

Heat the water and milk together until lukewarm.

Sieve the flour into a large mixing bowl, add the yeast, sugar, bicarbonate of soda, and salt.

With a large wooden spoon, mix the warm milk and water into the flour mixture, then whisk for a few minutes until a batter is formed. 

Place a damp tea towel on top of the bowl and place in a warm place for approximately 1 hour.

The mixture should have risen and be covered in bubbles.

Generously grease the insides of the crumpet rings and add a knob of butter to a pre-heated frying pan.  (I used canola oil).  

Add the crumpet rings to the frying pan and add approximately 2 tablespoons of crumpet mixture to each ring.  (rings should be just under half full)

Cook on a low heat for about 10 minutes until the surface has bubbled, formed holes, and has dried out. 

Remove the rings when the mixture shrinks away from the sides of the crumpets.  CAUTION: rings will be very HOT! 

Flip the crumpets over and cook for a few seconds so the tops can brown. 

Serve warm with butter and jam or save and toast for breakfast.  

They don't look bad for my first attempt... take that Mr. Warburton!  

Monday, 2 March 2015

Crumb Cake Muffins

This is a recipe inspired by a Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake my Mom used to bake when we were kids.  It was the first bundt cake I ever ate and was HUGE! It must have weighed five pounds and would have easily fed 12 people.  

Well, I could eat enough cake for twelve people but I certainly don't need to. That's why I've edited this recipe down to make only six delicious little muffins.

Yes, one is missing... let's not mention it... here's the recipe:

Muffin Batter
3/4 cup plain flour
1/4 cup soft brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
3 Tablespoons milk*
3 Tablespoons sour cream*
3 Tablespoons canola oil 
1 egg

Crumb Topping
3 Tablespoons (caster) sugar
3 Tablespoons soft brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup melted butter
3/4 cup plain flour

3 Tablespoons Icing sugar
Milk -  just enough to make a simple icing that will drizzle from a spoon

Heat the oven to 350F/180C.  Line a six hole muffin tin with paper liners.  

Prepare the topping first.  In a small bowl, stir together the sugars, flour, and cinnamon.  Pour in the melted butter and mix well.  Set to one side while you make the muffin batter.

In a large mixing bowl, place the sugars, flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Stir to combine the ingredients and break up any lumps of brown sugar.  

In a jug or large measuring cup, place the oil, egg, milk and sour cream. Using a fork, whisk these ingredient together.  Pour the liquid into the bowl of dry ingredients. Stir with a wooden spoon until the wet and dry ingredient are just combined.  DO NOT over beat the batter or you will have tough muffins.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups.  Place the crumb mixture on top of the batter.  I know, it looks like a mountain of topping but use it all.  Gently press down on the crumb topping to make it adhere to the batter.  

Bake the muffins for 15 to 20 minutes or until there is no wet batter when you test the centre of a muffin.  When the muffins are done, leave them to cool for about 10 minutes before drizzling over the simple icing sugar glaze.  

Be sure to store your muffins in an airtight container to keep them moist and soft. Of course, there a only six so there may not be any left.  

* Remember this* in the recipe.  You can substitute milk or plain yogurt for the sour cream in the recipe if you are in a pinch.