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Friday 26 July 2013

Angel Food Cake

My niece loves this cake. She calls it 'marshmallow', but really it's cake. And dirt simple to make as well.

I have done some terrible things in my life. Really, truly awful things. I wore chinos to my friends' wedding, for example, although I don't *think* they noticed. I have served people food that had been dropped on the floor, and I was once very rude to a house keeper who ignored the 'Do Not Disturb Sign' on my hotel room. Perce really told me off for that one.

Admittedly, none of this is like cheating on my husband or anything (except for the chinos. I really don't know why I did that, and I don't know how to make it up or move on from it. All I can say in my defence is that they weren't from GAP.), but still. I feel bad. And I am going to add more to the list: I recently sent a very flippant email to a PR girl who sent me a press release about Nielsen-Massey Extracts basically telling her that I didn't care if Camilla Parker-Bowles used their products, I didn't blog press releases and I didn't think my readers would care.

Camilla and Vanilla

I also mentioned in passing, though, that my friend Stuart once wrote to Vanilla Parker-Bowles to tell her that he sometimes liked her hats (not always - nobody gets in right 100% of the time, not even royalty) and she actually hand wrote him a response. Well, she hand wrote the 'Dear Stuart' and 'Love, Camilla' bits, at any rate, though it's doubtful she has a 'thank you for your kind words about my hats' pro-forma saved on her iMac, so I am sure she wrote it all herself regardless.

Turns out my PR friend loved the story (must have missed my bad attitude) and offered to send me some samples. Result.

Now. I would never normally use vanilla extract in baking (even when I say to add it on the blog, I usually use the scraped out seeds of a real vanilla pod in my own kitchen, because I have a stash of plump, juicy ones I bought for almost nothing in Mauritius), and I have always considered the Nielsen-Massey brand to be expensive. How would it rate?

Well, I tried it out on this angel cake, since the key flavour note that I wanted was pure vanilla. And I have to say, I might be converted. It is so much easier just to add a few spoonsful of extract than mess about slitting and scraping out pods with sharp knives, and in my local supermarket, single vanilla beans cost upwards of £2. The Nielsen-Massey is only £5.99 for 100ml, so actually, all things considered, my cost-based aversion to extract doesn't stack up. I could make 10 of these cakes (which serve 16 people) with a single bottle. That's basically a quarter of the cost of beans.

The flavour is good; like my niece says, 'marshmallowy'. I would definitely use the extract again.

I have a few other recipes coming up that test out some other extracts that the company makes, so check back for those.

Boring disclosure: I am not paid for these opinions - I am just trying out the product. And trust me, I would tell you if I didn't like it.

Angel Food Cake

You will need:

16 egg whites (yes, really)
300g caster sugar
100g plain flour (for a really light cake, use half plain flour, half cornflour)
2 tsp cream of tartar
2 tsp vanilla extract

  1. Heat the oven to 180°C. Have ready a large (10 inch) tube pan (ungreased).
  2. Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar and all but 3 tbsp of the sugar until you have a stiff meringue. I use my stand mixer, as ever.
  3. Add the vanilla extract and beat well.
  4. Mix the flour with the remaining sugar and sprinkle over the meringue mixture. Fold in with a spatula or balloon whisk. Pour the mixture into the tube pan, smooth the top, and bake for 35 minutes until puffed and golden.
  5. Invert the tube pan to cool (I upturn mine onto a wine bottle). When fully cooled, use a long bladed knife to loosen the cake from the sides of the pan and serve in generous slices with berries and whipped cream.

Tuesday 23 July 2013

Café Bombón

OK, so I don't know if all of you know how it works when you're a flight attendant, but basically, you rarely work with the same person twice. It's pretty amazing if you don't get on with someone (ha!), but deeply saddening when you do, since you never know if and when you'll have the chance to work together again.

I have some Spanish colleagues and years ago, after I had been in Barcelona, one of them mentioned a drink called café bombón that I had seen some people drinking and been curious about but afraid to ask for. ("Yo no hablo español.") I didn't see said colleague again until just recently and so forgot all about it.

Incidentally, I hate not daring to ask about food in foreign countries. Do you know how many stuffed courgette flowers I missed out on in my first few days of being in Rome? I don't even want to talk about it.

Anyway, whilst in The Canaries with the family recently, I made up for it. Turns out this drink is nothing more than a layer of condensed milk (you love it already, right?) topped with a gorgeous shot of darkly viscous espresso.

Percy adores it.

I think you should make one. I happen to have bought some pretty little glasses to serve it in, for authenticity, but you don't need to bother.

Back with a cake soon! I am off to dance off my morning caffeine dose to a few old MJ records.

Friday 19 July 2013

Do I really need a stand mixer?

I have been procrastinating for far too long now; time for me to just bite the bullet and get this post written.

I read a piece on stand mixers on one of my absolute favourite blogs a week or so back and felt compelled to offer the other side of the argument here. I do see that this puts me in the realm of those tacky popstars who record musical responses to well produced chart toppers, but so be it. I am old enough not to care now.

I have never met Sarah or been in her gorgeous newly fitted kitchen, but I have read her blog since the beginning and I feel like I know her well enough that she won't mind me stealing her idea for a post. See, she doesn't think she needs a stand mixer, and that you probably don't either. Well, I want to tell you that my stand mixer is one of the greatest things ever to come into my life and I think that you might well benefit from begging, borrowing or stealing one yourself.

Here's why.

Actually, no: let's start with a little about me that might not be clear from this blog.

  • I don't bake all the time. It probably ends up being one cake a week. Honestly.
  • I seem to have ended up making quite a few wedding cakes and do a bake sale every year.
  • I own a hand mixer as well, but no food processor (I hated it and gave it away).
  • I am not scared by 'difficult sounding' recipes.
OK. I should also probably say that my stand mixer was a wedding gift from my whole family. It's a Kitchen Aid Artisan in beautiful Candy Apple Red (for the record), and every time I use it it reminds me how generous my family are and how much I love them.

(If you hate your family and have to buy your own mixer, well, I still think you'd love using it, so don't think that's my only reason for disagreeing with Sarah.)

Reasons to own a stand mixer:

  • The power: no electric hand mixer can compete.
  • The fact that it mixes thoroughly: cakes I do in the Kitchen Aid have better texture and crumb and rise more evenly than those I do by hand or with a hand mixer.
  • Hands free: I'm a hands free junkie. I can beat eggs and pour hot sugar syrups into them at the same time without burning myself, and answer the phone while baking if I have to.
  • Capacity: 16 egg whites beaten to a meringue in one bowl? No problem. Deep sides mean mess is minimal.
  • Style: Candy Apple Red. How many times do I have to say that?
  • Multi Use: maybe that's pushing it, but you can do great mashed potatoes in a mixer like mine. Also great for making and serving eggnog at Christmas. Seriously.
Sarah recommends instead an electric hand mixer. I own two, but never use them.

Reasons I don't rate hand mixers:

  • The lack of power: they are just rubbish. Even on high speed. Making French buttercream with one in my pre-KA days nearly killed me (and the mixer!).
  • They break down: maybe I was overusing mine, as I did supply a café with cakes for a while, but I never seem to get them to last more than a year of regular use.
  • Takes up cupboard space: I may be in the minority, but I find this far more annoying than having to have my stand mixer sitting on the work top in the corner looking pretty. And my kitchen is small.
  • I have to stand at the mixing bowl for however long it takes. And genoise takes 15 minutes with a hand mixer. No thank you!
  • The beaters scratch my glass bowls. Unsightly!
  • They can overheat: my stand mixer can go all morning on high and not even break a sweat.
I do see that cost is a reason that people don't indulge their stand mixer desires, and certainly I would not have spent the money it cost to buy the Kitchen Aid on myself, which is why they are so often on wedding lists, let's face it. However, I would not have baked half of the more labour intensive cakes I have done were it not for the stand mixer and for that reason alone I recommend them. If you like baking, you'll find ways to use it. If you think you want one, you'll probably use it all the time.

Just my two cents'.

Now go check out Sarah's great blog!

Friday 5 July 2013

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies

Eek. Time passed.

I can only tell you this: turning thirty-one and managing not to kill myself (at what age does one need to get out the anti-ageing creams?) was quite enough of an effort over the last few weeks. I haven't had any baking inspiration since I have been far too wrapped up in feeling OLD. It is so... difficult to get over.

Pink vermouth, a great steak and the fact that I spent the evening of my birthday with my husband, who is more delicious than anything I could have baked for you today or any day anyway, are what got me through.

I no doubt will need more of the same next year.

Anyway, I made these cookies ages ago and I know there was some special reason for doing so and also that I was really pleased with them, but I can't remember what for or why. Not a great way in to this, but also perhaps just what we need to coerce ourselves into planning a little journey into baking self discovery. Quite timely too, since we haven't had a cookie around here for a while.

(I did slate chocolate in my last post though, so consider this further evidence of the fact that I blow hot and cold like nobody's business.)

I am planning on doing some baking at the weekend (in between BBQs and beach trips, should the weather hold), as well as some light ice-cream production. So there should be a fair few posts this month.

In the mean time...

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies

You will need:

100g plain chocolate
150g plain flour 
25g cocoa powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda 
1/2 tsp salt 
125g softened butter 
125g sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract 
1 egg
350g chocolate (I used plain and milk, in equal measure, chopped into small chunks) 

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C and line a baking sheet with baking parchment.
  2. Melt the 100g plain chocolate and set aside to cool a little. Then beat it with the butter, sugar, vanilla  and egg until all is nicely amalgamated (yes, this is the lazy person's cookie).
  3. Add the dry ingredients and mix well, then fold in the chopped chocolate. 
  4. Use an ice cream scoop (or a couple of spoons) to measure out dollops of dough and space them well apart on the baking sheet. Bake for 14 minutes although aim to underbake slightly as everybody loves a chewy cookie.
  5. Cool on the sheet for five minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
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