Sunday, 24 March 2013

White Cake - almost had me Djangoed!

I watched Django recently; the bit I think I enjoyed the most was the southern feast prepared on it and particularly the southern accents.  There was a shot at the end of the meal of White Cake and it looked really impressive. Four layers of almost white sponge with that thick American frosting which you just know is going to be tooth-achingly sweet. 

I have made several attempts to make it and get it looking authentic. My first mistake was using Irish butter as it's much too yellow in colour.  My second using French "white" butter was more successful but I still can't get it as white as it appears on American websites.   

It has a large number of egg whites and a huge volume of sugar.  Luckily my hens are laying really well at the moment so I don't feel guilty using so many eggs up.  The sugar is another story though.

For the cake:

200g white butter (I used French unsalted)
350g sugar
6 egg whites
390g flour
1 tsp baking powder
230ml milk

Beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.  In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites to soft peaks and reserve. (the American method said to whisk the egg whites with the milk as you can see I did here but I wouldn't recommend doing it).  Add the sieved flour and baking powder and stir into butter and sugar mix.  Add a little of the milk to loosen it up.  Fold in the egg whites alternately adding more of the milk until you have a smooth batter.  You may not need all the milk.

Pour into two greased cake tins and bake at 170 deg C for about 30-35 mins until just firm to the touch. I had some of the batter left over and so poured the remainder into silicon bun cases.  These almost took as long to bake as the cakes.

Allow to cool and turn out onto a wire rack.

For the white topping:
200g cream cheese
100g butter preferably white and unsalted
350g icing sugar

Beat the cream cheese and softened butter together until soft and fluffy.  Add in the icing sugar slowly and keep tasting until you get the sweetness you desire bearing in mind that the cake is very sweet and the icing should be a nice contrast.  I used a good bit less than the recipe called for.

Tags: Irish Food  Irish Baking White Cake  Irish Butter  French Butter  Django

Monday, 18 March 2013

Baked in the Sticks

Living in the sticks as I do, you need to be able to bake your own bread.  Unless of course you don't mind what's on offer from the local shops.  The nearest "bakery" and I use that term loosely is 17 miles away. Apart from this there are a couple of supermarkets selling the usual sliced stuff and Cuisine de France dough (and I'm not referring to par-bake.)

Luckily we in Ireland have access to bicarbonate of soda and buttermilk and some quite decent stone ground flours.  It's possible to make a loaf of delicious soda bread in a few minutes.  Adding seeds gives it a bit more bite and interest but it is also possible to add cheese, roasted peppers, olives, garlic or herbs. You can find my basic recipe here.

I've been experimenting with sourdough now for ages and to be honest almost threw my hat at it.  I have made my own starters with varying degrees of success but looking back I wasn't very diligent about feeding them. Then I met Peter from Arun Bakery and he gave me some of theirs. I was renovating my kitchen at the time and had no heating in it and the starter went into a coma I think.  I was guilty of the same ill-treatment - not remembering to feed it.  I tried a few loaves.  Put it this way - they would have made wonderful door stoppers.  Even the hens refused them.  Then I noticed after the heating had been on for a while the starter was beginning to do a jig.  So I decided to give it one last chance.

I admit to cheating slightly in that I add a few grains of dried yeast as I am not renowned for my patience and was getting a bit sick of the door stoppers. It reads like a bit of a palaver to make it but honestly once you get into the swing of it, it's not at all.

Day 1
Put 100g of your starter into a bowl.
Add 50g each of rye flour and strong white (I use Dove's Farm organic)
Add 100g water.
Cover with a piece of cling film and leave in a warm draft free place until the next day. This is what's called your sponge.

Add 50g flour and 50g water into your starter jar and cover for use next time.  I used to store mine in the fridge but now I just leave it on the counter top beside the mixer. Possibly in summer, it may be as well to store it in a fridge or some where cool.

My starter

Day 2
Using the dough hook on your mixer pour your "sourdough sponge" into the bowl.
Add 350g of more strong white flour or a mix of flours (sometimes I add more rye or even a wholemeal spelt).
1 heaped teaspoon of Fleur de Sel or a coarse sea salt
Add about one third of a 7g pack of dried yeast. 
Fill a measuring jug with 200ml luke warm water

Turn on mixer to it's lowest setting and slowly add in your water. When the mix comes together and cleans the bowl is a good rule of thumb for how much to add.  All flours take different quantities of water and I have used anything from 150-200 ml.  It's better to over-hydrate than under I find.  And it's easier to add more flour if you need to.

Knead at this setting for ten minutes.  Then turn it up to 4 (on a Kitchen Aid).  I have to stand and hold mine as it jumps like a demented dervish all over my worktop if I don't.  Leave it at this for a couple of minutes and then turn it back down to 1.

When you can pull a piece of the dough and it feels silky and not tough it's ready.

Turn it out onto a floured surface and form into a ball.  Place it back into a floured bowl and cover with cling film or a damp tea towel.  Leave it for at least 3 hours or until it has doubled in size.

Then turn it out and gently reform into a ball.  Do not be rough and knock out all the lovely bubbles in it.

I place mine on a circular pizza tray covered with a floured piece of baking parchment.  Then I put an upturned mixing bowl over it and leave until it has again almost doubled in size.  This can take anything from an hour but may take longer depending on the temperature of the room.  Before baking you can rub some water over it gently and sprinkle on some poppy seeds or any other seeds you wish to use.

Second proving

To bake
I have a steam function on my oven and I set it to 40 deg C and steam 2. I bake at this for 10-15 minutes.  I imagine if you turn your oven to it's lowest setting and place a pan of boiling water in the bottom of it you can pretty much replicate this.

Then turn up your oven to 220 deg (steam 3) on mine so top up your pan of water with boiling water.  Leave it at this for a further 10 minutes.

Then turn your oven down to 180/200 deg (no steam/remove your pan) and bake at this for approximately a further 20 minutes or until your loaf is risen, golden and when tapped on the base sounds hollow.

Remove and cool on a wire rack.

Note: You need to feed your starter after every time you remove some to make a loaf.  I find if I don't make bread at least a couple of times a week I need to feed it at least once a week but preferably more.  You can tell after a while if it looks hungry.....

You can find out how to make your own starter here  

I now make my bread using just the starter alone. It no longer needs the addition of any yeast and I can tell you the flavour is only amazing.

Crumb structure

Tags: Irish Food  Irish Bread  Irish soda bread  Irish sourdough

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Memories of St. Patrick's Day

It was always freezing cold.

Watching the parade on the television while begging my parents to take me to the real thing. My father had an abhorrence of crowds and traffic jams and so never wanted to go and be part of the masses.

Little green ribbons and shamrock and gold gawdys sold as St. Patrick's tat, which to us as children was so desirable.

Having to go to mass which I hated from a very early age.

Watching impossibly tanned American girls (from wearing thick tan tights) twirl and throw batons and march behind convoys of commercial floats.

Wanting to cast aside my thick woolly tights and go back to wearing socks for school.

Bacon, cabbage and spuds for dinner.

Interestingly no memory of alcohol.

I made a point of taking my kids to the parade

Tags: St. Patrick's Day  Irish Food  St. Patrick's Day Parade

Tuesday, 5 March 2013


Raspberries freshly picked from my garden
Part of my life in a previous existence was to buy industrial quantities of raspberries and strawberries.  I can almost tell you to the month what continent they are imported from.  When so many chefs, restaurants and the industry in general have realised that seasonal food is best, I am continually surprised that this does not seem to apply to soft fruit.

On Shrove Tuesday just past, so many people tweeted pictures of strawberries and raspberries with their pancakes.  Maybe and it's understandable there is a longing for the summer and the taste of fresh soft, sweet fruit. But at this time of year, they are utterly tasteless and represent a huge waste of money.  Someone said to me recently when I mentioned this, that they are seasonal in the country they are being exported from. This may be so, but the varieties grown are chosen for their abilities to withstand transport rather than texture and flavour.  They are also picked unripe which further impinges on flavour.

When strawberries are grown and ripened naturally they have that lovely sweet smell and the flavour is so worth waiting for.

This summer past I had an unbelievable crop of the most luscious and flavoursome raspberries. I had for the previous two years cursed them endlessly, as I had bought the canes in Lidl and they sucker everywhere.  I was almost at the end of my tether with them and was just short of pulling them all up.  Something stopped me and I am so glad now that it did.

Apart from the apricot all the fruit grown by myself
I always feel it is a waste to make jam with such luxurious fruit but I was able to spare some this year so I went ahead and made it.  In these winter months I am delighted I did, because served with warm fresh scones or brown soda bread hot out of the oven the taste is incomparable.

Tags: Seasonal soft fruit  Strawberry  Raspberry  Raspberry jam Irish Recipes