When baking…

… you really should pay close attention to the amount of baking powder. Anybody want some incredibly dense muffins?

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Everything-free chocolate cherry flapjacks

By flapjacks, I mean the UK word – the baked oat bar thingies. Not the US pancakes. Having had two facebook arguments (well, not arguments, but you know) in two days about the meaning of the word, I think that bears clarification. My American friend claimed these were ‘oatcakes’, but as any fule kno, oatcakes are flat savoury crackers that are generally served with cheese. Divided by a common language, indeed.

Anyway, continuing the theme of wheat-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free &c &c &c, I decided that I’d make something that required actual baking in an actual oven. They were a birthday treat for my flatmate, so I thought a bit more effort than just some rice puffs was in order. I cobbled together several recipes to come up with this one, with appropriate adjustments.

You need:

150g vegetable fat (I used Trex)
80g soft brown sugar
80g golden syrup
Vanilla extract
250g oats
100g dried or glacé cherries, chopped into halves or quarters
50g plain chocolate, broken into small pieces.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180°C. Grease an 8 x 12 inch baking tin.

2 Melt the vegetable fat in a decent-sized saucepan (it has to be big enough to hold all the oats). Add the syrup and the sugar and heat gently until they’re melted. The fat and sugar may be a little reluctant to combine properly, but that’s fine. Once you stir the oats through, it all binds properly.

3 Remove the pan from the heat. Add about half the oats and mix well. Add some of the cherries, then more oats, then more cherries, until it’s all combined. Add the chocolate last. I hoped it would stay solid, but unlike chocolate chips, it doesn’t really keep it’s shape, so it will probably mostly melt through the mixture, but that’s more than fine. What’s not to like about chocolate all the way through?

4 Once the oat mixture is thoroughly coated, transfer it to the baking tin. Smooth the surface as much as possible with the back of a spoon, and bake for around 20 minutes.

5 When you remove it from the oven, the mixture will be bubbling and seem very liquidy, but that’s fine because it firms up as it sets. Let it cool for around 15 or 20 minutes, then slice into squares while in the tin and still warm. It’s soft enough that you can just use the round tip of a palette knife to do this (which also avoids scratching your tin). Let them cool a bit more, and then transfer to the fridge to chill, if you like. I also drizzled a bit more melted chocolate over the top, just because.

A very hurriedly staged photo taken before work so I could get the daylight looked like this:

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I didn’t add any salt to these, which is most unlike me, but I don’t think they needed it. Sometimes you just want something to be rich and chewy and soft, and these hit the target nicely. My flatmate’s verdict was that they ‘taste amazing! So happy I could cry’, which, as reviews go, is pretty positive.

He also ate too many in one go, which resulted in him doing this self-portrait, so perhaps pace yourselves, yeah?

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Everything-free choco rice puff snack … things

I’m so bad at writing about what I’ve been doing!

My flatmate’s still on an exclusion diet and I’ve been baking and so on a bit less, because a) I don’t want to eat entire cakes to myself, b) it seems a bit cruel and unusual to be all ‘Hi! Here’s a delicious cake THAT YOU CAN’T EAT’, c) I’m really wary of getting the reputation of The One Who Bakes at work, where people start expecting you to take stuff in and so on, or make stuff for people’s birthdays and d) when I have tried to make everything-free stuff it hasn’t gone so well.

I really like making pikelets (they’re like crumpets, but a lot thinner and a bit less regular shape because you just pour them into the pan, not into a crumpet ring). Sorry to explain – I always thought they were common knowledge, but the amount of times I’ve had the ‘What’s a pikelet?’ conversation, apparently not. Anyway. I tried to make some with gluten-free flour and rice milk instead of regular flour and regular milk. They were … not a success. As the flatmate said, they were like jellyfish. Which is all rather disheartening.

So I thought, fine. Less baking, more … combining, I guess? Nothing that relies on gluten or milk or eggs or ground almonds for binding, and while I know you can do marvellous things with coconut and dates and all sorts of clever tricks, I wasn’t feeling up to it. So I reverted to childhood and made rice krispie cakes, except a wee bit more sophisticated. (Only a wee bit.)

I took
175g plain chocolate (I used a Waitrose one because it uses sunflower lecithin, not soy, but that’s by the by)
30g vegetable fat (Trex, in my case)
Around 30ml golden syrup
Vanilla essence
Sea salt
100g rice puffs (I used Kallo, because they’re just plain rice)
35g salted popcorn (I used Tyrrel’s, for the same reason: corn, salt, nothing else)
80g dried mixed cherries and berries.

1. I melted the chocolate in a mixing bowl over a pan of water. This was the large bowl I was doing all the combining in, because transferring melted chocolate isn’t always easy, and you lose a lot in the process.

2, Once the chocolate was melted, I added the vegetable fat and syrup and mixed until it was thoroughly melted and combined – it makes the chocolate a bit slacker and easier to work with. I added a splash of vanilla and a good pinch of flaky sea salt.

3. Then I just threw all the rest of the ingredients in. It’s better to do it bit by bit, as it helps ensure you get everything coated. Just keep scraping the sides and lifting the mixture from the bottom to the top and you’ll get it all coated in the end.

4. I transferred it to a baking tray lined with baking parchment, flattened it with the back of the spoon, drizzled over a little more melted chocolate and left it to set.

This was the finished result:
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They were a little bit crumbly when cutting. I think a bit more syrup and/or a slightly smaller amount of dry ingredients would work to make them bind better. Taste-wise, the saltiness of the popcorn combines really nicely with the sweetness of the berries and cuts through the richness of the chocolate, but if you’ve got a stronger sweet tooth than me, you could always leave out the sea salt.

Not the most exciting, perhaps, but for something that’s gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, soy-free and egg-free, I think they’re pretty neat. (They’re also free of fish, because obviously, because ew.)

Impromptu bhajia

My flatmate is on a sort of elimination diet at the moment, part of which involves avoiding wheat and gluten. As even the corn tortillas you can buy in the shops generally contain wheatflour, he was on a mission to find masa harina, the treated corn flour that’s used to make them. But, despite the astonishing rate of gentrification that’s occurred in Balham in recent years, including its very own organic food store, it hasn’t yet developed a Little Mexico, and none was to be had.

We did, however, find gram flour and thought we’d give it a go. It worked surprisingly well, but as I am in desperate need of a new frying pan that isn’t bowed in the middle, full size ‘pancakes’ weren’t really feasible, so we settled for little ones made in the bottom of a milk pan. They were kind of like giant blinis, rather than small tortillas, in terms of size and consistency, but they were good and were fit for purpose (which is to say: to have guacamole and refried beans and steak stuck on top).

The side of the gram flour packet also had an onion bhajia recipe. As I had an bag of onions and an enormous bunch of coriander, plus all the other ingredients to hand, it seemed right to make them, plus the *must. cook. something* urge was quite strong. (I’d also been making endless batches of guacamole, hence the coriander, but mashing isn’t cooking.)

Once again, I cursed my lack of a proper deep fryer, but a milk pan full of corn oil did in a pinch. They turned out like this:

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Not bad for a first attempt, I think. They came out a tiny bit too spicy, so I think I’d go for mild, rather than hot, chilli powder in future, and the first few I tried to cook while the oil wasn’t hot enough, but that’s that lesson learned. It’s another thing for the repertoire, anyway.

Gyoza

I love gyoza. Little savoury parcels of just … goodness. Which if done right are both juicy and crispy (assuming you’re eating fried ones, that is). (And I generally am. I’m kind of the belief that there’s not much that can’t be improved by frying.)

There’s a Japanese place I often go to, and I’m always entirely predictable in what I have. Spicy chicken teriyaki don, and chicken gyoza. I kind of hate myself for not venturing off into the uncharted territories of the menu, but equally it’s a place I go to when I want to grab something quickly and not think too hard, so I don’t think it’s too much of a crime to stick to what I know.

Anyway, as is my wont, I thought I’d try to make some of my own. There was a first utterly disastrous attempt of which we shall not speak, in which I somehow managed to convince myself that rice paper wrappers for Vietnamese summer rolls would be adequate dumpling wrappers. Spoiler: they weren’t.

Incidentally, I enjoyed this ‘so near, yet so far’ packaging in the Chinese supermarket when I was on my errand to buy actual dumpling skins.
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I’ve got the filling mastered, though. It’s a combination of pork mince, prawns (I use raw ones, chopped finely), coriander, sesame oil and rice wine, with a tiny pinch of sugar.  I just combine it all with my hands, then add a heaped teaspoon to each dumpling skin. 300g pork and 150g prawns, plus the other ingredients to taste (I’m a bit slapdash about these things) was plenty to fill around twenty dumpling skins.

I found the best way to seal them was just to run a moistened fingertip around half the inside edge and then fold it up to form a half-moon and pinch it tightly closed. Then, in theory, you can choose whether to boil or steam them. Or at least, that was what I heard claimed. But boiling was … not a great idea. Some split, they stuck together, and so on and so forth. The taste was good, but they weren’t the most presentable.

Steaming worked much, much better. I gave them around ten minutes. They held their shape, and still had a little bite. And then I finished them off in the frying pan, because as we’ve established, fried = better.

I had noble intentions about having a couple, then maybe taking them to work to share out, or keep and eat over a day or two. Instead I ate 18 in one sitting. For dipping, I used chilli paste, and soy sauce combined with lime juice. But I’m telling myself that that’s a good thing, because it meant they tasted good.

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(Incidentally, that weird soft focus effect is, I think, steam on the lens. I wasn’t getting all Greta Garbo and putting Vaseline on an attempt to make them prettier.)

Spiced apple loaf cake

I’m just going to try and get up a few posts of things that I’ve made without going into any great detail, just to get back into the habit of actually writing.

So. It came into my head that I needed to make something with cardamom. From there, the thought process was basically spices, apples, something that I can actually make, something that I can easily adapt…. loaf cake!

I adapted a banana bread recipe, mostly because I knew the ratios would be right in terms of the size of the finished product. Because the recipe I use is very banana-heavy (500g of banana to 250g of flour), I was a bit worried about (not) retaining the moisture and ending up with some dry, dusty old thing. And so of course I overcompensated horribly. I threw in a pot of Greek yoghurt, which was a good move. But I took two big cooking apples and, for some reason, decided I needed to dice and boil them before mixing them in. Suffice to say, it was an unmitigated disaster. The mixture was much, much too wet and was never going to properly ‘set’. So I ended up with a huge big pile of (tasty!) damp apple cake mush that slithered out of the loaf tin like clumpy porridge. Mary Berry would not approve.

Second time around, it was only one apple, and it wasn’t pre-cooked. I still added the Greek yoghurt, because it gives a bit of tang, and it definitely needs something there to compensate for the lack of moisture that the banana would give. There was also the cardamom, of course, cinnamon and sultanas. It’s not quite perfect, yet. It was still a little bit stodgy, and it didn’t rise quite as much as I would have liked, but in comparison to the first one, it’s a baking miracle. It’s got a kind of wintery, Scandinavian flavour to it, and I think once I’ve had another couple of runs at it to iron out the kinks, it could be really rather lovely.

Attempt number two is below. As you can see, it’s a little bit flat, but I think I just need to whip the butter more, and maybe just say ‘sod it’ and use self-raising rather than plain flour. Attempt number one was not photographed, in an attempt to cover its shame and preserve what little dignity the poor thing had left.

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Christening the stand mixer

I’ve been a bit lax, haven’t I?

Not at baking, so much, but at writing about it. I’ve been applying for jobs, and playing lots of Mass Effect 3, and also being really ill, so that accounts for most of it.

I’ve been making more stuff, though. I made some lavender shortbread. I made the New Zealand delicacy Lolly Cake (cut up foam sweets, crushed up biscuits, melted butter and condensed milk, rolled in coconut).

And the, for my birthday, I got a stand mixer from my flatmate. Hurrah!

The first thing I made with it was a sponge cake. Well, the first thing I made was a failure, because even a stand mixer can’t apparently handle chilled butter like I thought it could. So after I scraped out the bowl and cleaned it all off and started again with some softened butter, I made a sponge cake. It was … well, it made a huge difference. The butter and sugar mix really did get fluffy, and stayed thus once the flour was in. So there was just *more* cake. The mixer was also great for the buttercream icing.

I tried to be a bit inventive and wasn’t entirely successful. I was going for a green tea frosting, but I just brewed some very strong tea and mixed it in once it was cool. It didn’t really work, becase it made it way too liquidy, which I then had to compensate for with more butter and sugar. It stiffened, but it wasn’t really ideal. The maple frosting from the other week worked a lot better. Also, in the bowl it had a definite green tea taste that wasn’t really present in the cake.

It was still tasty. And the sponge was super-light. It looked like this:

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Not my finest hour, I’m sure we can all agree.

Then I made some bread. I thought I’d be adventurous, (well, for a given value of adventurous) so I went for half white flour, half wholemeal. I love making bread, but confess I’m just not good at pulling the dough together in the first place. It ends up bitty, or too wet, or ragged. The dough hook took care of that for me in about six seconds. At that point I wasn’t too sure if I should then keep the hook going or grab the dough and knead. I ended up doing a bit of both, which probably wasn’t ideal.

My flat suffers from a glaring absence of suitable places to prove dough. So my bread’s never as good as I feel it could be if I had an airing cupboard or some other cozy little nook. Anyway. The bread was decent enough. It looked like this.

 

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Because for some reason I thought I’d be ‘rustic’ rather than just use a loaf tin like a normal person.

I did, however, use the loaf tin to make banana bread. There are obviously a thousand thousand recipes for banana bread, but I found a pretty simple one that was low on butter and sugar, and fairly high on flour. And REALLY high on bananas. Like, 500 g of bananas. That’s more than all the other dry ingredients combined. I did half and half with the flour again, because why not. And threw in some vanilla extract, because why not. And threw some sliced almonds on top, because why not. But I also learned that even when using over-ripe bananas deliberately, there are some bananas that you do NOT want to use. A banana should not be of feathery consistency.

The stand mixer was a total boon, because the recipes are all ‘mashed bananas’ and I’m all ‘screw that, the machine can deal with it’. And it did. It got a far more thorough mix than I could have done by hand.

And it looked like this:

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It was very well received. And it’s nice to have something to make that’s ‘puddingy’ but not obscenely bad for you, because the stuff I’ve mostly been making tends towards the ‘butter, sugar, butter, flour, butter and MOAR BUTTER’ end of the spectrum.

So yes, that’s what I’ve been up to. Nothing too adventurous, but keeping my hand in.