Nectarine, brown butter and honey mini Pithiviers

To celebrate National Pie week a few weeks ago, I decided to make mini Pithiviers – layers of buttery pastry filled with a nectarine and honey jam, and a layer of frangipane.

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It’s a two day process for making these – day one is for making the nectarine jam and puff pastry, day two is for the frangipane and assembly.  By all means, you can use shop bought puff pastry, but I find making your own is very satisfying and once you’ve tasted it, you’ll always make your own!

Puff pastry ingredients

420g strong bread flour (350g for the detrampe (base dough) and 70g for the beurrage

9g salt

a few drops of lemon juice

180-195g iced water

40g butter, softened

375g cold butter, cubed (for the beurrage

To make the detrampe (base dough)

Put 350g of strong bread flour into a stand mixer with the salt, lemon juice, iced water and the softened butter.  Mix at a slow speed for two minutes, then increase to a medium speed for another four minutes.  Scoop the dough out, wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge to rest for 45 minutes.

Alternatively, rub 350g of strong bread flour and 40g butter together in a large bowl until it resembles breadcrumbs.  Add the salt, iced water, lemon juice and mix together with a wooden spoon. knead lightly to form a dough, wrap in clingfilm and leave to rest for 45 minutes in the fridge.

To make the beurrage

Put the cold butter in a stand mixer fixed with the paddle attachment.  Mix at a medium speed for 30 seconds, until the butter is smooth, then reduce the speed and add the 70g of strong bread flour.  Mix together to combine, then transfer the mixture to a chopping board lined with clingfilm.  Shape into a 10cm square block, wrap tightly and chill for 45-60 minutes.

Alternatively , put the butter cubes and 70g strong bread flour into a bowl and beat together.  Shape into a 10cm square block, wrap tightly in clingfilm and chill for 45-60 minutes.

To fold and roll the pastry

To make the best pastry possible, it’s very important that the following steps are completed quickly and everything is kept cool so that the pastry doesn’t become warm and sticky.

  1. Unwrap the detrampe and place on a lightly floured work surface.  Roll it into a square measuring 22 x 22 cm.
  2. Turn the dough so it makes a diamond shape on the work top.  Place the beurrage squarely on it and fold the corners over so they meet in the middle and it looks like an envelope.  Press the edges together with your fingertips, then press the bottom of the square with the rolling pin, then the middle and then the top to secure it.
  3. Roll the pastry into a 60 x 20cm rectangle.  With the longest edge facing you, fold the right side in by a third, so the size is now 40 x20cm.  Repeat witht he left hand side, so you now have a block 20 x 20 cm again.
  4. Turn the pastry 90 degrees, and repeat the rolling and folding process.  Wrap loosely in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.
  5. Take the dough out of the fridge and repeat stages 3 and 4 again.  The dough has now been folded four times.  Wrap in clingfilm and return to the fridge to chill for 30 minutes.
  6. Repeat folding the pastry and return to the fridge, wrapped in clingfilm.  The pastry is now ready to use.

Nectarine, brown butter and honey jam

70g unsalted butter

500g nectarines, stones removed and chopped

1tsp vanilla bean paste

115g honey

  1. Wash nectarines, remove stones and chop into cubes.
  2. Melt butter in a large, deep saucepan over a medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes until a nutty brown.  Pour the butter into a bowl and set aside.  Reduce the heat to a medium-low heat and add the nectarines, vanilla and honey and cook for 30 minutes stirring occasionally, until the nectarines are softened and jammy.
  3. Remove from the heat, and place in a bowl to cool down.  When cooled, cover and place in fridge until needed.

Frangipane

85g butter, softened

85g golden caster sugar

50g egg (1 medium egg)

65g ground almonds

30g plain flour

a few drops of vanilla extract

a few drops of almond extract

 

 

  1. Beat together the butter and sugar in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until creamy, or in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer.  Gradually beat in the eggs, followed by the ground almonds, flour and vanilla and almond extracts until thoroughly combined.
  2. Place in piping bag and set aside until needed.

Assembling the Pithiviers

1 egg, beaten

3 tablespoons demerara sugar

  1. Divide the pastry into two halves.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out one half of the pastry to a 2-3mm thickness.  Use a 10cm pastry cutter and cut out 12 rounds.  Place the 12 rounds on two lined baking trays.
  2. Cut the end of the piping bag, and pipe the Frangipane onto each pastry disc, leaving a 1cm edge exposed from the edge.
  3. Place a tablespoon of the nectarine jam on top of the Frangipane on each pastry disc.
  4. Roll out the remaining pastry and cut another 12 10cm rounds from the pastry.
  5. Brush the beaten egg around the border on the base pastries and lay a disc of pastry over the top of each one.  Carefully smooth it over the filling, starting from the centre of the pie and making sure there are no air bubbles inside.  Press around the edges to seal well.
  6. Place in the fridge for 30-40 minutes to chill.

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  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/GM6
  2. Brush the remaining egg over the tops of the Pithiviers.
  3. With a sharp knife, make a small hole in the centre of each Pithivier, and carefully score neat, spiralling lines through half the depth of the pastry to make it look like a sunburst.
  4. Sprinkle the demerara sugar over the top of each Pithivier and place in oven for 25 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown.
  5. Remove from oven, and leave to cool on a cooling rack.

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Macarons

I really enjoy making macarons but I also used to find that it would be quite a fraught process, as I seemed to throw as many away as I had made. I bought a very technical book on how to make Macarons, which helped, but then I discovered there were varying methods of making them, including the dreaded packet mix (no, I didn’t try it, and never will).

But then a friend bought me this book, and in here are a wide range of macaron recipes all using the Italian Meringue method, and for me that is now my go to recipe.

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I know other bakers have success with other methods, and that’s the beauty of baking, there is often more than one process to get an outcome, but this is the one that works best for me and I hope it works for you too!

INGREDIENTS to make 72 macaron shells

200g ground almonds

200g icing sugar

50ml water

175g granulated sugar

150g egg whites (about 5 whites or buy a carton of egg whites, which is what I usually do, as the remainder can be frozen, and you have no yolks to waste)

You will also need a sugar thermometer, stand mixer, food processor, pastry bag, three baking trays lined with baking parchment and a heavy gauge saucepan.

METHOD

1. Pre heat the oven to 170C/GM4. At this stage I also check I have my paper circle template to place under the baking parchment so that when I pipe all my macarons they come out the same size and shape. You can also draw around a pastry cutter but make sure your pencil marks go on the reverse of the paper. I tend to make my circles about 4cm wide.

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2. Pour the icing sugar and ground almonds into the food processor and process for 30 seconds until it forms a fine powder.  Sift this powder into a bowl.

3. Weigh half the egg whites and place in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment

4. Pour the water and granulated sugar into a heavy saucepan, and place on a medium heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.

5. Bring to the boil, brushing down the sides of the pan with with a moistened pastry brush to reduce crystals. Place the thermometer in the syrup, making sure it doesn’t touch the bottom of the pan. As you are cooking the sugar, begin whisking the egg whites at a medium speed until they hold a soft peak.

6. When the sugar reaches 118 – 119C,carefully pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the egg whites and whip until the Italian meringue cools to room temperature, about 10 minutes.

7. Pour the remaining egg whites into the almond/icing sugar mixture, and beat with a wooden spoon, it should form a thick paste.

8. Check the meringue – it should be shiny, thick and hold a peak that bends over slightly when the whisk is lifted. Check the temperature, it should feel slightly warm on your fingertip. Add one third of the meringue to the almond paste mixture, and beat it in with a spatula to lighten the paste.

9. Gently fold in half of the remaining meringue with the spatula, making sure all the mixture at the bottom is incorporated. Fold in the remaining meringue until the mixture is smooth and pourable.

10. Spoon the macaron batter into a piping bag and cut a nozzle about 1.5cm wide. Using your circles as templates, pipe your mounds onto the baking trays. Tap the bottom of the baking trays palm of your hand to smooth the surface of the macarons. Leave them to ‘sit’ for about 30 minute so that a skin forms over the top.

11. Bake one sheet at a time for 10 to 12 minutes, rotating the baking tray halfway through. The macarons should have the characteristic collar all around the edge. Let them cool completely on the baking tray before sandwiching pairs of them together with filling.

Black Forest scones

Double chocolate scones – nothing wrong with that, but then add Kirsch soaked cherries and you get these little beauties.  Beech’s dark chocolate is perfect for this as their dark chocolate has a great depth of flavour that matches the deep flavour of the alcohol soaked cherries.  And to finish?  Beech’s creamy white chocolate over the top!

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Ingredients – makes 8

150g self raising flour

50g good quality cocoa powder

50g butter, chilled

25g granulated sugar

125ml milk

1tsp vanilla extract

60g Beech’s dark chocolate

60g Kirsch soaked cherries

60g Beech’s white chocolate

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 220C/GM7.  Line a baking tray with baking paper.
  2. Measure the flour and cocoa powder and sieve together into a large bowl.
  3. Chop the Beech’s dark chocolate into small pieces.
  4. Chop the cherries into quarters.
  5. Measure the milk into a measuring jug and add the vanilla extract.
  6.  Cut the butter into small chunks and rub into the flour mixture until it resembles breadcrumbs – be careful to not over rub the mixture.
  7. Add the chopped chocolate and cherries into the breadcrumb mixture and stir to combine.
  8. Gradually add the milk to the mixture until it forms a soft but not sticky dough.
  9. Gently knead to dough to make it a little smoother and shape into a round, about 1cm high.  Divide the dough into eight triangles by cutting four times.  Place on the lined baking tray and brush with the remaining milk.
  10. Place in the oven for 10 minutes until darker in colour.
  11. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack until cooled.
  12. Melt Beech’s white chocolate and leave to cool slightly so it slightly thickens.  using a teaspoon drizzle the white chocolate over the scones to finish.

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Lime and chilli Jaffa cakes

It doesn’t seem right to call a lime and chilli flavour cake Jaffa, but then that’s what we know this little cake by!  Following the trend for Jaffa cakes stemming from the Great British Bake Off, I thought I’d take it a step further with this fantastic flavour combination.  A friend first introduced me to this flavour combination in chocolate, and Beech’s lime and chilli definitely works – the lime is the key flavour with the chilli warmth following through mellowing the tang of the lime.

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Ingredients – makes 12

1 x 135g pack of lime jelly

150ml boiling water

1 lime

2 large eggs

50g caster sugar

50g self raising flour

60g Beech’s lime and chilli dark chocolate

Method

  1. Line a swiss roll tin or brownie tin with baking parchment.  Break the jelly up into cubes and place in a bowl.  Add the boiling water and stir until fully dissolved.  Carefully pour into the lined tin.  Once cooled, place in fridge until chilled and solid.
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 180/GM4.  Using cake release or soft butter, lightly grease the 12 holes in a bun tin.
  3. Make the sponge – whisk the eggs and sugar together for 4-5 minutes until the mixture is pale and fluffy.  Grate the rind of the lime into the mixture, then sieve the flour over.  Using a large metal spoon, carefully fold the lime rind and flour into the mixture.
  4. Spoon the mixture into the greased holes of the bun tray, making sure each is up to three-quarters full.  Bake in the oven for 7-9 minutes until the sponges are a light golden brown and they feel springy to the touch.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes, then remove from the tin and leave to cool completely on wire rack.
  5. When the sponges have cooled and the jelly has set, melt the chocolate.  Stir until smooth, then set aside and leave to cool so it slightly thickens.
  6. Using a 4cm round cutter, cut 12 round discs of the lime jelly out, lifting with a spatula and placing on top of the sponges.
  7. Spoon the melted chocolate over each jelly disc and carefully spread so that it reaches the edge of each sponge.  Allow to set slightly, then using a fork to create a criss-cross pattern on top of the chocolate.  Leave to set completely before serving.

These will only last a day before the sponge goes hard, due to the fatless content of the sponge – not that they’ll last that long!

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Ginger dark chocolate Biscotti

Not being a huge fan of ginger, I am always wary of it as, too me, it can be very overpowering.  However, Beech’s ginger dark chocolate has a very subtle warmth from the ginger that works so well with the cinnamon and nutmeg in the Biscotti, with the almond chunks just giving the right amount of bite.

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Ingredients – makes 20

250g self raising flour

125g golden caster sugar

60g Beech’s Ginger Dark Chocolate

30g blanched almonds, roughly chopped

1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4tsp grated nutmeg

2 eggs

60g melted butter, cooled

1tsp vanilla extract

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/GM4.  Melt butter in a small saucepan and leave to cool.
  2. Sieve flour, cinnamon and nutmeg together into a large mixing bowl and add the sugar.  Stir well to combine.
  3. Chop Beech’s ginger dark chocolate into small chunks and add to the flour mixture.
  4. Roughly chop the almonds and add to the flour mixture.
  5. In a jug, whisk the eggs together with the cooled, melted butter and vanilla extract.  Pour into the flour mixture and stir well to create a loose dough.
  6. On a lightly floured surface, place the dough and divide into two.  Shape each piece into a log shape measuring 20cm by 5cm.  Place both logs onto a lined baking tray and bake for 25 minutes.
  7. Remove from the oven and leave the logs to cool on a chopping board for 30 minutes.  Using a serrated knife cut each log into 10 equal pieces.  Place each piece onto a lined baking tray, ensuring they are spaced well apart.
  8. Bake for a further 10 minutes until golden and hard.  Remove from the baking tray and leave to cool completely on  a wire rack before serving.

This will keep up to one week if stored in an air tight container.

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Chocolate cheesecake muffins

I wish I could claim these recipes as my own, but they’re an adaptation of a recipe that is in the August/September issue of Baking Heaven.

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I actually made these for my brother.  As we’re both quite busy, when we can, we meet up for a coffee, cake and catch-up and these muffins are a favourite from Starbucks, so when I saw this recipe and showed it to him, his little 48 year old eyes lit up!

It’s a lovely, basic recipe but you do need quite a few bowls!  The bottom layer is a light chocolate muffin, topped with a baked cheesecake with a sprinkling of chocolate crumble.

INGREDIENTS – makes 10

Suprisingly, although it looks like a lot of ingredients, it’s quite a short shopping list with quite a few store cupboard ingredients…for bakers anyway!

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For the cupcakes

20g unsalted butter, melted

50g dark chocolate

125g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

25g cocoa powder

90g caster sugar

125ml milk

1tsp vanilla extract

1 large egg

For the cheesecake mixture

250g full fat cream cheese

30g caster sugar

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

For the chocolate crumble

50g plain flour

10g cocoa powder

20g caster sugar

30g unsalted butter, at room temperature

METHOD

  1. Pre heat the oven 190C/GM5.  Line a muffin tin with 10 muffin cases or wraps.
  2. Make the cheesecake mixture.  Place the cream cheese, egg, sugar and vanilla extract into a bowl.  Beat together well, and place in fridge until needed.
  3. Make the crumble topping.  Place the flour, cocoa powder, sugar and butter into a small bowl and rub together with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  4. Make the muffins.  Break the chocolate up into small pieces and place into a bowl.  Place over a pan of simmering water (don’t let the bowl touch the water) and stir gently until melted.  Set the bowl to one side.  In another small saucepan, melt the butter and set to one side.
  5. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, cocoa powder and sugar with a balloon whisk until well combined.
  6. In a jug, whisk together the egg, milk, melted butter and vanilla extract with the balloon whisk until well combined.
  7. Carefully pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture, and whisk together with the balloon mix.  Add the melted chocolate and whisk together.
  8. Now it’s time to assemble the muffins.  Start by dividing the muffin batter between the muffin cases, about 1 tablespoon for each case.  On top of the chocolate batter, divide the cheesecake mixture over the chocolate batter and gently spread over evenly.  Finally, sprinkle over the chocolate crumble mixture.
  9. Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.
  10. Once cooked, remove from the oven, leaving the muffins to cool in the tin.

Enjoy!

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Breaking down a decorated cake

You know those short clips on social media of someone decorating a biscuit in royal icing, in an amazing design and getting it perfect every time?  Well, I’m obsessed with them, I can watch them for hours, over and over and over again.  Why, you might ask yourself.  Indeed, Why?  Because I cannot decorate biscuits, I’ve tried many a time and the outcomes are ridiculously bad, so much so that I’m mortified when people eat them just so I can get rid of the evidence.

The reason I’m divulging my biscuit decorating traumas is because I’m not afraid to admit I cannot pipe royal icing. I’m practising it, I’m trying really hard and I’m making a little progress but I will never achieve what I see on the videos.  BUT I would never dream of going on social media (or anywhere else for that matter) and say what a rubbish technique it is, how it’s only good for covering a bad bake or that it’s not skillful,  just some of the nasty and naive comments I’ve read this week on Twitter regarding cake decorating (we won’t go into the comments about wedding cakes).

Now, obviously those comments have possibly been made in jest, or maybe I’ve read them out of context, but what I think (and I know a few other people who had the same reaction) is that these were made by people who have the same issue with fondant as I do with royal icing.  They’ve tried working with it, it’s not for them, which is fair enough but shall we try to be a little more mature about it? As what has been said this week is quite derogatory towards a wide range of talented people who do this, many as a living or for fun, or as a stress reliever or all of the above.  Yes, we’ve all seen the cake disasters (think Bake Off Extra Slice), they’re very funny and amusing (think my iced biscuits!) but we all have to start somewhere.  Sadly, sometimes our first attempts don’t match expectations, but it shouldn’t also allow for people to make snipey comments, when in all honestly, maybe they should first judge their own abilities.

So in reaction to this, I’ve decided to make a record of all the stages a cake decorator will go through when making a custom cake.  Just to clarify, I am a home baker, my tutors have been social media, YouTube, baking friends, lots of books, some courses and above all, a great deal of time, effort and practice.  I only make cakes for friends and family, because it’s wonderful to see their reactions, but if I’m honest, I prefer developing my pastry and bread making skills, improving my patisserie skills, again lots of time, effort and practice needed.  So this isn’t a definitive guide, it’s how I work and there are many other ways to make a cake, but what I wanted to do was highlight what goes into the hours of making a cake covered in fondant.

I was asked to make this cake by a work colleague, for her Grandad’s 80th birthday, he’s still a handyman and has an allotment, so she wanted this to be shown in the cake.

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Stage 1 – research and planning

I like this stage.  You get to sit down and discuss how you can bring a persons idea to life.  It’s fun, although sometimes you do have to rein them in a bit and remind them its cake and sugar you’re basically working with!  We draw up a few ideas, decide cake flavours and I then do further research, mainly on Pinterest (if you’re not using Pinterest, get on there!), put together a final drawing and cost it.  Once this had been approved, I go online and order everything that is needed, such as cake drums and cards, fondant, ribbon and so on.

Stage 2 – making the cakes

I have set recipes and flavours that I use for my cakes.  Sometimes I make the cakes in advance and freeze them, other times I’ll make them on the first day of making the overall cake, it depends on the time I have available.  I always use good quality ingredients, never a packet mix!

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I like using the chocolate recipe as it stays moist for a long time, rises evenly and well, and overall tastes amazing.  But you also need to ensure that you have a recipe that is robust enough to hold the other cake(s) up and the amount of fondant that is needed for decoration.

Stage 3 – preparation

So while the cakes are baking (just over 3 hours to get all tins done) I get started on preparing any shapes/features that may need time/overnight to dry.  So for this cake it would be colouring and cutting out shapes for the shed and ladders, as well as covering the cake drum in fondant.  If this cake were to have flowers on, this stage could take several days as a great deal of drying time is needed between each stage.

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Stage 4 – assembling the cakes

This is when I make the buttercream and turn into a plasterer!  Each cake has to be cut into equal layers ( I use a cake slicer, if I used a knife they’d be even more wonky).

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Then construction begins!  Better known as stacking/layering and creating a crumb layer.  This is where the foundation of the cake begins, get this part wrong, the whole cake will look wrong.

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Between each layer is buttercream, which is then smoothed over using a palette knife and side scraper to get the crumbcoat finish.  This is then placed in the fridge to chill, allowing the butter to go firm, giving a base for the fondant to lie on.

Stage 5 – covering the cakes

I’m not keen on this stage, in fact I worry about this stage, but I’m getting better.  The fondant needs to be kneaded until soft, rolled out to a 5mm thickness and then placed over the cake.  The top is then smoothed down before you start working on the edges, otherwise you’ll end up with pleats or folds in your fondant.  This needs time and patience, but you also need to be careful that the fondant doesn’t rip (this will happen if you have too much fondant) or air bubbles appear ( can be easily removed by placing a small hole in fondant and smoothing over, not ideal but it happens).  Then the bottom needs to be trimmed and then the cake is further smoothed depending on the type of edge you want your cake to have, bevelled or sharp!

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Stage 6 – stacking the cakes

Once the cakes have been covered, ideally you should let them dry out overnight, so that the fondant hardens a little.  As the cakes are heavy now with buttercream and fondant, you will need dowels in the base cake to support the weight of the top cake.  Recently, I make a three tier wedding cake which had a central dowel running through the centre of the cake to stop the top layer toppling off and keep everything central.  Icing is used to hold the cake on the board, dowels are placed in the correct position in the cake, marked for length, cut and then another layer of icing for the next layer to sit on.

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Stage 7 – decorating the cake

Now the fun stage, as the cake is starting to take shape and you can see it slowly transform into the idea that was discussed all the way back at the initial idea. How long this stage takes depends on how it is being decorated, for this cake I started by adding the garden fence, rolling out the fondant, imprinting the wood grain, cutting the shapes out with a special cutter, allowing to each piece dry slightly then placing on the side of both cakes with edible glue.

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Grandad also had to be finished!  Now, I’m proud of Grandad, he’s only the third figure I’ve ever made out of fondant and I think he’s cute!

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Then there was the shed assembly, making the potatoes and carrots for the allotment, some of Grandad’s tools to be lying around, the bushes and flowers.  So royal icing (yes!!! I use it on cakes, I’m OK with it on a cake).

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Which takes us to the finished cake!

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How long did this take?  18 hours in total.  So please, the next time you feel the urge to write an ill-thought comment about working with fondant, spare a thought for all the hard work,range of skills, knowledge, time and effort that has gone into it.  Better still, give it a go yourself, you might find it’s not something to be afraid of.