The Girls Who Bake: March 2014

Yes, it’s that time again! Settle in, grab a cup of hot coffee, and share our latest baking shenanigans! For our latest installment of Baking Day, it was my turn to host again! I spent a lot of time thinking about what recipes to try. We’ve done cupcakes/muffins three times in a row. So that was out. We did some form of filled-rolled-baked-rolls. So that too, was out. I also had to take my brother in law into consideration – who doesn’t like cream cheese frosting. I know, I know! Absurd! Who doesn’t like cream cheese frosting?? Be that as it may, (and that being incomprehensible), I just knew I couldn’t whip out my cream cheese again. I would get some serious stink-eye action from him. I also thought about how we always tend to bake sweets. Which isn’t necessarily what Baking Day is about. The only rule is to choose recipes that we haven’t baked before. And that’s when I decided – to hell with sweets! (Wait! Wait just a minute before you chastise me. I didn’t mean it. Only for the purpose of hosting baking day would I give up sweets. Promise.) So I chose two savoury recipes. I also decided that in between all the baking and drinking, I should whip up some real food too – to feed the masses as it were. We were baking for 8 this time and 6 would stay for dinner. I’ll do a lasagna recipe later, because I forgot to photograph it before we dove into the well deserved dinner.

I chose to make two forms of doughy delights. The first, being a deliciously dense, somewhat sweet, somewhat salty Bacon and Sweetcorn Bread. I got the recipe from one of my work friends, who brought a loaf in for us a couple of weeks ago. We finished it before lunchtime was even close. I decided to add bacon to the recipe. Because BACON. And sweet and salty goes so well together. It is intensely satisfying, and ridiculously easy to make. If you’re a novice (much like me), and afraid to jump into baking – start with this. It is absolutely foolproof. The second item on my savoury menu was actually quite easy to decide on. It’s something I’ve always wanted to try, and regret not having when I had a 12 hour layover in New York on my way to Cancun two years ago. I decided to get my Americana on, and go for Soft Pretzels with a Beer Cheese sauce. Yeah. Think about that for a minute… I’ll wait. Now, all together… USA! USA! USA!

The day started out quite frantic. I had to race to the shops, to get my ingredients. Then to the liquor store (obviously). On my way home, my sister phoned me to tell me they were already at the gate. I got home, dropped the groceries, my sister and I jumped back in the car, liquor store again (for her and her husband’s consumption), grocery store again (for dinner ingredients), and when we got back, my beau’s sister was already there. Her husband would join us after his round of golf. Also joining us for the first time was the beau’s younger brother’s wife. (What a description… From now on I’ll just refer to them as my sister-in-laws. It’ll be true soon enough anyway.)

If you’re planning to try the pretzels, make sure you have quite a bit of time. They have to proof twice. And the rolling part takes some patience too. But I’d like to start with the Bacon and Sweetcorn Bread.

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Bacon and Sweetcorn Bread (makes 1 Loaf)

Ingredients

500g Self-Raising Flour
1 can (415g) Creamed Sweetcorn
1 can (385g) Condensed Milk
125g Back Bacon (cut into bite-sized bits)

Method

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celcius/ 360 degrees Fahrenheit

Fry your bacon until just crispy. Don’t let it get too crispy, or it will get too hard while baking. I added some salt and pepper to the pan, as well as a healthy dash of sweet chilli sauce. You want enough sweet chilli to just coat all the bacon bits and get them sticky.

In a large mixing bowl, add your self-raising flour, sweetcorn, condensed milk and cooked bacon and mix thoroughly by hand. The mixture will be quite stiff, but don’t worry. That’s how it’s supposed to be. When all the flour is incorporated, tip mixture into a greased loaf pan. Bake for 60 min, or until a knife comes out clean. The top should have a gorgeous golden colour. When you take the loaf out of the oven, immediately rub the top of the bread with butter. You can remove the bread from the pan and cover the whole bread with butter to melt, but we didn’t find it necessary. When you’ve slathered the butter onto the bread, cover the bread with a clean dishtowel to steam. You can remove it when the bread has cooled.

That’s it! Easy right? I told you. Now I should note that this recipe makes one loaf, if you have a standard 30cm-ish loafpan. We were using disposable tins so everyone could take one home. In the slightly smaller loaf tins that we used, each batch of dough made 1.5 loaves. So the four batches of dough made 6 loaves. (And I’m glad they did – because it’s delicious and I’m still eating bread!) It’s scrumptious with just a bit of butter on, slightly warm. As the bread gets older, it doesn’t lose it’s moisture. I bring some with me to work in the morning, pop it onto a panini press and lightly toast them. Add to that some golden melty butter and a cup of coffee and breakfast is a treat!

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Looks good right? It really is. Try it. And you know what? Even if you don’t love sweetcorn, the taste isn’t really overpowering. It just adds a sweet, creaminess to the bread. Delectable. I wish I brought some extra today…

On to the more challenging part of this post. The soft pretzels. These are baked until golden and puffy, the crystals of salt baked on to the tops. We did half with salt, and half with sesame seeds, which added a nutty depth which I found delightfully surprising. We found the rolling of the dough into strips quite challenging, since the recipe didn’t give us any helpful tips. But don’t fear! That is why we endeavour these challenges. So that I can give you the tips that you might not find in a normal recipe. But more on that later. I found the recipe here and here.

Soft Pretzels with Beer Cheese Sauce (makes 8)

Ingredients:

1 cup warm water
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 1/2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup baking soda
1 tablespoon barley malt syrup, rice syrup, or dark brown sugar (We used dark brown sugar)
1 large egg, whisked with 2 tablespoons warm water
Coarse sea salt or pretzel salt

Method

  1. Make the pretzel dough: Combine the warm water and yeast in a medium-sized bowl. Let stand a few minutes, then stir to dissolve the yeast. Add 2 1/2 cups of the flour, sugar, and salt. Stir with a wooden spoon to form a floury, shaggy dough.
  2. Knead the dough: Knead the dough against the counter for 5 to 7 minutes. The dough has finished kneading when it is soft, slightly tacky, and holds a ball-shape.
  3. Let the dough rise: Clean out the bowl, film it with oil, and return the dough to the bowl. Cover and let rise somewhere warm until the dough is doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

→ Make Ahead Tip: At this point, the pretzel dough can be refrigerated for up to three days or frozen for three months. Thaw frozen dough in the refrigerator before using. Refrigerated dough can be shaped into pretzels while still cold, but allow some extra time for the pretzels to puff up before dipping and baking.

  1. Divide the dough: Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Use a bench scraper to divide the dough into 8 equal pieces.
  2. Shape the pretzels: Working with one piece of dough a time, roll the dough into a long, skinny rope against the counter using the palms of your hands. Aim for a rope about 20 inches long. If it shrinks back on you, set it aside, roll another piece of dough, and come back to it after it’s rested a few minutes. We found that this way was extremely hard, and we couldn’t get the dough to 20 inches long. What we did was this (it was easier and made for a good couple of dirty jokes and many a giggle…I was also very unceremoniously slapped in the face with a rope of dough by my sister): I rolled the dough into a rope that was about 6 inches long. You can do that easily between your hands or on the counter. Then, my sister held the top part of the rope, and with a back and forth motion of my hands, I rolled the dough thinner and thinner towards the end of it. Then we would just swop the ends and repeat to get a long rope of even width.
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  3.  Lift the ends of the rope toward the top of your work surface and cross them. Cross them one more time to make a twist, then fold the twist back down over the bottom loop to form a pretzel shape. Set the pretzel on a parchment-lined baking sheet and continue shaping the rest of the pretzels. When all the pretzels are shaped, cover them loosely and set them aside to rise until puffy, 20 to 30 minutes.
  4. Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F. Place a rack in the middle-bottom position.
  5. Prepare the water bath: When the pretzels are starting to look puffy, measure 8 cups of water into a large, wide pot and set over high heat. Make sure the pot has high sides because the water will foam, nearly doubling in volume, when you add the baking soda. Bring the water to a rapid simmer, then add the baking soda and the dark brown sugar/barley malt syrup/rice syrup. The baking soda will make the water foam up the sides of the pot. Stir to dissolve the baking soda and syrup, then reduce the heat to medium to maintain a simmer.
  6. Boil the pretzels: Lower 2 to 3 pretzels into the water bath — as many as will fit without crowding. Simmer for 30 seconds, then use a slotted spoon to flip the pretzels over. Simmer for another 30 seconds, then scoop the pretzels out of the water and return them to the baking sheet. While in the water bath, the pretzels will puff and take on a doughy, puckered appearance. Repeat with the remaining pretzels.
  7. Brush with egg and sprinkle with salt: Once all the pretzels have been dipped in the water bath, brush them with the egg and water mixture and sprinkle them with salt.
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  8. Bake the pretzels: Bake the pretzels until they are deep brown and glossy, 12 to 15 minutes.
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  9. Cool and eat! Transfer the pretzels to a cooling rack and let sit until cool enough to handle. Pretzels are best when eaten fresh and hot, but will still be good for up to a day later. Store them in a paper bag at room temperature. While they’re cooling, you can make your Beer Cheese Sauce.

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Beer Cheese Sauce

Ingredients

2-3 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups light beer
1 cup heavy cream
2 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, add the butter, stirring until melted. Add in the garlic and cook until the garlic is golden brown.
  2. Add in the flour, stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes. The color will begin to change to golden, and this is what you want to achieve. Add in the beer and the heavy cream, continuing to constantly stir the mixture. Bring to a simmer and remove the saucepan from the heat.
  3. Begin adding in the shredded cheese in small amounts while whisking the sauce mixture until you have reached the desired consistency.

Now take that happy, soothing, pale yellow cheese sauce and serve with your warmish pretzels. As you tear off a piece, dip it and greedily pop it in your mouth before you waste one little bit of a drop, you’re transported to what I imagine going to a Baseball game would be like. Or having a bunch of people over for Superbowl Sunday.

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It was everything I imagined. It made me happy. And that, my darlings, is what baking is ultimately about, isn’t it? Doing what makes you happy. And boy, it does.

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Scrumptious Sunday: Scotch Eggs

Hi kids!

It looks like winter is finally arriving in Cape Town. We had lovely rain all day yesterday, and today is sort of rainy, sort of overcast, somewhat windy but gloriously grey. You remember I love winter right? As I am typing, I’m sitting with a freshly brewed mug of coffee right under my nose – letting the aromas of strong, bitter, black coffee waft up my nose and entice my senses. And whilst I’m lost in my heady coffee aromatherapy, I’m daydreaming of soups and stews and one-pot wonders which naturally comes with the cold season – served in one bowl, perfect to cradle in my lap while I’m snuggled under a blanket in front of my TV, watching my stories. Winter. A wonderful, whimsical season. A wonderful, whimsical reason to indulge in bowls of steamy, hot, edible comfort.

But alas, I totally just side-tracked myself, and need to stop my rambling and get to the matter at hand. Agree? Okay. So the back-story is that the beau and I have started something new on Sundays, which I have (after our successful first adventure) dubbed Scrumptious Sundays. This is different to our failed Try-It Tuesday misadventure last year. Here’s why: I don’t want to feel pressure while cooking during the week. I just don’t have the time to try something entirely new, have it fail, and then whip up something else on a Tuesday (or any other weekday, for that matter). However, during the weekend we’re more relaxed. We’re laid back. And yes, then we have the time and energy to try an entirely new recipe, and run the risk of failing. Because it’s Sunday. And we have time (and I have the patience with my sous chef)! So obviously, we take time during the week to discuss what we want to make on Sunday. We only have 3 criteria. 1. It has to be a recipe we haven’t made before. 2. It has to be a treat. Something that wouldn’t be on our weekly rotation. 3. We have to do it together. The third point is clearly aimed at me – for I do not share well in the kitchen. When we have made our decision, I spend some time sourcing the recipe, taking the time to look at as many recipes as I can before deciding which would suit us best.

Our first attempt was something we’ve eaten only once before, bought at an artisinal fresh food stall, but after we ate it (about 3 years ago, mind you) we knew we loved it. So it was a natural decision that we would have to make it. Have you ever had a Scotch Egg before? If you had, you can skip this part. If not, hold on to your pantaloons! It is a soft boiled egg. A lovely, golden, sunny, happy example of what a soft boiled egg should be. Just barely holding it’s shape. A soft boiled egg cocooned in perfectly seasoned pork meat, breaded and then fried. Yes, fried. Deep fried. When you bite into it, the crunchy, crispy, golden exterior belies the goodness that awaits you. The pork is salty, and savoury. It is juicy and dripping down your chin is an absolute given. And then you get to the egg, the yolk still miraculously runny, golden and rich, almost sweet. Then you take another bite, and relive the entire joyride of scrumptiousness. It is magic. It is pure heaven.  And honestly, not that hard to make. Let’s get to it.

Scotch Eggs (makes 4 large Scotch Eggs)

Adapted from http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/1414645/scotch-eggs

Ingredients:

  • 7 large eggs
  • 500g* good-quality fresh pork banger sausages, skinned (they MUST be fresh – no processed junk!)
  • 200g bacon strips, roughly cut into bits
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp English mustard powder
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp dried Italian herbs
  • Plain flour (for breading stage)
  • Dried breadcrumbs (for breading)
  • about 1 litre sunflower or vegetable oil, for frying
  • scraps of bread, for testing oil

Method:

  1. Put 4 eggs into a large saucepan. Cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Once boiling, set the timer for 5 mins. When 5 mins is up, quickly lift the eggs out with a slotted spoon and plunge into a big bowl of cold water. (We cooked the for 4.5 minutes, which was great, but you must then be careful because they are very fragile and the yolk WILL break and run). You can give the eggs a quick crack on one end and then put it into the cold water. This will cause the cold water to seep in, stopping the cooking and making peeling easier.
  2. Put the sausage meat, bacon, herbs, Worcestershire sauce, mustard powder and nutmeg into a food processor with plenty of seasoning. Break in 1 of the remaining eggs and mix everything together.
  3. Crack remaining 2 eggs into a bowl, beat with a fork. Tip the flour into another bowl and season well. Finally, tip the breadcrumbs into a third bowl.
  4. When the eggs are cool peel them carefully. If you hold the eggs over the bowl of water as you peel, all the shell bits will collect in there and you can dip in the egg to wash off any fragments.
  5. Now coat the eggs. We set up the ingredients along our counter like a conveyer belt: cooked eggs, mince, then flour,  beaten egg and finally breadcrumbs, plus a baking parchment-lined tray at the end to put the finished scotch eggs on.
  6. Take a good chunk of mince and pat out to thinly cover one hand. Sit the egg on the meat, then mold over the mince to cover, squeezing and patting so it is an even thickness. If you keep moving while you spread the mince, it’s much easier. You’ll probably have a gap (depending on how big your hands are – just patch and pat with a bit more mince). Roll carefully in the flour, shaking off excess. Dip in the egg, then roll in the breadcrumbs to coat, gently squeeze the finished eggs to compact the breadcrumbs – this will ensure a crunchy exterior, and transfer to your tray. Repeat to cover all 4 eggs, then cover with cling film and chill for 4 hrs or overnight. (You can fry them immediately, which is what we did. The chilling will just keep them together better. It really wasn’t an issue though.)
  7. To cook, pour the oil in a large, deep saucepan to about 4cm deep. Heat until a small chunk of bread browns in about 1 min. Carefully lower in a scotch egg and fry for about 5-8 mins, turning gently, until evenly browned. Depending on your pan, you can probably do 2-3 at a time, but don’t overcrowd. Lift out onto a kitchen paper-lined tray. If you like your scotch eggs warm, pop them into a low oven while you fry the rest – but they stay hot quite long on their own too. Keep an eye on the oil – if the scotch eggs start browning too quickly, the oil might be too hot and you risk the pork not being cooked before the scotch egg is browned. If the oil gets too cool, the scotch egg may overcook before it is browned. Enjoy warm or cold; best eaten within 24 hrs of frying. We loved it served with a bowl of mayo, but it’s really up to you.

* We ended up having a little bit too much of the pork mixture. I wouldn’t use less pork though – rather have too much than not enough to cover all your eggs. We just used the remaining pork mixture, rolled mini meatballs, breaded them and deep fried them too! They were darling and delicious!

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So? What do you think? Are you going to try it? Let me know how it goes if you do!

Until next time, Much Love.

Results: Try-It Tuesday’s Creamy Bacon & Pea Pasta

Hi kids!

So our first Try-It Tuesday was a success! I overcame my fear of new foods, bit the bullet and did it. Now, the reviews are somewhat mixed, depending on who you ask. The man loved it. And I mean LOVED it. Stuck his finger in his bowl and cleaned it out. Loved it. But he’s easy to please. I had a few complaints… Firstly, the peas were somewhat undercooked. I followed the recipe, which said to put the peas in the boiling pasta water one minute before the pasta is done. Which I did. I thought that to be somewhat ambitious, so I let the peas cook for an extra two minutes. They were still not properly done. I guess American products’ cooking times are not quite the same as they are in South Africa. The second complaint was that the cheese did clump a little when I started with the melting part… A last complaint is that I like a little bit of sweetness to offset the saltiness of bacon, and it just was not there. But, on a positive note, since the recipe calls for hot sauce, I bought my first ever bottle of Tabasco! I went for the Chipotle variety because I adore the smokiness of it. And it was a good buy.

Here is a link to the recipe I used: http://www.jasonandshawnda.com/foodiebride/archives/14350/

First off, the cheeses I used were Mozarella and Gouda. Second, I used Low-Fat Plain Yogurt. So here we go…

I got the pasta water boiling, generously salted of course, while I started to crisp up my bacon.

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After that, we got working on the cheese. Luckily, the kitchen control freak in me allows for help with grating the cheese! Look at him being all helpful and domesticated!

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I popped the peas in the pasta water, strained the pasta and peas after 3 minutes, dumped that into a serving dish, poured in some of the reserved pasta water, the yogurt, some of the cheese and the hot sauce. I mixed ferociously and got quite demotivated when it started clumping. I added more cheese, bit by bit, stirring all the while, and finally added the bacon when it was more or less smooth.

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I decided to pop it into the oven for about 10 minutes, just to get all the cheese melty, and out it came. I then just adorned my creation with salt and pepper, and dished! Here’s what we got:

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So all in all, not a bad one. I’d probably adapt it a little to add some sweetness. Also, cook the peas for longer! Next week is boys choice…Don’t know if I should be scared or… Nevermind. I am scared. But that’s kind of the point of this experiment. I think.

Much Love.