Friday, 16 November 2012

Scandi spiced buns

So here is the promised buns post from last week, which I delayed due to a saturation of blog-based bun recipes at the time. But actually this works out terribly well, as it coincides with the return of the wonderful Forbrydelsen (The Killing) to our screens on Saturday.  I should make out that that was the plan all along, but I fear you are too clever to fall for that.

It's incredibly trendy to be Scandinavian at the moment. I can't tell you exactly why.  Perhaps it's because we all became suddenly obsessed by Michelin starred restaurants, and it was brought to our attention that one of the most intriguing was not in London or New York, but in fact tucked away in Denmark. Or maybe it's thanks to Ryan Air, who introduced 1p flights to places we'd not previously bothered with, and all came back and proclaimed them to be awesome. Or Wallander, maybe it's Wallander.  I couldn't tell you, but me and my Sarah Lund jumper are right on board this bandwagon. 

The truth is I've never actually been.  This is a fact which saddens me greatly - and one which I intend to rectify as soon as this goddamn house move is over and I have some pennies to my name - but regardless, I am still confident that it is probably my spiritual home.  I base this wild assumption on the following (sound the generalisation klaxon):
1. From what I can tell it shits all over us in terms of education, health care, and general political common sense
2. They make totally amazing crime dramas, largely featuring kick-ass (high on the autistic spectrum) female leads
3. Scandinavians come with an inbuilt good taste in home furnishings, as standard
4. They have wolves
6. People seem to have a genuine interest in decent, wholesome home cooking, balanced with an understanding for the need of a lardy treat every once in a while. The most prolific of which: The Bun.

Every Scandinavian I have met has been so impossibly nice that it is very difficult to ever imagine them going to war with one another, but if they ever did then I'd say there's a high chance that it'd be over buns.  Browse a few recipes for these chaps online and you will find 1000 variations, not just between countries, but within them.  It's like ragu recipes in Italy or BBQ sauce recipes in Texas; no two are the same and each one is adamant that it is THE recipe.  Us Brits might be a pain in the arse in many ways, but at least we largely agree on how to make a Victoria sponge.

So in the name of diplomacy - and acknowledgement that this recipe is a complete bastardisation of what several countries hold dear - these buns of mine (*ahem*) are being loosely termed as 'Scandi' as opposed to Norwegian/Danish/Swedish. I have also gone for 'spiced' rather than simply cinnamon, as I've thrown all fucking sorts in there. 

This isn't the quickest of recipes - you kind of need to commit to being in for the day - but it's all in stages, which means you have convenient breaks for episodes of The Walking Dead*/your favourite drama.  I should also point out that I take zero responsibility for what these are going to do to whatever diet you are on.  I ate seven in the space of an hour and expanded like the proverbial yeast dough.  But hey, it's winter, we all need some padding.

*My favourite thing about the Walking Dead is when Andrew Lincoln talks to Morgan on the walkie talkie and I can pretend he is talking to me.  What? Shut up.

Scandi spiced buns (makes about 40 small)
For the dough
250ml whole milk
7g sachet of dried yeast
1 egg, beaten
500g strong white bread flour (plus a bit more for kneading and rolling)
100g salted butter
80g caster sugar
Ground cardamom (you can leave this out if you don't like it, but I used the ground seeds of about ten pods)

For the filling
100g butter, very soft
50g soft brown sugar
2 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground all spice
1 egg, beaten

So, let's start with the dough. In a pan, heat your milk until it is hot but not boiling (do not run off upstairs to the loo, as milk has a habit of boiling up and very quickly becoming a dairy based volcano, the evidence of which may or may not still be visible on my hob). Remove from the heat and then add in the butter, and leave to cool down a bit. 

In a separate bowl mix together the flour, yeast, sugar and cardamom.  Gradually pour in your milk mix, and start bringing together the dough with your hands.  Things will get messy.  About half way through add your egg (you don't want to add it too early as the warm milk might turn it to scramble).  Keep working away until all the milk is added, it will be quite sticky but you should be able to gather it together in a rough lump to turn out onto a floured surface (add more flour if it really is too sticky to handle).  Then it's time to knead - you've seen how they do that on the TV, right?  Knead away for a good few mins, get some of that pent-up aggression out, and you should end up with a nice ball or slightly shiny, springy dough.  Or, if you're a lazy son of a gun like me, fire up your Kenwood Chef and let the dough hook do the work for a couple of minutes, and hopefully end up with the same result. 

Cover with a damp cloth and put somewhere warm and dry for at least an hour.  This is a perfect opportunity for an episode of The Walking Dead.  Preferably one which has you on the edge of your seat with tension and graphic violence, as apparently watching scary things burns of loads of calories and you're gonna need that leeway for later. 

Check on your dough after an hour, you want it to have doubled in size. If it's not quite there, watch another episode.  If it's done nothing at all then you might have a dud packet of yeast, for which there is no remedy I'm afraid.

At some point whilst the dough is rising, make your filling.  Mix the butter with the spices and sugar, until you have a spreadable paste, as below. The smell should make your knees buckle with festive sentimentality.

Turn out your dough and give it another quick kneading.  Then split into four and place three bits back in the bowl, under the cloth.  One by one, roll each ball of dough out into a rough rectangle shape, and spread with a generous helping of the spiced butter.  You could also sprinkle on some raisins or sultanas, if you're that way inclined.

Then roll it up into a sausage shape.

And slice into rounds, about 2-3cm thick.

Position these in a greased dish or tin, with a bit of space between as they will double in size. I wanted mine to all bake together in a big clump, but if you want them all separate then leave even more space.

Cover the dish and leave for another half an hour somewhere warm (I sat them on top of the oven, which was heating up). This isn't quite long enough for a Walking Dead episode, so I would recommend Modern Family as more jovial alternative.  Although watching this is bittersweet, as I increasingly notice the similarities between Ben and I, and Mitchell and Cameron, the gay couple.

See, they've swelled up again, isn't yeast clever? Now give them a brush of the beaten egg and sprinkle with a bit more sugar if you like.

Now it's time to bake. Gas mark 5, for about 10 mins. They're done when they've gone a nice golden colour and your house smells of actual heaven (see, gay couple).

I got a bit distracted by one of the episodes of something and mine went a bit too golden. One of them also seems to have prolapsed.

These ones came out a bit better. 

Best eaten warm, but even I am beyond eating 40 before they cool.  For those that cool, keep them in an air tight container.  I iced mine with a maple drizzle (mix maple syrup and icing sugar into a runny icing).  You can also freeze them very well, I believe, but mine didn't make it that far.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Black Angel spaghetti, à la Jamie

I was going to do you a post today on cinnamon buns, but it seems that everyone and their second cousin thrice removed was making cinnamon buns this weekend, and evidently you don't need my help.  That usually wouldn't make any difference to me, but a blog that I very much enjoy (which essentially is a better written, more popular version of this one - and the writer happens to be married to Giles Coren, so she wins all the prizes) beat me to it by posting a recipe for them yesterday, so I'll come back to them in a few days when the idea seems wildly original again.

Anyway, moving on to a more important issue...
...I just don't know how I feel about Jamie Oliver.

This ambivalence may not seem like a big deal to you, and in the grand scheme of things I suppose it's not.  First I should probably address my inability to do anything till the last minute, or my fear of peaches, or the relationship my cat seems to be pursuing with my dressing gown, but this Jamie Oliver thing is taking up plenty of space in my brain. 

On the one hand there is good Jamie Oliver.  Good Jamie Oliver showed us that our children (by that I mean your children, I don't have any of the blighters) were eating pig swill for lunch and that nobody gave  a shit.  I have no doubt that there was a ginormous team behind him doing the graft, but nobody else was out there making a fuss about it. And one way or another it worked, a bit.  Good Jamie also gave jobs to struggling adolescents and at the same time made a decent restaurant out of it.  And he's got people back in the kitchen, given them unintimidating recipes to cook and showed that it needn't take forever to give your family something other than KFC.  AND it needn't be Mum doing all that.

Well done Jamie. He's a nice chap, isn't he?

But then there is bad Jamie Oliver. Jamie who made Toploader famous.  Jamie the brand. Or 'JME', to be more accurate, because those two extra vowels were apparently too much for the British public to comprehend.  You seemingly cannot buy anything these days without there being a Jamie Oliver version.  Want some oil? Here! This one's been pressed by the feet of Jamie's loving wife and children! Want to make a salad dressing with that oil? Here! Throw away that old jar and get a Flavour Shaker (yes it looks uncannily like a jar, but it's totally different)! Want to grow some salad to dress with that? Here! You can fertilise it with Jamie's own shit!


Nowhere does the Jamie Brand manifest itself more obnoxiously than at Jamie's Italian. One of which sprung up in Norwich about six months ago, and it has been solidly booked ever since by people who are too scared to go anywhere that isn't scripted.  I have, for my hypocritical sins, ended up there twice since it's been open; once to take advantage of a voucher (which OF COURSE turned out not to be valid at that particular time) and once through pure lack of anywhere else to eat in Norwich on a Sunday. And I will undoubtedly end up there again, but that does not mean I won't whinge about it.

Now I should be clear that I am not adverse to a chain restaurant. I will generally avoid them if there's an alternative, BUT, if a restaurant does something good then there's no reason it shouldn't be successful. That's how it's meant to work.  I can, however, think of about three chain restaurants who actually deserve their success and unfortunately Jamie's Italian isn't one of them, as far as I'm concerned. Below are my most pressing annoyances, because we all like a breakdown.

1. The menu is worded for gullible idiots. You know, all that over detailed crap which makes dishes sound so quaint and wholesome, like Jamie gave birth to it that very morning, when in fact it is just a friggin carbonara.  The one which ground my gears more than anything on my trip was the inclusion of 'Melkam farm (might not have been Melkham, they've taken it down now, but it was something like that) asparagus' on the autumn menu - trying to make it sound locally grown.  Well, Melkham farm would have to be in Kenya to be growing asparagus at this time of year. Also, making a point of using a free-range egg in a dish of turkey which has no mention of being free-range....good one.

2. This is a list of the words that staff apparently have to use to describe the dishes.  I don't think it needs further comment.

3. 'Posh Chips'?, 'Funky chips'? Fuck off.

3. The platters. The fucking platters.  Served precariously balanced between two tins of imported, retro tomatoes. There is absolutely no practical or logical reason for this, unless one of the staff has a condition whereby they will spontaneously combust if they are not within three feet of something pretentious.  FYI, Jamie, everyone hates your platters.

4. On greeting you, the staff will ask, "have you been to a Jamie's before?", to which the correct response is, "No, thankfully, but I have been to a restaurant before and this looks a bit like one of those, so I think I'll catch on pretty quick".

5. The interior. I dream one day to be able to afford a feature wall of William Morris.  Jamie has decided to rub my dreams right in my face by covering every feasible surface in Morris.  That is apart from the stairwell which, Jamie - being the hip young dude that he is - has commission some youngster to spunk graffiti all over, depicting the things we apparently love about Norwich; namely mustard and Alan Partridge.  William is not best pleased, Jamie, he'll see you on the other side.

6. Expensive, too much stuff on the menu, grumble grumble, ETC. 

I DID really like their toilets though.  And very friendly staff.  Credit where it's due and all that.

With all that in mind, it pains me to admit that the food isn't that bad.  Not in a mind blowing way, but in a, 'That's a good idea, why didn't I think to make that at home?' kind of way. Which is where this dish came from.  I had something similar last time I was there and I liked it.  I liked it so much that I wanted to eat more than 4 mouthfuls of it for £8, so I set to work.  And this is pretty close. I won't tell you how many places I had to go to to find squid ink spaghetti, but if you are a Norwich resident then I will save you the trouble and tell you the result: Clarke and Ravenscroft, on St Gregory's Alley - they also do a cracking sarnie.

Seafood spaghetti (for 2)
200g squid ink spaghetti (or any pasta will do, if you're less of a ponce, but it DOES look pretty)
Couple of handfuls of seafood - at Jamie's they used scallops, I used half a bag of Waitrose frozen seafood(defrosted), because I'm keeping it real. Just prawns or just mussels would work equally well.
200g cherry tomatoes (or half a tin)
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 glass white wine
250ml fish stock (if you were Jamie you would have this from boiling the shells of langoustine and heads of sea bass, but I used a knorr stock cube, FYI)
4 anchovies
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 red chilli, chopped
1 tbsp capers, roughly chopped
Handful parsley, roughly chopped
Few good slugs of oil

In a pan, fry your garlic, anchovies and chilli, until the anchovies have broken down.  Then throw in the tomatoes, until they are starting to wilt. Then the tomato puree, then the wine and stock. And bubble, for about 20 minutes or so, until it has reduced to about half. If it reduces too much and becomes thick or is starting to stick then add more stock - you want quite a thin sauce. The skins of the tomatoes might float to the top, so fish them out if you're bothered, but it's going to get pureed anyway. 

Have a taste, make sure the seasoning and spice is good and adjust if necessary.  It will be quite rich, as you're reducing it to a small amount, so bear that in mind.  If happy, blitz with the blender, add a good slug of oil.  What you want is quite a thin, light sauce, which will coat the spaghetti rather than cover it like a normal tomato sauce.  Again, if too thick add some more stock.  Keep to the side on a low low heat.

Meanwhile cook your pasta and your seafood.  Assuming your seafood isn't frozen it'll only need a few minutes in a hot frying pan with a bit of oil.

Once all done give the spaghetti another good slug of oil, then plate up, topped with a spoonful of sauce, your seafood and a scattering of capers and parsley. 

Sunday, 4 November 2012

A Breaking Bad cake for Rachel Boot

Last weekend, my good friend, Rachel Boot, turned 30.  This whole 'turning 30' phenomena is picking off my friends one-by-one at the moment, and it's coming for me in the not too distant future.  But you know what? I'm down with it.  I can take it.  I've been prematurely middle-aged for the last ten years so I may as well have the digits to correspond. 

And if you do have to deal with the big Three Zero, then you deserve to make a big fucking fuss about it; see all the people you like, drink till you don't recognise them, and hope that one of your awesome friends makes you a cake. OH HELLO, OVER HERE, THAT WAS ME!  And by the time the candle on said cake was lit I had drunk so much that I spent the rest of the time shouting, "DO YOU GET WHAT IT IS, DO YOU GET IT, DO YOU GET ITTTT???".

Not that you care - you want me to get to the cake, I know - but as it happens I had a wonderful time at the party. I got to have a weekend back in civilised London, drank a lot of stuff that I don't even remember, and nattered and screeched in the faces of lots of people I love. AND I drove to London.  I know you're all terribly clever and probably do that every day or something, but I was quite impressed with myself.  I did some massive roundabouts and didn't cry and everything.

So, how does one choose a theme for someone's 30th birthday cake?  Well, during the course of our friendship I've come to learn that Rachel Boot regards all of the below very highly:

1. Pugs
2. The phrase, "I know, right?"
3. Zombie apocalypses
4. The all consuming hatred of Tim Lovejoy
5. Pork products
6. Breaking Bad

Well I've already done option 1, option 3 isn't particularly appetising, and I wouldn't even know where to start with 2, 4 or 5, so I went for option 6.  Rachel Boot loves Breaking Bad as much as I do.  In fact she loves it more than I do, as she caught onto it in good time, unlike me, who catches onto everything late (see also: denim shirts, twitter, top-knots, BLOGGING).  So it was an obvious cake theme, albeit one which I came to severely regret when I was boiling molten sugar at half past ten on a Thursday evening.

If you haven't ever seen Breaking Bad then a) you need to take a long, hard look at your life and b) I'm sorry, this cake will make absolutely no sense. But seriously, hop to it, it's great, and Jesse gets hotter in every series despite being an intermittent meth head.

The most important element of a Breaking Bad cake is that you need to get some blue crystal meth in there.  If you don't then you might as well make a My Little Pony cake. It's not easy, you'll probably burn yourself and ruin your saucepans, but you just need to do it.

What you need is a solution of one part water, one part caster sugar (I used 2 cups of each for this).  Put this in a high sided pan, add food colouring, and boil to buggery.  You want it to get to boiling point quite slowly, but then keep it going till it gets hotter and hotter and bubblier and bubblier, making sure it doesn't start to catch and go golden coloured. It'll take about 10-15 minutes to get it to the state you want, which is basically a pan of glossy, crazy bubbles. A thermometer helps - you want to get it to 300 degrees Fahrenheit - but I sort of melted mine and had to freestyle. Corn syrup also apparently helps, but I'm English and don't really know what that is or have a supply of it in my pantry, but if you do then google 'hard candy' to find a recipe which incorporates it.

This is what you want your 'meth' to look like. Glossy bubbles, see? If you're not sure if it's hot enough then drop a little on a plate and see if it hardens. 

Once it's there you need to pour out onto a greased sheet of baking paper (take a piece of kitchen towel, dab it with a bit of vegetable oil, then give the sheet a rub), set in a baking tray. 

Give it about an hour to set and cool, it should be like boiled sweets, then SMASH IT UP. If it is still sticky then I'm afraid you didn't get it hot enough and there's not much to be done about it.  The lack of the corn syrup means it might go sort of hazy, and lose it's glassiness, so use it right away. I added some blue edible glitter as well, to up the sparkle.

The lettering on the cake is based on the titles of the show, which in turn is based on the periodic table, duh.  The letters Ra, helpfully fit with Radon, but there is unfortunately no element for which the symbol is Bo.  In this case I favoured the aesthetics over the facts.  And obviously the atomic numbers for both are not thirty, but those are the current atomic numbers for Miss Rachel Boot. 

It's not so easy to tell you how to do the lettering, but basically it's all the work of firm icing, stencils and colouring.  I use (click for links) this flower paste, these gel colours and these letter presses.  So you press your letters, then simply cut out a rectangle of black and two squares of green.  Do them the night before, to give them time to firm-up. To stick the pieces together just dab a bit of water on the back and position.

Then the cake.  Well that's just a basic sponge with buttercream, which I firmly believe everyone can achieve.  To prove this I invited my colleague Emily, a self-confessed baking novice, round this week (on the basis of a work matter, of course) and showed her how.  And she pulled off a blinder.  Look at her proud face.

So your basic sponge recipe, which you can multiply as appropriate (this was an 8 egg sponge), is:
1 free-range egg
2oz plain flour
2oz stork
2oz golden caster sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Mix all together well and bake in a greased tin, checking after the first 20 mins, then every ten minutes until it's done (at which point you should be able to insert and remove a skewer, without any mix sticking to it).  For a cake of this size you'll need a rectangular tin, about 12"x8" and it'll take about 40 minutes.

The rule for buttercream is one part unsalted butter, two parts icing sugar, then a tbsp at a time of milk until you've reached the desired consistency.  In this case, 500g icing sugar (sifted), 250g of very soft butter and 4 tbsp milk.  Put all your ingredients in your mixer until done.  Use a palette knife to apply to the cake - do it gently, so you don't end up with crumbs in the icing. If there are a lot of crumbs then just apply a thin layer, then put in the fridge till firmed, then apply another layer on top and the crumbs should be covered.

Once the cake is iced, add your lettering to the top, then scatter the 'meth' around the edge.  Then....slice, eat and get off your tits on E numbers.

So, happy 30th, Rachel Boot.  I'm sure you'll agree that by using a 2 year old photo I'm doing both of us a favour.