MINCE PIE MASTERCLASS AT BREAD AHEAD

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On Friday night, I had the pleasure of attending Bread Ahead‘s mince pie masterclass, courtesy of my friend Felicity.  Bread Ahead is a bakery and school set up by Matt Jones (founder of Flour Power), situated in the heart of Borough Market, London.  Together with co-owner Justin Gellatly (former Head Baker at St John’s Bakery) and seasoned baking tutor Aidan Chapman (‘Bread Guru’ at River Cottage, as seen on Channel 4), they aim to create a centre of excellence for real artisan baking.

Bread Ahead has a bread stall in Borough Market and they opened their bakery school in February 2014, offering a wide range of baking experiences for the beginner to the expert baker. Classes include everything from An Introduction To Sourdough to a Patisserie Workshop, Nordic Baking to Gluten Free Baking.

When I arrived on Friday night, I was warmly greeted and offered tea or coffee while I waited for the rest of the class to arrive. Our working area was all set up and soon we were all standing at our stations with our aprons on, ready to bake.

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Our tutors for the night were Aiden Chapman and Louise Gellatly (Justin’s wife) who talked us through each step of the process.  Aiden began by explaining how they make their mincemeat. As it takes a good amount of time, we were using a batch they had made earlier.

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The recipe they use for mince pies is Justin’s mother’s recipe which has been passed down through the generations. It includes the mincemeat which they have been ‘feeding’ with booze for months. If you want to try out this recipe but you don’t have time to make the mincemeat, you can of course use shop-bought, either straight from the jar or you can customise it yourself, adding more of what you like. If you are using your own or shop bought, jump straight to the pastry part of the recipe.

For the mincemeat
500g cooking apples
500g suet
500g sultanas
500g currants
500g raisins
500g dark brown sugar
zest & juice of 4 lemons
zest & juice of 4 oranges
125g nibbed or flaked almonds
3tbsp ground mixed spice
2tbsp ground cinnamon
2tsp grated nutmeg
250ml brandy
50ml dark rum

For the pie crust
375g strong plain bread flour, plus extra for dusting
225g cold unsalted butter, cubed, plus extra for greasing
150g caster sugar
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
1 egg, beaten, to glaze
2tbsp demerara sugar

First make the mincemeat (or you can of course buy some!). Peel and core the cooking apples and chop them into small dice, then put them into a very large bowl, big enough to fit all the ingredients in.  Add all the ingredients (except the brandy and rum) into the bowl and mix together. Cover then leave overnight in a cool place (not the fridge).

Preheat the oven to 120°C/100°C Fan/250°F/Gas ½.

Place the mincemeat mixture into a large, deep roasting tray. Cover with foil and put into the oven for about 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes. Once baked, take out of the oven and cool for about 30 minutes. Stir in the brandy and rum and place in sterilised jars.

Next make the pie crust. Put the flour, butter and caster sugar into a large mixing bowl and mix together with your fingers as you would when making a crumble. When the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, add the egg and egg yolk and slowly mix in.

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Bring the dough together with your hands, then when its silky and smooth, flatten a little, wrap in clingfilm (plastic wrap) or greaseproof paper and place in the fridge for 3-4 hours or overnight. (As we were in a class ours were only in the fridge for about 30 minutes).

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Once properly chilled, butter and flour a 12-hole deep muffin tray.  Take the pastry out of the fridge and let it soften for about 1½ hours, then roll it out on a floured surface to 5-6mm thick. (As our pastry was only in the fridge for about 30 minutes, we rolled ours straight away).

Using a 10cm cutter, cut out 12 circles for the base of the pies, re-rolling when necessary. Re-roll the pastry again, then using a 7cm cutter, cut out 12 circles for the tops. (This pastry was surprisingly pliable and robust).

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Line the holes in the muffin tray with the larger circles of pastry, making sure there is about 1-2mm of overhang.

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Grab some of the mincemeat mixture, enough to form a ball about the size of a golf ball, roll it between your hands then place into each pastry case.

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Place the smaller circles of pastry on top of each pastry case and push down around the mincemeat mixture and tuck them in.

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Fold the extra overhang over the top circle of pastry and brush the top of each pie with eggwash.

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Sprinkle with demerara sugar and leave to rest in the oven for 2 hours.

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Preheat the oven to 160°C/140°C Fan/320°F/Gas 3 and bake the pies for about 40 minutes, until golden brown.

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Once out of the oven, leave them in the tin for about 5 minutes, then take them out carefully, releasing them all the way round first with a small palette or cutlery knife. Place on a wire rack to cool, although they are best served warm straight away or cooled and re-warmed later. They store well in an airtight container for about 2 weeks.

We all left the class with a box packed full of 12 mince pies and one frangipane and mincemeat tart. As I sat on the tube on my way home, my lap being warmed by the hot mince pies inside the box, the smell of pastry and Christmas spices filled the carriage. I couldn’t wait to get home so I could tuck in.

The mince pies were still warm when I got home so I added a dollop of extra thick cream and curled up on the sofa to savour it.

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I must admit, I’m not normally a huge fan of mince pies but these really were delicious. The pastry was sweet, crunchy and beautifully crumbly and the filling was sticky, fruity and full of Christmas spice.

I really enjoyed this class and I would love to try out a couple of their other classes. If you would like attend one of Bread Ahead’s courses and workshops, click here to see the list of what they offer. Or you can contact them on info@breadahead.com if you have any questions.

Bread Ahead, 3 Cathedral Street, London SE1 9DE.
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CICCHETTI, COVENT GARDEN

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Covent Garden ha always been a bit of a tourist trap, with restaurants to match. I avoided it for years but its turned a corner lately with restaurants like Opera Tavern, Hawksmoor and Mishkins and now, Cicchetti.  Owned by the San Carlo Group, with the help of Italian chef Aldo Zilli, Cicchetti opened its second London restaurant on Wellington Street in October, with an entrance on Catherine Street also.

This is an old school Italian restaurant with waiters in white jackets bustling back and forth, laden with plates of delicious looking food. Although the restaurant was full when I walked in the one thing I did notice was marble. There is a lot of marble!

We were made instantly welcome by the various Italian waiters that greeted us from the door to our table. Once my friends and I sat down, our waiter introduced himself, then rather proudly produced a glass cloche, encasing a bulbous black truffle. It turned out that this was going to be the theme of our evening.

Cichetti’s menu is rather huge and its very hard to pick what to order as I could easily work my way through everything. Luckily, my best friend Paul and I love the same foods so at least I knew we could order a good number of different dishes to try.

We started with the buratta with shaved truffle and parma ham.

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The fresh and slightly sour, soft buratta melted in my mouth and with the saltiness of the parma ham and the earthiness of the truffles, it was heaven.

Heath’s tuna tartare arrived next. Prepared at our table, it tasted unbelievably fresh and zingy. It is probably the best I’ve ever tasted. Unfortunately, as Heath was the only non-meat eater at the table, we couldn’t really dig in, we had to give him something of his own!

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Next to arrive on our table were these cheese and truffle croquettes. A fine, crispy coating envelopes a soft, cheesy filling and then the truffle aroma hits your nose and your taste buds. Wow, these are good.

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Lilly saw a plate of fried courgettes going past to another table so we ordered a portion. They were really tasty but it was a large portion and by the end of it, I felt quite greasy.

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We weren’t sure what to order next but our waiter enthusiastically recommended the Truffle and Pecorino Ravioli.

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WOW! This was incredible. Generously sized ravioli topped with a creamy sauce, truffle oil and a few shavings of black truffle. You could smell it before it arrived and as soon as the dish landed on the table, four forks immediately descended into the creamy softness. Then silence, as we closed our eyes and enjoyed the moment.  It was like eating fluffy light clouds of truffle. It was sensational. Before we finished, we had ordered another portion.

Before the next portion of the truffle ravioli turned up, our Gorgonzola gnocchi turned up…in a parmesan basket!

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This was also fantastic. Soft, pillowy gnocchi in a creamy, salty Gorgonzola sauce and a crispy parmesan basket, it really was a wonderful dish, and if we hadn’t had the truffle ravioli just before it, I would have thought it was the dish of the night.

Just when we thought we’d eaten everything we’d ordered, the wild mushroom and truffle bruschetta turned up. We’d forgotten we’d ordered it and to be honest, we were pretty full by that point.

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It was very nice, and I’m sure it would have tasted great had it arrived at the start of the night, but we’d had so many fantastic dishes by that point that it remains rather unremarkable in my memory. In truth, the ravioli and the gnocchi stood out so much that everything else paled in comparison.

Of course, we still had a tiny space for dessert but couldn’t decide what to order so we got the selection plate.

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Between the four of us we managed to polish off the tiramisu, pistachio cake, chocolate cake and mille‑feuille and a lemon sorbet. The ones that stood out for me personally were the tiramisu and the mille-feuille.

By the end of the night, the four of us were leaning back in our chairs, cradling our full tummies, feeling content and happy. With food like this coupled with attentive, friendly and chatty staff, I think Cicchetti will do very well. Its been a few weeks since that meal and yet I am still thinking (and talking) about the truffle ravioli. Its not as cool as Polpo or Polpetto, but it does Italian food well. I will definitely be returning.

Cicchetti, 30 Wellington Street, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7BD
Mon – FrI: 8.00am-11.00pm, Sat: 9.00am-11.00pm, Sun: – 9.00am-10.00pm

San Carlo Cicchetti on Urbanspoon

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MY CHRISTMAS WISH LIST

So its nearly that time of the year again. I absolutely adore Christmas and I especially love the build up to it…booking my flight home, listening to Christmas songs, watching Christmas movies, the Christmas trees and lights sparkling all over London, buying presents for my friends and family, and especially decorating my home.  My flat turns into a Christmas grotto on the last weekend of November every year. Yes, you may think that’s a tad early, but I always spend Christmas at home in Scotland with my family so I technically only get to hang out in my personal grotto for a few weeks before I have to leave it.

Its also that time of the year when people are making Christmas lists. Now to be perfectly honest, I just want to be with my family over Christmas, eating Chocolate Oranges by the fire and watching movies. However, if I had to make a list of items I would love for Christmas, quite a few things come to mind! Mostly things I can’t afford, so they will have to stay in my head, but these are a few things I think are just wonderful.

First and foremost its the Copper Kitchenaid. I have been coveting this for a few months now. Isn’t it beautiful?? I have a photo of it on my phone which I gaze at probably at least once a day. Alas, its £615!!

Copper Kitchenaid

Its available to buy in Selfridges. I sometimes pop in there during my lunch hour or after work, just to look at it, maybe stroke it. But I can’t afford it and I’m not sure I could ever justify spending that amount on a mixer. However, I can still appreciate its beauty and still long to own one.

I also love these wine and cheese boxes from Entwine, a new company from Lancashire specialising in personalised wine and cheese gift boxes. They have a great selection of wines and the cheese is straight from their award-winning, local farmer.

Entwine

For each wine, they suggest the perfect cheese to accompany it, but it’s completely up to you how your box is made up. The boxes are shipped using a Royal Mail 24 hour service and can be delivered to the recipient on a date of your choosing. Perfect for a Christmas gift! Prices range from £22.06 to £50.96. To see the full range, click here.

Now, I love gin (and I’m pretty sure gin loves me) so this Ginvent Calender by Drinks by the Dram and Gin Foundry is a dream!

Gin

Behind each of the 24 windows lies a different 3cl sample of fantastic gin. There are market leaders and craft treats alongside new brands and even some hard to find gems. Again, this is something I wish I could have but I just don’t have a spare £114.95 lying around this close to Christmas to spend on myself. However, if you do, this sounds like the perfect way to get through December.

The wonderful House Of Hackney have a website I spend a lot of time staring at. I adore their prints, especially the Palmeral and I love this plate…

palmeral-off-white-and-green-plate_1

Its £35 but I only ever buy one of each plate design. I don’t do matching. Why on earth would you limit yourself to just one crockery design?? You can find it here.

One of my favourite shops is Anthropologie. I absolutely adore it. Its so perfect, I feel like it was invented just for me. Up until recently I would go to their branch on Regent Street every pay day to buy myself one treat. As a result, my kitchen now looks like the store! One item I am loving at the moment is this Garonne Beverage Dispenser

drink dispenser

Yet again, this is another item I would love but cannot afford.  This stunning drinks dispenser is £398.

While I’m on Anthropologie, I am also slightly infatuated with these Twisted Twig Measuring Spoons (£24), this Turquoise Martini Glass (£32) and this Aureate Plumes Pitcher (£88)…

Anthropologie

Seeing as I have a thing about anything copper at the moment, I am in love with this Mauviel M’Passion Copper Whisking Bowl from Borough Kitchen.

Copper bowl

Apparently the copper reacts with egg whites to make perfect, stiff peaks. The rounded base makes it the perfect shape for mixing, and it can sit on most heat sources, too. Unfortunately, again, I don’t have a spare £65 to spend on yet another bowl, even if it was going to be the most beautiful bowl in my kitchen. But I can dream.  If you do want to buy one for yourself or a friend, you can find it here.

I have a slight obsession with anything in the shape of a pineapple. I have a couple of pineapple-inspired candle holders and I am after this table lamp from Rocket St George. However, I also have my eye on these salt and pepper shakers that I saw on Pinterest which you can find here and here for about $35….

Salt & Pepper Pineapples

I also think these Mason jar measuring cups are really cute…
Mason

You can find them here for $12.99.

One of the lovely treats each Christmas is truffle brie. If you haven’t had it, look out for it in your local cheesemonger. It’s essentially a Brie de Meaux with a sandwich filling of crème fraîche, mascarpone and chopped black truffles. Its earthy, creamy, rich and decadent and I love it.

truffle brie

As a huge tea lover, I constantly have a cup of tea on the go. My favourite is White Tea, and I go through about two boxes of Clipper’s White Tea every week. With that in mind, I think this Teaspoon Tea Bag Squeezer (£15) from Alessi is a rather clever idea.

Alessi-Tea-Strainer

Simply dip the spoon into the tea cup, scoop up the bag and draw it out through the tapered handle!

Since I will no doubt be going on a full on detox in the New Year, I am desperate for this Nutribullet.

Nutribuller

My good friends Jan and Mark have this and they love it. They prepare all the fruit and veg every night before bed then in the morning they get up, blitz, then they go off to work with their healthy drinks. For £99.99 I think its actually pretty good value as everyone who has one seems to get a lot of use out of it.

This is just a silly little thing but I think its so cute…a baker’s necklace I saw on Etsy, with a mini Kitchenaid and a cupcake baking tin. At just £16.99, its the perfect gift for any baking-loving friends out there.

Kitchenaid chain

And as always…my ultimate Christmas treat…a dark Terry’s Chocolate Orange…

chocolate orange

Just the smell of a Chocolate Orange can transport me straight to Christmas morning, sitting on my bed with my brothers while we go through our stockings. At the bottom of each stocking is always a Chocolate Orange which we open instantly, much to the delight of our dog Jackson who can seem to smell it from downstairs! The aroma of a Chocolate Orange will forever hold a lifetime of precious memories for me. At the end of the day, if I get nothing but a Chocolate Orange and a Christmas with my family, I will feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

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WHITE HOT CHOCOLATE

White hot choc

I was watching the Food Network yesterday, (surprise surprise) and Ina was on, as always. I have a deep love for Ina, or the Barefoot Contessa as she is otherwise known.  I have expressed my love for her before and always take great pleasure watching her programmes. Yesterday, in an episode I have watched more times than I care to mention, she was making up a surprise basket of food and drink for her friends and one recipe that really caught my eye was for this white hot chocolate.

As I sat on my sofa…transfixed, and with my tummy starting to rumble…I quickly messaged my friend Cassie to make sure she was watching.  She was.  As my mouth watered, I vowed I would have to make that hot chocolate, and so I did.  Running through the rain to my local shop to get provisions, I kept the picture of that white hot chocolate in my head. Unfortunately I couldn’t find Grand Marnier but I had some Cointreau at home so I knew I could use that instead.

Ingredients
100ml/ just under half a cup double cream
125ml/ half a cup whole milk
100g/3.5oz white chocolate, I used Green & Blacks
1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste, I used Nielsen Massey. Or you can use vanilla extract (not essence!)
Splash of Grand Marnier or Cointreau

It was so easy…I poured the cream and milk in a pan and heated gently. As little bubbles appeared around the edge of the pan, I added in the chopped bar of white chocolate and stirred until it melted.

Then I added half a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste. If you’re using vanilla extract you could add a teaspoon, or however much you like, its up to you and your personal taste.

Next I added a good splash of Cointreau. Its not needed, but it does give a nice kick at the end. Again, add however much you want.

I whisked it up in the pan and poured the silky, creamy drink into a glass.  Then I sat on my sofa, savouring every sip.

Its very rich and creamy and oh so comforting…like a warm, silken embrace. You can obviously tinker about with the measurements to make it just how you like it. If you don’t want a heart attack you can of course omit the double cream, but please try this out if you can. It makes such a wonderful change from standard hot chocolate and its perfect for a cold winter’s day.

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NUTTY, BUTTERY, ADDICTIVE FLAPJACKS

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I’m not usually a fan of flapjacks.  Generally I think they’re a waste of calories. They look deceptively healthy and yet they’re usually full of fat and if I’m going to eat something like that I’d rather it involved chocolate.

However, the last time I was at home visiting my parents, my mum was making her flapjacks, or as she calls them, energy bars. She bakes a batch before she goes golfing with her friends and they snack on them around the course to keep their energy levels up. The smell when they came out of the oven was heavenly, so I tried a corner of one while it was cooling. Then another little corner, then another, until I’d demolished 3 full squares! Worryingly, this stuff is quite addictive.

They’re buttery, toasted, nutty and sweet and so, so delicious.  You can add what you want to them…seeds, other preferred dried fruits and nuts.  I personally love pecans, almonds and hazelnuts and I think the three worked well together, especially after toasting them first.  I really hope you try them out. Yes, they have butter and sugar in them, but they also have oats, nuts and fruit so in a way they are still healthy. Kind of…

Ingredients
175g/6oz rolled oats
175g/6oz self raising flour, sifted
175g/6oz soft brown sugar
175g/6oz butter or margarine (I used Stork as per my mum’s instructions)
Handful of whatever nuts of dried fruits you like. I used pecans. hazelnuts, sliced almonds, dried apricots & dried cranberries)

Start by preheating the oven to 180C/160C fan/350F/Gas 4. Then grease and line a 7inch/18cm square baking tin with parchment paper.

Simply place the sifted flour and sugar into a mixing bowl and rub together. Often, brown sugar has little lumps in it so its worth rubbing it together with your fingers to get rid of those lumps.

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Add the oats and pour in the melted butter/margarine then mix together until all of the mixture is coated in the butter.

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Then add whatever nuts and fruit you want to put in there. I toasted a large handful of pecans in the oven on a baking sheet, along with a handful of hazelnuts and a handful of sliced almonds for about 5 minutes. I also added a handful of dried cranberries and a handful of dried apricots which I chopped up.

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Then transfer the mixture to the baking tin, pressing it into the corners and ensuring the surface is flat. Then pop it in the oven for 30 minutes.

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It should look golden on top and have puffed up a little. Just leave it to cool in the baking tin and it will fall.

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I got 20 portions out of this amount but you can cut it up whichever way you like.

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Each mouthful should give you oaty, nutty, buttery goodness with a hit of sweetness from the dried fruit.

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PEAR, PECAN & MAPLE SYRUP BANANA BREAD

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This is yet another recipe from this month’s Delicious Magazine. Yes, I know it sounds like I work for them but I don’t. I just love it, and this month’s issue is fantastic as always. This recipe for Pear & Maple Syrup Banana Bread by Rosie Ramsden jumped out at me and I knew I had to try it.

Ingredients
100g/3.5oz unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for greasing
3 (about 250g/9oz) really ripe and speckled bananas
100g/3.5oz golden caster sugar
2 ripe but still firm comice pears, cored and chopped, dusted in a little flour
1 tbsp maple syrup, plus extra to serve
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large free-range egg
150g/5.3oz plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
50g/2oz pecans, roughly chopped

Heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/350F/gas 4. Grease and line a 1 litre loaf tin with baking paper so it overhangs the short edges of the tin. The excess paper will help you lift out the baked cake.

Mash the bananas in a mixing bowl, then stir in the melted butter and caster sugar until well combined.

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Stir through the chopped pears, the maple syrup and vanilla extract then beat in the egg.

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Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda, then gently fold in, along with the pecans.

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Pour the mix into the loaf tin, then bake for 45 minutes.

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The cake should be dark on top with a soft, moist sponge. Check its done by poking a skewer into the centre. If it comes out clean, its ready.

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Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes then lift out onto a wire rack to cool. Drizzle with extra maple syrup to serve.

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And there you have it…a deliciously moist, sweet bread, jam-packed full of flavour and texture. Perfect with a cup of tea.

I took this into the office for my colleagues to try out and it went down a storm. In fact, quite a few of my friends said it was their favourite of all my recent bakes.  So I really hope you get a chance to try this out.

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OTTOLENGHI’S CAULIFLOWER CAKE

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As mentioned in my previous post, this month’s edition of Delicious Magazine is a corker. Every page turned revealed more and more recipes I wanted to try out, so here is another one by the wonderful Yotam Ottolenghi…cauliflower cake.

This is almost like a baked cauliflower frittata. Served warm with a salad, this is a fantastic dish. I baked it a few days ago and took it into the office the next day. Everyone had a slice and loved it, even those who claimed not to be the biggest fans of cauliflower.

I really hope you try this out. Its very easy to make and it will give you about 8 generous helpings, plus it really is so tasty and filling.

Ingredients
1 small cauliflower (450g/16oz), outer leaves removed, broken into 3cm florets
2 tsp salt
1 medium (about 170g/6oz) red onion
75ml olive oil
½ tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
7 large free-range eggs
15g chopped basil, chopped
120g plain flour, sifted
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground turmeric
150g/5.3oz grated parmesan, or other mature cheese, coarsely grated
Melted butter, for greasing
1 tbsp nigella seeds
1 tbsp white sesame seeds

Heat the oven to 200C/180C fan/450F/gas mark 6. Put the cauliflower florets in a saucepan and add 1 tsp of the salt. Cover with water and simmer for 15 minutes or until the florets are quite soft. Strain, and set aside in the colander to dry.

Cut 4 x 5mm thick slices off one end of the onion, break into rings and set aside. Coarsely chop the rest of the onion and put in a small pan with the oil and rosemary. Cook, stirring from time to time, over a medium heat for 10 minutes or until soft. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Put the cooled onion and rosemary mixture into a large bowl, add the eggs and basil, and whisk well.

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Add the flour, baking powder and turmeric into a large bowl, and add the parmesan, the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and plenty of black pepper.

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Whisk until combined before adding the cauliflower and stir gently, trying to keep some florets whole.

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Line the base and sides of a 24cm springform cake tin with baking paper. Brush the sides with melted butter, mix the sesame with the nigella seeds, then toss them around the inside of the tin so they stick to the greased baking paper.

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Tip in the cauliflower mix and arrange the onion rings on top.

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Bake the cake in the centre of the oven for 45 minutes, until golden brown and set.

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Remove from the oven and leave for at least 20 minutes before serving. Serve just warm or at room temperature.

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And there you have it…a cheesy, cauliflower cake, perfect for lunch or light dinner.

Incidentally, the Evening Standard printed a really interesting piece on Ottolenghi last week, and how he has rescued the modern dinner party. You can read it here.

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