Thursday, 20 October 2011

Gingerbread House: Part 1 (the naked parts)

So it's that time of year again, the time when I vow to make a Gingerbread House and it always gets pushed back and pushed back until, look at that - Christmas is over! Too late. Definitely next year then. 

And the cycle starts over again. Not this time, my friends!

This post will be all about the naked Gingerbread bits. The dough to the baked pieces. You can make any shape of house and you can customise it using cutters or a sharp knife to make it more elaborate, like I did. One of my favourite techniques is to add crushed sugar candies to make sugar glass windows. Add a tea light inside the finished house and you've got yourself a fancy-schmancy Gingerbread Mansion, fit to be oooh-ed and aaahh-ed over. 

So. Get yourself a nice gingerbread dough recipe and house template off the internet or from a book. Martha does nice ones (yes, that Martha). Any will do. Make sure the baby is asleep and not likely to wake any time soon (feel free to change the word "baby" to anything likely to interrupt you)... and you're ready to go. You don't need to do the whole thing in one go, the baked pieces will keep nicely in an airtight container for a couple of days. I bake one day, and decorate later that day or the next. 

This is my second attempt and I can say that practice makes perfect. They can be tricky suckers to build. You will need time and patience, as well as a good deal of royal icing to glue it all together. Dressmakers pins help. They hold the thing together while you juggle with the piping bag. Trust me *insert evil laugh here*

You will need to double up on your recipe to have enough dough to cut all the pieces you need. You will most likely need (for a basic house like mine): 2 x roof pieces, 2 x gabled sides, 2 x front/back pieces. My pattern didn't include a chimney, but I cut one out using left over dough. Simple enough.

Gingerbread dough recipe
Adapted from 'The Big Book of Beautiful Biscuits' (1992 edition) by The Australian Woman's Weekly

Makes double

250g Soft butter
210g Brown sugar
2 eggs
750g Plain flour
2 teaspoons Bicarbonate (Baking) Soda
5 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
5 tablespoons Golden Syrup or Molassis

Preheat oven to 170 degrees celcius.

Cream the butter and brown sugar using a paddle attachment on your mixer until light in colour and creamy.

Add the eggs, and whip until the mixture is light and airy. Add the golden syrup until combined and then slowly add the combined dry ingredients. 

When all have just come together, but the mixture is still crumbly, this is the point I change to a dough hook attachment and knead on the slowest speed until it forms more of a dough consistency. 

Divide into three, form into balls, and start rolling the first one until it is about half a centimetre thick. 

Place the template on to the dough and cut using either a sharp knife, a pizza or pastry roller, or even a long pallet knife. I used a pizza roller. It worked pretty well. Repeat with the rest of the dough until you have all the pieces you need. 

(Don't press the paper too much on to the dough as when you peel it away, the dough goes with it! Or cut the template out of greaseproof paper and you should be able to peel it away, no problems. In this case, I just flipped this piece on to the baking tray, ruined side down and the other side was just fine. Or brush with water and sprinkle with Demerara sugar to "rough up" the texture. Looks nice too!)

If you have windows cut into your dough, a nice little detail is filling the gaps with crushed boiled sweets or candies. They will melt in the oven at the same time the dough bakes and you will have yourself stained glass windows!

Bake for 10-12 minutes and keep an eye on it. Because of the high sugar content from the golden syrup and the brown sugar, it can burn pretty quickly, so make sure you set a timer. When the dough looks even in colour and set, it's time to come out of the oven. Cool them on a rack (except for the ones with the sugar glass windows, leave them on the sheet until cooled otherwise the candy glass will ooze out) and wait until completely cooled before decorating. 

Stay tuned for Part II where I attempt to glue the whole thing together and try to make it look pretty!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Irish Soda Bread

I'm on a (baking) roll!

The Little Sausage is being good to me, and napping nicely today. I like to watch River Cottage Everyday in the background, while I'm doing other stuff, and the Bread episode where they bake Irish Soda Bread caught my eye. Being on my to-do list for a while now, I knuckled down and got it made. It couldn't be more easy. I substituted wholemeal flour instead of white flour and it worked quite nicely. I could see this being eaten with a nice sharp cheddar and some chutney.

Irish Soda Bread
Adapted slightly from a recipe from 'River Cottage Everyday' by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

500g Wholemeal Flour
2 teapoons Baking soda
1.5 teaspoons Sea Salt
400mls Milk with one tablespoon white vinegar stirred in (or Buttermilk if you've got it) 
Extra flour for the tray

Preheat oven to 200º celsius.

Combine the dry ingredients into a bowl (or the bowl of a mixer) and slowly add the milk until just combined. Turn out onto a floured bench and shape into a ball.

Place on a flat tray and bake for approximately 45 minutes until you tap the base and it sounds hollow.

It's as easy as that.

Serve while warm with salted butter. It would be great with jam too.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Coconut Macarons

It's grey and rainy outside (yes, I did just post about how lovely and sunny the weather has been lately. Now we're back to Autumn again). It's the perfect weather to do some baking. With the Little Sausage napping, my daily Skype session with my family done, I got down to the serious business of making macarons. 

So, my third attempt at macarons were a semi-success. Ok, so they're not perfect. But very very tasty! The consistency was spot on, crisp yet chewy on the inside, creamy sweet buttercream filling sandwiching them together. The crunch of the slightly toasted coconut, satisfying. Yet for some reason many of them cracked, making them technically inferior. Too bad. I get to eat the ugly ones.

Coconut Macarons (Macarons noix de coco) 

Recipe from 'Leçon de Cuisine: Macarons' by Sébastien Serveau

For the biscuits:
110g Almond Meal / Powdered Almonds
225g Icing Sugar / Powdered Sugar
120g Egg Whites (from approx. 4 medium eggs)
50g Caster / Fine Sugar
2 tablespoons (approx.) Shredded Coconut

100g Soft Butter
150g Icing Sugar (more if needed)
1 tablespoon Malibu Coconut Rum
2 tablespoons Shredded Coconut

Sift together the almond meal and icing sugar into a bowl. 

In a clean mixer, whip the egg whites, slowly adding the caster sugar until stiff peaks form.

Fold the dry almond/sugar mixture into the egg whites until well incorporated.

Pipe small rounds (about 3cms or just over 1 inch in diameter) onto your lined baking tray. 
Sprinkle with coconut.

Leave to rest for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 150 degrees celsius.

Bake for 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the tray.

While the macarons are cooling, whip together the butter, icing sugar, Malibu, and shredded coconut until light and fluffy, adding more icing sugar if needed to create a smooth fluffy consistency.

Once cool, spread with a small teaspoon of buttercream and sandwich together. 

Extras can be stored in an airtight contain in a cool place (or fridge) for up to 2 days.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Experimenting with Macarons

I baked my first chocolate macarons about three years ago and they turned out pretty good.

Each had the elusive "foot" that macarons are supposed to have, they were light, crisp, shiny, and very very good.

Then, just yesterday I attempted them again. And lo and behold. They sucked. Only some had a slight "foot", they were dry and brittle, and not at all what a macaroni should be. It's always disappointing when you spend the time and effort baking something and it just doesn't work. I'm tempted to give it up and go back to the same recipes I know will work and I'm good at. But then I'm stuck making the same things over and over again which I'm ashamed to say, I have been doing for the last few months. 

Enough of that, I say!

Today I will attempt Round 3 of baking macarons. This time, I'll be baking Coconut Macarons and I will follow the recipe to the letter. That said, the recipe is in French and I am not French. I can read it pretty well, but not perfectly, so maybe that will be my downfall.

Here goes!

Results will be published, good or bad...

Stay tuned!

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Summer in Autumn

It's 25 degrees (celsius) on the first day of October and I've got the windows open as far as they'll go. There's a gentle breeze coming in and it's a beautiful day. The whole week has been in the mid to high 20s and everyone is talking about Indian Summer. The shorts and t-shirts have come out (just last week I had the heaters on I was so cold!). Even the Little Sausage is in a short sleeved body suit today.

Naturally the Brits are flocking to the beach and dragging out the barbecues. Any ray of sunshine and they make the most of it! After all, this summer has been a bust. We could count on two hands how many truly warm sunny days we've had this year. My tan is pretty much non-existent and my tiny flat has no balcony. Sadly, no barbecue for us today.

I'm working on a project. Since we're trying to avoid putting Little Sausage into childcare, full time work is out of the question for me. I've managed to get a part time job working 10 hours over the weekend at a retail store (while the Frenchman stays at home to babysit), it's not enough to sustain us and I've been thinking of ways to supplement our income. Internet/home-based business comes to mind and I've been making the necessary phone calls and emails to try to make this happen. In what, you ask? Baking, of course!

So I'm starting a home catering business and I'm hoping to get a stall at the local Farmer's Market. It's a start. The dream is to have my own bakery shop/café, so hopefully this is a stepping stone on the way to making this happen.