Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Victoria and Albert Sponge (and edible flags)

what a pavlova (oh, pun!) Note pink lemonade to right, very appropriate
I love rice paper.  You don't seem to get it in the supermarkets anymore, so I ordered a huge amount off the internet.  Once I'd got out an A4 sheet it seemed a shame not to use it all, so I went on a bit of an edible flag binge this month.  Still - the Queen is only the Queen for the 60th year running once...

The 'Albert' in this otherwise typical sponge comes from the German-themed grated apple and cinnamon in the mixture.  This does cause it to densen dramatically but I got no complaints as to taste.  Next time perhaps more sophisticated fruit-layering could be arranged.

Victoria and Albert Sponge
You Will Need: 23cm cake tin, greaseproof paper, scissors, large bowl, wooden spoon, small bowl, teaspoon, scales, whisk, cheesegrater, veg peeler, chopping board and sharp knife, spoon, baking tray, breadknife, serving plate, plate, dinner knife (skewers / cocktail sticks, cotton bud or clean paintbrush)

6 eggs
self-raising flour
2 Bramley apples
3 tsp cinnamon
red berry jam
1 punnet strawberries
250ml double cream
(rice paper, food colouring)

1) Preheat the oven to 180 C.  Line your tin with a circle of greaseproof paper and smear the sides with butter.
2) Weigh 4 of your eggs (reserve the other 2).  Weigh out and beat together 4 eggsworth of butter and sugar.  Beat the 4 eggs together in a small bowl; gradually add and mix them with the butter.
3) Peel the Bramleys and grate them into the mixture.  Mix.  Weigh out 4 eggsworth of flour, add the cinnamon, and gradually fold it into the mixture a little at a time.
4) Pour the mix into the caketin, and make a dent in the centre - then when the centre inevitably rises, your cake will be flatter overall.  Protip.  Bake approximately 45mins - 1 hour, with a tinfoil hat for the last 15 minutes if need be, to clean-skewer stage.
5) When your cake is done, take it out of the oven and whack the oven up to 200 C.  Hardcore.  Allow the cake to cool.  Clean your large bowl.  Separate your remaining two eggs, getting the whites into the large bowl.  Whisk your eggwhites until they are at stiff-peak stage - when you lift the whisk, the points that form should be rigid.  Beat in approximately 6 tablespoons of sugar one spoon at a time, until stiff and glossy.
6) Cut another circle of greaseproof paper the same size as your cake, and lay on a baking tray.  Spoon the meringue out over this circle to almost cover it, forming a 'nest'.  Bake at 200 C for 10 minutes, then turn the oven off.
7) Wait at least 2 hours.  Watch a film, play a game, make lunch, whatever.
8) De-tin your cake.  Place it on the serving plate.  Carefully saw the cake in half, and shift the top half onto a second plate.  De-oven your meringue nest.  Carefully transfer the meringue from the baking tray to the top cake-half, peeling off the greaseproof paper.  It will be quite soft and sticky.
9) Chop 2/3 of a punnet of strawberries, and whip all the cream to soft-peak stage (when the peaks wilt).  Spread jam on the lower half of the cake; follow with half the cream, and strawbs to cover.  Lift the top cake on.  Fill the nest with the rest of the cream, and decorate with the remaining strawbs, leaving small ones whole and un-hulled.
10) If flags desired: Tear a sheet of ricepaper into rectangles.  Make a shallow fold at one of the short ends; wet the edge of this fold and fold across a stick.  Press firmly to glue the paper together around the stick.  Paint designs on with food colouring.

Protip: Rice paper is edible, but not very tasty.  This fact was rediscovered multiple times, often by the same people twice.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Afternoon Tea Cakes

The other weekend, for the Jubilee, I hosted an afternoon tea party.  Some cakes were classic recipes I followed almost to the letter, and suggest you do the same; with others, I got a bit more creative.  When you're baking all day it's best not to strain the brain too hard.

Classic scones - I turned to the BBC's recipe here, for simplicity.  Breads and I have never really clicked, so I wanted firm guidance from Auntie.  Make scones on the day for freshness and warmth that will impress.

Palatial shortbread  - Millionaire's shortbread is fast becoming a family favourite, and you can find versions of it in hip coffee chains all over the country nowadays.  My version is slightly more decadent even than the Beeb's.  Following their recipe mostly, I added 2 teaspoons of ground cardamom to the shortbread mix (a combo I picked up from here years ago).
I did accidentally turn my back on the caramel resulting in a delicious fudge.  I left the butter out of the dark chocolate mixture, for depth of flavour, and instead of white chocolate decorated the tops when still tacky with silver balls.

Rhubarb tartlets - all my own work
You Will Need: fairycake tin with twelve holes, large bowl, scales, dinner knife, clingfilm, rolling pin, pastry cutter/glass, small pan, small bowl, cup, chopping board and sharp knife, wooden spoon, fork, teaspoon, baking tray
2oz cold butter
1oz ground almonds
1 tsp ground ginger
3oz plain flour
1-2 stems ripe red rhubarb
2 eggs
double cream
caster sugar
jar of crystallised ginger

1) Make the pastry.  Cut the butter into little cubes.  Knead with the dry ingredients with your hands, first to breadcrumb stage and then squidging into a single ball.  Wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for half an hour.
2) When the pastry is cold, preheat the oven to 180 C.  Roll the pastry out on a floury surface until 3-4mm thick.  Be aware that this pastry is very 'short' or flaky.  It will not like you!  Do not despair.  Cut circles out of the pastry and press them into the tin, squidging any cracks together with your fingers.  You should be able to make at least 6. I got 7.
3) Poke two sets of holes into the bottom of each pastry case with your fork, to allow any air bubbles trapped underneath to escape and not bugger them up.  Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes.
4) Allow the cases to cool completely before touching them again.  If tempted, make more cake while waiting.
5) When the cases are cool, trim the ends off your rhubarb and pull out any stringy ribs from the square edges.  Chop it into 2-3cm pieces, and if they are fat, halve them lengthways.  Put 2-3 pieces of rhubarb per pastry case into a small pan with a knob of butter and a splash of water.  Fry/poach the rhubarb, adding a little more water as it evaporates, until the rhubarb is pink and tender and strings are coming off it.
6) Lift the pastry cases onto a sturdy baking tray and fill them with rhubarb.
7) Separate the eggs, with the yolks going into a small bowl and the whites a cup (save whites for meringue in the fridge).  Add a small pile of sugar.  Beat this together with a fork.  Gently heat enough double cream to cover the bottom of your small pan.  Add the eggmix and stir quickly to blend.  When blended, take off the heat and carefully spoon into the pastries, around the rhubarb.
8) Put back in the oven (hey I didn't say to turn it off) for another 7 minutes, to bake the custard and roast the tips of the rhubarb.  When out of the oven, drizzle some of the sugar syrup from a jar of crystallised ginger over the top of each one.  This makes all the difference.

Mini battenberg
This is a lovely recipe from the Hariy Bikers.  I only made one egg's worth of sponge, dividing my tin with their greaseproof paper trick into 3 - half for battenbergs, and one for my shortbread.  I also added lemon zest and a splash of juice to the 'yellow' Berg, and used 3 tsp of raspberry jam to colour the pink Berg as I couldn't find the mother-out-law's cochineal.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Afternoon Tea Sandwiches

Afternoon tea is a Great British Institution.  It is a Posh Thing.  It is something 'the Set' might have done 'properly' in the 17 and 1800s.  Messing it up is not done.

On the other hand, it is quite difficult to mess up afternoon tea.  There are only a few boxes to tick, and there are multiple acceptable ways to experiment with the content, theme and context of the event (cupcakes!  Steampunk! Picnics!  Booze!)  Here is what I reckon constitutes a 'proper' tea:

  • Teas, plural, available - preferably some to be served with milk (e.g. Assam) and some without (Lady Grey).
  • Scones, with real clotted cream, and at least two kinds of jam - a red/purple one and an orange one, minimum.
  • Cake - either individual chunks, such as Lamingtons, brownies, or other traybakes; or a single large and creamy edifice.
  • Finger Sandwiches.
    • Sandwiches must be able to be eaten in two bites or less.
    • They must have the crusts cut off, or it's not posh.
    • The shape of the eventual sandwich (triangle or rectangle) is immaterial.
    • Fillings may include spreads, but these must be savoury (not peanut butter).  
    • Faffless but uber-kitzch adornments such as cress should be rampant.
Of all the boxes, it is the sandwiches which are most often overlooked.  They do not make as photogenic an arrangement on the three-tiered stand as the cakes; it is the scones which are seen to be the true essentials, and 'tea and sandwiches' doesn't have the same ring.  Nevertheless afternoon tea is a Meal, a small meal but a Meal all the same, and all posh meals have multiple courses.  

The Approved Sandwich-Making Method (appropriated from Douglas Adams)
The chief among knives, of course, was the carving knife. This was the knife that would not merely impose its will on the medium through which it moved, as did the bread knife. It must work with it, be guided by the grain of the meat, to achieve slices of the most exquisite consistency and translucency, that would slide away in filmy folds from the main hunk of meat. The Sandwich Maker would then flip each sheet with a smooth flick of the wrist onto the beautifuly proportioned lower bread slice, trim it with four deft strokes and then at last perform the magic that the children of the village so longed to gather round and watch with rapt attention and wonder.  With just four more dexerous flips of the knife he would assemble the trimmings into a perfectly fitting jigsaw of pieces on top of the primary slice. For every sandwich the size and shape of the trimmings were different, but the Sandwich Maker would always effortlessly and without hesitation assemble them into a pattern which fitted perfectly. A second layer of meat and a second layer of trimmings, and the main act of creation would now be accomplished.

Suggested Flavours For Afternoon Tea Finger-Sandwiches

Roast beef / steak and mustard.
CurryNation Chicken: to make simple sauce, finely chop half an onion, fry in butter with 2tsp of cumin, coriander and a sprinkle of turmeric, and add coconut cream until spreadable.  Coat diced fried chicken in the mixture and assemble the sandwiches as above.
Smoked salmon, cream cheese and dill
Mackerel and horseradish
Cucumber.  N.B. I could write a whole post on the Correct way to make cucumber sandwiches; the key thing is to peel the cucumber, slice thinly and drain the slices before assembly in a colander, scattered with salt.  This stops them going soggy.  Dress with salad dressing to increase flavour.
Cheese and chutney.