Sunday, 27 March 2011

Mets la Main a la Pate!

The March 2011 Daring Baker’s Challenge was hosted by Ria of Ria’s Collection and Jamie of Life’s a Feast. Ria and Jamie challenged The Daring Bakers to bake a yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake.

I'd never heard of this type of cake until this challenge. It was a great recipe and one I'd urge you to try - very versatile and surprisingly simple to make.
I decided to have a go at two fillings - a red pesto, aubergine and mozzarella one, and a lightly spiced chocolate and blood orange one. Both were delicious, but I think I prefered our savoury option, which we enjoyed warm from the oven with a simple salad. We took the chocolate cake to L's cousin, who we were visiting that weekend and in our haste to eat it for breakfast, I forgot to take some photos, so you'll just have to imagine the pieces of orange glistening between the swirls of the dough and the chocolate.



Makes 2 round coffee cakes, each approximately 10 inches in diameter

The recipe can easily be halved to make one round coffee cake. I made two batches of this - one sugar free for savory versions of the cake.


For the yeast coffee cake dough:
600g flour
55g sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
1 package (2 ¼ teaspoons / 7 g) active dried yeast
180ml whole milk
60ml water
135g unsalted butter at room temperature
2 large eggs at room temperature

For the meringue:
3 large egg whites at room temperature
¼ teaspoon salt

For the filling:
Savoury version:
1/2 aubergine, sliced and fried in olive oil
3 tbsp red pesto
150g mozzarella
handful sliced olives
Sweet version:
150g Maya Gold Green and Blacks chocolate
1 blood orange, zested, juiced, peeled and thinly sliced

Egg wash
1 beaten egg

Prepare the dough:
In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 ½ cups (230 g) of the flour, the sugar, salt and yeast.
In a saucepan, combine the milk, water and butter and heat over medium heat until warm and the butter is just melted.
With an electric mixer on low speed, gradually add the warm liquid to the flour/yeast mixture, beating until well blended. Increase mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes. Add the eggs and 1 cup (150 g) flour and beat for 2 more minutes.
Using a wooden spoon, stir in enough of the remaining flour to make a dough that holds together. Turn out onto a floured surface (use any of the 1 ½ cups of flour remaining) and knead the dough for 8 to 10 minutes until the dough is soft, smooth, sexy and elastic, keeping the work surface floured and adding extra flour as needed.
Place the dough in a lightly greased (I use vegetable oil) bowl, turning to coat all sides. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let rise until double in bulk, 45 – 60 minutes. The rising time will depend on the type of yeast you use.
Prepare your filling:
In a small bowl, combine the cinnamon and sugar for the filling if using. You can add the chopped nuts to this if you like, but I find it easier to sprinkle on both the nuts and the chocolate separately.
Once the dough has doubled, make the meringue:
In a clean mixing bowl – ideally a plastic or metal bowl so the egg whites adhere to the side (they slip on glass) and you don’t end up with liquid remaining in the bottom – beat the egg whites with the salt, first on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase to high and continue beating until foamy and opaque. Add the vanilla then start adding the ½ cup sugar, a tablespoon at a time as you beat, until very stiff, glossy peaks form. If making a savoury version, just omit the sugar - it wont make much difference to the meringue itself.
Assemble the Coffee Cakes:
Line 2 baking/cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Punch down the dough and divide in half. On a lightly floured surface, working one piece of the dough at a time (keep the other half of the dough wrapped in plastic), roll out the dough into a 20 x 10-inch (about 51 x 25 ½ cm) rectangle. Spread half of the meringue evenly over the rectangle up to about 1/2-inch (3/4 cm) from the edges. Sprinkle and spread your filling of choice evenly over the meringue.
Now, roll up the dough jellyroll style, from the long side. Pinch the seam closed to seal. Very carefully transfer the filled log to one of the lined cookie sheets, seam side down. Bring the ends of the log around and seal the ends together, forming a ring, tucking one end into the other and pinching to seal.
Using kitchen scissors or a sharp knife (although scissors are easier), make cuts along the outside edge at 1-inch (2 ½ cm) intervals. Make them as shallow or as deep as desired but don’t be afraid to cut deep into the ring.
Repeat with the remaining dough, meringue and fillings.
Cover the 2 coffee cakes with plastic wrap and allow them to rise again for 45 to 60 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
Brush the tops of the coffee cakes with the egg wash. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes until risen and golden brown. The dough should sound hollow when tapped.
Remove from the oven and slide the parchment paper off the cookie sheets onto the table. Very gently loosen the coffee cakes from the paper with a large spatula and carefully slide the cakes off onto cooling racks. Allow to cool.
These are best eaten fresh, the same day or the next day.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Italian Classics : Minestrone

After a weekend heavy on entertaining, wine and cheese, L and I both felt the need for a simple meal. We always have all the ingredients in the fridge and cupboard for a basic minestone. Three bowls of this and at least 3 of our recommended five-a-day later, our desires were completely fulfilled and our bodies refuelled in the most healthy way I know.

Minestrone is one of the most fundemental dishes in Italian cooking, yet so easy to get wrong. For me, simplicity is key - the best quality ingredients you can afford and not too many of them. I want to taste each vegetable in each spoon. The most important thing however, is the stock you add to the soup. It's got to be vegetable stock and it has to be absolutely exceptional. Marigold Swiss vegetable bouillon vegan stock powder - the reduced salt version, is the stock of choice in this house. My secret ingredient? A small bay leaf and a tiny bunch of sage freshly picked to boost all the flavours and provide their own distinct scent.

Oh, and another thing. Although I have always suspected that I go to sleep thinking about food, we had confirmation of this the evening after we ate this. M woke up unhappily in the night and we decided to bring her into bed with us. She refused to settle and in my dreamy state I mumbled to L:
'Would you please go and get her minestrone?'
'Go and get her tomato.'
'Her bottle. I think she'd like some milk...... Oh dear, I think I need to go back to sleep.'
And I rolled over, bringing M closer to my chest.

Sure enough, when L returned, M and I were fast asleep in each others arms. No need for  a bottle.
Of milk, tomato or minestrone.


3tbsp olive oil
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
2 medium potatoes
2 medium carrots
8 outer leaves savoy cabbage
1 410g tin haricot beans, drained
1 courgette
150g frozen french beans
2l hot vegetable stock
1 small bay leaf
1 small branch sage - about 3 leaves
salt and pepper to season

Warm the olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat and roughly chop the onion. Fry until transparent, stirring frequently.
Slice the garlic cloves into pieces 2mm thick and add to the onions. Fry for a further three minutes.
Peel the potatoes and carrots and chop into 1cm cubes. Add both to the onions and stir to coat in the oniony oil. Add the bay and sage and stir again.
Pour over the hot vegetable stock, stir and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 10minutes until the vegetables are beginning to soften.
In the meantime, chop the courgettes into 1cm cubes.
Remove and discard the tough stalks from the cabbage leaves and chop the leaves into pieces no large than 2cm.
Add the courgette, cabbage, haricot and french beans and cook for a further 5 minutes until all the vegetables are tender. Season with salt and pepper.
Leave the soup to rest for five - ten minutes before you serve it so that it is warm, rather than hot and all the flavours have had one final chance to mingle.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

New Beginnings

March. Our new favourite month in our wonderful new house. Did I say house? I meant home. It is already a home to all three of us. Only four boxes sit untouched in the study waiting to be unpacked. M has taken to the new house like a duck to water, which is just as well really, considering we are only a few minutes walk from the duckpond, her new favourite haunt.

Curtains are up, books are on their shelves and pictures hang proudly on the walls.
You know I'm not kidding when I confess that the kitchen was the first room to be unpacked. I've at last got an eye level oven with glass doors. But if anything I've been watching the contents of the oven more than ever. M likes to pull a chair through from the dining room and clamber up to watch me cook.

L is enjoying building fires on our new multifuel burner and sitting with his book in his chair. The cat has already found some spots warmed by sunbeams to spend her lazy afternoons.

We are all happy here.

Plenty of friends have appeared on our new front door, eager to see the house that almost got away from us. We are more than happy to show them around and this weekend, for anyone who popped over, a cup of tea and a slice of some Irish Tea Bread were included as post-tour refreshments.

Irish Tea Bread (adapted from Delia Smith's How to Cook Book One)

250g raisins
225g currants
225g sultanas
150g demerara sugar
100g soft light brown sugar
275g hot Lady Grey Tea made using two teabags
100g pecan nuts
1 large egg at room temperature, beaten with 2tbsp water
400g self raising flour
50g wholegrain spelt flour

Begin this the evening before by placing all the fruits, including the candied peel, in a bowl, then dissolve the sugar in the hot tea, pour this over the fruits, cover the bowl and leave it overnight so the fruits become plump and juicy.
The next day, pre-heat the oven to gas mark 3, 325°F (170°C), then place the nuts on a baking sheet and pop them into the oven for 5 minutes (use a timer, as they burn easily). Then, when they're cool, roughly chop them.

Line two 1lb loaf tins with greaseproof paper.
Next, add the beaten egg mixture to the bowl containing the fruits.
Then sift in the flours, add the toasted nuts and give everything a really good mixing.
Now divide the mixture between the prepared loaf tins and bake them in the centre of the oven for 1¼-1½ hours, until they feel springy in the centre.
Then straight away, loosen them with a palette knife and turn them out on to a wire rack to cool. Then have patience – it won't be long before you can taste some.
This tea bread lasted four days and was brilliant spread with lots of unsalted butter.