Archive | February, 2013

Un grande bacio

17 Feb

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The monster Baci cake! 

 

As I mentioned in an earlier post I’m particularly fond of Perugina’s Baci chocolates.  I was delighted when on honeymoon in Sicily around Easter time to find that Baci Easter Eggs are readily found and it was in Italy that I first became acquainted with the Baci cake, a light sponge with pockets of Gianduia filling and covered in chocolate, to imitate the flavour of a Baci chocolate.  However, even though buying one of these would be the easiest way to sample Baci in cake form ever since seeing the Baci cake recipe (scroll to the bottom of the page) on the Baci Canada website I’ve been wanting to test it.  Whereas the shop bought cake is made to look like a giant, unwrapped Baci the recipe suggestion on the website was for a heart shaped cake, topped with Baci in their sparkling silver wrappers. It seemed like the perfect recipe to experiment with on Valentine’s Day – what chocolates are more suited to Valentine’s than Baci with their little love notes and logo inspired by the romantic 19th century painting, The Kiss.    On closer inspection however it was clear that I’d need to give the recipe a bit of a tweak.  There were a few elements which were not clearly explained on the website and the generous quantities of ingredients listed for the sponge would have made a cake to feed an entire Italian wedding.  So I halved the quantities of ingredients for the sponge and added some praline chocolate to the mixture.  Even with this alteration the batter still made three generous heart shaped layers in a tin, c.18cm in width.  Instead of making one batch of ganache and covering the cake in melted chocolate I made a double layer of ganache to cover the whole cake.

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Baci cake as you buy it in the shops.  You can see from the profile slice that it’s meant to look like a giant Baci. 

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melting the butter and chocolate

It was only once I’d begun the process of putting the cake together that I noticed quite how large it was going to be. I’d already cut down the layers of the cake so that they would stack better; in retrospect I should probably have shaved off a little more.   With its three layers it was beginning to rival the Empire State Building for height. Adding the Baci chocolates on the top was like giving the cake an extra layer.  Even my largest cake tin wasn’t big enough to take the cake.  I had to hold the top in place with sellotape and then work out a way of transporting it.  I’d created a monster Baci cake!  I didn’t make a very job of decorating the cake and a s consequence there are no photos of this stage in the cake’s creation; I was too busy considering whether it would be or wouldn’t be acceptable to show anyone, let alone ask them to taste such an oversized, Frankenstein of a cake.  It didn’t help that  my ganache mixture was a little on the runny side and so didn’t stick to the cake quite as effectively as I had hoped.  If I’d trimmed the sponge layers too, I’d have had a much neater looking cake.

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The first two layers of the cake, if only I’d stopped at two!

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Too big for the tin; thankfully I could rest the lid on the decorative Bacis and it reached Mr Kim’s office in one piece. 

Once again Mr Kim’s work colleagues graciously agreed to sample my baking experiment.  It turned out that it was the last day for one of Mr Kim’s colleagues so the cake doubled as both a late Valentine’s treat and leaving cake.   Then I was able to find out if its flavour really matched that of a Baci chocolate.  The contrasting layers of light sponge and ganache looked very effective but I’d overcooked the sponge layers and that they were a little on the dry side. The overall taste of the cake though worked really well and despite all the hazelnut flour in the sponge and the praline chocolate the taste of hazelnut wasn’t overpowering. Despite being sampled by the office such was the size of the Baci cake it felt like we’d barely made a dent.  If you need to feed a small army or express to your nearest and dearest the monumentality of your love in cake form, then this is the cake for you.  As it says on one of the Baci love notes ‘Every great love begins with a kiss’ (Anon).  And this cake is definitely one big kiss!

 

In case anyone is interested in trying this cake below is my altered recipe.

 

For the cake

Flour 275g (I’d use self raising in the UK)

Potato starch 100g

Hazelnut flour 200g

Melted butter 150g

Egg yolks 50g

Whole eggs 450g

Caster sugar 325g

Praline chocolate 100g

 

For icing

Whipping cream 200g

Praline chocolate 400g

Dark chocolate 30g

Chopped hazelnuts 70g

 

To decorate

10 Baci perugina

 

Method

1. heat the oven to 200˚C (390˚F)

2. mix together the hazelnut flour, the flour and potato starch

3. beat the whole eggs, egg yolks and sugar until well blended

4. melt the butter and chocolate slowly

5.add the melted butter mixture to the eggs and sugar

6. add the flour a ½ cup at a time

7. pour 1/3  of the mixture into a 18cm heart shaped tin and cook for c. 30 mins

8. cook three layers of the cake and leave to cool

To make the ganache

  1. bring the cream to a boil.  Remove it from the heat and add the chocolate in small pieces.
  2. Keep stirring the mixture until all the chocolate has melted
  3. Add the chopped nuts

To finish the cake

  1. sandwich the layers with the ganache
  2. cover the top of the      cake and sides with the remaining ganache
  3. add Baci to the top

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Let them eat gingerbread

14 Feb

gingerbread in box

 

 

One of the many recipes I’ve meaning to try for some time is one sent to me by my secondary school history teacher, Mrs V.  It’s a Dan Lepard from the Guardian newspaper at about the time of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee last year and although it doesn’t give an historical source for the gingerbread recipe its rich, treacly texture and heady mix of spices seem resonant of a past era when such a combination of costly ingredients would have made it a luxurious treat.

Gingerbread, which the OED defines as ‘From the 15th c. onwards: A kind of plain cake, compounded with treacle, and highly flavoured with ginger. Formerly made into shapes of men, animals, letters of the alphabet, etc., which were often gilded’ is a sweetmeat with a long history, appearing in both Chaucer and Shakespeare.  The earliest instance of its use in the OED dates from 1299 when it’s mentioned in the Durham MS. Burs. Roll, ‘In ij Gurdis de Gingebrar’.  And although as its name suggests most gingerbread recipes were flavoured with gingerbread this was not always the case.  Another of the OED quotations dates from 1430 and Two Cookery-bk,s ‘Gyngerbrede. Take a quart of hony..Safroun, pouder Pepir..gratyd Brede’ – no mention of ginger here!

The food historian Ivan Day has an excellent page on his website exploring Lady Barbara Fleming’s recipe for gingerbread from 1673, where the dough is given an intense red colour from sanders, the wood of the sandalwood tree.  Ivan gives a number of different gingerbread recipes and illustrates how it gradually changed from being an almond paste, breadcrumb based recipe to one more commonly made using treacle and flour.  Dan Lepard’s recipe uses both treacle and flour but other ingredients like honey and chopped peel hark back to some of the older, pre-Victorian recipes.

Dr Johnson’s 1755 definition of gingerbread is close to that of the OED ‘A kind of farinaceous sweetmeat made of dough, like that of bread or biscuit, sweetened with treacle, and flavoured with ginger and some other aromatick seeds’.  One of the innovative aspects of Dr Johnson’s dictionary was the vast number of quotations he included, to illustrate how words were used in speech, and as well as quoting from Love’s Labour Lost (‘An’ I had but one penny in the world, thou should’st have it to buy gingerbread’) he also quoted Jonathan Swift, ‘Tis a loss you are not here, to partake of three weeks frost, and eat gingerbread in a booth by a fire upon the Thames’.  Swift’s quotation conjures up a vision of crisp winter air, jangling bells and the raucous shouts and laughter of London enjoying a great frost fair, warmed by tankards of hot ale and firey gingerbread.  In a similar suggestion of conviviality Dan Lepard suggests that his gingerbread is ‘ever so good cut into small diamonds to serve with brandy after dinner.’

The regal and showy qualities of gingerbread have deep roots and it was often gilded which W King in his 1708 Art of Cookery poetically describes as ‘The enticing Gold on Ginger-bread’.  Another long gingerbread tradition is that of shaping forming the dough into shapes, often human figures or alphabet letters, with a knife, cutters or elaborate moulds.  In Cowper’s Table Talk, scorning mere showy possessions, he rhetorically suggests ‘As if the poet, purposing to wed, Should carve himself a wife in ginger~bread’.

It’s highly appropriate that Mrs V should pass on a historically based gingerbread recipe to me since I am the student who tortured her history class with the products of my experimentation with a medieval gingerbread.  I always enjoyed Mrs V’s lessons (earlier in my school career she taught me English) and her engaging and thought provoking teaching strengthened and nurtured my love of history and helped to confirm it’s what I wanted to study at university.  From the Frondes of 17th century France to the enlightened despotism of Joseph II (discuss) the lessons swung their way through early modern European history with regular tangential discussions about Mrs V’s exciting birth (in Coventry during the Blitz) to the depressing frequency of greengrocers’ apostrophes.  All of this helped to install in me a belief in the importance of the seemingly insignificant, especially when it came to history.  I was fascinated by the social minutiae of the lives of peoples past, how they did things, what did it sound, taste, feel like?  Given my love of social history and baking it was perhaps unsurprisingly that I used my classmates and Mrs V as guinea pigs for my attempt at this medieval gingerbread recipe.  I remember that its base mixture of breadcrumbs and honey didn’t look particularly appealing as I made it.  This was then flavoured with spices and divided into two, with one half coloured an alarming red.  The idea was to roll it out, cut into squares, bake it and then arrange it in a chequerboard pattern.  Quite how I presented it, or where exactly I found the recipe, I can’t remember but the look of forced enjoyment on the faces of my history class as they struggled to swallow my strange historic creation I will not forget.

Happily I had far more success with Dan Lepard’s recipe; it was a delight to prepare, with wafts of ginger, mace and cinnamon dancing in the air, and the pleasure gained from watching the ingredients combine into a dark, rich dough.  It was also very straightforward; once the dough was formed it’s just pressed into a baking tin and stuffed with almonds (Dan suggested cutting them in half but I just stuck mine in whole).

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flour, sugar, ginger, cinnamon, mace, nutmeg

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apricots, peel and ginger

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flour and treacle mixture

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gingerbread dough ready to go

Dan explains in the introduction to his gingerbread recipe that you should expect a dense texture, like a paneforte, and as they bake the apricots, candied peel and ginger melt into the honey and molasses.  The resulting gingerbread is intense, chewy and very moreish.  I haven’t any brandy to try it out with yet but I’ve found it difficult to stop myself taking another slice.  In texture and taste it reminds me of the wonderful Grasmere gingerbread from the Lake District.  And while my cutting of the gingerbread was hardly sufficiently well executed to be fit for a queen, a touch of gold dusting powder not only gave it a certain regal air but also offered a contemporary nod to the fabulous tradition of gilded gingerbread

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     the gingerbread out of the oven 

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not quite the diamond shape Dan Lepard suggested but given a bit of extra sparkle with some gold powder

Seafood and sesame- a Korean take on Shrove Tuesday

12 Feb

I’m a big fan of pretty much every type of pancake from the classic English sugar and lemon drenched pancake to thin and crispy French crepes (a friend has introduced me to a great creperie, Crêpes à GoGo, just opposite Toronto Reference Library).  One of my most vivid memories of living in Germany as a child is eating crepes filled with chocolate and nuts (and managing to end up with chocolate all round my mouth and on my nose too!) in the chill cold and excitement of Aachen’s Christmas market.  And one of my favourite breakfasts is Mr Kim’s light and fluffy American pancakes bursting with blueberries and swirled in maple syrup accompanied by crunchy bacon.  In fact such is my enthusiasm for this breakfast that when we moved to Canada last friends jokingly suggested that we might have been involved in the great Canadian maple syrup heist.   More recently Korean pajeon have been added to my pancake lexicon.  Pajeon are savoury pancakes with spring onion and then a whole range of other ingredients depending on taste.  They’re often made fairly small, 8cm d., and served with soy sauce.

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The ingredients for the pajeon; pajeon mix, seafood, sesame leaves and spring onions

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The sesame leaves and spring onions are chopped up

Since I’m by myself this Shrove Tuesday I decided that pajeon would be a good choice for marking the occasion (something English or American pancakes don’t work solo – I’m no good at making up batter for just one person).  Pajeon work well being made in advance and then heated up whenever you want to eat them. My Shrove Tuesday pajeon were made with spring onion, sesame leaves (I love the taste of these) and seafood, and the mixing was made particularly easy by using ready to make pajeon mix.  I’d been taught how to make them with my mother-in-law last October so now was a great time to practise.  There might not be any flipping involved but I still wanted to make sure that I got them right.

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A cup of water is added to a cup of pajeon mix and the sesame leaves and spring onions are added along with a couple of cups of seafood mix

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Using a quarter cup measure the pajeon are placed in a frying pan on a medium heat and given a few minutes on each side, so that they are nicely brown.  It’s worthwhile squashing them down so that the middle is definitely fully cooked.

One of the aspects of Toronto which particularly struck us when we arrived was the size of the Korean population, which means finding and eating Korean food in Toronto is so much easier than in the UK.  Our favourite Korean restaurant in England is Hamgipak in New Malden who make delicious pajeon and if you want to try making pajeon yourself you might be able to find the pajeon mix in a south east Asian grocery store, like Thong Heng in Oxford. Otherwise a straightforward English pancake batter with the addition of spring onions and prawns would make a pretty good equivalent.

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The finished pajeon served with some soy sauce

Happy Pancake Day!

 

The key to good bread

8 Feb

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St Peter with his key, watching over his bakery

A cold, wet February morning does nothing to lift the spirits, especially when you’re in Salzburg and have been hoping for a picturesque covering of snow and fine, crisp weather.  What a difference a visit to a bakery can make, especially when the bakery in question has been in existence since 1160 and greets customers with the tempting smell of freshly baked bread well before you’ve stepped inside.

I was in Salzburg as part of an ICOM Costume Committee group working on a project to produce a web based resource for making the most of costume collections in museums.  When you’re going to spend a day deep in discussion and debate over formats and contents an early morning visit to a such bakery provides not only edible sustenance but also a ver welcome psychological boost.  We needed no encouragement from our host Dorothea to take up her suggestion of a pre-meeting visit, especially as she explained to us that often on a cold winter’s morning she would use a loaf of St Peter’s bread as a sort of edible hot water bottle, pressed tightly to her coat as she walked back home.

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baked rolls at Stiftsbäckerei

Stiftsbäckerei St. Peter is the monastery bakery, just a little to the west of St Peter’s church in  the heart of Salzburg.  For the past eight hundred years or so it’s been producing bread in its wood fired oven, with the monastery mill powered by a waterwheel, that happily churns and roars at the entrance to the bakery.  The bakery’s current simple interior bears little signs of change since the 1950s; boards of loaves ready for the oven waited on shelves, while the sturdy and dependable looking bread mixer dated from an age before computer technologies.  Bread is baked and sold in the same room, allowing the customer to enjoy not only the aroma of the newly baked bread, but also whole process of bread making from the mixing to baking.

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The bakery interior with a range of the different breads and rolls produced and the mixer in the background

The main product of the monastery bakery is a wholemeal sour dough loaf, developed from the bakery’s own sourdough starter and rye flour.  This wholesome and hearty loaf comes in a range of sizes – ½, 1 and 2 kgs and is priced uniformly at 2.95 euros per kg.  Something about its very rustic solidity seems to encapsulate the longevity of bread baking on the site and offers a very edible reminder of the bakery’s history and purpose.  Since I wasn’t in a position to try taking one of these loaves home, however, I went for another of the bakery’s products, a brioche roll, beautifully soft and studded with raisins.

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my brioche roll, perfect for elevenses!

St Peter’s Abbey in Salzburg was founded in 696 by Saint Rupert (we were staying in buildings belonging to the monastery, now smart visitor accommodation) and the monks probably had some way of producing their own bread early on in the Abbey’s history but it was in 1160 that the monastery mill was established near the Abbey’s cemetery (the abbey church was established in 1147).  The mill survived in the building until 1967 and the wheel was refurbished in 2006, so that once again the bakery uses water power, and generates enough energy to feed it back into the public grid.  It’s great to think that a bakery first established to provide the monastic community of St Peter’s with good, wholesome bread, today not only offers the wider community of Salzburg the fruits of its rich bread making tradition but also gives back all the surplus power generated by its waterwheel.  A heart warming thought for a cold and grey February morning.

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The bakery waterwheel in full flow

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Oranges and Lemons

6 Feb

Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement’s.
You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin’s.

 

Traditional English nursery rhyme

Cooking at Fort York has taken a decidedly citrus turn over the past few weeks, since we’ve been preparing for the Fort’s long running February event, Mad for Marmalade, Crazy for Citrus.  I’ve long been a lover of citrus fruits – as a child oranges and lemons were basically the only fruits I’d eat – so the idea of celebrating the flavours of sweet oranges and sharp lemon zest is one which appeals to me greatly.

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Orange gingerbread squares

It’s a pity I won’t be around for the event itself but at least I get the fun of all the behind the scenes preparations and experimentation.  Rosemary and Joan have been working on orange biscuits, perfecting the consistency which is key to these macaroon like offerings.  Of course in the interests of achieving the best possible biscuit there needs to be a fair amount of testing by eating, a task in which we’re all more than happy to take part.

For at least two weeks in a row Emma has produced the most delectable lemon puffs, pillows of airy fluffiness offering the briefest wisp of tart lemon before melting away.  We’ve been imaging the many permutations for serving lemon puffs, including sandwiching them together with a swirl of lemon curd and cream.

The recipe I’ve been working on, with Krystle, was an orange gingerbread taken from the first known English language cookbook published in Canada, in 1831, The Cook Not Mad.  The author of the cookbook is unknown and before being published in Canada it actually first appeared in America, in Watertown, New York in 1830.   Its title clearly suggests that its author wanted to demonstrate the rationality behind cookery, as opposed to it being any sort of mystic alchemy.

No. 130 Orange Gingerbread
Two pounds and a quarter fine flour, a pound and 3 quarters molasses, 12 ounces of sugar, 3 ounces undried orange peel chopped fine, 1 ounce each of ginger and allspice, melt twelve ounces of butter, mix the whole together, lay it by for twelve hours, roll it out with as little flour as possible, cut it in pieces three inches wide, mark them in the form of checkers with the back of a knife, rub them over with the yelk of an egg, beat with a tea cup of milk, when done wash them again with the egg.

The recipe, No. 130 in the book, is for a classic hard gingerbread with a melting of molasses and butter.  The combination of spices – all spice and ginger – is augmented by the addition of orange peel, which is what makes this a little more unusual than the standard gingerbread recipes of today.  There has been much discussion in the kitchen about they original recipe instruction to add ‘undried peel, chopped fine’ and what it actually means.  Is it simply orange zest or is it a peel in syrup then chopped? While the historic recipes when read carefully give many clues about their methods and ingredients, sometimes even close examination cannot unlock all their meaning and the best approach is to take an educated guess in the service of experimentation.

The melted molasses (fancy molasses, a little more refined that the usual molasses) and butter had to cool to room temperature and we began by simply stirring the mixture.  Elizabeth suggested that a cool bain marie and sure enough a bit of ice and water was much more effective in dropping the temperature.

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our molasses and butter mixture before and with the bain marie

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Krystle preparing the all important orange zest

The cooled molasses mixture was added to the flour, sugar, spices and orange and then combined to make a soft dough which needed considerable chilling before it could be worked.  Even once chilled it still stuck to the table frequently while being rolled out; no wonder the original recipe suggested chilling it over night.

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The dry ingredients – flour, sugar, ginger, all spice – and the orange zest

The recipe also gave very specific instructions about how to shape the gingerbread; it was to be rolled to ¼ “ thick and then marked in a chequerboard pattern of 1” squares, before being cut into squares of 3”.  While undoubtedly producing a biscuit pleasing to the eye this was not so easy to achieve; the dough was difficult to lift up and transport to the trays without suffering more than a little shape shifting.  These were quickly given a little bit of manual coaxing to regain their right angles.

To cut the squares we had a basic square template and we experimented with different methods of scoring the 1” squares; sometimes before cutting into 3” squares, sometimes once they were on the tray.  In the interests of speed I adopted a rather cavalier approach, just running my palette knife through the dough after cutting but before placing on the tray, making sure not to run my knife all the way through the dough.  My accuracy left much to be desired; I definitely wasn’t producing nine perfect 1” squares on each biscuit – I don’t know how precise the author would have expected their readers to be.

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all ready for cutting

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                                Hardly a model of mathematical precision, but that doesn’t effect the taste, does it?

The finished squares were glazed with a mixture of beaten egg and milk and then left to stand for 30 minutes before being placed in a moderate oven.  After about 15 minutes they came out again and were given a second coating of the glaze before being left to cool and harden.

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The resulting biscuits have a pleasing crunch as you break the biscuit, with a hint of chewiness as you enjoy the deep, rich flavour of the marriage of molasses, orange and spices.  It’s difficult to know if we chose the right method of adding the orange peel  but they taste great.  In the cold and bitter weather of February it’s easy to imagine how much they must have been enjoyed by those who first made them, providing a little bit of sweet sustenance.

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The squares have two coats of an egg yolk and milk glaze

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 Krystle with the finished squares