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Two weeks in and I am beginning to settle in to my new life. Days are long, information is plentiful, the pace of learning is relentless. Days are split in half, either cooking or watching demonstrations, scribbling madly to ensure nothing is missed as you are bound to be cooking it, or a variation sooner or later. Then it is home to write a timeplan for the next day.

In the past couple of weeks  I have probably consumed as much, if not more,  butter, cream and meat than in the six months previous. Sweating onion in olive oil is a distant memory, everything is cooked in butter. I’ve pot roasted partridge with lentils and pancetta, made veal and ham raised pie, baked creme caramels, ridged, rolled and folded flaky pastry for my chicken pie, made gougeres, risotto, hollandaise, and enjoyed trout en papilote.

Demonstrations are great, yesterday we munched our way through various offal. I enjoy calved livers but rarely venture beyond them in restaurants or in my own kitchen, so I was pleasantly surprise to love lamb kidneys, faggots, and slivers of pan fried ox heart. Tripe less so – just because it is so bland! I will definitely be more confident ordering offal dishes in future.

They warned us we would be exhausted by the end of the first two weeks and they were right. My fatigue was enhanced by completing the cooking for 50 challenge, where 4 of us cooked for the harshest of critics, fellow students. It was up to the wire – making vast amount of rough puff pastry took longer than I thought but my right angles are now near perfect –  we made it and the majority seemed to enjoy it. We get feedback next week…

 

For the next six months I will be making the trek from North East London to Shepherds Bush, a three hour commute. First week excitment has had me jumping (well crawling out of bed) at 6.30am (an hour not usually known to me) to get there in time to change into my chef whites.

On the first day 19 or so excited yet nervous new intermediate chef school students entered the glass doors of Leiths School of Food and Wine. Some confident in their abilities, others wondering if they should have done the foundation term. We were issued with chef jackets, blue check, elasticated trousers, skull caps, neck ties, aprons and the most hidious kitchen shoes known to man. This certainly isn’t a fashion parade! The first morning was spent learning a little about the course, assessment and what we would be covering in the first week, with many references to “this should be revision to you, you should know this”. Cue nervous glances from nearly every student in the room. Did we know enough? We were about to find out…

Dressed in our chef whites for the first time, our knife skills were put to the test on an onion and a carrot. My onion chopping skills passed muster, my carrot batons needed a little practice to be at the required 90 degree angle demanded by our firm but friendly teacher. Next up was preping and cooking a rack of lamb which made a delicious lunch before an afternoon of demonstrations.

Thursday was a whole day in the kitchen, we’d all made a timeplan the night before and set to putting our shortcrust pastry skills to the test by making Quiche Lorraine. Now I’m not usually a fan of Quiche Lorraine, a bit retro, a bit naff, but done properly, I had to admit it was rather delicious. Beef Carbonnade was even better and Mr W. appreciated the Lemon Sole Meuniere for dinner, even though it had been reheated – not great for fish.

Friday concluded with an afternoon of wine tasting, I’ll admit to swallowing the wines I did like, it was Friday afternoon afterall but I won’t be repeating it in the morning class. Perhaps not a great idea when one has to brandish knives in the afternoon.

So at the end of the first week I still have all my fingers and have yet to burn myself but I did along with 80% of the class gain a blue plaster after cutting myself on my very sharp new knives. Fortunately, it is only a teeny cut, there were worse – much worse! Even better I met the required level to join the foundation students whom I meet tomorrow along with my tutor.

I had so much fun making this gingerbread house with the architectural expertise of Mr W. From mixing the gingerbread to icing and assembling, and finally, seeing the grin on our two year old goddaughters face when she saw it!

The gingerbread mix is from the BBC Good Food website and it behaved perfectly when baking, however, you do have to work quickly with it as it becomes crumbly, so make sure your baking sheets and templates are prepared in advance. I upped the spices to give it a bit more of a ginger kick and a hint of warming spices. There was plenty left over to make Christmas trees and stars for stocking fillers.

The  royal icing was left over from icing the Christmas cake and had been whisked to stiff peaks so it was nice and thick and stayed where I put it. It also gave me a chance to practice my new found piping skills.

Finding brightly coloured boiled sweets at the local newsagents and supermarket proved a bit of a challenge so the stain glass is not as bright as originally planned but overall I’m very pleased with the end result.  In fact, it turned out better than I could have hoped!

The gingerbread house was placed on a silver tray which was dusted all over with icing sugar. Trees were stuck to the tray with more royal icing, though a few blocks of mini toblerone were required to help it stay in place while setting. Inside the house was a gingerbread tree decorated with green icing, surrounded by marzipan presents.

I’m entering my Gingerbread House into the Great British Baking Club December Challenge

Fingers crossed!

Gingerbread

250g butter
200g light soft brown sugar
105ml golden syrup
600g plain flour
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
11/2 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground mixed spice

Heat the oven to 200 degrees. Cut out 3 sheets of baking paper to fit your largest baking tray.

Melt the butter with the sugar and syrup in a saucepan over a low heat.

Sift the dry ingredients together into a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour the butter mixture into the well and quickly bring together with a wooden spoon to make a dough.

Take about 1/4 of the dough (cover the rest with clingfilm to prevent it from drying out) and roll out to the thickness of a £1 coin. Lay the two roof panel templates on the dough and cut round with a knife. A metal ruler will help you gain straight edges. Stamp out trees, stars or any other shape that takes your fancy into the dough around the edges.

Remove the excess dough from around the cut outs and remove the templates. Lift the baking paper with the cut outs on it on to the baking sheet. Bake in the top of the oven for 8 minutes or until golden brown (your oven may vary, the original recipe for this mix suggested 12 minutes, you may wish to do some tester biscuits first – chef’s perk :)).

Repeat with the walls and side panels. If you wish to create stain glass windows. Cut out your shape, remove the dough and fill with crushed boiled sweets.

Allow the gingerbread to cool and harden before placing on a wire rack. Once completely hardened and cool you are ready to decorate and then stick your house together with thick royal icing.

  

First pipe royal icing along the edges of the front wall panel and push the side panels into them. Repeat with the back panel. Support them with a big ball of icing wrapped in clingfilm or whatever you can find in your kitchen – in my case forks and ramekins worked well. Once hardened and set pipe along the top edges of the walls and put the wall panels in place. Support until set.

Pipe icing to create icicles and stick on any chocolate or sweets you wish to decorate your house with.

I think I might make this a Christmas tradition, it certainly seems more popular than Christmas cake.

Nearly three weeks ago I gave up work to give myself a bit of time to rest, catch up on those chores that never seem to get done and swot up on what has already been covered by my soon to be fellow students at cookery school. I thought I’d have plenty of time in which to get everything done and to post more regularly. Yet, I seem to have been busier than ever. After a longer than intended period between posts I give you a Christmas recipe that will give you the energy to get though the festivities.

Mr W and I started making our own granola years ago, chucking in whatever nuts, seeds and dried fruit we have in the cupboard. Friends and family often ask for the recipe and while there are some key ingredients the beauty of homemade granola is you can put in whatever you want.  You also know what is in your morning bowl of cereal. Have you looked at the obscene amount of sugar in breakfast cereals, even the good ones? If you don’t like walnuts leave them out. Don’t have any honey? Use golden or maple syrup or even black treacle. Adjust the sweetness according to your tastes.

It’s also really good for you giving you a slow energy release because of the oats, nuts and seeds. Inspired  by Ellie of Nutmegs, seven we recently replaced oil with pureed apple for an even healthier alternative. You don’t just have to save it for breakfast. It’s great on it’s own as a snack, over ice cream or in a crumble topping.

Cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg – all smells of Christmas. Well not just Christmas, I’ll happily use them all year round but having decided to make a Christmas inspired granola gift these warming spices seemed the most appropriate accompanied by orange and cranberries evoking fragrant memories of mulled wine and gingerbread. The ingredient list is pretty long but you can leave out or add whatever you like. I used three different syrups but one, or honey or brown sugar would work just as well.

Christmas Granola
makes about 2kg

600g porridge oats
100g golden linseeds
100g sunflower seeds
150g pumpkin seeds
150g sesame seeds
200g flaked almonds
100g hazelnuts
150g walnuts
100g desicated coconut
2 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground allspice
zest of 2 oranges
juice of 1 orange
200g pureed apple (cook an apple in a splash of water until it breaks down)
100ml maple syrup
50ml golden syrup
25ml ginger syrup from a jar of stemmed ginger
500g dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix the oats, seeds, coconut, orange zest and spices together. Whisk the apple puree, orange juice and syrups together in a small bowl. Pour oven the oat and mix together. Hands really are best here.

Spread the granola over a shallow tray to depth of about 1 cm and bake for 30 minutes, stirring half way through until golden. For this amount you will need to do this in several batches unless you have an enormous oven.

Once cooled stir through the cranberries and store in an airtight container.

You find the perfect chocolate cake recipe, it rises beautifully high, has a soft, moist yet very light texture and a divine chocolatey taste. You tell everyone about the wonders of said cake and make it again. Yet this time it behaves very differently.

I thought I had the perfect chocolate cake recipe but on further bakes it has stubbornly refused to rise to the giddy heights experienced first time round. Don’t get me wrong, it is still delicious, just a heavier, lower, more fudgy cake with a slightly domed, cracked top which suggests the oven was too hot or too much raising agent was used.

I followed the recipe to the letter, I then tweeked and fiddled, changed the oven temperature and the amount of raising agent, yet it behaved in the same way everytime. So until I have perfected this recipe and found out what I did the first time to create such a masterpiece I am not going to share it with you.

I am however, sharing pictures of the epic chocolate extravaganza birthday cake that I learnt to temper chocolate for.

Having learnt that the cake was to serve 20 I made a three layer cake and iced it with chocolate buttercream. I remade the tempered chocolate panels so that they were 14cm high which took 500g dark chocolate (see instructions on how to make them here), and decorated with chocolate truffles, orange spirals and physallis which are a brilliant contrast in colour and bittersweet citrusy taste against the chocolate.

The plaque is an Armenian name (fortunately recognised by the recipient!) though this cake will forever be known as “Furry” to me. I’m very pleased to report that it was the “star of the party”.

 

 

The demands of my stomach to try authentic cuisine from around the world often dictates holiday destinations so it was with no surprise that Mr W. and I travelled to Morocco to sample many of the culinary delights this country has to offer. Cinnamon, cardamon, cumin, ginger, apricots, dates, chermoula, mint tea, rosewater, saffron, ras el hanout, pastilla, tagine … the list of delicious ingredients, flavour combinations and dishes goes on and in my opinion – what is not to love! I wish I could say the same for the treatment of animals, the vast gap between rich and poor, and the almost aggressive insistence of some hawkers.

The aromatic scents that hit you at every turn are almost intoxicating and it is very difficult not to dine well (though a bout of two of food poisoning at some point is sadly to be expected). In the safety of my own kitchen Moroccan influenced flavours often appear in my cookery and no doubt, over time this influence will be felt in the content of this blog.

A traditional Moroccan meal begins with a delicious array of hot and cold salads, often accompanied with or followed by briouats, little triangular or cylindrical parcels of meat, seafood or cheese wrapped in warqa, a paper-thin Moroccan dough. Whenever I have a dinner party with a Moroccan influence I like to serve some of these little parcels. Favourites include butternut squash, spinach, pinenuts and cinnamon but it is this filling that is always the surprise success of the evening.  I caution now that this version is not authentic, I use filo pastry for starters rather than warqa, spring wrappers would be another alternative. This particular recipe uses smoked mackerel and I’m not sure you would find this particular combination in a traditional Moroccan restaurant or kitchen. The combination of Moroccan spices, sultanas, pinenuts and corriander create a delicious and moreish snack that have so far had my guests coming back for more, I’ve yet to find someone who doesn’t like them.

Adapted from a recipe in a Waitrose magazine.

makes 10

150g smoked peppered mackerel, skinned and flaked
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
25g sultanas
15g pinenuts
2tsp Ras el Hanout
1 clove garlic, crushed
zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp chopped coriander
5 sheets of filo pastry
2-3tbsp olive oil

Heat the oven to 200 degrees.

Heat 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan and saute the onion until soft. Add the flaked mackerel, garlic, sultanas, pinenuts and Ras el Hanout and continue cooking for 1 minute. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in the coriander and lemon zest.

Lay 5 sheets of filo pastry on the worktop and cut into 4 strips widthways. Take one strip and brush it with a little olive oil. Lay another strip on top. Place 1-11/2 teaspoons of the mackerel mixture in the top left corner of the strip and fold over to form a triangle. Continue folding in a triangle shape until you reach the end of the sheet. Repeat to make 10 parcels.

Place the parcels on a non stick baking tray and brush with a little oil. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden and crisp. Leave to cool on a wire rack for a few minutes before serving.

These parcels can be made in advance and reheated in the oven for 5 minutes, or they can be frozen for up to a month and baked from frozen for about 25 minutes.

I have been asked to make a birthday cake and it is for an unusual client who has lost his sense of taste and smell. Therefore, it has to look amazing! No pressure there then…

When making a cake flavour is absolutely the most important thing for me, and whilst I like to make my cake look good too I usually do this with fruit, or cut out a patterned template to dust icing sugar over. Buttercream is usually my limit but this is to be a special, celebration cake so I’ve decided basic buttercream just won’t cut it. Royal icing? Not my forte (yet), mainly due to my own dislike of the sickly stuff which in my opinion ruins a perfectly decent cake – though I will be perfecting it on the Christmas cake (yum) this year after covering it with marzipan (eurgh). Not to mention, no doubt, all the practice I will get at Leiths.

It is to be a chocolate cake so I’m going for a chocolate extravaganza. The edges of the cake will be decorated with chocolate panels which I made this weekend after a dash to Lakeland to purchase a decent size palette knife and a digital thermometer so I could temper my chocolate properly. This is my first attempt at tempering chocolate and I am pretty pleased with the result.

If melting chocolate to line moulds, for coating, or making chocolate shapes it is essential to temper it to avoid a dull appearance and ‘blooms’ (white blotches) when it hardens. When melted chocolate hardens the cocoa butter in the chocolate forms a crystal structure and type of structure is determined by the temperature at which they formed. Tempering changes the alignment of molecules in chocolate so the desired type of cocoa butter crystals remain unmelted in the chocolate.

How to temper dark chocolate

Firstly, use a good quality chocolate

Chop the chocolate into small pieces (about 1 cm). Reserve 20%

Half fill a saucepan with water and heat until it simmers. Set a heatproof bowl containing 80% of the chocolate above very gently simmering water. Make sure it does not touch the water. Even the tiniest amount of liquid or steam can cause chocolate to seize and whilst it may be possible to rescue it by adding a little oil and reheating it, it will not be possible to temper it.

Stir the chocolate until it melts and reaches a temperature of 45 degrees (43 degrees for milk and white chocolate). Remove from the heat and cool to 27 degrees (25-26 degrees for milk or white) by adding the remaining 20% of chocolate. Stir constantly. This process is called ‘seeding’. – I found the chocolate took quite a long time to drop to this temperature so helped it out by transferring it to a cool bowl and continued to stir to keep the temperature even.

Reheat the cooled chocolate to 31 degrees (27 degrees for milk or white). Do not let it exceed 33 degrees or you will need to reheat it to 45 degrees and start the process again as I had to do as the temperature rocketed far quicker than I was anticipating when I placed it above the water. Do not allow the chocolate to overheat or it will seize.

To test if the chocolate has tempered successfully, dip the back of a teaspoon into the chocolate, tap of the excess and allow to stand for 5 minutes. It should harden and be shiny. If not, repeat the tempering process.

Once tempered keep at 31 degress by placing the bowl in a roasting tin half filled with lukewarm water.

To make chocolate panels

I did not have any acetate so borrowed this technique from Mandy Mortimer of What the Fruitcake?!, which uses baking paper. However, whilst it worked perfectly on the upside, the underside does not have the same shine, so I think it is worth investing in acetate.

To cover the sides of a 9 inch cake I used 250g of 70% dark chocolate to make 10x 4cm panels.

1. Drawn a 20 x 40cm rectangle on a piece of baking paper. Extend the lines so you know where to cut once the template has been covered in tempered chocolate.

2. Mark lines every 4cm along the longest sides and 10cm on the shortest.

3. Reverse the paper and tape it to the worktop or baking sheet.

4. Pour the tempered chocolate on to the template and spread evenly with a palette knife. It will start to harden quickly.

5. While the chocolate is still tacky, cut out the panels using a sharp knife

6. Once completely hardened, use or store in an airtight container between sheets of greaseproof paper.

To create a pattern, drizzle or pipe tempered chocolate of a different colour over the chocolate slab. Continue from step 5.

To embed the design into the slab as I have done, drizzle or pipe your design on to the baking paper. I used 50g tempered milk chocolate. Allow to harden and continue from step 4.

I will be posting the finished cake in a few days time.

Resources:
Cooking for engineers – Tempering Chocolate
Leiths Techniques Bible
What the Fruitcake?! – Chocolate shards