April 30, 2015

Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes

These little darlings were adapted (extremely minimally) from Nigella's Chocolate Guinness Cake. I must confess, 99% of the work that went into making these was my friend James, and I mostly provided the kitchen space, air traffic control, some washing up, and (she said optimistically) engaging banter. Well, and the butter icing recipe. And some bossiness, which was part of the package deal, because I cannot shut up in the kitchen, it turns out.

The cupcakes themselves turned out very nicely, with a good texture - tender, with a nice even crumb and a desirable bit of springiness - and the recipe is quite generous, which meant we got 24 cupcakes out of a recipe originally for a single 10-inch springform pan. And, of course, a shorter baking time.

The icing in the original recipe is a cream cheese version, which I really don't care for at all (despite being a fan, generally, of both cream cheese and icing). There is literally no instance of cream cheese frosting that I think wouldn't be better served by a butter icing, and that includes carrot cake (if you must), red velvet cake, and cinnamon buns. Further, James had brought a bottle of Orange Truffle Bailey's specifically to use in the icing, and so it made much more sense to use an icing recipe whose flavours are conducive to such switch-outs.

Since James had already purchased the Union Jack muffin-tin liners, we went ahead and used those instead of my usual habit of not using liners at all in favour of butter (or canola spritz). This of course made cupcake removal from the tin a much speedier process, which helps when you are making two batches even if you have two tins. One of the cupcakes got a doubled liner, and so the flag didn't darken quite as much under the influence of the dark, wet batter, so that one was extra patriotic, I guess. Certainly a touch more photogenic.

Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes with Orange Truffle Bailey's Icing

Adapted from Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Guinness Cake from Feast

250 ml Guinness (or stout of your choice)
250 grams unsalted butter
75 grams cocoa powder
400 grams plain granulated sugar
142 ml sour cream
2 large eggs, beaten well
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
275 grams cake flour (405 flour, in Germany)
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

Orange Truffle Bailey's Icing

This recipe can be halved for smaller batches of cupcakes

500 grams (4 cups) icing sugar
8 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
125 ml Orange Truffle Bailey's Irish Cream (or regular Bailey's, or ordinary dairy cream with a splash of vanilla, if you prefer)

Obviously, you need a good digital scale to take on this recipe. Start with a large saucepan, because otherwise you will need to transfer to a larger bowl mid-mix, as we did. Learn from our mistake!

Preheat your oven to 350 F/ 180 C. Place a rack in the middle of the oven. Place liners in the muffin wells of your 12-cup tin, or, grease the tin thoroughly if you are not using liners.

Warm the Guinness in a large saucepan, and slowly add the butter until it is all melted. Remove from the heat.

To the warm Guinness/butter mixture, whisk in the cocoa powder and the sugar, and whisk until smooth. It's a lot of sugar, but don't be scared: it's making 24 cupcakes.

Separately, mix the eggs and sour cream together until smooth, and then add the vanilla extract and beat that in well, too. Yes, it's a lot of vanilla extract - it has to stand up to some pretty intense flavours, so just go with it.

Also separately, combine the flour and baking soda, and whisk together. There's no salt in this recipe, and it doesn't appear to need it. This seems weird to me, but it turned out just fine.

To the Guinness/butter mixture, add the eggs/sour cream/vanilla mixture, and stir until just combined. Then add the flour and baking soda mixture, and carefully whisk that in until just combined, preferably using a folding motion to minimize any unnecessary gluten development. When there are no longer any streaks of flour (the mixture will be a bit bubbly from the combination of stout and baking soda, but don't worry about it), spoon the batter into the waiting liners. Don't fill them completely to the top, just about 3/4 full is perfect. You should only get half way through your batter for the first batch. If you have a second muffin tin, you can prepare it while the first tin is in the oven. If not, you'll have to wait until the first batch comes out and the cupcakes are removed before you can proceed to get the remaining batter spooned out.

Bake the cupcakes for 20 minutes. If your oven is a bit slow, they might need a smidge more - you can always test them for doneness with a strand of spaghetti or a toothpick. Or, you know, a cake skewer. If they are ready, pull them out of the oven, and as soon as they are cool enough to handle, remove them from the tin and place them on a cooling rack.

When all the cupcakes are cooked, and all have cooled to room temperature, it's time to make the butter icing.

In a medium mixing bowl, place the icing sugar, the butter, and the Bailey's (or cream and vanilla). If you have an electric mixer, use it on high until the mixture becomes a thick, spreadable icing. If you are using manpower, as we were, we found using a wooden spoon far better than a whisk for thoroughly combining everything. If the icing is too stiff, you can add a bit more liquid of your choice - more Bailey's, or more cream, until it reaches the desired consistency.

When the cupcakes are cool, cover the tops with frosting in whatever manner you like. I don't currently have a piping bag, so we simply used table knives to sort of spackle the icing onto the top of each cupcake. We probably could have added more Bailey's and made the icing a little smoother and swirlier, but these were going to be transported, and a stiffer icing seems to hold up better under those circumstances, I feel.

April 25, 2015

Barley & Tomato Risotto with Marinated Cheese

As you can see, I'm still very much enjoying the Jerusalem cookbook by Ottolenghi and Tamimi. This is, in fact, one of the recipes that leaped out at me while I was still leafing through the book in the store, so it's no surprise that it should make it onto the table as one of the first few recipes tried. We had this with the Kofta B'siniyah from the previous post on the first day, but the leftovers were reheated on their own for a nice vegetarian dinner with a green and leafy side salad to add a bit of fresh crunch.

Barley is a very hearty grain, which is to say that it is quite filling, and it usually takes about 40 minutes to cook (as does risotto, generally). It is not a true risotto, of course, as the liquid is added all at once, but the net effect is very similar.

I decided to use a seasoned Turkish cheese that I can easily get locally in place of the feta, and it went very nicely as a garnish. We had a slightly larger amount of cheese on the leftovers, since it was a main course at that point. It also meant that I could leave out the caraway from the original marinated cheese recipe, which I felt would be too strong for my tastes.

As an editorial comment, I think it could use much less passata next time - maybe 100 ml tops, but I've written the recipe here as we made it, with 300 ml. In that case, with less liquid going in, I would definitely keep an eye on the cooking process to make sure it didn't burn (and might give an extra 100 ml water at the start).

Barley & Tomato Risotto with Marinated Cheese

Adapted from Jerusalem

Serves 4

200 grams pearl barley
30 grams butter
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 stalks celery, finely diced
2 small shallots, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaf (or a few sprigs of fresh)
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
4 wide strips lime rind (the original calls for lemon)
1/4 teaspoon chile flakes
400 grams diced tomatoes
700 ml vegetables stock or broth
300 ml passata
200 grams seasoned feta-type cheese, crumbled
fresh oregano leaves (optional)

Rinse the barley well, and drain thoroughly.

In a large saucepan or dutch oven, melt the butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil together over medium heat until hot. Add the celery, shallots, and garlic, and sauté until tender. Add the barley and stir about well until the barley grains are glistening, and then add the rest of the ingredients, except the cheese, the fresh oregano leaves, and the remaining olive oil. Everything else, though, in the pot.

Bring it up to a gentle simmer, lower the heat, and cook for 40 - 45 minutes, stirring frequently, until the liquid is mostly absorbed except for a bit of sauciness, and the barley is tender.

While the barley is cooking, add the remaining olive oil to the cheese, and stir gently to combine.

Serve it up in a shallow bowl with a dollop of cheese (with the oil!) on top, and finish with a few fresh oregano leaves if you are using them.

Don't remove the citrus rind before serving - try to get one into each bowl. After the long cooking time, they become tender, aromatic, and delicious.

April 17, 2015

Kofta B'siniyah - Beef & Lamb Meatballs with Pine Nuts

This is another fantastic recipe from the Jerusalem cookbook by Ottolenghi and Tamimi. I do wish that my serving platter were a bit bigger, because they're a little crowded-looking here, but this was a spectacular dish that we're very keen to make again as soon as possible.

Do not hesitate to include the tahini sauce that provides the bed for the kofta to lie upon - it goes so beautifully with the kofta that you'll probably find yourself dabbing each bite into a little more sauce.

You can find the original recipe here on The Telegraph's website.

Kofta B'siniyah

adapted from Jerusalem

Makes 10 Kofta

300 grams minced lamb
300 grams minced beef
1 small red onion, very finely chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, crushed
50 grams toasted pine nuts, divided, half roughly chopped
3 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped, plus extra for garnish
1 large hot red chile pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon coarse salt (kosher or sea salt)
1 tablespoon canola oil

4 tablespoons tahini paste, well stirred
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 large clove of garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 tablespoons water

To Finish
2 tablespoons butter, browned
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
Toasted pine nuts (the whole ones, from above)
sweet paprika, to garnish (or you could use sumac instead)

If your pine nuts aren't toasted, do that first, in a dry skillet over medium heat until golden and fragrant. Then prepare your mise en place - mince the onions, crush the garlic, mince the parsley and the chile, prep the seasonings - everything but the oil.

If you can buy the meat from the butcher already combined, that will ensure the greatest level of integration of the beef and lamb, but not to worry if you buy them separately. Into a large mixing bowl, break up the meat with your fingers - pinching a little bit off the packet at a time and dropping it into the mixing bowl - so that when it has all been pinched out, you have a fluffy, aerated pile of ground meat(s). Add the prepared mise ingredients for the kofta and mix together lightly with your hands to distribute all of the "bits" evenly throughout the meat. The smaller your onion pieces the better they will integrate (although don't crush them to mush in a food processor, or you will make the mixture too wet).

Divide the meat mixture into ten pieces, and shape each one into an oval or "torpedo" shape.

Heat the canola oil in a large skillet, and, working in batches if necessary to not crowd the pan, fry the kofta over medium heat until browned on all sides.

If you want to be doubly sure that they are cooked through, you can pop the pan into a hot oven for five minutes or so after they're well fried, but if you have good quality meat from the butcher, a little rare in the middle is delicious.

While the kofta are frying, stir together the ingredients for the sauce, and separately brown the butter.

Spread the sauce onto a serving platter, and arrange the kofta evenly over the surface. Scatter parsley and pine nuts over top, and dust with a pinch of paprika or sumac. Spoon a little of the browned butter over each kofta, and serve.

April 03, 2015

Hot Cross Buns

Hot Crossed Buns, or Hot Cross Buns? I guess it depends on whether you prefer a noun or an adjective. I grew up saying "Hot Crossed Buns" but now I find myself saying "Hot Cross Buns" so somewhere along the line I guess I gave way to what I hear around me.

My mother used her classic bread recipe to make these buns (with a little extra sugar), but as I've lamented before, the exact formula for that is now lost to us. Over the years, I've made a few different types, from using Challah dough to plain pizza dough, and they've been fine, but never quite what I wanted. This year, I decided to go with the classic from The Joy Of Cooking, and I'm very pleased with the results (although, next time I would use altogether more fruit, and possibly be a bit more heavy-handed in the way of spices).

In any event, these are a pleasing, not-too-sweet holiday bread that is both a perfect teatime snack as well as a charmingly festive alternative to eggs, eggs, and more eggs (which I say with love, because I adore eggs, of both poultry and chocolate varieties).

Hot Cross Buns

adapted from The Joy of Cooking

Makes 18 buns

1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt (coarse sea salt would be fine)
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup raisins (or any other raisin-sized dried fruit) (next time I would use 1 cup)
1/2 cup candied orange peel (or mixed peel)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (next time I would use 1/2 teaspoon)
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg (next time, 1/4 teaspoon)
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons warm water (not boiling)
1 egg, beaten, plus 1 egg, separately beaten until smooth (to be used as an egg wash at the end)
2 2/3 to 3 1/2 cups flour (depending on your flour - start with the lower amount)

Scald the milk and remove from the heat. Stir in the sugar, salt, butter, raisins, peel, and spices. Let stand to become lukewarm.

While the mixture cools, in a large, warmed mixing bowl, prove the yeast by sprinkling it over the warm water. When it foams up, sprinkle a little flour over it (no more than a half-teaspoon) to keep it "fed" while the milk mixture cools down. Add the now-lukewarm milk mixture to the yeast mixture, and stir. Add the beaten egg, and stir very thoroughly to combine. Add a cup of flour and stir it through. Add another cup of flour, and stir that through. Add 2/3 cup of flour and, if that looks like enough to bring it to being a soft but manageable dough, stop there and knead it for about five minutes. If not, keep adding flour until you have a workable dough. Living in Germany, I find I often need more flour than is called for in North American bread (and cookie) recipes. When your dough has been kneaded until nice and satiny, clean the mixing bowl, oil it lightly and put the dough, covered with plastic, someplace slightly warm to rise (such as an oven with the light bulb on for added warmth).

When the dough has doubled (about an hour, but start checking after 45 minutes), turn it out onto your workspace, and divide into 18 buns. I only got 17 because I wasn't paying attention, but it works better in the pan if you have full rows, as the buns cling together as they rise. I was short one bun, so the two buns on one end didn't keep their rows straight, and they rose a little wonkily. No matter. Shape the buns into tight, smooth balls, and lay them out in either a 9x13" glass baking dish or with sides just touching on a metal baking tray, Cover with plastic, and let rise for about 20 - 30 minutes, until not-quite doubled.

Preheat the oven to 425 F / 220 C, and while the oven pre-heats, use a table knife to gently press a cross into each bun. Do each bun separately, rather than trying to score a whole row at a time; each bun deserves individual attention. Don't press too deeply - you're just creating a guideline for adding the glaze later. (Although, in some cultures, the cross lets fairies, or variously the devil, out of the dough before it's baked.)

Brush each bun lightly with egg wash, trying to keep the egg was from pooling in the crosses.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until nicely golden brown, and remove to a rack to cool.

When they've mostly cooled, glaze the crosses:

In a small bowl, put 3/4 cup powdered sugar (or icing/confectioner's sugar). Add enough lemon or lime juice to make a thick glaze. Spoon the glaze along the crosses. You can use an icing syringe for nice, smooth crosses, if you like. Be generous enough with the glaze that it flows a little over the sides of the buns on the edge, but no so much that it just runs freely all over the top of the whole batch. Again, glaze each bun individually for best effect.

Devour at will. With some tea, would be nice.