Millionaire’s Shortbread

I loved Millionaire’s Shortbread as a child. Mum used to make it occasionally and I’d sneak downstairs and nick slices out of the biscuit tin.

It’s a wonder that I’ve not attempted to make it before now. I think I’ve always been put off by making the caramel layer, and the fact that it’s a three step process with gaps between each step. You need to plan ahead, which is something I always seem to forget to do. As I had all the ingredients and I was off work (ill again), I decided I had the time to make it.

Making the caramel...

I’d already decided to follow Felicity Cloake’s recipe on the Guardian website, which was easy to follow. I started with the shortbread, which went without drama. I’ve never used semolina in shortbread before, it certainly made the base slightly crunchier.

When the base was cool, I made the caramel, which as it turns out wasn’t that hard. Although I think it’s one of those things that you get better with experience, as it’s all about knowing when to stop the cooking. Once the caramel was cool, I melted the chocolate and slathered it on top.

Chunks of Millionaire's Shortbread...

I always remember Mum cutting her millionaire’s shortbread into fingers. This was so chunky and rich, that I’m not sure you’d have been able to finish a finger. With the office being half empty again, and the fact that you didn’t need that big a chunk, it didn’t get finished. My wife loves millionaire’s shortbread, as do the kids, so I luckily managed to avoid a tricky situation by brining some home.

If I was to make it again, I would make the shortbread and caramel layers slightly thiner, they were both just a bit too thick. This might require a bit more chocolate on top, which is hardly a problem.

Taleggio and Spinach Brioche Couronne

After watching the final episode of Paul Hollywood’s Bread, I really wanted to make his Savoury Brioche Couronne, but as it’s not vegetarian, I wanted to use a different filling. Step forward Yotam Ottolenghi and his Taleggio and Spinach Roulade from his new book Plenty More.

Making the brioche dough was pretty straight forward and it went into the colder of our two fridges to spend the night. Unlike the brioche that I’d made a couple of weeks before, I put this dough into a large enough container. Even so, it still ballooned enough to touch to the clingfilm that I’d placed over the top of the bowl.

The following morning the dough came out of the fridge a few hours before I knew that I was going to need to bake it. If I’m being honest, I could probably have got it out a little earlier, as the couronne didn’t see to rise that much once it was made. The dough was still quite soft, even though it had been in the fridge all night. The top had formed a little bit of a skin, so I might need to oil it a bit more next time, although it didn’t seem to affect the dough once it had been rolled out.

I had to use quite a bit of flour to stop the dough from sticking to the work surface and the rolling pin. It wasn’t as easy to handle as Paul made it look on the telly either, every time I tried to pick it up to turn it round I nearly put my fingers through it, as it was quite floppy. For some reason I didn’t get my measuring tape out, so I definitely rolled the dough out too large. It was supposed to be a 40cm x 50cm rectangle, but I went over on both dimensions, especially the width. This made the dough a bit on the thin side, which became a problem when it came to rolling up.

I was a bit worried about Yotam’s filling, as you have to slather some crème fraîche over the dough before adding the rest of the fillings. I was a bit worried that this would stop the dough from cooking properly, but given Paul’s recipe calls for four mozzarella balls, which are renown for outputting large amounts of liquid when melted, I figured that a little crème fraîche would be probably be fine. It was.

As I’d made the dough a little on the thin side, rolling it all up meant that the tomatoes and lumps of taleggio wanted to burst through the dough. In retrospect, I could have squished both flat with my hand, before scattering them across the dough. Eventually though, it was all rolled up and rolled out into long thin sausage. As I don’t own a Scottish Scraper, I just used one of my big Global knives to shop down the middle of the dough and split it in two.

When you see Paul twisting the two sausages of dough together on the telly, it looks relatively easy. In reality it wasn’t quite that simple, as the two sausages of dough just weren’t robust enough to be picked up and thrown about like that. You picked up and end and the dough just started to stretch, there was no way it was going to wrap itself into a nice looking twist with just a few flicks of the wrist.

Not to be deterred, I somehow managed to twist the two strands together and form the whole thing into a kind of ring shape. I did struggle trying to join the two ends, as can clearly be seen in the photos. Once it was successfully on a baking sheet, it was put into a polybag and left to rise for about an hour. I think it would have benefitted from a slightly longer prove, as it didn’t seem to have risen that much at all. After a bit of an egg wash, it was into the oven.

While it was cooking, I knocked up a couple of salads to go with it. One was just a simple rocket, olive, tomato and feta affair with a simple white wine vinegar and olive oil vinaigrette. The second, was a chicory, mulled pear and taleggio salad, with a honey mustard dressing.

I was a bit unsure about the chicory salad, as it’s not something we really use. As we don’t have a griddle pan we can use on our induction hob, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to char it enough to soften it. I needn’t have worried though, a stinking hot frying pan did the job and the salad was really nice. A perfect use for one of the Kilner jars of mulled pears that didn’t seal.

Taleggio and Spinach Brioche Couronne

So what was it like? It was really nice, if maybe a touch on the doughy side, in my opinion. I’m not sure if I thought it was doughy because that’s just what’s like, or if it would have benefited from a longer final prove, or slightly longer in the oven. Never having made one before, it’s hard to know what the outcome is actually supposed to be like.

It appeared to go down well with everyone though and the leftovers I had for the lunch the following day were pretty tasty too. It’s definitely something I would do again, maybe with a slightly longer final prove though.

Apple and Bramble Crumble

My all time favorite pudding, Autumn isn’t complete without one every weekend.

I’ve loved Apple and Bramble Crumble for as long as I can remember, I used to request it as part of my birthday meal every year when I was younger. No other crumble will suffice, it’s just not right if it doesn’t contain the jewel of the Autumnal hedgerow. I can’t walk past a bramble bush without stopping to stuff my face, it’s one of lifes great pleasures. It’s always a sad day when the last packet of frozen brambles are used up, knowing that it’ll be months and months before the next chance to pluck one from it’s thorny home.

I think one of the beauties of making Apple and Bramble Crumble is how you can tinker with it, but still retain the very essence of the dish. It doesn’t really matter if you use the bog standard recipe from the Good Housekeeping Cookery Book, go all Raymond Blanc and cook the crumble and filling seperatley, or spice up the filling like Tony Singh, the essence of the dish remains.

So last time I made it, I decided to go a bit off piste and rather than just following the Good Housekeeping Cookery Book recipe, I decided to follow Tony’s lead and get the spices out. Sautéing the apples in spiced butter, prior to baking... In with some jaggery, rather than plain white sugar, then a cinnamon stick and a star anise were added and left to infuse while I chopped the apples. Eaters of course, as you want your apples to stay chunky and solid and not turn to mush, like a cooker would. I also used a variety of apples, so each mouthful would yield a slightly different taste and texture.

I’ve found that I need my hob on nearly full whack to get any sort of colour on the apples within the few minutes the Good Housekeeping Cookery Book recipe says to cook them for. In this instance, that meant the aromas coming out of the pan were immense, jaggery certainly makes for a tasty caramelisation. I think maybe a couple more star anise next time though, or a longer infussion, so that flavour comes through a bit more.

All in all, it was a very tasty pimping of an otherwise bog standard Apple and Bramble Crumble and one that warrants a bit more experimentation. Maybe next time I’ll cook the filling and the topping separately and see how that works. Always serving it with ice cream mind, none of this double cream nonsense…

Brioche

Brioche

I’ve been baking a lot of bread recently, at least one loaf per week, sometimes as many as three. All of them have just been my usual mix of 400g of Strong White, along with 100g of Rye, which I quite like. I wanted to try some sort of enriched bread though, something like a Gugelhupf or a Panettone, but as I had neither a Gugelhupf or a Panettone tin, I decided to have another attempt at some Brioche

I hadn’t realised that it had been so long since I’d last attempted some Brioche, nearly two years, so was keen to try again. Rather than use the recipe from Bread: River Cottage Handbook No. 3, I decided to use the one on Paul Hollywood’s website. I’m not sure what it is, but I’ve found that I’m getting better results using Paul’s recipes, rather than Dan’s. Brioche dough trying to escape... It might just be that I’m not over proving my bread anymore, either way, Paul’s recipes just seem to produce nice bread.

I mixed up the dough and stuck it into the fridge before going out for the evening. I popped back to the house to pick something up a few hours later and opened the fridge to check on the dough, it had decided to try and break free from its shackles and was almost out of its container. There was me thinking that yeast doesn’t work at low temperatures, the Allinson dried active baking yeast that my wife accidently bought (it was supposed to be the Doves Farm quick yeast) certainly seemed happy enough to keep going for a couple of hours at least.

The following morning I shaped the dough, which was still quite sticky and pliable, into a ball and popped it into our 23cm springform tin and left it on the work surface to rise. I was a bit worried that the yeast might have exhausted itself in the fridge the night before, so after a couple of hours of inactivity, I put the tin onto a bit of work surface that had sunlight on it. Hey Presto, it’s Safeway, an hour later the dough was peeking over the top of the tin, so into the oven it went.

It required a few minutes longer than the time stated in the recipe, but then the tin I used was also an inch smaller, so presumably the Brioche was a bit thicker and needed a few extra minutes to finish. Brioche, with mulled pears, sour cream and pomegranate molasses... It came out of the tin with no issues and was left to cool while we all went down the pub for a few halves of Oakham Green Devil IPA. I must have been going on and on about it down the pub, as I ended up coming home and cutting a few slices to share around the pub garden.

The end result was fantastic, if I do say so myself, the kids must have thought so too, as they were even asking for it in the mornings before school. As I had a kilner jar of mulled pears that hadn’t sealed, I toasted some of the Brioche and had some of the pears, with some sour cream and pomegranate molasses for my breakfast. Any day that starts with a slab of toasted Brioche has to be a good day.

Mulled Pears

Mulled pears...

Last year when I was making cider, you couldn’t move in the orchard without crushing pears with each footstep. Not so this year, with hardly any fruit on the trees, so when I found some pears I grabbed them with both hands. Rather than using the paltry amount to boost the perceived sweetness of my cider, I decided to try mulling them, using the instructions in Preserves: River Cottage Handbook No.2.

I appeared to have collected two different varietals of pear, so decided to make two batches, one with each. The first batch was the step into the unknown, do I quarter or just half these small pears, how many cloves to stuff into each one, how full do I fill the kilner jar with syrup, the usual kind of stuff. As it turned out, the process was quite simple, although I ballsed it up at the end by inverting one of the Kilner jars when it had just come out of the oven.

I didn’t know that Kilner jars allowed the steam to escape, even when closed, so imagine my surprise to find a load of boiling syrup ejected round the seal when I turned the jar the right way round again. Unsurprisingly, this jar didn’t seal. It also didn’t seal when I tried to reprocess it in the oven the following day. So it’s currently in the fridge and the kids and I are enjoying eating the contents.

I thought the second batch would go slightly smoother, especially as I now know why you don’t touch a newly sealed Kilner jar. The second batch of pears were slightly bigger though, so even with them all being quartered, it was quite a tight fit to get them all in the two jars. Because of this, I’m not sure I managed to get all the air pockets out when add the the syrup, so when they cooled, the level of syrup was far, far too low. Also, one of the jar again failed to seal. So both of those will be reprocessed after having some light sugar syrup added to them.

Sloe Jelly

Sloe jelly boiling away...

You can do more with the humble sloe than use it to flavour gin. As there was such a glut of them this year, I decided to have a bash at making some sloe jelly.

I ended up making two batches, I didn’t feel the first was particularly good, but the second seemed to turn out much better. The first batch barely set, even though it was easily past setting temperature and took on a sort of gelatinous quality. The second batch was more straight forward and set like most of my hedgerow jellies do and wasn’t in the least bit gelatinous. Sloe jelly on toast... I’m not sure what I did differently between the two, maybe I boiled the second one a bit harder and for longer, but they both passed the various setting tests that I used.

I think the thing I noticed most while making both batches, was the colour. It was mega, a really intense deep purpley red and it looked like the contents of some sort of witches cauldron while it was boiling away. Taste wise, you could tell it was made from sloes, it had a touch of that mouth drying thing they do. It wasn’t anywhere near as bad a sucking on one straight off the bush, but it was there and made for an interesting taste experience. I think if you cut down on the sugar a bit more, it would be even more intense, which is maybe something to try next year.

Quince Cheese

Putting the softened quince through a sieve...

I attempted quince cheese last year, but it turned out more like quince concrete, as I massively over cooked it. I had to have another attempt, as I’m sure that if such a place as paradise actually existed, it would smell of ripe quince.

When I attempted to make quince cheese last year, I ran into the same problem that befell the green tomato chutney. I was so focused on following the recipe instructions that common sense went out the window. Since I couldn’t see the base of the pan for a couple of seconds after drawing a spoon through it, I kept on cooking and cooking and cooking. When I finally gave up cooking it, I stupidly put it into jars, rather than into a loaf tin. It set so hard, that it was impossible to get out, and the entire batch, jars and all, ended up in the bin.

Chopped quince, ready for softening...I was determined not to make the same mistake this year, but to just use my judgement about when it was ready. I also decided to forgo the jars and put it all into loaf tins, mainly so that if I did over cook it, we’d at least be able to turn it into a sweetmeat; cubed and rolled in icing sugar to turn it into a quince Turkish delight kind of thing.

My main issue this year though, was getting hold of some quince. My source of quince last year has moved house and since she got them from her old neighbour, I figured I wouldn’t be getting any. Luckily for me, my boss at work has a mature quince tree in his garden, so after a quick pretty please, I was handed bag, after bag, after bag. The kitchen has smelt amazing all Autumn.

Heating the pulp before adding the sugar...Quince are quite hard and I find that if I use any of my Global knives to chop them, I get blisters on my index finger. I totally forgot to bandage it up, so naturally I got a big blister. I’m not sure what it is about the knives, but my right index finger does suffer if I have to do a lot of chopping, or chop something hard. One day I’ll invest in some really posh knives, but I have the nagging feeling it’s more a problem of my crappy skin, than the knives.

In a similar fashion to last year, the chopped quince were simmered till soft and then left to sit for a few hours to extract the flavour. After that, the real ball ache of the whole operation commenced, putting the softened quince through a sieve. I really, really need to invest in a mouli, as putting two kilos of softened quince through a sieve is soul, arm and sieve destroying.

Reduced and almost ready...I brought the resultant paste up to boiling point and instantly regretted it, as it turned into a pot of hissing and spitting lava. I quickly took it off the heat and added all the sugar, before putting it back onto a heat that was just short of it spitting everywhere. I tried not to stir it too much, but it does have a tendency to catch on the bottom of the pan, so it did get stood next to and stirred occasionally.

So the big question was, when is it done? I knew I wasn’t going to cook it for as long as last year, but when should I stop, I didn’t want it to be too jelly like, firm, with just a bit of wiggle was the aim. I’ve seen quince paste for sale in Gog Magog Farm Shop before and I’ve been bought some quince cheese in a jar, so I knew roughly what the colour and texture should be like. So after some length of cooking, I didn’t note exactly how long, I decided it looked about right and took it off the heat.

Left to set... As I mentioned earlier, I’d decided not to put it into jars this year, just in case, so the whole lot went into a couple of greaseproof paper lined loaf tins. There was so much, there wasn’t a lot of room to spare. I let it set overnight, then chopped it up into slices, wrapped each slice in it’s own bit of greaseproof and wrapped them all in cling film and put them in the fridge. Next year, I might do a loaf tin and some jars, as the jars would be ideal to give away.

It would appear to have gone down well with the rest of the family. I asked my daughter what her favorite cheese was the other day and she replied quince cheese. My wife has also been scoffing it most lunchtimes and has even made her own batch with some of the quince we had left over. A definite winner!

Sloe Gin and Damson Gin

Sloe Gin and Damson Gin

There appears to be the same number of ways of making Sloe Gin, as there are people making it. It certainly seems to be one of those things where pretty much anything goes, with most instructions featuring a healthy dose of myth and nonsense.

I thought about making some last year, and even collected some sloes, but just never quite got round to buying any gin. I’d chatted extensively with Ed from the Bacchanalia, about what gin to use and we came to the conclusion that it should be Tanqueray London Dry, which just so happens to be what my father in law uses.

Unfortunately, I just couldn’t justify the cost of a couple of bottles of Tanqueray, when I could get a 1.5 litre bottle of Sainsbury’s own label for less money. Sainsbury’s appear to do four different types of gin, Basics (£10 for 70cl), Dry London Gin (clear bottle, £11.50 for 70cl or £22.50 for 1.5L), Green bottle Dry London Gin (£14 for 70cl) and finally Taste the Difference (£16.50 for 70cl), but the clear bottle Dry London Gin was the only one in the large 1.5 Litre size. To be honest though, I could have gone to Aldi and bought a couple of bottles of their Silver Medal winning gin for even less, which I may do next year.

Getting ready to introduce the sloes to the gin...Sloes aren’t the only thing you can soak in your gin and since I’ve never done this before, I quite fancied making a Damson Gin too. I can get tons of sloes locally, but I was a bit stuck for damsons, until I noticed some while out scrumping. I think I’d left it a bit late, as there was only a few left on the tree and I wasn’t sure they’d be enough.

Fully prepared with sloes, damsons and a big bottle of gin, I decided that rather than chucking everything together with a load of sugar, I’d try and be a bit more scientific. Mainly as that’s how I am, but also so, if it’s any good, I’ll be wanting to try and reproduce it next year. So the first thing I did was pop the sloes and damsons into the freezer for a couple of days.

There are so many conflicting instructions about how to make your sloe or damson gin on the internet. Plus myths like having to wait for the first frost before picking the fruit, or having to pricking each berry with a fork or pin, are repeated everywhere. If you wait for the first frost, the chances are the birds will have already eaten most of the sloes and there certainly won’t be any damsons left.

The whole reasons for the first frost thing, is so that the fruit has frozen and then thawed. This has the effect of breaking down the cell walls of the flesh and splitting the outer skin, which can be replicated very easily by popping the fruit into your freezer for a couple of days. You should pick your fruit when it’s ripe, not when the weather randomly decides to provide you with a freezing cold night.

The whole freezing thing means that you don’t have to do the pricking thing either. I honestly couldn’t imagine having to prick each individual sloe with a fork, pin or spike from a Blackthorn bush; it would be beyond tedious.

Colouring up nicely...Most recipes online just say, fill the jar half full, which is a total cop out. One persons half full, it anothers three fifths and what not, so I decided to weigh mine. I’d bought a couple of 1 litre Kilner jars and filled each roughly half way, then emptied the fruit out and weighed it. The half a jar of frozen sloes weighed 350g, while the damsons weighed 365g. This means that if I’m not happy with the intensity of the fruit flavour, I can either use slightly more, or less fruit and know that from weight, rather than from trying to remember what a roughly half filled jar looks like.

The final issue is how much sugar to add. Fruit is a seasonal thing and thus various from season to season, which means that the sugar content of sloes and damsons will be slightly different each year. Why would you then add exactly the same amount of sugar each year? You may need more or less than previous years, depending on what this years crop of fruit is like. So I’m with Sipsmith on this one, leave the sugar out, until you come to bottle it up, then you can add exactly the right amount, so I didn’t add any.

I managed to fit in 700ml of gin to each Kilner jar, with not a lot of head space left over. I gave it a shake a couple of times a day for the first few days and now it get shaken when I remember. It took a few days for the colour to start to change, but as you can see from the photo, they’ve both taken on a lovely reddish hue.

Even though I’m not a gin drinker, I’m really quite looking forward to trying these. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to age them, as evidently it’s supposed to get better after a few years. I’ll update the blog once I’ve added the sugar.

Rowanberry Jelly

Rowanberry jelly on toast.

Is it Rowanberry or Rowan Berry? Either Way, they make a gorgeous jelly, which is quite possibly my favorite of the Autumnal preserves that I make.

I made my first batch about three years ago, but there were so few berries left on the tree in the front garden, that it only made three 227g jars. Each year since, I managed to make a bit more, but I’ve always had to mix the red and yellow berries that our tree produces, to make the weight up. This year was different though, as the tree, or trees, as there must be two coming out the ground at the same point to get two different berries, was absolutely dripping with them. I popped out one evening and picked in the region of 5Kg, without having to get my ladder out to reach those higher up in the tree. This meant that for the first time, I had enough berries to make a batch solely from each of the red and yellow berries.

As I’d picked more yellow berries than red, I decided to start off with a batch of those. I was pleasantly surprised to find it passing the crinkle test at the first time of asking; it felt like I’d only been boiling it for about five minutes. So obviously this meant it was slightly overdone and set pretty hard; not quite as hard as the first ever batch I ever made, but hard enough to not really wobble. Batches 1, 2 & 3... I wasn’t overly impressed with the colour either, I thought it wasn’t quite what it should have been.

The next two batches, one of just red berries and another of just yellow berries, passed without incident. Both took about the expected time to reach setting point and had a nice wobble about them. The colour of each wasn’t bad either, especially when held up to a bright light; really showing off the colour of the berries used nicely. I’m quite looking forward to trying them all, to see what the difference is, if any, between the red and yellow berries.

Purple Fingers

Purple fingers...

I find it impossible to walk past a bramble bush without picking some.

It’s that time of year again, with nature’s bounty waiting to be plucked from thorny bushes resulting in purple fingers. As you can see, I’ve already plundered a local hedgerow for some brambles to make jelly with. This weekend, I’ve also got to pick all the rowanberries in the front garden and the elderberries in the back. Plus I need to get hold of some haws, hips and sloes. I can see that I’ll be needing to invest in quite a few bags of preserving sugar.

I’ve also noticed quite a few apple trees while I’ve been out cycling on the local bridleways and byways. While I’m not a cider drinker, it’s tempting to have a crack at making some, or even just trying to bottle some of the juice. We’ll see…