Thursday, November 29, 2012

Calendar Cakes Round Up - November

Welcome to this November's Calendar Cakes round up. This month it was a bit more challenging with the theme being Bread, Buns and Rolls...but I have to say that our bakers excelled themselves wth all manner of beautiful breads, bountiful buns and ravishing rolls!
Quick off the mark this month was my co-host Rachel from Dolly Bakes. These were her first attempt at Hot Cross Buns...and I think you'll agree she did a grand job.
Next up my offering of Toffee Apple and Cinnamon Buns. I've had my eye on these for a while and I finally got round to making them...they were really tasty and there's a gorgeous caramel layer lurking underneath the buns you can see in the picture.
An adventurous bake next from How to Eat an Elephant who brings us Chocolate and Cherry Bagels which turned out perfectly. Bagels are definitely on my 'to-bake' list after watching the GBBO this year...and I hope they turn out as well as these...and what a gorgeous flavour combination.
Our next entry is winging it's way all the way from Austria. The Charmed Cupcake produces some gorgeous bakes and this is no's a Danish Chocolate Streusel-Swirled Coffee Cake. Despite the name this is more of a bread as it contains yeast. A slice of this of a morning would certainly set you off on the right foot for the day!
Laura from How to Cook Good Food brought us her Dark Chocolate Plaited Prune Loaf. Laura is a keen advocate of homemade bread and even attended a course to hone her skills. This loaf is particularly splendid as it's plaited which gives it that great appearance.
Another fabulous plaited loaf next...this one is from Lottie at Lottie's World of Cakes and Bakes. It's a Paul Hollywood recipe and there's eight strands in total. This loaf was inspired by the challenge from the recent GBBO episode...and I think Lottie's loaf certainly wouldn't look out of place on the series.
Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog entered these wonderful chocolate cinnamon rolls. The recipe is from Green and Black's second chocolate recipe book...Ultimate. Chocolate is just the thing to jazz up a cinnamon roll and I can only imagine that these would taste heavenly straight out the oven!
Having only made one bread product previously I went crazy this month and made two within a few weeks of each other. I wanted to make something chocolately as the We Should Cocoa challenge this month was also (chocolately) bread. So I decided to make these chocolate brioche rolls, inspired by a visit to a Parisian boulangerie!
This luscious looking loaf is from Karen at Lavender and Lovage. This is Lincolnshire Plum Loaf with the recipe being randomly selected from England’s Heritage Food and Cooking Book, Karen then combined it with another recipe she had lurking on a scrap of paper...and the happy result was this festive loaf.
Apparently Bara Brith is Welsh for speckled bread which I didn't know before reading about this Welsh speciality on Food Glorious Food. It certainly looks good and perfect with a cup of tea.
How about a Spiced Chocolate Breakfast Loaf from Jen at Blue Kitchen Bakes. Another tasty breakfast treat and this one would certainly give you a kick in the morning as it contains chilli powder! Jen also added some wholemeal flour and to achieve the swirl the dough is rolled before being popped in the tin.
Caroline from Caroline Makes was very brave and attempted pain au chocolat in her breadmaker... and what a fab job...they turned out really well.
Ros at the More than Occasional Baker made this fab Apple Cinnamon Chocolate Braid. Ros has never made bread before but she conquered her fear to make this great bake. It's a lovely combination of apple, cinnamon and chocolate and you can see how she braided it on her blog.
Next up we have another spicy entry from Liv a Little Bakery...Jalapeno Cheese Bread. As Liv says "This cheesy bread has a fiery kick and be warned it will leave you craving a second slice!". This is an unusual loaf but it's sure to be a winner. 
Helen from @HudsonBakery has just started a baking business and she made us these Pear, Gorgonzola & Walnut breads. They look fab...and I bet they'd be divine warm with that melted cheese...yum!
Thanks once again for all your lovely bakes...and keep your eyes peeled for the December Calendar Cakes theme...which will be announced on Saturday 1st December. Happy Baking! :-)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Salted Caramel Layer Cake

If you follow blogging challenges you may well know that Tea Time Treats hosted by Karen at Lavender and Lovage and Kate at What Kate Baked is celebrating it's first birthday this month. So what else could our challenge be but...CAKE! I therefore decided to make this Caramel Layer Cake to help them celebrate.
This cake really is delicious and the flavour matures so it's even tastier the next day.
There are three layers of sponge and they are sandwiched together with a lovely caramel filling with one of the layers also having a chocolate caramel filling. The sponge contains buttermilk which made it lovely and moist. The whole thing was then covered in more of the caramel and then the cake is finished by piping a spiral of chocolate on the top and feathering it with a cocktail stick.
To make the caramel, butter, dark muscovado sugar and cream were melted together in a saucepan and then the mixture was left to simmer for 5 minutes to thicken. Icing sugar was then gradually whisked into the mixture (off the heat) until it was barely warm, at which stage a small amount of butter was mixed in to finish.
When covering the cake each layer of sponge was sandwiched together first and then left to cool so the whole thing didn't slide about. Then using a palette knife the top and then the sides were covered in the caramel before feathering the top with the melted chocolate. If you do decide to make this cake you need to work quickly to cover it as the caramel sets quickly...and don't do what I did and try and go over bits you've already done as it ruins the nice smooth surface. You also need to be quick with the feathering.
I'd definitely recommend having a go at this's a guaranteed crowd pleaser!
Why not join in with next month's Tea Time Treats which will be hosted Kate at What Kate Baked. This month's host is Lavender and Lovage.
300g self-raising flour
Pinch of salt
300g caster sugar
250g unsalted butter, very soft
4 large eggs
4 tbsp buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
225g unsalted butter
450g dark brown muscovado sugar
175ml double cream
300g icing sugar
1/4 tsp sea salt flakes
100g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
Prepare three 20cm sandwich tins by greasing the sides and bottom and then base lining with baking paper. If you only have two tins, you can cook two cakes and then put the third one in straight afterwards.
Preheat the oven to 180c/160c fan/gas 4. Put the sugar, salt and sifted sugar into a bowl and then add the butter, making sure it is really soft and cut into pieces. In a seperate bowl whisk the buttermilk, eggs and vanilla together with a fork and then add to the flour mixture. Mix thoroughly on a low speed until the mixture is smooth and all the ingredients are combined. Divide the mixture between the three tins and level before baking for around 25 minutes, they should be golden and shrinking away from the edges when done. Once removed from the oven run a knife around each cake and leave to cool in the tin for 2 minutes before turning out and leaving to cool completely.
Whilst the cakes are cooling make the caramel by putting 175g of the butter along with the muscovado sugar and cream into a saucepan. Melt the butter and then bring the caramel to the boil before reducing the heat and simmering for 5 minutes whilst stirring frequently.
When ready pour the caramel into a heat proof bowl and beat in the icing bit by bit using an electric mixture. You should continue to beat the mixture until it is fluffy and almost cool. Once at this stage you can add the remaining 50g of butter and the salt and then beat until incorporated. Don't be too hasty when adding the butter, if you add it too soon it will just melt straight into the mixture.
Next melt the chocolate over a saucepan of simmering water. When it is completely melted, spoon half the chocolate into a bowl and add just under a quarter of the caramel filling mix. Warning...again do not do what I did and add it straight away...the recipe didn't mention waiting for the chocolate to cool a little but if you don't it may seize a little.
Finally to assemble the cake, put a layer of cake on the serving plate and then add around a third of the remaining caramel mix and spread over the top. Next spread the chocolate caramel on top of another of the cakes before transferring it onto the first. You can the put on the third and final layer of cake. You should then leave this to set...if you don't it will slide around when you try and cover the cake. I put mine in the fridge for 5 minutes.
To finish cover the top and sides of the cake with the remaining caramel mixture. You need to make sure that the caramel is still smooth and not too firm...I put mine in the microwave for 20 seconds. It is easiest to use a mini-palette knife to apply the covering and you need to work quickly. Try not to go over areas you've already done as it will already have started to set.
If you wish to add the feathering on top, use the remaining melted chocolate and pop it in a piping bag and snip off the end. Quickly pipe a spiral on top of the cake, it doesn't matter if it's a little messy. Then again working quickly drag a cocktail stick through the spiral from inside out, repeating all the way around the cake. It can be quite difficult to make this neat...if you have enough chocolate you could always practise a spiral on the counter top first!
* Adapted from The Great British Bake Off - How to Turn Everyday Bakes into Showstoppers

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Chocolate Brioche Rolls and Paris Boulangerie Tour

Last month I visited Paris and my trip ended up being more of a gastronomic tour than anything else, you can read more about it here. As part of our trip we visited Le Petit Mitron bakery for a behind the scenes boulangerie tour. This trip inspired me to try making bread as it's something I'm rarely brave enough to make. Obviously following my trip I wanted to make something French, so I plumped for brioche and this particular version has chocolate in it too.
I didn't really read the recipe very well until I was about to start and it was only then I realised that the bread had to be made in a stand mixer with a bread hook. I've never made bread in my K-Mix before so was slightly worried how it would turn out but I thought I'd give it a go. I prefer to do things by hand but this was such as sticky dough that it's a good job I didn't!
Brioche is a highly enriched bread, there were six eggs, 250g butter, melted chocolate and milk all included in the recipe.
When first made the bread was left to rise in the airing cupboard for 2 hours, it was then knocked back and put in the fridge overnight. Then in the morning it was lightly kneaded before being shaped into the rolls before being put back in the airing cupboard for another hour. The last time it went in to rise it was put in a plastic bag that was slightly inflated!
Finally, the rolls were brushed with milk and baked for 10 minutes. These brioche moulds are 7cm in diametre...the recipe suggested 8cm so they were a little bit too large when they came out of the oven but by using the moulds you get a lovely traditional fluted edge.
These chocolate brioche rolls turned out better than expected and would be perfect warm straight out of the oven for breakfast. They could have perhaps done with a minute or two longer in the oven but overall I was pleased with the result.
I also thought I'd share with you some of the things we learnt on the boulangerie tour:

Interesting Fact # 1: French bakeries cannot call themselves a Boulangerie unless they make their bread from scratch on the premises. This law was brought in to halt the decline of the traditional bakery. Therefore the French chain 'Paul' cannot call itself a boulangerie as they bake their bread from frozen and the products are made offsite and delivered daily.

Our boulanger for the day was Didier. He makes hundreds of baguettes a day at all hours of the day as locals pop in before work, at lunchtime and also on their way home. He also makes a special baguette called La Parisse which must be made in a very specific way in order to be called by this name, it is made with natural leaven and has a traditional flavour. You can see La Parisse in the picture below with it's distinctive knob on the top. It even has to be slashed on the top in a particular way!
Didier uses a high quality butter in his breads, it's pure butter and is AOC which means it must be produced to very specific standards like the La Parisse baguette. This butter is purchased in 2kg blocks of which there were many in the bakery's industrial sized fridge.
Following the explanation and demonstration of the baguette production we even had a go at rolling our own croissants...they weren't bad but certainly not as good as Didier's!
Interesting Fact # 2: A croissant that isn't 100% butter cannot be straight but if it is 100% pure butter then it can be any shape it likes! So in general a straight croissant = 100% pure butter, a curved croissant = less than 100% pure butter.

Interesting Fact # 3: Croissants only have about 10g of butter in each one...which doesn't sound so bad when you put it like that...they could even be considered healthy! ;-)

Interesting Fact # 4: Croissants did not originate in France. They are widely believed to have originated in Vienna when it was undersiege from the Turks. When the Turks were defeated local bakers produced a pastry to celebrate which resembled the Turkish voila the croissant was born!

If you look at the picture below you can also see that when a proper croissant is baked and then cut or broken in half you can see the layers from the pastry circling inside. This is as a result of the process by which the dough is made, it is a puff pastry which is repeatedly rolled and folded with generous amounts of butter to create the layers.
We also tried our hand at rolling Pain au Chocolat which was a little easier than the croissants as it is just a straight roll. Didier puts two chocolate sticks in each one to ensure it is suitably chocolately.

Interesting Fact # 5: The chocolate used is made especially for baking as it is has a very high glucose content which prevents it from completely melting and possibly burning during the baking process.
Another of Didier's specialities are Cranberry and Chocolate Chip Escargot or snails...very similar to a Pain au Raisin. You can also see in the picture below that he has a special machine to roll out his pastry perfectly... I WANT ONE!
We booked our tour with Viator and I was slightly dubious as to how authentic and intersting it would be, especially at £16 but I was very pleasantly surprised as it was genuinely interesting and Didier was so keen to share his craft with us. The tour was supposed to last one hour but we were there for around an hour and a half and we also came away with croissants and bread. I'd recommend it if you're heading to Paris anytime soon.
And so to this month's challenges. First up it's Calendar Cakes with the theme being bread, rolls and buns. Calendar Cakes is hosted by yours truly and alternately by Rachel over at Dolly Bakes.
This month's We Should Cocoa is being hosted by Nazima from Franglais Kitchen with it's regular home being at Chocolate Log Blog and Chocolate Teapot. These chocolate brioche fit the theme of bread and chocolate.
Finally, I'm also entering them into the breakfast club as these really would be perfect on a Sunday morning with the papers, orange juice and a coffee! This month it is hosted by Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog with it's regular spot being over at Fuss Free Flavours.

150g plain chocolate (the recipe suggested Waitrose Plain Chocolate with Coffee...I just used plain)
500g Very Strong White Flour
7g sachet McDougalls Fast Action Dried Yeast
6 large eggs, room temperature
250g unsalted butter
75g caster sugar
2 tbsp milk to glaze

Melt the chocolate along with the milk in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Once melted remove from the heat and leave to one side to cool.

Sift the flour, yeast and 1 tsp salt in a free standing mixer with a dough hook. In a jug beat the six eggs lightly and then with the mixer on it's lowest speed, pour the eggs in a little at a time. Once all the eggs have been added, scrape down the sides and then add the chocolate mixture and mix again until the ingredients are all combined. Scrape down again and then knead the dough for 5 minutes on the lowest speed.

Put the butter and sugar into a separate bowl and then cream them together until creamy. Then add this mixture to the dough a little at a time with the machine running at it's lowest speed. Scrape down and then knead the dough again for another 5 minutes. The dough will be very soft and sticky! The dough is now ready to rise, cover with a lid or clingfilm and then leave in a warm place for 2 hours - the dough should double in size.

Once the dough has risen, ensure you have floured your fingers and then punch down the risen dough, this should deflate it. It will resemble a chocolate mousse or cake mix at this point so don't be alarmed. Cover the dough back over and then put it in the fridge and chill until firm and doubled in size again. It should be left for at least 4 hours or overnight if you'd prefer.

To make the brioche you can either use a 12 hole muffin tin or a 2 x 6 hole brioche shaped tray. I used 8cm individual brioche moulds with fluted edges (makes 18). Whichever you choose they should be well buttered. Turn the dough out and knead carefully for 1 minute. Divide the dough in equal portions as required. If using the muffin tray split into 12 and 18 for brioche moulds.

To make the traditional brioch shape, pinch off a small ball of dough from each portion and roll it out smoothly, it should be about the size of a hazelnut. With the remaining dough from each portion make a smooth ball and place it carefully into each muffin hole. Flour your index finger and push it into the middle of each ball of dough in the tray and then place the smaller ball on top of this indent. Put this tray into a large plastic bag, inflate a little and then leave to rise until it has doubled in size. This will take 1 hour in a warm place or overnight in the fridge.

To bake, preheat the oven to 200c/180c fan/gas 6. Take the brioche out of the plastic bag and brush with milk to glaze. Bake for 18-20 minutes if using the muffin tray, 10 minutes if the 8cm brioche moulds. Leave to cool in the mould for a minute or so before turning out onto a wire rack. You can eat these warm or alternatively they'll keep for 24 hours in an airtight tin. You can also freeze them for upto 1 month.

* Adapted from - recipes

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Afternoon Tea at the Connaught

As George Gissing once wrote "The mere chink of cups and saucers tunes the mind to happy repose". I would certainly agree with this sentiment and this is one of the reasons why I so love afternoon tea. There's something about it that is just so relaxing and so refined...and it's the perfect excuse to scoff loads of cakes (less refined!)
This Sunday I visited the Espelette Brasserie at The Connaught Hotel. The Connaught is a lovely hotel in Mayfair and the brasserie itself hugs the outside curve of the building with large windows overlooking a fountain and trees all decorated for's certainly easy on the eye! The Espelette also has a pleasant ambience and the staff were reasonably friendly.
So now to the nitty gritty...the food and the tea. You can start with a glass of champagne or you can dive straight into tea itself. There was a good selection of teas to choose from and refills were available...there was a choice of various green, black, white and aromatic teas.
As for the pastries and sandwiches...there was certainly plenty on offer. We had a plate of assorted sandwiches which all tasted good...and then it was on to the best bit the cakes!!! Between two people we got all of the following:
  • Apple tatin and hazelnut biscuit
  • Chocolate finger and lemon grass creme brulee
  • Cinnamon frangipane, figues and red wine tart
  • Exotic eclair, mango and passionfruit
  • Coffee, mascarpone tiramisu and speculos
  • Rum baba lemon jelly, earl grey tea cream and poached pears
There really was lots to eat but I'm a bit like Joey from Friends and as you may know..."Joey doesn't share food!". As it was one of each cake between two we had to resort to cutting everything in half which can be a bit fiddly...I guess the up side is you get to try more things.
One of my favourite pastries was the apple tatin with hazelnut biscuit which you can see above on the left. It looks unassuming but had a lovely toffee flavour along with the apple. There was also one cake I couldn't eat and the staff were very obliging and happy to substitute for the Battenberg below.
After the pastries came the scones...served warm in a basket, there were plain scones and fruit scones with golden raisins. They were light and fluffy and definitely got the seal of approval...the scones can make or break an afternoon tea.
An unusual addition to the scones was the choice of 16 Christine Ferber homemade jams to accompany them. I particularly liked the plum jam and there was also quince and rose petal and passionfruit amongst others.
Finally, there was yet more cake as we were presented with Chocolate and roasted almond cake and Candied chestnut and pear. These were tasty but not quite as smart as the pastries.
If you'd like to visit the Connaught you can check out the full menu here. There was so much food we had to resort to taking some home...not that we were complaining!
This tea didn't necessarily have the wow factor of some others but the pastries and sandwiches were all very tasty and it's a very relaxed and stylish setting, so I would recommend the Connaught as a tea destination. You can also nip down to Bond Street when you've finished for a spot of retail therapy. One of my dining companions rated it as one of her favourite teas so it may just come down to personal preference.
If you ever do make it to the Connaught for afternoon tea you can also pop across the road to visit the gorgeous Farm Street Church, the pictures don't do it justice! We decided to pop in as a good friend of mine got married there but as we went in we realised there was a batispm in progress...and who should the father be? None other than Frank Skinner...and the godfather...Adrian Chiles...very funny! :-)