Monday, December 3, 2012

Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips

Well, despite the universe's attempts to totally overwhelm me, I am still here. I've gotten a bit tunnel vision-y of late as I try to get everything I need from the schools I'm working with before the term ends and the madness of Christmas descends. I've changed the design of my project quite significantly and that meant that following half term I had a lot of work to do in terms of focussing in on what I needed and then trying to get it. I've been interviewing, I've spent time in the kitchens and this week I'm focus grouping with children. I'm terribly nervous about the whole thing (children can be scary!) and I'm trying to go prepared. Basically that entails going over in my mind what I'm trying to achieve - getting them to talk about food and draw a few things on a sheet - and I've spent a mini fortune on crafts and paints and coloured markers so at the very least the time spent will be fun. Well, I think it will be fun. Heavens knows what the kids will think.

And because I've been focussed on my work I haven't really been getting up to much baking. It also doesn't help that it is getting dark so early (4.30pm now!) and then I can't shoot anything anyway because I like to use natural light in the photographs. Oh the dilemmas of the end of the year. But, this Sunday I finally got around to doing something. I woke up quite early (all these 6am starts are slowly slowly adjusting my body clock) and started to patter about in the kitchen and, before I had time to get distracted by anything, I made up some banana bread. I've had some bananas frozen for a while now and freezer space is becoming an issue (and good freezer rules say you shouldn't keep anything over three months anyway) so I thought I'd whip some up which I can then take with me on the early mornings for breakfast. Yes, I am a firm believer in chocolate for breakfast - particularly if you have to be up hours before the sun.

This recipe is adapted from Baked Elements. I got all excited because their recipe calls for a cup of crunchy peanut butter. Then I looked in the cupboard and found that I didn't have any peanut butter. (I think this might be a first.) Rather than get dissuaded, I decided to forge ahead with out it. I don't feel like the end result is missing anything frankly. It's a dense and chocolate filled bread that happens to taste of banana although I would argue the banana is merely a vehicle for the chocolate. I also substituted in some wholemeal flour (to make it healthier obviously) and used golden sugar and golden caster sugar rather than regular sugar. I also used sour cream rather than milk. Finally I used cobnut oil in place of a plainer oil because I thought the hazelnut flavour would come through. To be honest I can't say the flavour is very strong. But I thought I'd better use the cobnut oil as it is verging on becoming one of those things that lives in the cupboard for an eternity and stares at you accusingly whenever you open the cupboard door.

Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips
Adapted from Baked Elements
1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp wholemeal flour
1/2 cup golden sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp golden caster sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 generous cup mashed bananas (about 3)
1/2 cup cobnut oil
2 eggs
1/4 cup sour cream
115g dark chocolate (70%)

Preheat the oven to 180C and grease a loaf tin with butter and dust it with flour. Shake out the excess flour.
Mix together the flours, sugars, salt and bicarb and set aside. 
In a separate bowl, mix together the mashed bananas, oil, eggs and soured cream.

Chop the chocolate into pieces and toss in with the dry ingredients.

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredient mixture and add in the liquids.
Fold everything together until combined.

Pour into the loaf tin and bake for about one hour. The cake is done when it springs back to the touch. If you feel like it is getting too dark on top, cover it with a little tin foil.

Leave to cool for 15 minutes in the in before turning out onto a rack to cool completely.
Slice and eat. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Bran Muffins

So I disappeared off the blogosphere this last week. I did warn you that I might. I had a full week of observations on site, a Saturday morning tutorial (I think I now know more about Stalin than I did when I sat my History finals. Great Terror anyone?) and then I hopped on the train down to London to visit the Princess. I'm back now and am trying to catch up on all the work I missed over the weekend. I'm behind in my field notes (ssshhh!) and way behind in my reading. But the weekend was totally worth it. It was bright and sunny on Sunday and we had a lovely time wandering aimlessly about the city, with no real purpose except to eat and watch Skyfall.

Because I knew I wasn't going to have a moment to breathe between last week Wednesday and this week I decided I would get organised and make breakfast that can be eaten easily on trains and is easily transportable. I get up ridiculously early two days of the week and because I am not a morning person, I tend to leave minimal time between having to get out of bed and having to leave the house. The amount of time it takes me to wash and dress basically, so I need breakfast that I can take and eat once I'm settled on my train. It also needs to keep me full for hours. These muffins perform that task to perfection. They're dense and chewy and slightly sweet. My mother used to make them for breakfast occasionally and this recipe is the one she used. She did, on several occasions, add in the dreaded raisin but I leave those out. Why ruin a perfectly good muffin with a raisin? I ask you.These make 12 muffins. I froze almost all of them - separated into pairs in neat plastic bags so I can take them out the night before I need them to defrost and then transport them easily. I consider them proper comfort food and, when eating them straight out of the oven, prefer to lather them in butter and honey. For convenience now I eat them plain. The recipe is quite variable. You can substitute the honey for maple syrup or golden syrup. You could add in raisins/cherries/cranberries. You could add in walnuts/pecans.

Bran Muffins
Makes 12
1 1/2 cups all bran
1/2 cup boiling water
1 1/4 cup wholewheat flour
1 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup sunflower oil
2 tbsp honey/maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 200C and grease a 12 hole muffin tray.
Pour the boiling water over the all bran and set aside.
Mix together the dry ingredients and set aside.

Whisk the egg, buttermilk, oil and honey together and then add to the bran mixture. Stir to combine. Add the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and mix until well combined.

Dollop the mixture into the muffin tray and bake for 15 minutes, until the muffins are golden and cooked through.

Cool slightly and eat with butter and honey.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Granola (Crunchie) Bars

I am going back into the field tomorrow so I thought I would get organised and make some snacky-fied things that were easily transportable, wouldn't get too bashed up in my bag, and could sustain me for long periods of time.

I also finally (finally!) got around to organising packed lunches to take with me from the kitchen - even though I plan to eat school dinners until the end of term. I figured it wouldn't be a bad idea to take advantage of the food I'm entitled to as a tutor and I figure I can always eat sandwiches at breakfast or in the late afternoon - in that dead period between lunch and dinner when I'm running to catch a train. Not that I'll be eating the sandwiches whilst running. Just to clarify.

And they always give crisps as part of the packed lunch so I can hoard those up for use at a later date (like when I make those cookies from Momofuku Milk Bar). Perhaps someone can explain to me the distinctly British obsession with sandwiches and crisps? I'll admit to sometimes having sandwiches for lunch but crisps? They're for having with sundowners and biltong. Preferably in a game park but also acceptable in front of a rugby game at 5pm. Not at lunch time and certainly not every day. It's a culture thing I can't quite get my head around.

But I digress. I first saw these bars on Smitten Kitchen and no, I'm not totally obsessed with that site, (okay, well maybe just a little) but she seems to always make things I want to make - like the scones or the buttermilk triple berry cake or oreos or these custards which are still on my list of things to do. Anyway, these bars seemed like the perfect breakfast on the run/in the train/eaten surreptitiously at the back of a classroom kind of food. They're dense and chewy (for British readers, these are not flapjacks - they're way more cooked than flapjacks and for South African readers, these are kind of like a crunchie - although I'm not sure of the rules regarding fruit and nuts in crunchies, my grandmother always made hers plain), filled with fruit and walnuts and syrup. They pack a punch of sugar, enough to get you out of bed and paying attention pretty quick. I think the oats stabilises the sugar though so you don't collapse at 10am again. In short, good breakfast substitute. They're also good in the afternoon, if you need to get over that dead time at 4pm.

I made mine with cranberries and sour cherries and walnuts (and used a full 3 cups worth because I wanted them packed with goodness) but you can use pretty much any combination of fruit and nuts you like. I also added maple syrup (because I have some in the cupboard and if I'm not careful it'll still be there when I'm all handed in, gasp, and packing up, in 22 months time! Yes, I have started a count down.) but you could use golden syrup instead. I couldn't be bothered to blend oats into flour (all that setting up of gadgetry was just too much to ask) so I made mine with wholemeal flour. This is the kind of recipe that can be adjusted to using up random ingredients in the cupboard. I'm not going to write out the version I used because it's basically the same as the original, which you can find here. I did use the less amount of sugar though and they still came out super sweet.

 So wish me luck back in the field. I have a plan to make brownies this weekend but don't be surprised if things go slightly awry and I disappear into a void, although I will try my best not to do so. Also, I got terribly over excited this afternoon at the arrival of Bouchon Bakery, the new book by Thomas Keller (and the bakery which turned my opinion on lemon meringue pie). A quick glance through, on undoing the book from it's brown box and cellophane, is that it is AWESOME. I shall try to make something from it soon.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Cranberry, Orange and Dark Chocolate Scones

I saw this post on Smitten Kitchen yesterday and I knew I was going to have to make scones this morning. Only I couldn't decide about the flavour. I've always been a bit of a scone purist - plain and layered butter, raspberry jam and clotted cream but those scones just looked so amazing I knew I was going to have to give them a try. An audition, if you will, to convince me that scones could be more complex than I would normally allow. I was tempted to do the roasted pear one Smitten Kitchen made but then I was paging through Annie Bell's Baking Bible and came across a recipe for large, fruity scones with currants and orange and an idea occurred to me. What about cranberry, orange and dark chocolate? It is, I admit, a very Christmas combination but what with every single store I go in to bombarding me with Christmas related information, you can hardly blame me. Well, I guess you could - for giving in two months ahead of schedule. Next I'll start eating Easter eggs and hot cross buns at my birthday. I can forgive these scones for my failure to resist Christmas until December. They're amazing, if I do say so myself.

They also happen to be the perfect Sunday morning breakfast, eaten straight out of the oven with a lot of butter and accompanied by a mug of steaming coffee. I wrote earlier in the week about how my project has been changing and developing. I finally saw my supervisor on Friday and spent a good hour and a half finally explaining all the worries/ideas/walls/crises I'd been having over the last few weeks. There is nothing like a good outpouring of fear and worry and Friday was kind of cathartic and healing on a level. On another level it resulted in a lot more work for me - I'm going to have to redesign my entire project. I have to keep it related to what I've already done but I've had to think seriously about how to take it forward. And it all has to be mainly sorted out before I return to schools on Thursday so I can tell them about my change of plan.

PANIC. In a epic, end of the world kind of way. I mean seriously. So much for the healing process on Friday, but this morning I was back to full panic mode. This whole getting a PhD in three years is not something to kid around with. There are deadlines and cut off points and making-sure-you-have-data-that-can-be-analysed-and-made-into-a-readable-document-before-those-end-points. Never mind the bill-paying/life-living things that go on around this. Which brings me to the scones. There is something very calming about making scones, particularly on a Sunday morning in late October when it is grey and freezing and the fog is lying low and the only acceptable thing to do is be in a warm kitchen with the lights on, coffee at hand and flour in a bowl. Annie makes her scones in a food processor but as someone who has never owned a food processor (technical things have a tendency to break on me) I make them the way my mother taught me - with cold butter and cold hands, slowing rubbing the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Then adding in the egg and buttermilk and bringing everything together into a slightly sticky dough whilst not really working it too much. For whatever reason I find such work therapeutic - it calms my mind having to concentrate on the dough, not over-kneading it, making sure it's not too wet. Other concerns are driven out by the patting of the dough, gently pushing in the crumbly edges. The slicing and placing on a  baking sheet. The panic and fear which runs at an undercurrent in my veins is subdued by this act of baking and then eating. Only once I am done do I start to contemplate writing the redesign, which is my task for the day. At time of posting I have successfully written out the redesign (and mapped it on a pretty mind map). Now I just need to contact schools, write up interview schedules, read. You know, the usual PhD stuff. Oh and get my head wrapped around the new design so things in the next seven weeks go slightly more smoothly.

Some more notes on my changes to the recipe. I halved the one in the book as I was only cooking for me and, as scones are best eaten straight from the oven, I didn't want to be snowed under by them. As a result, I tended to use slightly more ingredient than the exact half - for ease of measurement mainly. I used cranberries instead of currants and added in an extra 50g of dark chocolate. I used buttermilk rather than milk and measured it to 1/4 cup, rather than simply adding in. As I said above, I made them by hand, rather than in a food processor.

Cranberry, Orange and Dark Chocolate Scones
Adapted from Annie Bell's Baking Bible
200g plain flour
65g icing sugar
1/2 tsp mixed spice
2 and 1/2 tsps baking powder
40g wholemeal flour
zest of half an orange
pinch of salt
65g butter, unsalted, cold
1 egg
1/4 cup buttermilk
40g cranberries
50g dark chocolate
half an egg plus some milk, for glazing
golden granulated sugar, for glazing

In a bowl weigh out the dry ingredients. Add the cold butter to this (I cut it into small cubes) and rub the butter into the flour until the mixture is flaky and resembles breadcrumbs.

Add in the egg and then the cranberries and dark chocolate, finely chopped. Finally add in the buttermilk and mix until it forms a dough.

Place the dough onto a parchment sheet and press down into a circle, not too thin. Cut into wedges.

Place the wedges on a baking tray lined with baking paper. (I lifted, very carefully, the sheet the scones were already on and placed it onto my baking tray.) Allow to rest for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200C.
Glaze the scones with half an egg mixed with a little milk. Sprinkle some sugar on top and place the scones in the oven.

Bake for about 18 minutes, until golden. Eat warm.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Honey Orange Loaf Cake

I had an extraordinarily bad working day today. I couldn't sleep last night (lying awake stressing over things beyond my control which were resolved via email early this morning anyway) and consequently I didn't get up until after 10am. Then it sort of seemed pointless to do any actual work before lunch so I had my usual two coffees and browsed the web for a few hours, looking at Time's important blogs (or some such) and reading the newspapers online. After lunch I did manage, after super amounts of procrastination, to type up a few more pages of field notes but by then it had become apparent that the only thing to do this afternoon was make orange cake - a bright yellow/orange tribute to the sun to combat the severe grey fogginess outside my window which appears to have settled in until spring. I spent more time trying to find a recipe. In my mind I wanted a pound cake that could incorporate buttermilk and honey. But nowhere I looked provided me with anything even remotely in that vein. I realise pound cakes are supposed to be equal amounts flour, butter and sugar but none of the recipes I looked at appeared to be adaptable to the idea in my head. I was slightly obsessive about the addition of buttermilk in particular, mainly because I managed to locate some (finally!) when I was grocery shopping last week.

I finally gave up on the cook books in my house and ventured onto the web. After looking at all my regular blogs I finally located a recipe on Smitten Kitchen that I figured I could adapt to do the job. It did feel like a bit of a mission but I think this recipe is a keeper. I've already had three slices today and am seriously contemplating another. The cake is moist but crumbly with an intense hit of orange. It's nicely buttery but not cloying. I think it was worth the procrastination if I can produce cake like this. I mean, if all else fails, I will still have this recipe for orange cake.

I halved the recipe on Smitten Kitchen as hers makes two loaf cakes and I only wanted (had enough eggs for) one. I also decreased the amount of sugar in order to add in the honey. And made the recipe with an orange, not lemons. And I used ever so slightly more butter.

Honey Orange Loaf Cake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
125g butter, unsalted, out of the fridge for half an hour
3/4 cup golden granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/4 tsp bicarb
1/4 tsp baking powder
juice and zest of one orange
90ml lemon juice
1 large, well-rounded tablespoon set honey

Preheat the oven to 170C. Grease a loaf tin with some butter.
Cream together the butter and sugar until bright white and fluffy. This takes about five minutes but helps with the aeration of the cake.

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. The mixture may split on you but don't worry, it'll all come back together in a minute.

Place the flour, baking powder and bicarb in a bowl and set aside. Zest the orange and squeeze the juice into the same bowl.* Add in the buttermilk and honey.

Add the flour in three batches, alternating with the buttermilk mixture. I folded this all in by hand, rather than mixing it with a beater - mainly because my beater has only one speed and things tend to end up more out of the bowl than in...
Scoop the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for 45 minutes or so, until a skewer inserted comes out clean and the top springs back.

Allow the cake to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack and cooling completely. I like to eat it still slightly warm but it'll keep in an airtight container for a few days.

* When I was making this I thought it might be an orange/cardamom flavour so I infused some cardamom seeds into the orange juice and zest. I also tried to grind some. The grinding was a total failure and the infusion didn't really work hence the abandonment of all cardamom related flavours in the recipe.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Chocolate Cupcakes with Sour Cream Icing

It seems I am without words today. I have opened this post up at least a dozen times and sat, waiting for the screen to fill. It hasn't and I've closed it down again that same dozen times. Until now, when it just seems inevitable to let the pictures do the talking. I think it's because I was typing field-notes today, into nice, space related sections and that used up all my words. I've been trying to make sense of the last six weeks of field work and the best way to do that, I think, is to examine what has been happening in the different spaces. That way I can see themes coming through. The good news is that there are themes. I'm not one hundred percent sure on them yet - given that I have months of observation ahead of me, that is not altogether surprising - but there are certain things which have caught my eye. At the moment I'm simply writing them into spaces - the dining hall, the classroom, the farm - and letting the ideas I have sit, in the back of my mind, mellowing, like pink pigs in mud.

These cupcakes went on an adventure to Dovedale this weekend as part of a friend's birthday outing. So that's where the landscape pictures are taken. I made the cupcakes on Friday night, quite late and I only remembered to take photos when the mixture was all made. So that's why the method photographs are a bit scant.

Chocolate Cupcakes
Makes 12
Adapted from Tea with Bea
60g cocoa powder (I used Green and Blacks)
1/2 cup boiling water
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
65g butter, unsalted, softened
140g dark brown sugar
85g golden granulated sugar
1/4 cup sunflower oil
2 eggs
140g plain flour
3/4tsp bicarbonate of soda

Preheat the oven to 170C and line a muffin tray with cupcake cases. Put the cocoa powder into a bowl and whisk in the boiling water until the mixture is smooth. Whisk in the milk and vanilla and set aside.
Beat the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Slowly add in the oil and mix until combined. Then add in the eggs, beating well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Mix together the flour and bicarb. Add the flour in three additions, alternating with the cocoa mixture. I beat the first two additions of flour in with an electric mixer but then folded in the final addition.

Divide the mixture between the cases.

Bake for about 15 minutes. The cupcakes will be risen and will spring back to the touch when done. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a rack.

For the sour cream icing I used a recipe from Annie Bell's Baking Bible. It only has two ingredients so I didn't do any adapting. I've made it before and I like it because it is so dark and bitter, it contrasts with the sweeter cake. The amount in the book makes enough to ice 12 cupcakes generously.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Ginger Loaf with Caramelised Apples

I know I keep going on about it but autumn is here. The leaves outside my window are changing rapidly from green to red, gold and orange. The colours are particularly spectacular in the early evening sunlight. It is also cold. It's reached a level of coldness that I now find acceptable and I would really prefer it if it didn't get any colder. Sadly that is so not the case so I've started to go into hibernation mode. I also want to eat only apples, pears and spice cakes. And squash (which should be making an appearance here later this week). Perhaps it is because of this blog, perhaps it is the severe change in season that happens here, I'm not sure but I've noticed my eating habits have changed subtly over the last few weeks. Gone are the late summer berries and soft fruits. The light, cream based desserts. In are apples and pears. Lemons and oranges. And a lot of spices. The warm ones. And don't even think about eating a salad. Warm veggies only please.

Yesterday I got home from a day out in the field. The field is proving to be very challenging at the moment. Never mind that I have absolutely never ever been good at getting up much before 9am and am now required to leave the house before 8am several days a week - there are changes afoot in my project and I'm not yet sure what is going to happen over the next few weeks. I'm nervous and excited about the various prospects but wary too. Half term is next week so I've taken two weeks off now so that I can process the last six weeks and plan the evolution of this project. It's a little intimidating and exhausting when I think of it. So upon arrival home yesterday I decided it was time for ginger cake. A proper loaf cake made with treacle and golden syrup and dark brown sugar. The kind you eat slightly warm with a lot of butter. The kind that reassures you that no matter what else might happen, there is always cake. The kind that actually gets better as it gets older. Reliable cake like this one that does what it is supposed to do in the oven and the fills you up with heat and spice.

This is adapted (loosely) from Annie Bell's Baking Bible. (I don't think you will be too surprised to find that I'm going to be making a lot of things from that book over the next few weeks.) It makes a beautiful (in my opinion) loaf cake which, when thickly sliced and covered in these caramelised apples, makes the world seem a pleasant place to spend some time. It has to age overnight so it's not the kind of cake you can make and eat. Well, I mean, you totally could but it wouldn't be as good. The ageing process makes the cake sticky and damp. I ate three slices today, only one of which was covered in apples. It's the kind of cake that every time you enter the kitchen you feel compelled to slice and snack on. I caramelised the apples mainly because I bought some in a fit of healthy eating and then never ate them and they were starting to look forlorn and unloved. I made loads and intend to eat them through the week on porridge. I made this cake with two different sugars rather than just one. I like very dark brown sugar in a loaf like this as it adds to the caramel flavour I think. I also had to add in some self-raising flour in order to have enough flour (reasons why you should check ingredients before starting to bake I guess...)

Ginger Loaf
Adapted from Annie Bell's Baking Bible
125g unsalted butter
115g black treacle
115g golden syrup
2/3 cup milk
20g golden caster sugar
30g dark brown sugar
180g plain flour
45g self-raising flour
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 170C and grease a loaf tin with a little butter. Place the butter, treacle, syrup, milk and sugars in a saucepan and heat gently until everything is melted. Cool slightly.

Weigh out the flours, ginger and bicarb into a bowl and set aside.

Whisk the treacle mixture into the flour mixture, making sure it's smooth before adding in the eggs.

Whisk everything thoroughly. Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for about 50 minutes.

The cake will spring back when touched lightly and a skewer inserted will come out clean. Leave the cake to cool in the tin for 5 minutes. Then turn it out and wrap it in clingfilm and leave overnight.

 Slice and eat with butter or these caramelised apples.

Caramelised Apples
The truth is there isn't an actual recipe here. I had 6 apples that needed using up so I placed about a tablespoon and a half of butter in a saucepan together with about three tablespoons of dark brown sugar and a splash of sunflower oil. I heated this slowly, melting the sugar until it started to bubble around the edges. I peeled and cored the apples and then sliced them up, tossing them into the caramel mixture. I cooked everything over a low heat for about half an hour, turning the apples every 5 minutes or so. The mixture came to the boil and I turned down the heat. I removed the apples from the heat when they were cooked through - not mushy but further than al dente - and ate them with the ginger loaf.