life on a smallholding

not quite a business, but more than a hobby

English Muffins for a British bake off — Thursday, 29th August

English Muffins for a British bake off

English muffins
English muffins

After rushing around walking dogs and milking goats I finally managed to get seated in front of the box just in time for the start of the second in the series of the Great British Bake Off.

Their first task was breadsticks, something I’ve never attempted to make.  They appeared deceptively easy but I bet it’s tricky to achieve that “snap”.  There was only one that was slightly overboard, the sticks presented in a giant matchbox with the ends dipped in chocolate.  Very clever.

The technical challenge was something I make regularly, English muffins.  After last year when they had to make an 8 strand loaf, this looked like a piece of cake.  Again it was interesting to see the amount of variations produced from just one recipe.

The final test was to make a decorative loaf.  I was amazed to see a peacock, an octopus and a wreath to name just a few.  They reminded me of decorations made with salt dough and I didn’t think they looked terribly appetising but apparently they tasted good.  It was sad that the person who was eliminated was the only one that baked something actually resembling a loaf, albeit that it was trying to be a tomato!

Muffins rising
Muffins rising

As usual the programme inspired me to bake and I dug out my favourite recipe for English Muffins.  Unlike the enriched dough on shown on TV, this one is very simple and is relatively quick to make.  As they found on the Bake Off, it can be difficult to get them cooked all the way through and in the past I have popped them in the Rayburn for 10 mins after frying just to make sure.  If the worst should happen and you find they are doughy inside you can always toast them before serving.

English muffins

  • Difficulty: easy
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Quick, simple, but utterly delicious toasted and spread with butter.
Ingredients
  • 450g bread flour
  • 9g dried yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 250ml milk
  • 55ml water
Instructions
  1. Warm the milk and water together until just hand hot
  2. Whisk in the caster sugar and yeast and leave until frothy
  3. Pour the mixture into a food processor
  4. Add the flour and salt and mix well with a dough hook
  5. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a ball
  6. Leave somewhere warm in a covered bowl for around an hour to rise
  7. Spread some semolina onto the work surface then turn out the dough
  8. Roll out to approx 1/2 inch thick and then use a pastry cutter to cut into rounds (I got 8 muffins with a 3 1/4″ cutter)
  9. Sprinkle a little more semolina on the top of the muffins
  10. Allow to rise for around 30 mins somewhere warm
  11. Melt a little lard in a frying pan and when hot add the muffins (you will need to do them in batches)
  12. Cook them for around 7 mins each side until they are golden brown top and bottom
  13. Place on a wire rack to cool
  14. If you are not confident that they are cooked through, pop in a hot oven for around 10 mins
  15. Cut in half and serve with lashings of butter or you can toast them first

Absolutely perfect.

My 8 strand plaited loaf from last year - it made a fantastic BLT
My 8 strand plaited loaf from last year – it made a fantastic BLT
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My take on the Bake Off — Friday, 23rd August

My take on the Bake Off

My idea of a perfect sandwich cake
My idea of a perfect sandwich cake, filled with mascarpone and blackcurrant jam

This week saw the eagerly anticipated return of the Great British Bake Off, now in its fourth series.  I love that programme, a bunch of home bakers working their way through a number of challenges, some triumphing and others ending up with egg on their faces.  The tension is incredible when their cakes go into the oven, will it rise, won’t it?  They are often on their knees watching through the glass oven door.   The judges are firm but fair, none of this nasty sarcasm and the presenters add a much-needed touch of humour to the proceedings.

No fancy plates full of minuscule meals, just good robust baking.

I almost felt tempted to apply myself.

However, after watching this time, I couldn’t help but be disappointed.  The format was the same, so were the presenters and then there were the judges.  With all the recent scandal in the papers surrounding one of them, it was difficult to take him seriously.  But worse, the bakers themselves were no longer the dedicated home dabblers that I’ve come to know and love, they seemed like a bunch of semi-pros.

The first challenge was a simple sandwich cake, any flavour.  One person attempted, unsuccessfully to carve his cake into the shape of a lemon and another baked hers in a sandwich shaped mould and wrapped it in a sheet of fondant icing to resemble a paper bag.

What happened to the simple sandwich cake?

The technical challenge was as good as ever.  They couldn’t do anything lavish, just follow the recipe for an angel food cake.  It’s amazing how many variations you can get from the same sheet of paper.

Then finally there was the fancy chocolate cake.  Most of them were well over the top with hidden squirrels inside the sponge, bears made out of modelling chocolate (who even knew that existed) and elaborate chocolate collars around the cake.

Some looked very professional, others were just a mess.

Personally I’m not a fan of all this over the top icing and decoration, it makes them difficult to eat, which after all, is the point of a cake.  I think they just need to be pleasing to the eye, but more importantly, taste good.

I shall be watching the rest of the series, couldn’t miss it, but after that show-stopping start, it makes you wonder where it can go from here.

Bring back simple home baking, please!

After watching the show I just had to bake a sandwich cake and lately I’ve been very impressed with the recipes of Dan Lepard in the Guardian.  Years ago I bought my first ever bread book written by him, The Handmade Loaf.  Not only does he create brilliant bread, but his other concoctions are fabulous too.

This recipe for a Victoria sandwich is based on his, although the quantities are more what you would expect in a typical sponge cake.  What is unique, is that it uses a rather diverse method, beating some of the flour in with the butter, before adding the eggs.  It certainly makes a difference to the sponge and it is quite literally the best sandwich cake I have ever made or tasted.

I think Dan may be Mary and Paul all rolled into one.

Simple sandwich cake

This is the best ever recipe for a Victoria sandwich
Ingredients
  • 225g butter, softened
  • 225g vanilla caster sugar
  • Zest of a lemon, finely grated
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste
  • Jam and mascarpone or cream
  • Icing sugar for decoration
Instructions
  1. Grease and line the base of two 20cm cake tins with greaseproof paper.
  2. Beat the softened butter in a food mixer until pale, light and fluffy.
  3. Add the sugar, lemon zest, and vanilla paste, then beat well until pale and fluffy.
  4. Beat in a third of the flour and baking powder until smooth, then beat in the eggs, one at a time.
  5. Add in the remaining flour and baking powder and ensure it’s well combined.
  6. Divide the mixture between the two tins and bake at 170C for about 35‑40 minutes until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean and the sponges are just starting to come away from the edge of the tins.
  7. Leave to cool in the tins for 10 mins then turn out onto a cooling rack.
  8. Remove the paper from the bottoms.
  9. When cold, fill with jam and/or cream and assemble the sandwich.
  10. Dust with icing sugar to serve.
Notes: I filled my sandwich cake with two home made mascarpone and blackcurrant jam

Mascarpone, is it really cheese? — Tuesday, 20th August

Mascarpone, is it really cheese?

Home made goat's cream mascarpone
Home made goat’s cream mascarpone

Mascarpone cheese is the simplest cheese to make, but it’s not in the least bit cheesy.  It’s more like a thick slightly sour cream.

It’s perfect for cheesecakes, scones and cakes but equally good in savoury dishes.

Mascarpone, is it really cheese?

  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients
  • 500 ml double cream
  • 1 lemon
  • 30g dried milk powder
Instructions
  1. Put the cream and milk powder in to a pan and mix well.
  2. Heat the mix to 82 degrees C.
  3. Squeeze the juice from the lemon
  4. Remove the cream from the heat and stir in the lemon juice, making sure it is very well combined.
  5. Leave to cool.
  6. Refrigerate overnight where it will thicken.
  7. Next day spoon into a sieve lined with muslin and drain.
  8. Twist to squeeze out excess moisture and use.
  9. Keep refrigerated.

Jar of goat cream
Jar of goat cream
Scones with mascarpone and jam
Scones with mascarpone and jam
Poaching — Sunday, 18th August

Poaching

poachedduckeggs
Poached duck egg on toasted rolls with brown sauce

We keep chickens, ducks and geese.  In the springtime we are inundated with eggs and sell our surplus at the gate.  The chicken eggs are snapped up.  We have a couple of people who take the ducks eggs but the goose eggs are mostly ignored and I usually end up making omelettes with them.

Aylesburys paddling
Aylesburys paddling

By far my favourite eggs are laid by the ducks.  We have Aylesburys and Muscovies.  The yolks are large and a deep orange colour and the whites cook up firmer than chicken eggs.  Personally I prefer the taste although there isn’t a huge difference and I probably couldn’t pick them out in a blind test.

When we have an abundance, I use them in everything, cakes, pasta and ice cream but I like to try and save them to eat in their egg form.  If I can’t be bothered to cook an elaborate meal, we often have fried duck eggs on toast, which is quick, easy and tasty.

I have always had a fear of undercooked whites, they turn my stomach, but I love my yolks runny so getting the balance right is always a challenge.

Of late, I have decided to branch out a bit and try poaching.  I’ve always been put off in the past, worried that I’d end up with either, slimy whites or a hard yolk.  However, I’ve now discovered the secret to perfect poached duck eggs.  There is nothing like them, served on toasted rolls with home made brown sauce for a simple, yet delicious, lunch.

Poached duck eggs

  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients
  • Duck eggs
  • Vinegar
  • Salt
Instructions
  1. Bring a large pan of water to the boil
  2. Add a pinch of salt and a drop of vinegar
  3. Crack the eggs into separate bowls
  4. Stir the water with a whisk until it’s swirling rapidly
  5. Plunge each egg into the vortex
  6. Put a lid on the pan and leave for 3 mins
  7. Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon


 

Duck, goose and chicken eggs
Duck, goose and chicken eggs

 

Nothing but the goat — Sunday, 14th July

Nothing but the goat

My All-Goat pie made with goat chunks and goat butter pastry
My All-Goat pie made with goat chunks and goat butter pastry

Our goats are valuable assets, they provide us with fresh milk daily, too much to drink.  I use it to make butter, ice cream and cheese.   There is whey leftover from the cheesemaking and that can be used instead of water for bread.

But there is another side to keeping goats, in order for them to produce the milk, they need to have kids.  Females are usually kept for breeding while the males at some point, just like lambs, go away to slaughter.

Goat meat is not just for curries, you can use it just like lamb or beef.  In fact we find that it tastes like a slightly gamey beef.  It certainly doesn’t have any tang to it.  I have noticed that there are small companies popping up all over the place now, supplying a growing market in goat meat.

I have recreated all our favourite recipes with goat, in some using slightly different herbs and spices but others, such as bolognese, are made exactly the same as when I use beef.

Nothing but the goat

  • Difficulty: easy
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A gorgeous pie made with goat butter pastry and tender goat chunks.
Ingredients
  • 500g goat chunks
  • 25g flour, seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 50g goat butter
  • 2 onions, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbls chopped lemon balm
  • 300ml chicken stock
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 free-range whole egg beaten
  • 300g puff pastry approx (see recipe)
Instructions
  1. Dip the meat into the seasoned flour, then place a large lidded pan on the hob.
  2. Heat half the butter in the pan and add the meat. Sear all over until golden brown.
  3. Add the vegetables and herbs, then pour in the stock. Bring to a boil, cover with a lid and gently simmer on the stove for approx 2 hours. Add a little water if it starts to dry out – you want some gravy inside the pie.
  4. Preheat the oven to 220C.
  5. Once cooked, season the meat and add the remaining butter, stirring until melted.
  6. Roll out a third of the pastry using as little flour as possible and line the base of the pie dish.
  7. With the remainder of the pastry, roll out the pie lid, ensuring it’s large enough to cover the pie.
  8. Spoon the filling into the lined pie dish and spread out evenly.
  9. Brush the rim of the pastry with beaten egg and lay the lid in position. Trim the edges and pinch the pastry together all the way round. Any leftover pastry can be cut into shapes and laid on top.
  10. Paint the beaten egg over the top of the pie.
  11. Pierce a hole in the centre of the pastry to let the steam escape.
  12. Place on a hot baking tray and cook in the oven for 40-50 minutes until the pastry is golden brown on top.
  13. Serve with new potatoes or seasonal veg.

You can find the recipe for Goat Butter pastry here.

Goat pie served with new potatoes
Goat pie served with new potatoes