life on a smallholding

not quite a business, but more than a hobby

Condensing — Thursday, 19th September

Condensing

Condensed, sweetened goats milk
Condensed, sweetened goats milk

The Great British Bake Off episode this week was another gem.  Traybakes, tuiles and towers of biscuits.  Loved the first two challenges but the third was a little over the top.  I can’t help but worry about having to eat the confections and I really didn’t fancy a bite of that Dalek.

I think certain contestants are beginning to win me over with their personalities, if not there baking and there certainly seems to be a great sense of camaraderie this year, which is lovely to see.

The tension was as sharp as ever and I found myself gasping when they were wrapping those thin bits of baked batter around the spoon handles, remembering a similar experience when I made my own ice-cream cones.  You really do need asbestos fingers. traybakecut

This week coincidentally, I made my own traybake.  Toffee shortbread, recipe here.  The challenge for me was not the bake but the fact that I made my own sweetened, condensed milk from my goats.

It really is simple to make but unless you happen to have a Rayburn that’s running all day, every day, it could work out quite expensive.  The milk needs to barely simmer for at least 4 hours.

I left it steaming away whilst I got on with my day and eventually it was ready to strain and leave to cool, when it thickened up nicely.  Although it did seem to separate slightly, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the taste.

Smoothing the shortbread
Smoothing the shortbread

For the shortbread layer in my traybake I used goat’s butter.  The resulting mixture was rather like putty so instead of trying to roll it out, I pressed it into the base of my tin and smoothed it out with my cake polisher.  It worked really well and made a good foundation for the next layer.

The condensed milk worked perfectly and made a lovely golden toffee which I poured over the shortbread and left to firm up before finally adding the chocolate.  As Himself is not keen on plain I used half milk chocolate.  I also added a couple of tablespoons of cream – goat’s cream, of course!

When the chocolate had set, I cut the whole thing into 9 fairly large squares.  Whilst it tasted fantastic, it was incredibly sweet and a whole square was just too much in one sitting.  In fact I experienced quite a sugar rush.  We decided that half a square was a more appropriate portion.

My first experiment with condensing was a great success and I’m guessing that you could make evaporated milk in the same fashion but just leave out the sugar.

Another great use I’ve found for my plentiful goat’s milk

Sweetened condensed milk

  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients
  • 1 litre milk (I used goat’s milk)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tbls butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste
Instructions
  1. Pour the cold milk into a saucepan and place on a low heat.
  2. Add the sugar and stir until well combined.
  3. Let the mixture warm up until it is just starting to simmer.
  4. Keep the temperature low to prevent the milk separating.
  5. Leave to reduce for at least 4 hours or longer.
  6. A skin will form which can be removed.
  7. When the milk has reached the desired consistency, remove from the heat.
  8. Strain through muslin into a clean bowl.
  9. Stir in the butter and vanilla and mix well.
  10. Pour into a clean jar and seal the top.
  11. Allow to cool and then keep in the fridge until completely cold where it will thicken up a bit more.
  12. Use as normal condensed milk.
  13. It should keep for a week or so in the fridge.

A whole square was just too much for one person
A whole square was just too much for one person
Toffee shortbread
A more appropriate portion of toffee shortbread
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Ascending egg mountain — Wednesday, 11th September

Ascending egg mountain

The best ever egg custard tart
The best ever egg custard tart

Last night’s Great British Bake Off was toe-curlingly good.  There were bits I had to watch from between my fingers, rather like a horror movie.  In the technical challenge, when the bakers were trying to get their custard tarts out of the tins, I could barely breathe.  What a shame so many didn’t make it.

The fruit pies weren’t a great success either and as for the filo pastry, well I’ve never seen anything like it.  Absolutely fabulous TV.

My egg mountain
My egg mountain

I’ve never tried to make filo, in fact I have nowhere large enough to roll it out without it getting covered in dog hairs!  However, I have made the odd custard tart.

In spring our chickens, geese and ducks start laying with a vengeance, after their winter break.  Although we sell our surplus at the gate, we can become inundated with eggs and trying to find something to do with them all is a huge challenge.

The dogs enjoy a boiled egg or two, I only make cakes that take at least 5 and we eat a lot of omelettes.

This year, in despair, I stumbled across a recipe for a custard tart that used a total of 11 eggs – fantastic.  That would help to deplete my egg stock somewhat, and it looked pretty simple.

The recipe was from Marcus Wareing and can be found here.  I didn’t make any great changes to it apart from adding vanilla to the custard filling.

Rather than go through the grief of trying to get individual tarts out of tins, I prefer to make a large one.  If you can’t get it out, you can always slice it in-situ.

This time I thought I would take strips of baking parchment and lay it under the pastry, hanging over the edge of the pie dish, so in theory I could just lift it out (I thought I spotted someone doing a similar thing last night).  It didn’t quite work out that way but it was worth a go.

Another hazard is filling the pie casing with the eggy mixture right up to the brim without spilling it all over the place.  I guess it’s OK if you can slide your shelves smoothly in and out of your oven but in my case it took two people to accomplish it.  But it doesn’t stop there, once it’s filled you have to hold it there with the heat from the oven blasting you whilst you grate the nutmeg over the top!

Whatever the difficulties, it certainly had no impact on the taste of the tart, which was smooth, creamy and absolutely more-ish – the best custard tart I’ve ever tasted and well worth making again but not until the spring.  Eggs are not so plentiful right now.

custardtart1

 

A mere trifle — Thursday, 5th September

A mere trifle

Rhubarb trifle with whipped goat cream
Rhubarb trifle with vanilla custard and whipped goat cream

The signature “bake” this week on the Great British Bake Off  was the humble trifle.  One of my all-time favourites which I make instead of Christmas pudding every year. When I was a child my mother would cook a roast dinner every Sunday.  Most weeks she would bake a cake, usually from a packet mix and I would get to lick the bowl.  She would also make a trifle for dessert.  This too was from a packet, the good old Bird’s trifle.  I loved the cream and the custard but I was never very keen on the jelly layer.  However, this became my idea of the perfect trifle and when I made my own trifles, not from a packet, they never quite tasted the same. I watched with interest when Heston Blumenthal was in Pursuit of Perfection and attempted to make the ultimate trifle.  It was a long and complicated recipe but I did try a couple of his ideas.  For instance, beating some ground tapioca into the cream makes it taste remarkably like “Dream Topping”.  Another little thing I tried was adding a layer of black olive jam but I’m not sure that was my idea of a perfect trifle.

I got this mould for Christmas and I intended to make tea cakes as demonstrated on the Bake Off last year but so far all I used it for is trifle sponges.
I got this mould for Christmas and I intended to make tea cakes as demonstrated on the Bake Off last year but so far I’ve only used it for trifle sponges

As you may expect the contestants on the bake-off produced a wide range of exotic desserts, not really my cup of tea.  If it hasn’t got hundreds and thousands on the top, it’s not a trifle as far as I’m concerned.  In fact I rarely even add a glass of sherry. I always bake my trifle sponges a few days in advance and they freeze well.  I use a simple fatless sponge or alternatively a Swiss roll recipe is perfect.  In fact the last time I made a Swiss roll I couldn’t fit all the batter onto the tin so I poured the leftover into tea cake moulds and they made the cutest little sponges yet.

Trifle sponges

  • Difficulty: easy
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A simple fatless sponge, perfect for trifles
Ingredients
  • 2 eggs
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 45g plain flour
  • 25g cornflour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
Instructions
  1. Place all the ingredients in a bowl and beat thoroughly
  2. Grease and line a small cake tin
  3. Pour the mixture into the tin and bake at 180 degrees C for 20 minutes or until firm to the touch
  4. Turn out on a wire rack to cool
Trifle sponge spread with jam
Trifle sponge spread with jam

For the custard I use one of Delia’s recipes which includes cornflour.  If it gets over-heated and goes horribly wrong, just tip in a clean bowl, beat well with a whisk and it should return to a smooth custard. The jelly layer is made up of whatever fruit I have to hand.  I usually simmer it in a little water then add 3 sheets of gelatine to get it to set. To assemble my perfect trifle I spread the sponges with jam, arrange them in my bowl, then pour over the jelly.  This goes into the fridge and when set the custard goes on top.  I usually put in back in the fridge with a layer of cling film on top to stop a skin forming. All the above can be done the day before.  On the day itself, I add the lightly whipped goat cream layer and finally finish it off with hundreds and thousands – what else?

My perfect trifle
My perfect trifle

 

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
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