Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Great Blogger Bake Off: Week 8 - Spiced Apple and Salted Caramel Pretzels

ADVANCED DOUGH?! Boy did I panic when the theme of this week was announced. I'd only just managed puff pastry dough and now they want me to step things up a notch? Well I gave it a good go. None of the things the bakers on the show were going to be making this week appealed to me (other than doughnuts but I'm terrified of deep fat frying), and I remembered the contestants of last year really struggling with pretzels in the technical challenge, so decided to give them a go. I do love a good pretzel, but wanted to get a bit adventurous with the flavouring. One of my fave flavours is salted caramel, and what goes better with caramel than apple right? Pretzels alone may not be all that complicated, but I sure complicated things by adding apple to the dough. However I took the necessary precautions (that 1tbsp of flour with the apples is a lifesaver) to make sure it wasn't a disaster and so that you guys can give this recipe a go without having to worry about any hiccups. 

500g strong white flour + 1 tbsp
10g salt
7g fast-action yeast 
40g butter, softened 
1 tbsp malt extract (or Ovaltine/Horlicks)
280ml milk
21g bicarbonate of soda
2 Pink Lady Apples 
1/2 tsp cinnamon 1/8 tsp nutmeg 
For the caramel
75 grams unsalted butter 
50g soft light brown sugar 
50g caster sugar
50g golden sugar
125 ml double cream 
1 tsp fleur de sel or Cornish Sea Salt 


1. Add the flour, salt, yeast and butter to a bowl . In a jug, add the malt extract to the milk and stir until dissolved. Add the milk mixture gradually to the flour and mix until a dough is formed. 

2. Turn the dough out onto a clean surface and knead. The dough should be stiff but not sticky,and shouldn't need any extra flour to knead. Be patient. The more you knead the smoother and dryer the dough will become. Continue for 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and glossy. 

3. Place dough in a clean bowl, cover in oiled cling film and leave to prove until doubled in size (approx 45 minutes). 

4. Whilst waiting for the dough to prove, peel, core and chop the apple into small cubes. In a bowl at the cinnamon, nutmeg and 1tbsp of flour, then add the apple cubes and toss until completely covered. 

5. Preheat the oven to 200C/ 400F / Gas 6 

6. Once proved, turn the dough out and add the apple a handful at a time, kneading each handful until the apple is evenly spread throughout the dough. 

7. Divide the dough into 10 chunks, rolling each chunk into a ball to make sure they're all the same size. 

8. Using your hands, take each piece, and roll the dough into a long sausage shape, tapering the ends and creating a slight bulge in the middle. Each piece should be about 40-50cm long in length. You may need to roll out each o the strands just part way at first, then rest them, allowing the glutens to relax, before continuing to roll them out to their full length. This can help to prevent the strands springing back and creating unevenly shaped pieces. As you roll out the ropes you should apply some pressure to the dough, working from the middle outwards , pushing out any air bubbles that may have formed in the dough. 

9. The traditional way to shape pretzels is to take hold of each end of the strand and lift it into the air to create a U shape. Then, without letting go of the ends , and in one swift movement, flip the centre of the U propelling it to make a double twist. However I found this way to complicated, so with the strand laying down, I created an upside-down U shape, grabbed the ends and brought them up into the U, and twisted them around each other twice. It was much simpler. Lightly press the tapered ends onto the opposite side of the pretzel, attaching them either side of the central bulge. You may find a little dab of water will help them to stick. Carefully flip the pretzels over and onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper, so that the ends are now face down. You should now have a classic pretel shape with three equally spaced sections. 

10. Add the bicarbonate of soda to 7 litres/ 12 1/2 pints of boiling water, and gently drop each pretzel into the water for approximately 5 seconds. Gently remove and place on a baking tray. 

11. With a sharp knife, make a deep slash in the thickest part of the pretzel. 

12. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes , or until they are a deep brown colour.

13. Meanwhile, for the salted caramel, melt the butter, sugars, syrup in a small heavy based pan and let simmer for 3 minutes, swirling every now and then. 

14. Add cream and half a teaspoon of fleur de sel salt (not table salt) and swirl again. Give it a taste to see if you want to add any more salt, before letting it cook for another minute, then pour into a bowl and put it in the fridge.

15. When the pretzels are done, leave them to cool on a wire rack. 

16. When the caramel has thickened enough to pipe, pour into a sandwich bag and snip off a small corner. Pipe over the pretzel in whatever pattern you like. I went for a simplistic zig-zag. 


Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The Great Blogger Bake Off: Week 7 - Rhubarb and Custard Mille Feuille

I am so flippin' proud of myself this week. Not only did I pull of making puff pastry from scratch, but creme patissiere too. I think I've been playing it safe with my bakes up until now, sticking to things I know I can manage, so I decided this week to push myself a little bit further, and tackle Mille Feuille. 

It was really difficult recipe wise, considering most recipes tell you to use shop bought pastry, and whipped cream instead of creme patissiere. I was also expecting such a wide range of flavour combos when I was searching for some inspiration, considering mille feuille is only sweet pastry and cream/custard, but kept stumbling across boring old strawberries and rasberries, so I decided to wing it and do one of my all-time fave flavour duos. Nothing can beat good ol' rhubarb and custard. 

If I was to do this again, just from a presentation point of view, I would use raw rhubarb and stew it myself to maintain the pink colouring, because the green of the tinned rhubarb really isn't that appealing. 

Taste-wise though it was spot on. The sugar that's sprinkled over the pastry before it's baked adds just the right level of sweetness, and the tartness of the rhubarb combats any added sweetness that comes from the creme patissiere. It actually tasted like rhubarb and custard sweets. 

Despite having to piece together multiple recipes to create my own, this was actually a really easy bake to pull off, and I thoroughly enjoyed learning two brand new skills. 

So if you've ever been a bit intimidated by this multi-layered treat and are a sucker for old school penny sweets, why not give it a go!


Puff Pastry
250g strong plain flour 
1tsp fine sea salt 
3 tbsp caster sugar
250g butter, at room temperature, but not soft
about 150ml cold water
Creme Patissiere 
4 medium egg yolks 
65g caster sugar
15g plain flour
15g cornflour
350 ml whole milk 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste 
icing sugar, for dusting. 
1 245g tin of rhubarb chunks in light syrup. 
Icing sugar to decorate. 


1) Heat the oven to 200C / 180C fan / gas 6. 

2) Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Roughly break the butter in small chunks, add them to the bowl and rub them in loosely. You need to see bits of butter. 

3) Make a well in the bowl and pour in about two-thirds of the cold water, mixing until you have a firm rough dough adding extra water if needed. Cover with cling film and leave to rest for 20 mins in the fridge. 

4) Turn out onto a lightly floured board, knead gently and form into a smooth rectangle. Roll the dough in one direction only, until 3 times the width, about 20 x 50cm. Keep edges straight and even. Don't overwork the butter streaks. You should have a marbled effect. 

5) Fold the top third down to the centre, then the bottom third up and over that. Give the dough a quarter turn (to the left or right) and roll out again to three times the length. Fold as before, cover with cling film and chill for another 20 mins in the fridge. 

6) On a lightly floured surface scattered with a little sugar, roll out the pastry to a rectangle slightly larger than 28 x 30cm. Line a large baking tray with parchment and scatter with more sugar. Use the rolling pin to lift the pastry onto the baking parchment. 

7) Scatter more sugar over the pastry and cover with another sheet of baking parchment. Lay another heavy baking tray (or a heavy oven dish) on top and bake for 25-30 mins until the pastry is golden and crisp, then set aside to cool. 

8) To make the creme patissiere, whisk together the eggs and sugar in a large mixing bowl until they turn a pale golden colour. Whisk in the flour and cornflour and set aside. 

9) Place the milk and vanilla bean paste in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring to a gentle simmer, stirring frequently. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool for 30 seconds.

10) Slowly pour half of the hot milk onto the egg mixture, whisking all the time, then return the mixture to the remaining milk in the pan. It is important to slowly pour the hot milk onto the cold eggs before you return the mixture to the pan to prevent the eggs from scrambling. 

11) Bring the mixture back to the boil and simmer for one minute, whisking continuously, or until smooth. 

12) Pour the cream into a clean bowl and dust with icing sugar to prevent a skin forming. Cool as quickly as possible, by sitting the bowl of pastry cream in another large bowl of ice water. Leave to cool for 20 minutes. 

13) Using a ruler and a sharp knife, carve 10 x 6cm rectangles out of the pastry. You should be able to carve out 12 rectangles. 

14) Tip the cooled cream into a piping bag or a standard sandwhich / freezer bag, and snip off a tiny corner with a pair of scissors. Practice piping on some kitchen role to make sure the hole is the right size and the cream is at the right consistency. 

15) Drain the rhubarb. If it's too wet, it will make the rhubarb soggy. The best way to prevent this is to dry each individual piece of rhubarb before cutting it on some kitchen roll. 

16) Take your first rectangle, placing it horizontally in front of you, and pipe a thick line of the cream from the top to the bottom. Take two chunks of rhubarb, cut them in half and place them next to the the cream. Continue to alternate the cream and rhubarb until the pastry is covered. 

17) Place a piece of pastry on top of this and repeat the cream and rhubarb process, maybe alternating with the below layers so as to create a checkerboard effect. 

18) Place another layer of pastry on top of this to complete one mille feuille, and dust with icing sugar. 


Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Great Blogger Bake Off: Week 5 - Pecan Pie

If you don't like pies, I don't want to be your friend. 

I would rather have a wedding pie than a wedding cake, so I was so excited to get pie making. 

Now pecan pie is actually a large part of my childhood. Mum used to buy a pecan danish from the supermarket and it was my favourite dessert, but then they stopped making them and I haven't had one since, so anything remotely close to it has nostalgia in every mouthful. 

It's a classic, and is surprising easy to make (I'm pretty rubbish at dough) and the spelt flour gives the base a light, digestivy taste. 

This pecan pie is soooo bad for you, but is brilliant for a special occasion where you can justify having a naughty treat. 

225g spelt flour
75g golden caster sugar
125g unsalted butter chilled and diced
1 medium egg separated
200g pecan nutsw
juice and finely grated zest of 1 lemon
300g golden syrup
3 medium eggs plus 2 egg yolks
300ml double cream
pinch of sea salt
icing sugar for dusting (optional) 

1) Place the flour, sugar and butter in the bowl of a food processor and give it a quick burst at high speed to reduce it to a crumb-like consistency. 

2) Add the egg yolk and then, with the motor running, trickle in just enough milk for the dough to cling together in lumps (a teaspoon or two should do it). Bring the dough together into a ball using your hands, then pat into a flattened patty. Wrap in cling film and chill for at least 1 hour or overnight. 

3) Have ready a loose-bottom tart tin about 23cm x 5cm (9in x 2in ). Preheat the oven to 200c/180c fan/ gas 6. 

4) Lightly dust a work surface with spelt flour, knead the pastry until it is pliable, then roll it out thinly. Line the base and sides of the tin by slipping the base under the rolled pastry and then into the tin, gently pressing it in. 

5) Trim the edges and reserve trimmings. Line the case with foil and baking beans, securing the sides to the tin. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and beans, brush the case with the egg white, patch any cracks with the trimmings and cook for another 10 minutes until evenly golden. 

6)Turn the oven down to 170C/ 150C fan / gas 3. Thinly slice two thirds of the nuts. Whisk the lemon juice and zest into the syrup in a large bowl, then whisk in the eggs and the egg yolks and finally the cream. Fold in the sliced nuts and salt. Pour the mixture into the the precooked pie case and arrange the remaining pecans flat-side down over the surface. 

7) Bake for 60 minutes until lightly golden and puffy at the edges  (if you move the tart around it should wobble without showing any signs of being liquid). 

8) Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a couple of hours.