Monday, May 30, 2011

Another iron in the fire

Gem irons have long been on my "gotta find" list of equipment and ingredients required to complete the Edmonds Challenge. They appear sporadically on Trademe, but generally go for prices beyond what I've been willing to pay just to tick off a couple of recipes. On a recent trip to Riccarton Market, however, I managed to pick up some proper, old-school gem irons in good condition for the bargain price of $20.

Everyone seemed enthusiastic about the gem iron purchase, mostly commenting "Oh, ginger gems! Yuuum!" or similar. Since ginger gems appear to be a particular favourite, I decided to leave these for another time and do a practice run with some plain gems (p28).

They're remarkably easy to make. The gem irons have to heat up in the oven first, so you put those in while you prepare the batter for the gems: no creaming butter and sugar for this, just mix melted butter with honey and brown sugar, beat in an egg, then stir in milk and dry ingredients.

The recipe mentions that the mixture should be mixed lightly, I expect probably in much the same way as muffins. Mine were slightly overmixed, owing to my forgetting about the milk until the dry ingredients were almost mixed in.

When the batter was ready, I took the gem irons out of the oven and added a small knob of butter to each section of the irons. As the butter sizzled in the hot iron, I spooned in the gem batter. The recipe is supposed to make fifteen gems, but my mixture only filled the twelve-gem irons and no more. I didn't mind though - it was easier just doing the single batch.

Since I'm not at all familiar with gems, I'm not sure what you're supposed to do with them really. They're in the 'muffins, scones and loaves' chapter, so I'm guessing it's the sort of thing you put some butter on, perhaps also jam in the case of these plain ones.

In any case, my gems came out looking beautiful, and they tasted lovely hot from the oven: soft, light and sweet. Having tasted the plain ones, I'm quite keen to try the ginger gems now - I'm already starting to get an inkling as to why everyone seems to love them!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Steamed pud: always good

After a long period of unseasonably warm and sunny weather, the clouds rolled in today to remind us that winter's almost here. In response to the gloomy, drizzly weather, I decided to make myself a dominion pudding (p208), one of several steamed puddings in the Edmonds book.

Now that I've actually worked out how to steam a pudding, it was quite straightforward. The pudding itself was simple enough, just cream butter and sugar, beat in an egg, then mix in the dry ingredients and some milk.

In the bottom of the pudding basin, I had the option of adding either jam or raisins. Since I have a cupboardful of homemade jam, I took advantage of this opportunity to use up some of it. I selected a jar that had a small amount of boysenberry jam in it. It was starting to go sugary, so it wouldn't have been much good as a spread anyway.

I scooped out the jam and added it to the bottom of the basin, then spooned the pudding mixture on top. Fastening a pleated piece of tinfoil on top with string, I sat the basin in a saucepan part-filled with water, put the lid on, and left it to steam for an hour and a half.

I'd totally forgotten to grease the pudding bowl, so when I tried to tip out the pudding, it was stuck fast. Even when I levered the pudding out with a knife, most of the jam was still stuck in the bottom. I had to scoop it out with a spoon.

It wasn't until I'd served up some of the pudding and had a taste that it occurred to me that this isn't really a pudding to be eaten on its own. Some ice cream, or... (here I checked the recipe, and sure enough: "serve with Edmonds custard").

The custard didn't take long to make, and it made the pudding much more appealing: sure, it was warm, filling comfort food before, but with a feeling that something was missing. Any kind of steamed pud (and I still have a number to do) is a pleasant filler on a chilly evening, but take my advice and don't forget the custard.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Simple but satisfying

I decided today that I felt like having soup for dinner. After tossing up various soup recipes, I chose seafood soup (p89) because it looked quick and easy.

First, I had to get a few ingredients. Popping into Pak N Save on my way home from work, I wondered at first why there were no trolleys available - until I realised it was "Whacky Wednesday". Oh no: there's something about these cheap shopping days that brings out the crazy in people.

The few items I needed were just enough to make carrying them burdensome, and as I negotiated my way around another customer's trolley blocking the self-service checkouts (studiously ignoring the woman who had pushed in line next to me and then proceeded to gripe at everyone in the vicinity) I fumbled my armful of vege, dropped a leek into the aforementioned trolley and sent a carrot rolling along the floor. Red-faced, I collected my scattered vegetables and got out of there as soon as possible.

This soup was a little different to most soups I've made, which are generally a one-pot sort of thing and take a few hours to cook. This time, I had the chicken stock heating in a saucepan with parsley, peppercorns and a bay leaf, while the leek, carrot and celery were gently softening in a frypan. The soup was supposed to have turnip in it as well, but I decided not to bother with it.

When the veges had just started to soften, I added chunks of monkfish - I actually used less than indicated in the recipe, but it seemed to work ok - poured over the stock and left the soup to simmer until the fish was cooked. It only took a few minutes (in fact, the whole soup took less than 20 minutes to make) before I was adding some seasoning and ladling out a bowlful.

Perhaps it wasn't the most spectacular soup I've ever eaten, but it made quite a pleasant meal. It was warming and filling - which is exactly what you want on an Autumn evening. I think I'd chop the leeks a bit more thoroughly next time: I just sliced them thinly, which resulted in a lot of stringy leek in the soup. Otherwise, I see it as a quick, easy meal that could well become a fallback for those days when I just want something simple aftr I've been to get the groceries. Plain, simple.. but not bad at all.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Why shortcake? Well.. why not?

After another week of slacking around, it's time to get back into the Edmonds book again. There wasn't a particular recipe I wanted to do, so I quite arbitrarily decided to make apple shortcake squares (p60). It's pretty much the standard apple shortcake you see in bakeries everywhere: a layer of apple sandwiched between two layers of buttery cake.

I peeled and sliced three Granny Smiths and got them in a saucepan with a little sugar and water. Once that was sorted, I went to make the shortcake.. and was brought up short by the fact that I didn't have any flour. Stupid really, since I'd actually made a special trip to the supermarket for the butter. Didn't occur to me that I might need flour as well!

I nearly postponed my shortcake-making, thinking I would just cook up the apples and do the rest when I'd had a chance to grab some flour. That was, until I realised that I did have some self-raising flour. Leave out the baking powder, use self-raising instead, and I'm back in business!

The apples were ready by the time I'd made this decision, so I immediately got down to making the shortcake, rubbing butter into the flour, then mixing in sugar and beaten egg with a little milk. This made a stiff dough which I halved, rolling each half out to the approximate size and shape of the tin I was using.

The recipe specified a 22cm tin, something I don't have, so I made a few calculations, and set my adjustable tin in a rectangle that would roughly approximate the same surface area as a 22cm square. Well, that was the plan, at least: my maths skills are not terribly reliable, but it seemed to work this time!

I placed the first layer of pastry in the tin - I hadn't got the size and shape absolutely right, but a little surreptitious patchwork had the gaps filled in no time. The next layer to go in was the apple: a nice thick layer smoothed over the top of the pastry. Then I topped the apple with the second layer of pastry. Patchwork wasn't as easy without a solid base to work against, but I got it looking pretty tidy.

After 25 minutes in the oven, the shortcake came out looking golden and tasty. I took it out of the tin to cool (so the bottom didn't go soggy) but I waited until it was completely cold before cutting it.

I was surprised at the texture of the shortcake - used to dense, soggy bakery apple shortcake, I was quite delighted to find that mine had a light, almost crisp texture. The flavour wasn't as sweet as I'd expected; maybe I would think about adding a little more sugar to the shortcake next time. But overall: Pretty good shortcake, I reckon.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Rumpot overfloweth

I've been meaning to top up my rumpot ever since apples came into season. Somehow, I never got around to it - and now mandarins are in season as well! Today I finally dug the rumpot out of the top cupboard, and opened it up to add the last of the fruit.

There wasn't much space left in the pot, but I managed to cram in the segments of one small mandarin, and half an apple (chopped). When I attempted to stir in the sugar, the pot overflowed - there wasn't even room to add more rum.

I have to wait a while before I taste the rumpot, but from sampling the overflowed syrup I can predict that it's going to be quite potent. I have no idea whether the fruit and syrup will be absolutely delicious, or if I've been using up perfectly good rum to no purpose. I'll let you know a few weeks from now!

Want to see how the rumpot fruit looked and tasted? Click here

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Two for the price of one?

It's now a week since I got back from Berwick. In spite of my optimistic attitude earlier in the week, my appetite has not yet returned, nor has my stomach settled. My doctor claims that this "might be something interesting" and has put me on a bread-and-water diet for the weekend.

This could be considered a bit of a drag, but I prefer to see it as a breadmaking opportunity. After all, I hadn't made white bread (p25) yet. Time to give it a go.

Interestingly, you start by combining the yeast with flour, sugar and salt, then adding oil and first cold, then boiling water. Most yeast-based recipes I've used begin with scattering the yeast over tepid water.

I got a bit confused when it came to converting the quantities for Surebake vs Active yeast. As I understand it, one tablespoon of Active = two of Surebake. Unfortunately, I got this conversion backwards and accidentally put in four times the required amount of yeast. I realised my error almost immediately, but continued anyway. After all, what could possibly go wrong?

Having mixed the flour/yeast/water etc into a thick paste, I gradually added the rest of the flour until I had a dough, then kneaded it a bit before leaving it in a greased, covered bowl to rise.

A little later on, I checked on the dough to see how it was rising: It had overflowed the sides of the bowl and was pushing against the teatowel I'd covered it with. Probably risen enough then!

I punched down the dough and kneaded it for about five minutes. This recipe is for a single loaf of bread, but I figured that it might be best to split it into two, especially since I didn't have any deep loaf tins as specified in the recipe. So instead of splitting the dough in half, I cut it into four and filled two loaf tins. These sat covered for another half-hour or so while the dough continued to rise.

Before putting the bread in to bake, I brushed each loaf with egg wash, and sprinkled one with sesame seeds. Having learnt to be cautious about cooking times, I set the timer for 20 minutes, not 30 as shown in the recipe.

I had every expectation of a complete disaster. With quadruple yeast, how could it be anything else? So it was a huge surprise when the timer went off and I saw two perfect-looking, golden loaves of bread in the oven. I took them out and checked if they were cooked by tapping on the bottom (getting sesame seeds all over the kitchen in the process). The plain loaf seemed cooked through, but I had to put the sesame one back in the tin and return it to the oven for another five minutes or so.

Well, they looked pretty good on the outside, but I was sure they'd be full of holes in the middle. You can't make one loaf's worth of flour stretch to two and not have a holey texture... or actually you can, apparently! I cut into the plain loaf while the sesame one was still in the oven, and the texture was just fine. It tasted good too: there's nothing like fresh bread warm from the oven!

So there you have it: somehow extra yeast made extra bread without additional flour. Who would have thought? Now I'm well-supplied with bread for the rest of my bread-and-water weekend, but sadly there's far more than I can possibly eat before it goes stale!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Let's try that again

It's been a couple of weeks since my last post: I've been away at Berwick Outdoor Experience, an eight-day course run by the Lions Club. It's entirely uncharacteristic of me to sign up for such a thing, but my darling Daddy put me up to it.

Obviously, I was unable to cook anything Edmonds while I was away, and the week's exertions had the unexpected effect of entirely curbing my appetite. I'm only just now regaining any interest in eating.

I thought it would be a good idea to have something to nibble on in the car on the way down to Otago, so a day or two before I left, I whipped up a batch of gingernuts (p40). It's a fairly simple recipe, consisting of butter creamed with sugar and golden syrup, with baking soda, flour and ground ginger added.

These ingredients combined to make a very stiff, crumbly mixture. It was tricky to roll into balls, but I persevered and got a couple of trays into the oven. The recipe stated 30 minutes' cooking time, but the biscuits were ready far earlier - it was around the 15-minute mark that I finally took them out, and even then they were dark on the bottom.

I wasn't impressed. The gingernuts were rock hard and quite bland. I soon decided not to take them with me - a useful decision, since I didn't have any spare space in my bags anyway.

Initially, I just wrote this one off as a bad recipe, but the next day I realised where I'd gone wrong. I'd been using canola spread in place of butter, and calculated the amount required in tablespoon amounts, as per the info on p8 of the Edmonds book. Except instead of consulting said page, I'd done it from memory: not smart, since memory indicated that one tablespoon equalled 30g (it's actually 2T=30g). If you only put half the butter in a biscuit dough, of course it won't come out right!

I didn't have time to have another go until I got home, and at first I didn't want to do anything but sleep. This evening, however, I got home from work and mixed up another batch. The difference between the two biscuit doughs was marked: the second one was light, soft and easily workable. It took no time at all to roll the mixture into balls and get the gingernuts in the oven.

The 30-minute cooking time remains a mystery. Both batches of gingernuts were cooked - in fact, slightly over cooked - after only 15 minutes. After 30, they'd be charcoal.

The second batch of biscuits was a considerable improvement on the first. They were larger and softer for a start. I wouldn't say these are the best gingernuts I've ever made (Alison Holst!), but they're ok. Still, no matter what recipe you use, I can give you one very valuable piece of advice: if you accidentally halve your butter, you won't get good results.

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