Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How 'doing it right' became 'doing it wrong'

I've made any number of steamed puddings since I started this challenge, but I've always used a sort of makeshift version of the usual technique. It's like this: the Edmonds book doesn't actually give precise details as to how to steam a pudding. There are enough hints here and there to get a basic idea though, and I've come to the conclusion that the standard method is as follows:

You spoon the pudding mixture into a basin, then cover the basin with pleated foil or baking paper. This is then tied in place with string, with a string 'handle' over top. The basin is then lowered onto a trivet which sits in a large pot containing enough water to go about 1/3 of the way up the bowl. Place lid on pot, and allow water to simmer, thus creating a steamy environment in which the pudding cooks.

This is pretty much the approved method as I understand it. Except that the first time I went to do it, I didn't have a suitable trivet to keep my pudding basin off the bottom of the pot. I found that my basin would sit inside a saucepan without touching the bottom, so I tried doing it that way instead.

It worked well enough - my puddings took a little longer than it said in the recipe, but I continued to use this saucepan method, always intending to get myself a trivet sometime. The other day, I picked up a cheap metal pot stand for a couple of dollars at the local 'cheap tacky junk' shop (that's not its actual name, but I'm sure you know what kind of shop I mean) and was finally in a position to try steaming a pudding 'the right way'.

This time I decided to have a go at golden syrup pudding (p213), another variation of the plain steamed sponge pudding recipe. I creamed butter and sugar, beat in an egg and then stirred through some apricot jam. Two further steps follow: the sifting and folding in of dry ingredients, followed by the addition of baking soda dissolved in milk. I find doing things in this order makes no sense - after carefully folding until you have a soft dough, you then have to mix thoroughly to combine the dough with the milk, generally resulting in a sloppy, lumpy mixture. I think adding the dry ingredients and the milk/soda mixture alternately would give a better result.

I'd spooned my mixture into the basin, tied on the lid, and had it steaming nicely in my stockpot before I realised I'd forgotten the only element that made the pudding 'golden syrup pudding' as opposed to a plain one: golden syrup in the bottom of the basin.

Well, there was nothing I could do about that - I waited until the 30-minute cooking time was up, tipped out a beautiful-looking pudding and then drizzled golden syrup over the top, hoping to plead that this counted as completing the recipe. It looked quite nice actually, and as the sponge soaked up the syrup, I scooped off a chunk to put in a bowl - only to find that the centre of the pudding was still entirely runny.

Here was my chance: I squirted more golden syrup into the bottom of the basin, placed my scooped-out chunk back in the side of the pudding, then returned the pudding to the basin, and the basin to the pot.

After another 10 minutes' steaming time, I took the pudding out again. The centre was still a bit runny, but it was more cooked than previously. I figured I could eat around the gooey bit. I scooped out my chunk of pudding again, stuck it in a bowl with a bit of ice cream - and a little more syrup, just for fun.

The non-gooey parts of my pudding were really nice. The edge pieces that had soaked up the syrup were particularly nice. I have to admit that in total, I added a lot more golden syrup than the one tablespoon indicated in the recipe - but it wasn't too much. I'd definitely use at least as much if I made this again.

So it seems that whether I'm steaming via my saucepan method or trying to do it the proper way, 30 minutes is just not long enough to steam it through. Next time I'll try 40 minutes, and even then I'll try inserting a skewer before I get too excited about the pudding being cooked.

Still, in the end, I figure it came out not too bad - for a golden syrup pudding that initially didn't have any golden syrup in it!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

No, you don't boil the actual cake!

I've been thinking for a while that it's about time I made another fruit cake. I guess it's because fruit cakes tend to be fairly dense and heavy that I think of them as suitable for cooler weather - and the cooler weather has definitely arrived!

This weekend, I decided to get the ingredients together for a boiled fruit cake (p54). The ambiguity in this title always amuses me, as it sounds like the cake itself is boiled. Actually, it's just the fruit that goes in the cake. You begin by putting mixed fruit in a saucepan, (and make it a large one, because all the rest of the ingredients have to go in there too) just covering the fruit with water, then bringing it to the boil.

When the water boiled, I took the pan off the heat and added butter, stirring until it melted. The next addition was beaten eggs - note you're supposed to let the fruit mixture cool down first (presumably so the hot water doesn't cook the egg) but I missed that part of the recipe and bunged it straight in. Luckily, the water must have cooled down enough to have no effect on the egg.

Having stirred through my eggs, I measured in flour and baking powder, and mixed that in. Finally, I added a half teaspoon each of vanilla and almond essence. My own preferences would call for more, particularly of the almond, but I resisted and stuck to the recipe.

I poured the mixture into a lined 23cm cake tin (it said to spoon it in, but that turned out to be much messier than just pouring it) and plonked it lowish in the oven. The recipe had a not very specific cooking time of 1 to 1 1/2 hours, so I decided to check it after an hour and decide if it needed more cooking.

The cake looked pretty good at the 1-hour mark, and the top was springing back when I gave it a poke. I wasn't sure it was cooked through though, so I put it in for another 15 minutes. The surface was even firmer after that, and a skewer came out totally clean wherever I stuck it in the cake. Despite this, I still got the impression it wasn't quite ready, so I added a final 10 minutes in the oven.

The cake cooled in the tin overnight, and I left it for another day before cutting into it. I was amused to see there's a patch in the centre with hardly any fruit, so either I didn't mix that very well, or it's the result of me scraping the last of the mix out of the bowl and into the cake.

There's nothing much wrong with this cake. It's nice and moist, not to the point of being gluggy, but it might have been if I had taken the cake out closer to the 1 hour mark than 1 1/2 hours. On the whole, though, I find this one a bit bland and ordinary. There are better fruit cake recipes out there.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Buttery broccoli

I was in need of vege to eat with some leftovers I was having for dinner. I had a head of broccoli in the fridge, so why not broccoli with almonds (p158)?

First, I cut the broccoli into florets and put on to boil in salted water. On the next element, I had some sliced almonds toasting in a dry frypan. Next, I prepared the dressing, melting butter and adding lemon juice, salt and pepper. The recipe says to do this in a saucepan, but I just used a jug in the microwave.

When the broccoli was cooked, I drained it and placed the florets in a serving dish. I added the almonds to the butter mixture and poured it over the broccoli.

Let's face it: pouring butter all over your veges is not the best idea, nutritionally speaking. It's a pity, then, that it's so incredibly tasty! I never would have expected that the addition of a bit of butter, lemon and almond would make such a difference. There was far more broccoli than I would generally eat in one serving, but I ate it all quite easily.

This is a pretty simple recipe, but it's a good one to keep in mind, if you want to jazz up some broccoli sometime. It's probably not best to eat it every day though!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Cake for Mum

As we all know, Sunday was Mothers' Day: another opportunity to make an Edmonds recipe. This time I selected continental apple cake (p47), as a dish likely to appeal to my Mum.

On Saturday afternoon, I put flour, sugar, baking powder, eggs and melted butter into my mixer bowl. While that lot was mixing up, I sliced some Granny Smiths (utilising a food processor for speed, but you could do it by hand) and combined the apple slices with sultanas, sugar, cinnamon and almond essence.

It's quite a big cake, made in a 25cm round tin. I spooned two thirds of the cake mixture into the prepared tin, and spread the apple mixture evenly on top, followed by the remainder of the cake mixture. It's really quite quick to put together, as long as you're prepared to do a few dishes afterwards!

After 35 minutes in the oven, my cake seemed to be pretty much cooked. I was a little worried about the centre, which was slightly softer than the rest of the cake, but it still sprang back when I gave it a poke, so I figured it'd be ok.

I allowed the cake to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, before taking it out to cool on a rack. When the cake was cool, I positioned it nicely on my cake pedestal, wrapped it up and packed it carefully into the car.

At 6.30am on Sunday morning, I was on the road to Timaru. I knew Mum and Dad were going out for the day, so if I wanted to surprise them, it had to be early. They sure were surprised - in fact, they thought I was a total nutter for driving two hours just to spend an hour or so with Mum on Mother's day, before heading back to Chch. It was worth it though!

As for the cake, it was sweet, moist and tasty - but, as I'd feared, soggy in the middle. a few more minutes in the oven may have fixed this, but I'd have run the risk of drying out the outer edge. Mum suggests a ring tin would solve this problem - you can't have a soggy centre when there isn't one!

With the combination of apple, cinnamon and almond in this cake, it's easy to see why it was given the description 'continental'. This is a title it no longer has, by the way - in the newest edition, this cake is called 'spicy apple cake'. Whether this is because there's some negative connotation to the word 'continental' or whether Edmonds merely think their readers won't understand words of four syllables, I'm not sure.

What I am sure of is that this cake is ideal for those who enjoy a moist, apple based cake - especially if you're into that spicy, almondy flavour like I am. And if it comes out a little soggy: well, just heat it up and serve it with a bit of ice cream or custard. Yum.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

I'm sure they shouldn't look like that

You might assume, with my less-than-perfect track record with sponges, that I would be approaching any and all sponge recipes with a certain amount of dread. Oddly, this is not the case. I find I begin nearly all recipes with an optimism that sometimes turns out to be quite unwarranted.

We had another blood drive today, and as per my usual custom, I brought baking to work so we wouldn't be donating on an empty belly. I didn't have a lot of time to spare last night, so I chose a recipe that looked quick and simple: sponge drops (p68). See? There's that optimism I was talking about.

It certainly looked easy enough - you just beat eggs with sugar and vanilla until thick, fold in sifted dry ingredients, then drop small spoonfuls onto a tray and bake. How can you go wrong with that?

Everything seemed to be going quite well at first. I got the eggs and sugar nice and thick (it said 'very thick', so I beat it until it looked thick to me, then kept going a bit longer), folded in the flour and baking powder without difficulty, then dropped teaspoonfuls onto a greased tray.

The spoonfuls of mixture spread out wider than I'd expected, but once they were in the oven, they puffed up a bit. They didn't quite look how I'd expected, but not disastrous either - yet.

It was when I got the first tray out of the oven my problems began. The sponge drops immediately lost what little puffiness they had, and were almost impossible to remove from the tray. I went to line the trays with baking paper instead, but found I'd run out. And tray after tray (because you don't fit many on a tray) came out exactly the same.

When the sponge drops had cooled, they'd turned into sort of wafer-thin, slightly chewy crispy things. A bit weird-looking, but ok. I set them aside to be sandwiched with cream in the morning.

By the morning, my crispy, wafery things were no longer crisp and had gone kinda soft and sticky. I persevered, however, and sandwiched the soggy things together with whipped cream.

Luckily, my workmates are not fussy eaters. Despite the sponge drops' unappealing appearance, the plate cleared fairly quickly when I got them out at morning tea. After all, they didn't taste terrible, just sort of a chewy thing tasting of sugar and cream.

One thing that is both convenient and inconvenient about the Edmonds book is the lack of pictures. I usually defend this feature with the argument that it avoids the disappointment you get when what you make doesn't look like the picture. Of course, in this case, I don't really need a picture to know my sponge drops aren't quite what they should be!

Monday, May 7, 2012

What does cornmeal do?

Around lunchtime on Sunday, hunger pangs dragged me away from the rag rug project that has been dominating my free time lately, and into the kitchen to feed myself. Beginning another project doesn't make the Edmonds Challenge disappear, though, so I decided to make cornmeal muffins (p27), for the sake of ticking off another recipe.

I'd always thought this recipe was intriguing, but only recently managed to get my hands on the requisite medium-ground cornmeal. It's not an ingredient I have much experience with, and I was interested to see how it would work in a muffin.

You start with butter, milk and the cornmeal in a saucepan, heating until the butter melts and you've got a thick cornmealy paste. I do not recommend tasting at this point: I did, and the cornmeal was so gritty and horrible that I was not optimistic about the coming muffins.

With the cornmeal mixture cooling to one side, I sifted flour, baking powder and salt together, stirred through a tiny amount of sugar, and added an egg. The egg was meant to be beaten before adding - I even had a little bowl there to do it in - but a lapse in concentration led me to crack it straight into the dry ingredients. I tried scooping it out to beat it, which, since a fair bit of flour came with it, was not a good idea. In the end I just chucked it back in the bowl.

I was supposed to wait until the cornmeal mixture was cool before I added it to the other ingredients, but I was too hungry and impatient. I carefully combined the two mixtures, and filled some muffin trays. Fifteen minutes later, I had warm cornmeal muffins ready to eat. A few slices of cheese and some mustard pickle, and my lunch was ready.

The muffins were ok, but fairly bland. They're clearly supposed to be eaten with something, as they'd be kinda boring by themselves. I'd worried the cornmeal was going to make them gritty, but instead the texture was quite soft - just a little crumbly. That crumbliness seems to be the only thing the cornmeal adds to the muffin - so really, what's the point?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Cake for dessert

When invited to Lauren and Tom's for dinner one night this week, I made my usual offer to bring a dessert. I'm running a bit short on easily transportable desserts and puddings, though, so I decided to make a golden  lemon coconut cake (p72) instead.

I needed time to make the cake after work, so I made a lunchtime visit to the supermarket for the ingredients  - specifically a box of Edmonds butter cake mix, as this is another recipe from the 'baking with Edmonds' chapter.

When I got home from work, I immediately pulled out the mixer and got to work - not that there's much work involved when you're using a cake mix! I put the packet contents in the mixer bowl with butter, water and eggs. The coconut is to be folded through after the mixing, but I missed that bit and threw it in anyway. When I realised what I'd done, I scooped out as much as I could, but there was still a lot of coconut in the initial mix.

While the mix was beating, I prepared my cake tin. Normally I am careful to use the exact tin specified in the recipe, but I'd pictured this as a round cake - when I realised the recipe specified a rectangular lamington tin, it didn't seem like the result would be suitable for taking as a dessert. I decided to be naughty and used a 20cm round tin instead.

I folded the salvaged coconut through the beaten cake mixture, and poured it into the prepared tin. I set a timer so I could check the cake after 30 minutes (the given cooking time is 35-40 minutes, but it pays to be wary, especially when you're not using the specified tin).

The cooking time ended up being about 35 minutes in total. While the cake cooled, I made up the icing - a mixture of icing sugar, lemon juice and butter, beaten until creamy. After icing the cake, I piled lemon zest on top and headed to Lauren and Tom's.

I would have expected the use of a smaller tin to make for a higher cake, yet it was still fairly squat. I think if you made it in the lamington tin, it would be more like a slice than a cake. I can't vouch for that, but I can say that as a cake, it's quite successful: a nice fluffy, coconutty cake with a zing from the creamy lemon icing. Not  bad, if I do say so myself.

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