Lockdown vanilla pudding pie

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I blame the lockdown for all the ingredients I have on hand that I only use half of before I need to use them up or lose them forever. This leads me to bake random things that I have to pawn off on unsuspecting people. I suspect this is one of those experiments that won’t be welcomed with open arms, minds or mouths.

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Vanilla pudding made with coconut milk

2/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 1/2 cups coconut milk (unsweetened) – feel free to use other kinds of milk to your taste
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract, maybe a dash of vanilla bean powder

How to

Whisk the sugar and salt together in a small saucepan.

Separate four eggs; set the whites aside for use in something else.

Combine the cornstarch and 2 tablespoons of coconut milk to dissolve the cornstarch.

Add the cornstarch mix, the rest of the coconut milk and four egg yolks to the saucepan and whisk well.
Cook the mixture on medium heat, stir constantly.
Once mix thickens (and it will – it seems to take a while but once it starts, it gets thick quickly), lower the heat and cook for one minute while constantly whisking.
Pour the mix through a fine sieve, stir in the vanilla. Pour into a bowl, if eating as pudding. Pour into a pre-baked pie crust if making a pudding pie.
Affix plastic wrap directly to the surface of the pudding/pie filling and chill 2+ hours.
Pictured: The bit of the pudding that didn’t fit in the pie.
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Lockdown baking

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I don’t bake much any more. And during a lockdown I can’t even give the baked goods to very many people. But I also have a bunch of ingredients that need to be used… so here’s the vanilla pound cake I made the other day.

Vanilla pound cake

1 3/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup softened butter
3/4 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup milk (you can use milk substitutes; I used coconut milk)
2 eggs (lightly beaten)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract (I also threw in a dash of vanilla bean powder)

How to

Heat oven to 170c/325F. Grease and flour your loaf pan.

Sift the flour and add the baking powder.

Cream the butter and sugar for several minutes.

Slowly add the beaten eggs on low speed. Add the vanilla extract once mixed.

Add half the milk, mix. Then mix in half of the flour, keeping the mixer on a slow speed. Add the remaining milk and fold in the rest of the flour until combined.

Put mixture in prepared loaf tin. Bake for about 1 hour. Use a toothpick in the middle to check its doneness; when it comes out clean, it’s ready to take out. Cool in the pan for ten minutes; remove from pan and let cool.

caramel popcorn

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Caramel popcorn is something my mother has made my entire life. She joked with her colleagues that most days she’d serve popcorn for dinner, but caramel corn was for payday. Later I made this for all the birthday/slumber parties and the like.

The recipe came from a cookbook one of her aunts published. Since leaving home, I never make it because it’s too sweet, I can’t easily find white popcorn in Sweden, didn’t have a hot-air popper, and the original recipe calls for corn syrup.

But suddenly I had white corn, a hot-air popper and golden syrup and the ability to give the finished product away.

It’s not difficult. Here’s the recipe.

Caramel popcorn
Preheat oven to 125C

Pop about 1/2 a cup of popcorn in a hot-air popper directly into a baking dish/roasting pan

In a heavy-bottomed stovetop pot:
1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup or golden syrup
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon vanila

(You can also double this recipe, as my family usually did – and use a very large roasting pan.)

Melt butter, add the brown sugar and syrup on low-medium heat. Bring to a boil, stir constantly. Let boil 5 minutes without stirring.

Remove from heat. Stir in baking soda and vanilla. The mixture will get very foamy and lightly caramel colored.

Pour over the popcorn and stir to coat. Bake in preheated oven. Stir corn every 15 minutes, turning pan halfway through, for about 45 mins to 1 hour. It should be crispy once it cools off a bit.

dark chocolate tarts

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While I had been sort of hoping to veganize my standard dark chocolate mini tart recipe, I sort of ran out of time and made the regular ones. I changed the recipe just slightly from the old one I’ve shared before.

I mailed some of these to an office where most of the employees are distributed, so a lot of employees miss out on the final results. One employee misread the label on these as “farts” rather than “tarts”, giving him a small chuckle – that was as sweet as my shared baking ended up being for him.

Dark chocolate tarts
Tart shells
1 ½ cups chocolate cookie crumbs (or 1 cup cookie crumbs and ½ cup ground hazelnuts).
1/3 cup melted butter
1 tablespoon sugar

The change I implemented here was simply throwing whole Oreo cookies into my food processor and making them into crumbs. I didn’t fool around looking for some other chocolate cookies or removing the middle filling of the Oreo. This might have made the final shells more structurally sound.

Preheat oven to 190C. Lightly spray muffin tins (regular size or mini ones, as I usually use) with nonstick spray (I usually do not use the spray because the mixture uses a lot of butter; I did use some non-stick spray this time because I was not sure that keeping the filling from the Oreos in the mix would not stick to the pan).

Mix the cookie crumbs (and ground hazelnuts, if you are using them – I did this time) with the melted butter and sugar. Press the mixture into the muffin tins. Bake approx. 5 minutes in preheated oven.

While baking, prepare the filling. Remove from oven and lower oven temperature to 160C.

Filling
10 to 10 ½ ounces of dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa) – 280 to 300 grams
¾ cup heavy cream
½ cup whole milk
3 tablespoons honey (flavored honey can be nice here)
1 egg, beaten slightly

The difference this time is that I used only heavy cream and no milk in the exact same proportion (so 1 1/4c cream – minus all milk).

Over a double boiler (or glass bowl over a pan of boiling water) mix chocolate with milk and cream. Stir until chocolate is melted and fully mixed together with cream and milk (smooth consistency). Stir in honey.

Slightly beat the egg in a medium-sized bowl. Gradually stir a small stream of the melted chocolate mixture into the egg, whisking the egg and chocolate together the whole time (to temper to make sure the egg does not become like scrambled eggs). Do this with just some of the chocolate until enough chocolate has been mixed with egg to ensure that the egg will not cook. Then add the egg-chocolate mixture to the bowl of melted chocolate.

Spoon the chocolate mixture into the chocolate tart shells. Bake 25 minutes, cool for at least 30 minutes before removing from tin.

irn-bru shortbread experiment

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I am always game for trying out some different form of shortbread. And what could be more Scottish than Irn-Bru shortbread?

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I found and used a recipe I came across online on the Scotsman website, and guess what? It was a total failure. I read the ingredients for the Irn-Bru filling a few times, and it didn’t seem possible that it could come together as an ‘icing-like’ filling – and voilà, it absolutely did not. I don’t see how this could work as published, so because I didn’t have time to mess about experimenting, I used the shortbread cookies (the recipe below worked beautifully) and made a chocolate filling instead:

Shortbread
125g granulated sugar
250g unsalted butter (I used half salted, half unsalted)
375g flour

Soften butter to room temperature. Mix butter and sugar until well-combined.
Add flour and mix gently with a pastry blender/mixer until dough almost comes together, which will take about five minutes.

Gather dough together and knead lightly on a floured surface. Roll dough to roughly 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes. Reroll excess dough up to 3 times. Bake at 265 F (130 C) for about 50 minutes.

You will be making a filling from Irn-Bru and white chocolate and creating nice wee shortbread sandwich cookies. If you follow the recipe, I don’t see how it can work at all. But if you do try it and the following info works for you, enlighten me. All I can think of is that somehow “double cream” differs from “heavy cream”, but I don’t think so.

1 bottle or can of Irn-Bru soda
100g of white chocolate
50g double cream
Pinch of salt

Combine white chocolate and double cream over a double boiler until combined. Let cool and mix in 4 tablespoons of Irn-Bru. Use a piping bag to fill each sandwich. I got what was very much like soup as a result, so no piping bag, no Irn-Bru filling.

Et voilà… in the end, it was not a thoroughly Scottish treat.

we’ve changed to be

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From what or whom did we change to become what we are now?

A letter arrived in which someone exclaimed that she’d taken up near-obsessive baking, and she finally understood my own (now waning) obsession with baking or started to associate baking with some of the feelings I had attached to it – relaxation, a sense of producing something. And when did she turn from a non-baker to someone who dreamed up something sweet to create every night?

For that matter, when did I become someone who welcomed 30C/85F temperatures? There was a time when I would hide from such weather, feeling miserable in the warmth from which I could not escape.

Is it age? Is it experience? Is it the combination of both mixing to give us acceptance of or approval for things we once felt indifferent toward or actively disliked? How do we come to long for things we never wanted?

More curious… how do we change and then change back? Did we never really change or were we having a break? What are the inner workings that drive these sometimes unconscious shifts… and what shifts them back? Is it the need for reflection/rest? Is it the vitality to try something different before feeling the pull of old habits (they do, after all, die hard) and comforts?

best chocolate cake ever – supposedly

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My go-to chocolate cake recipe has always been a bit more than ‘basic’. When I first published it here in this blog way back in 2009, I referred to it as “basic”, but later, when I started baking on a grander scale, I realized that, no, in fact, it has too many separate steps to be called basic. When you can make one-cup microwave chocolate cake to satisfy those driving choco-cravings or something a few steps simpler, this one is not the easiest you can get. But every chocolate-loving friend with whom I have shared this particular cake will tell you that the extra steps are well worth it.

Many years ago when I started making this cake, one friend told me it was the second-best cake of her life (after her wedding cake). Another friend uses this recipe every time she needs a killer cake that will not fail. The other day for a work dinner, I produced this cake, and one of the dinner party guests exclaimed that it was possibly the best cake she has ever eaten. High praise indeed. Similar accolades flow every time.

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best chocolate cake ever

The only difference this time between my original recipe and what I did now is that I used two different kinds of frosting. I made a standard buttercream (cocoa, powdered sugar, butter and sprinkle of coffee), which I used as a rather thick crumb coat. On top of this, on each layer, I slathered on generous heaps of chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream, which always comes out tasting a bit like chocolate mousse. Again, worth the extra work.

Tasks and tools

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I have always said that for every task there is a tool, and while I don’t always stand by this (why accumulate more and more specialized tools when you can improvise and accumulate less), sometimes the difference the right tool makes is astounding.

One example that surprised me was when I somehow acquired a little plastic thing that makes holes in the middle of cupcakes to fill them. I thought it seemed like a wasteful wee bit of plastic until I actually used it – the days of ripped-up cupcake tops with holes inelegantly stabbed into being with not-fit-for-purpose paring knives were finally over. And the cupcake “holer” was so much quicker, neater. And for someone who makes filled cupcakes by the hundreds, rather than the dozens, this made a lot of sense.

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On a similar note, for a very long time, I have been using a cheap, flimsy but reliable blender to make my morning breakfast monstrosity (a lot of spinach and a bit of kiwi, yogurt, cinnamon and turmeric). It’s been a loyal and useful tool. I also had a KitchenAid blender, which was much more expensive and supposedly heavy-duty, but it couldn’t handle anything, meaning that I eventually went out and bought another of the cheap blenders when the first one eventually died.

Just before the end of the year, I bought a heavy-duty, rather insane, Ninja blender/food processor thing but put it away until the old, basic blender breathed its last, which happened to be this afternoon, when it spewed a not inconsiderable amount of smoke into the air and smelled of burning plastic. Yes, the time had come to give this trusty blender his well-earned retirement.

Making a smoothie in this Ninja thing is like joining an entirely different world of appliances. Not unlike moving from mixing everything by hand to the magnificent KitchenAid stand mixer (which is, apparently, the only thing KitchenAid can reliably make – my other KitchenAid appliances are weak and fragile).

Once upon a time, I lived in a seaside flat in Iceland and spent my days and nights mixing all my copious baking projects by hand. I know the difference a purpose-made appliance can make. And while this Ninja thing might be overkill, it certainly created something completely different from what I was drinking – using so much less noise.

white chocolate raspberry prosecco truffles

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What do you do when you end up not only with about five pounds of white chocolate (when you only needed about half a pound and also find white chocolate to be little better than eating crayons) but also with bottles of prosecco (when you don’t really drink, and if you did, prosecco would be one of the last things you’d reach for)?

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Too much white chocolate! And I was wrong. It wasn’t only 5 pounds but 5.5! Fuck! Incidentally I still have quite a lot of these and will make another batch of everyone’s favorite white chocolate macadamia cookies soon, even though my baking days are over… but as white chocolate goes, these are amazing. Thanks, Callebaut quality

You make white chocolate raspberry prosecco truffles. I saw a recipe online at the same time I was 1. stuck with these extraneous, and let’s face it, almost inappropriate amounts of ingredients, and 2. happened to be in a candy-making frenzy for handing over some homemade gifts to neighbors and people who stopped by in the post-holiday period.

So how did we get from there (see the oversized bag of white chocolate) to here (see below)? You can click the link above or follow the recipe below.

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White chocolate raspberry prosecco truffles
1 cup raspberries
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup prosecco
red food coloring

2 cups white chocolate (for truffles)
2 cups white chocolate (for dipping/coating)

edible gold glitter

Mix in saucepan on medium, cook 3-4 minutes. Reduce to low. Add ½ cup prosecco. Simmer 2 minutes. Strain to remove seeds. Return to pan, add one drop red food color. Cook 10 minutes ( you should end up with about 1/2 cup of liquid).

Put 2 cups white chocolate chips in a bowl. Pour the cooked raspberry prosecco mixture over the chips. Let this sit 2 minutes, and then whisk until smooth.

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Put in freezer for an hour or two.

Remove from freezer and work quickly make 1 tablespoon-sized balls from the frozen mixture. Place balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze again, at least an hour.

When nearly ready to finish, melt 2 cups of white chocolate chips in a double boiler or microwave.

Using a toothpick, lift each frozen prosecco ball and dip in white chocolate and place on a wax paper lined baking sheet. Freeze 30 minutes.

Re-melt chocolate and put in piping bag. Remove toothpicks gently – 3 at a time, drizzle white choc over – and top each with edible gold glitter.

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One of them cracked open and this is how it looked inside (somehow I think it could be less grey-lavender colored but my luck with red food coloring is lacking.

I can’t tell you how these taste, though, because I sure as hell wasn’t going to eat blobs of white chocolate and prosecco-tinged raspberry goo!

white chocolate cherry shortbread

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I don’t think this was terribly successful. I found a recipe online somewhere (I can’t remember where) that claimed you could actually form this dough, once assembled, into a cohesive ball and then could flatten it with a glass to make individual cookies.

No. Fail. Maybe less flour, more butter? Using the recipe below, however, I salvaged it by just pressing the dough into round pans like I do with any other normal shortbread recipe. It was crumbly, and I was skeptical as to whether it would hold together and allow me to cut it into slices. But it did… and even though I have no idea how it tastes or even if the slices will hold up until I get them to their intended recipients, it at least worked well enough for now. I suspect these could be experimented with to achieve a better consistency.

White chocolate cherry shortbread
1/2 cup candied cocktail cherries, chopped finely
2 1/2 cups flour (maybe 2 cups would be better?)
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup cold butter, cut into pieces
1 to 2 cups white chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (or almond, if you prefer)

Preheat oven to 325F/160C. Use two round cake pans to bake in.

Mix flour, sugar, butter and mix until fine crumbs form. Mix in the extract.

Add your cherries and chocolate. Divide dough into the two pans and press it firmly into the pan evenly. Bake for about 15-18 minutes.