Short and Tweet Challenge 24: Soda Bread

This week’s #shortandtweet challenge from Dan Lepard’s Short & Sweet was for the slab form of Oatmeal soda bread, or its seaweed variation on pg 51; the Breakfast soda bread on pg 52; or the North-South cornbread on pg 53. [The opening photograph and one below are from @BakerHay who baked a delightful spelt version of the soda bread.]

Soda bread is inextricably linked with the taste of terror for me. Years ago, on a family holiday near Dublin, soda bread teas were ubiquitous. We ate more than our fair share of soda bread from bakeries and tea-rooms. Despite this, when somebody told my mother that we couldn’t leave without tasting the soda bread from a certain tea-room, she decided we should go. Her plans included a cliff top walk that was vertigo-inducing at the best of times but perilous after two days of heavy rain of the sort we’d just had.

Despite the mud and the absence of a guard rail between the walker and a sheer drop of what felt like 300 feet to the Atlantic beating the bottom of the cliffs, my mother insisted that we walk in search of this special soda bread. At various points, the path was less than six inches wide, and our walking crocodile of one adult and five children had to turn our backs towards the gorse, and shuffle sidewards along the crumbling path that occasionally gave way beneath our feet, sending a clod of mud and grass on a long drop. My younger sisters were openly weeping but as they were at the back of the line it was too difficult to abort the trip and negotiate the unseen curves to return. So, we pressed on to further horrors and dangers.

When we reached the end of the walk, our faces were numb with fear and the outlines of our arms, legs and neck were softened by the hairs that had been standing on end for far too long. Inevitably, the tea-room with the special soda bread was closed. We walked stiff-legged into the nearest teashop we could find and even my young sisters drank tea as they needed to wrap their hands around something warm. The damp texture of the soda bread seemed distressingly like the clods that had given way beneath our shuffling feet. The taste was metallic and almost made us retch. But, the taste was probably the after-effects of the adrenaline, rather than bad judgment by the baker.

We returned by a different route. As we passed the start of the cliff walk, we saw that it had been roped off, with a sign warning of ‘Extreme Danger’. Since that day, I’ve rarely eaten soda bread and remain absurdly sensitive to the metallic taste of bicarbonate of soda.

So, when @lapindor of Lapin d ‘Or and More opted for the oatmeal soda bread it brought back memories: So So Soda Bread. “We ate the bread fresh from the oven with a ploughman’s type lunch. I liked the chewy crust but found the crumb a little too damp for my taste.” She’s resolved to experiment with Dan’s other soda bread but do go across and admire her Thelma & Louise (aka “useless and the layer”) sub-par baking recycling system.

I’m often intrigued by the substitutions that bakers in other countries have to make and I’ve learned interesting bits and pieces from @underthebluegum of Under the Blue Gum Tree over the past challenges, from the need for different ingredients to the adaptations for altitude. This week’s challenge has a lovely, Mma Ramotswe, feel to it, as Claire substituted sorghum for oatmeal: Short and Tweet: Seaweed, Onion and Toasted Oatmeal Soda Bread: “I couldn’t find oatmeal of any variety in the shops. Plenty of oats, yes, but oatmeal, no…I spotted a large sack of coarse sorghum meal languishing at the bottom of the supermarket shelves. The only thing I know about sorghum is that, like oatmeal, you can make porridge from it.”

Claire then had some different problems with the Breakfast soda bread which she resolved after consultations with both Misky and Dan Lepard. It’s a valuable reminder, yet again, of the importance of different baking parchments, and understanding the impact of fans in convection ovens (head over there for the details).

My Best Beloved had many plans to make these soda breads but they didn’t materialise. It may be some time before the memory of the cliff walk subsides enough to allow me to bake and taste soda bread (much as I think it’s a useful item in any baker’s repertoire).

This week’s challenge is for sweet or savoury biscuits. The unbaked mixture for Sesame, date and ginger biscuits pg 255 stores well in the fridge, ready for a quick bake. Dan suggests options to replace the fruit, the seeds and the spice flavour so it’s well worth a consideration. Peanut butter cookies pg 240 are a good, oaty chew by themselves but add a lot to an impromptu sundae, served as Dan suggests, with ice-cream and a drizzle of sauce. We bake a batch of peanut cookies every 10-14 days which may indicate something about how much we like this recipe.

Walnut chocolate cookies pg 238 are a useful standby for gluten intolerant guests or family members: the recipes uses cornflour which is interesting to bake.

If bakers are more interested in a savoury biscuit option, then I’d suggest the Buttermilk oatcakes pg 259 from a previous challenge (the compilation has some useful tips) or the Blue cheese and oatmeal biscuits on pg 256. I found shaping the oatcakes to be finnicky so the following photographs show my current method which uses a burger press (we bake the oatcakes every fortnight). (Sprinkle finely ground oats onto the bottom sheet of waxed paper, put a spoonful of mix on top, then place the top circle of waxed paper on top, and compress in the burger press.You can smooth out the grid pattern on top before baking or after a couple of minutes in the oven.)

If you blog about your experience with one of the above recipes, please post links in the comments or tweet pictures or links to @foodcraftspace or @evidencematters using the hashtag #shortandtweet - Thank you. It’s the same procedure if you don’t blog but just post a photograph of your work. Please send the links by 8pm 22 April or as soon thereafter as practical.

Schedule for the #shortandtweet April 2012 challenge.

Thank you for sharing your soda breads. I look forward to learning about your preferences for biscuits, cookies and sweet bites.

Short and Tweet Challenge 21: Light Spelt Rough Puff Pastry in Various Presentations

This week’s #shortandtweet challenge from Dan Lepard’s Short & Sweet was for Light spelt rough puff pastry, pg 497. Dan Lepard suggests using it as pie top, tart bottom, wrap-around, or nibble. A flexible item, suited to sweet or savoury, and very accommodating. Yet, it’s hard to escape the feeling of conflict, great effort and strategic manoeuvering that accompanies pastry-making in essential baking techniques: “We shall meet at Philippi, Jeeves”. (PG Wodeshouse: Thank You, Jeeves). [The opening photograph is @joellybaby's Red Onion Upside Down Tart.]

@joellybaby of Joelle McNichol tweeted the rather wistful comment: “my first puff pastry didn’t break my record of not being much cop at pastry. Shame, I had high hopes for that nice dough”. I’ve storifyed her tweets, so if anyone can troubleshoot what might have gone awry, please speak up. Although the tart tasted fine, it would be good to have the crisp flakiness of the pastry to offset the soft sweetness of those unctuous red onions. I’d not have thought of pairing red onions and fresh figs but the colours complement each other well on the plate and now that I’ve mulled it over, I’d think that the marzipan sweetness of the fig would not only be a pleasant combination with the onions but might entice otherwise reluctant fruit and vegetable eaters to try both.

@Zeb_Bakes of Zeb Bakes sent along her baking notes for these attractive tarts. “I made this one with a light wholemeal flour called Swiss Dark as I didn’t have any spelt and I forgot to egg glaze the pastry. The toppings were mozarella cheese, roast peppers skinned and butternut squash, some griddled asparagus found in the fridge and fresh tarragon and pepper. Dan’s instruction to bake your squash whole and then peel is is not easy, unlike slipping the skin off a roast red pepper which is definitely easier! Perhaps most of us would find it easier and more fuel efficient to cut the squash into chunks and roast it.” The overall verdict, mentioned in brief in The Russians Are Coming: “they were scoffed down in seconds”.

It’s fair to say that @underthebluegum of Under the Blue Gum Tree approached this week’s challenge with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. However, being as curious and up for experimentation as ever, Claire participated and used the challenge to re-evaluate her current favourite rough puff pastry method and recipe: Short and Tweet: Light Spelt Rough Puff Pastry. “I must admit my heart didn’t leap when I saw this listed on the S&T schedule… My previous go-to rough puff recipe was Yotam Ottolenghi’s…but this requires the rather tedious task of grating copious amounts of frozen butter. In contrast, Dan advocates just mixing fridge cold cubes of butter into the flour which was a darn sight easier.”

Claire has included a good photograph of her folded pastry and her usual helpful observations on cooking at altitude and notes that the recommended oven temperature is too high for her. I’m intrigued by this as the typical advice is that oven temperatures need to be increased slightly at altitude for various reasons relating to decreased air pressure, the more rapid evaporation of water vapour, the more intense action of leavening agents etc. The family’s reactions to the savoury fillings were that they ranged from OK to tasty. Overall, however: “the pastry was very, very good. It was airy, crispy and the addition of the spelt flour definitely added flavour…Would I rush to make Dan’s rough puff again? By ‘eck I would and I have definitely found my new puff pastry recipe of choice. Sorry, Yotam. You have been usurped.”

Welcome back to @jerronimissus of Jerronimissus with Piff Paff Puff. I’ve missed the comments from Little E so was pleased to read that she’s still in fine form. “[The apple turnover] layers all puffed up beautifully. I will definitely use this recipe again… and again… Little E left the [pasty which used the same pastry] at dinner without even trying it (“pastry is yucky”) but gobbled up the turnover quite happily. I think that we can conclude from this that pastry is, in fact, not yucky and she’s just being contrary.”

Welcome back also to Louise McLaren of Please Do Not Feed the Animals! who baked the chorizo tarts for an al fresco dinner: Spelt Rough Puff Pastry. In a recurrent pattern that will be recognised by reluctant pastry-makers everywhere, although not expecting to find the recipe straightforward, @LouMcL had a pleasant surprise. “How lovely to have a bit of extra flavour and goodness from the spelt flour. I really wasn’t expecting to be able to make a successful puff pastry so easily. There is a bit of rolling and folding but I just let the pastry rest in the fridge each time and got on with whatever else I was doing…it really felt I had done virtually nothing. The pastry puffed up brilliantly. Just as good as the ready-made stuff. The taste, however, was far better”.

@BakerHay offers yet another elegant presentation: Light Spelt Rough Puff Pastry with Tapenade and Roasted Peppers (storifyed). @Zeb_Bakes and Heather have a silky sheen to their peppers that adds a lot to the visual contrast and appeal of their dishes. As noted in the Storify of this, I often enjoy the process photographs because it helps to show other (nervous) bakers that there’s usually a time when rough puff pastry is full of generous smears of butter that sometimes stick to the rolling pin but it still comes good, after chilling and good handling. Occasionally, I fantasise about organising myself enough to achieve @BakerHay's stylish presentation of food: some day.

Heady with successful bread-making (Short & Sweet 2 day loaf), and drawing a discreet veil over the Sophia Loren-related upset, my Best Beloved set about the light spelt rough puff pastry with a will. We started the pastry in a cool kitchen but several interruptions meant that by the time the second roll out was done for the second set of roll and folds, the kitchen had warmed up so much that the butter smears were sticking to the rolling pin, and the pastry was beginning to drag, rather than roll. Now, our fridge maintains 2C for most of its zones but as luck would have it, we only had room in the 5C zone when we were making this pastry (that’s not intentional zoning, I keep several thermometers in the fridge as well as its own digital readout so I track the temperatures that way). The pastry just didn’t seem to chill down sufficiently to allow it to roll out properly.

We decided to leave the pastry until it had chilled properly and felt cold all the way through. This took several hours. However, you can see how much the pastry has relaxed and it was much easier to roll out after its long rest.

We were very pleased with the taste of these pastry bakes: both the tapenade and pepper and the apple puffs. The fillings were good and the outsides of the puffed pastry left nothing to be desired. However, honesty compels me to admit that all of the pastries were damp at their centres and under-cooked. I havered about mentioning this but it wouldn’t be right to leave anyone thinking that they’re the only ones who’ve had difficulties with this. Julia Dunway mentions, in passing: “One secret I learned is that puff pastry cooks fast on the outside but the inside is often undercooked (convection oven) If I put the pastries in the still oven at a lower heat for 15-20 minutes and covered them with foil then the insides were fine”.

Next time, we might add in a 4th roll and fold set but make the final roll thinner as we tend to prefer quite small amounts of pastry to filling. We can’t turn off the fan in our oven but next time we might start them lower to try and ensure that the pastry cooks through properly. (I suspect an over-hot oven at the start which led to a reduction in baking time overall may have contributed to our pastries’ outcome.) For a lifetime first in making this pastry, however, my Best Beloved is very pleased in parts with this curate’s egg but disappointed in others: we’ve had to have the “Baker’s bug” discussion about getting too caught up in “getting things right”. We met at Philippi, and have retired from the field with an creditable performance but no outright victory here.

It’s tricky to think of something seasonal for an April Fool’s Day bake other than stating, “It’s a croquembouche - no options”. However, as it’s warm weather, I’ve been looking at added flavour loaves that make it easy to gather together spontaneous picnic foods but are not so summery that no one particularly fancies them if April Showers start with a vengeance. Whether you have cheese, hummus, jam, taramasalata, or meat in mind as a filling, a good flavoured bread makes an extra special sandwich. I propose that we bake the Spelt and ale loaf, pg 32; Simple walnut loaf, pg 35, which is pleasingly purple and might intrigue children who’ve ended up with an indoors picnic because the weather changed; Soya and linseed loaf, pg 36 (I loathe soya milk but have made this with hemp milk and it was very good); Multigrain and honey loaf, pg 39; and finally, a bread that looks spectacular with a red, white, pink or vivid green filling, the well-named Black bread, pg 43 which owes its colour not only to the treacle but the small amounts of cocoa and coffee that add a rich, savoury note to the dough. The April Challenge Schedule has some suggested spreads and fillings for these breads.

If you blog about your experience with one of the above recipes, please post links in the comments or tweet pictures or links to @foodcraftspace or @evidencematters using the hashtag #shortandtweet - Thank you. It’s the same procedure if you don’t blog but just post a photograph of your work. Please send the links by 8pm 1 April or as soon thereafter as practical.

Schedule for the #shortandtweet April 2012 challenge (partially complete: to be updated as I’m checking some items).

Thank you for sharing your pastry bakes. I look forward to learning about people’s preferences for picnic breads.

Short and Tweet Challenge 20: Sophia Loren Cassata Cake, Saffron Peach Cake & Butterscotch Banana Cake

This week’s #shortandtweet challenge from Dan Lepard’s Short & Sweet was for Saffron peach cake pg 137 (an earlier challenge resulted in some useful tweaks); what Dan styles the “‘Sophia Loren’ of cake: four layers of orange sponge cake filled with a simplified Sicilian cassata mixture and drizzled with a light orange syrup”, pp 132-3; option three was a deep-flavoured Butterscotch banana cake, pp 126-7. It’s been an interesting selection of bakes that has generated questions about cakes with dome tops, what variety of cinnamon is commonly available in South Africa, and why a period of fast and abstinence has a cake associated with it. [The opening photograph is @joellybaby's banana cake.]

This week’s cakes have felt uncannily family and nostalgia related. Because of the saffron, the Saffron peach cake nods toward traditional associations with Mothering Sunday and, for me, the Butterscotch banana is reminiscent of childhood toffee smells. Looking at #shortandtweet-ers’ Orange cassata cake, there’s a sense that if we did not quite reach the acme of Sophia Loren, we brought to mind a glamorous aunt who somehow manages to wear a frilly-tiered outfit with panache. Monday 19 March was St Joseph’s Day (celebrated as Father’s Day in some countries) and in Italy, this is celebrated with regional food (this is Italy, what isn’t?). When I was at school, I had a weekend job in a pizzeria that was owned by Sicilians: so, from my n=1 experience, Sicilians (and others) celebrate by making and eating Sfinci di San Guiseppe (also pasta topped with breadcrumbs to recall the carpenter’s sawdust). Anyone who had been following #shortandtweet would have been able to do this because it involves frying choux puffs and filling them with a custard or creamy filling that is very similar to ‘Sophia’s Cassata’ filling. I was charmed to learn that @tomasi_carla made these traditional pastries and we’ve storifyed her account: @tomasi_carla’s Sfinci di San Giuseppe.

@underthebluegum of Under the Blue Gum Tree baked two cakes: Short and Tweet: ‘Butterscotch Banana’ and ‘Orange Cassata’ Cakes. There were some hiccups with both: “I can say straight up that neither would win “Prettiest Cake in Show” but taste-wise, there were varying degrees of success”. In an entertaining mix of personal preferences and interesting adjustments to allow for the impact of baking a sponge at altitude, @underthebluegum has a number of grumbles and misgivings about the Orange cassata cake. “Given my cake’s stunted stature, cutting it into three gave me a queasy moment but it was just about manageable. However, even after padding it out with the ricotta filling and giving it a drizzle of orange icing it looked a bit squat and lopsided..In the recipe intro, Dan refers to this dish as the ‘Sophia Loren’ of cakes. I am not sure what decade he was talking but my cake was certainly no sixties screen siren. I guess with a squint and in the right light it could possibly pass for today’s septuagenarian Ms Loren but that is probably being generous.” Remarkably enough, despite the low expectations: “I was surprised to find just how much I enjoyed this cake”.

@north_19 of North_19 kindly sent along her account of making the Orange cassata cake. I’ve storifyed her experience but reproduced some of it below because it highlights some common problems.

"To be honest, with my consistent lack of ability to bake sponge with a flat top, I should have known I would never have resulted in the poster-child of layer cakes. I should have baked just one large one and sliced it up, rather than two with their very domed tops (see ‘wonky cakes’ pic.")

"On the day it was baked, the cake was ok. Ricotta filling lumpy, and strangely textured…The after-taste was a little sharp and peel-y (my brand of candied peel?). However, the next day, something rather splendid had happened. The ricotta filling gently leaked into the sponge, mellowing the flavours beautifully, creating something far greater than the sum of its ingredients. I would make it again, to relish the next day."

"Oh, and I could do with some practise (advice?!) at creating the perfect flat-top sponge."

Please read @north_19's full account on Storify (where I’ve made some comments) and chip in with any advice. My additional suggestions are mundane and remedial rather than a pointer towards flat-top sponge perfection. It’s possible that the cakes rose unevenly because: i) the batter wasn’t level in the tin (an offset spatula might help to rectify this); ii) the oven isn’t level; iii) the oven has temperature zones that cause one side of the sponge to rise/set more rapidly (rotate the cake tins halfway through the cooking time; heat a bake stone in the oven and place the cake tins on that to reduce the temperature imbalances).

Domed tops can occur for several reasons. One of the likeliest problems is uneven transmission of heat so that the outer walls of the tin conducted the heat quickly and set the outer edges of the sponge while the centre of the sponge mix heated more gradually and then rose higher than the sides. In recipes with chemical leavening agents, the gases can’t escape from the cake mix once the crust has formed around the edges and they crowd towards the weakest spot (the unset centre) and push that up more. Domed tops can sometimes be fixed if you act quickly: as soon as the cakes are out of the oven, keep on the oven gloves and, using a clean tea towel, gently press down to flatten the dome and level the cake (watch out for steam as it can scald). Alternatively, when the cakes have cooled enough to be removed from the tin, invert the cake onto its top so that the top flattens under its own weight while cooling on the rack. This is helpful when slicing a cake into even layers for sandwiching.

It is at this point that I should mention that my Best Beloved succumbed to the siren promise of the Sophia Loren description and baked the Orange cassata cake. This was an ambitious choice for somebody who has never previously baked a sponge cake and so it was, perhaps, inevitable that at various points there were moments that resembled The Great British Bake Off in drama and emotion. The cake was fragrant and tasted delicious but a too-hasty turning out of one of the cakes, in combination with inadequate preparation of the sponge tins, meant that at one point we considered converting the presentation to an orange sponge and cassata trifle.

My Best Beloved removed the two cakes from the oven, and, giddy with success, turned one of them out before it had cooled enough. A section of the cake stuck to the silicone pan, and some of the part that did release broke up: despite the recipe instructions, neither tin had been lined. At this point we had nothing to lose as plan B was to serve it as a trifle so we placed the still warm sponge topside down onto some clingfilm, drizzled it with a small amount of warm sugar syrup, scraped the remaining sponge out of the pan and matched/patched up the holes, then gathered the clingfilm together to create a slight tension and gently slid the whole cake back into the still warm pan and left it to set (topside still down). We twisted and pegged the clingfilm to provide a gentle pull to encourage the cake to stick back together. (If the cake tin had been metal rather than silicone, we would probably have just folded the excess clingfilm flat and put a plate and suitable weight on top of the sponge to press it together but the silicone is flexible enough that it might have bulged.) The sponge was coaxed into sticking together well enough that it formed a sound base for the cake (we didn’t attempt to slice it into layers and the topside remained at the bottom) and held together without falling apart when it was cut and served. The final cake was just two layers of sponge, sandwiched and topped with the ricotta filling. It lasted 4 days in the fridge and matured delightfully.

I feel as if I’m highlighting the mistakes that my Best Beloved made rather than celebrating the fact that most of the procedure was correct, the cake crumb was light and it was delicious. It’s the more impressive that this was a lifetime first attempt at baking a sponge and it feels mean to detail the errors. However, it’s sometimes useful to have some back-up plans for taking remedial action and I’ve offered the above description of ‘how to stick a sponge cake back together’ in that spirit. Nonetheless, I’m conflicted precisely because I think that a number of home bakers are discouraged when their own attempts don’t look as fabulous as the photographs in a book or because other people criticise their mistakes while ignoring how good something tastes. None of the bakers who attempted it has any criticism of the taste, but none is wholly content with the appearance of their very first attempt at baking this cake. If none of the cakes achieved Sophia Loren status, I still think that we have a baker’s collection of aunts, wearing frilly outfits with panache.

I’m pleased to welcome back @joellybaby of Joelle McNichol. Her photographs and comments are storifyed: @joellybaby bakes Butterscotch banana cake. Go and admire the photographs, you might well think you can smell the caramelised banana just by looking at them.

As mentioned above, @underthebluegum of Under the Blue Gum Tree baked two cakes: Short and Tweet: ‘Butterscotch Banana’ and ‘Orange Cassata’ Cakes. In her account of the banana cake @underthebluegum speculates whether the taste of the delectable caramelised banana was smothered by her substitute spicing and wonders if other bakers had a similar experience (from the other accounts of this cake, it doesn’t seem as if this is a common problem). My own observation is that cinnamon is notoriously tricky to judge in recipes from other countries because it’s rarely clear which variety of cinnamon the recipe writer is using (eg, a floral or hot variety with varying strengths). Eg, we purchase Sri Lankan cinnamon in the UK; the commonly available cinnamon in the US is Indonesian cassia: it would be interesting to know which cinnamon is typically available in South Africa.

@BakeCakeCrumbs of Cake, Crumbs and Cooking has a helpfully illustrated account of various stages of the recipe: Butterscotch Banana Cakes - Short and Tweet. The write-up includes several useful tips. “Verdict? Great recipe - quite time consuming in terms of making the caramel, cooking the banana in it and then leaving to cool but once that bit is done, it’s plain sailing…[One] of my colleagues said that she thought these were possibly the best cakes I have ever taken to work!”

@BakerHay likewise baked the Butterscotch Banana Cake and had good intentions about giving them to her neighbours although it’s murky as to how many managed to make the handover. Her assessment is: “oil based cake light, moist and delicious”.

@lapindor of Lapin d ‘Or and More gave us: Reasons to be cheerful Jill’s variation on the Saffron peach cake substituted frozen nectarines for the peaches (in keeping with the desirable gold colour). Jill has some wisdom from Prue Leith and some praiseworthy reasoning on the health virtues of cake that contains fruit, nuts and saffron. Jane’s post triggered a series of questions from a visitor. Condensing the Q&A, I mention the following as it seems arcane to some people. Saffron has traditional associations with Mothering Sunday and Simnel Cake in the UK. Although Mothering Sunday is part of the Lenten calendar in the UK, and therefore a period of fast and abstinence, it has a cake associated with it because there is an official relaxation of Lenten observance to allow a day of celebration, also known as Refreshment Sunday.

It’s apparent that #shortandtweet search doesn’t always show everyone’s tweets so I apologise if I missed any notifications - please let me know and I’ll update this compilation.

I propose that we close the month with Light spelt rough puff pastry, pg 497. Dan Lepard notes that, “A smidgeon of baking powder softens the pastry and helps to gently aerate the tender buttery flakes as they bake”. This is a fairly free-form recipe as Dan suggests using it as you would puff pastry (lids for pies, or bases for tarts); as a wrap-around for items such as Pigs in blankets, or simply prepped for nibbles.

However, pp 498-503 have some excellent “ideas for individual savoury tarts”: be sure to read the additional baking notes for First-class tarts pg 498. The tarts can be as small or large as it suits you and the toppings can be simple or sophisticated. They’re flexible and allow a range of toppings to be baked at the same time (useful in families where people rarely agree on a single dish). For smaller households, the pastry freezes well and defrosts without mess for fast pie tops or tarts.

If you blog about your experience with one of the above recipes, please post links in the comments or tweet pictures or links to @foodcraftspace or @evidencematters using the hashtag #shortandtweet - Thank you. It’s the same procedure if you don’t blog but just post a photograph of your work. Please send the links by 8pm 25 March or as soon thereafter as practical.

Schedule for the #shortandtweet March 2012 challenge.

Thank you for sharing your cakes. I look forward to our spelt rough puff pastry, whether whether it’s acting as a pie top, tart bottom, wrap-around, or nibble.

NB: apologies for the delay in sending out this compilation, it’s taken me a while to recover from a lengthy migraine. I’ll update this post with a link to the April Challenge schedule as soon as practical.

Short and Tweet Challenge 19: Glorious Choux, Paris-Brest and Fripperies

This week’s #shortandtweet challenge from Dan Lepard’s Short & Sweet was for choux pastry, in one of several forms. My parents had a French cookery book that would have stoked the imagination of any 9 year-old whose pocket contents included a penknife, biro and a miniature brandy in hopes of being called upon to perform an emergency tracheostomy (the brandy was to sterilise blade/tube/skin). One of the more memorable recipes was for an eel dish that stipulated freshly-drawn eel blood for the sauce (the method involved impaling live eels on a hook, a sharp knife and a dish to collect said blood). When it came to pastry, however, the author assumed that eel-slaying sophisticates with sufficient sang-froid to hold a wriggling, inverted eel would be in no need of guidance: “Take a quantity of rough puff pastry” was as detailed as it got. I knew what puff pastry was but the recipe that fired my imagination was Paris Brest. I had no idea what choux pastry was but I instinctively knew that I liked the sound of a praline filling and toasted almonds on top. And I dreamed of the time when I could eat this delight. What made this recipe the more intriguing was the account of origins of the recipe: developed, allegedly, in honour of the Paris-Brest cycle race (hence the shape).

"[The baker’s] tire-shaped choux pastry was piped full of a huge amount of calorific praline cream, perhaps mimicking the newly invented inner tubes of the day and traditionally baked almonds and icing sugar decorated the cake, imitating the tread of the tyre and dust from the road." The Hungry Cyclist: Paris Brest – The Breakfast of Champions

Whether we had similar associations or not, all of this week’s featured participants chose the Mini coffee Paris-Brest pg 418 for this week’s (the opening photograph is from @joellybaby).

I’m delighted that @joellybaby of Joelle McNichol joined in such style. I think several of us might identify with the self-doubt about pastry skills (“not much cop at pastry”). I’ve storifyed her tweets and photographs and they’re worth a look and a warm, “Hello”. The following is a photograph of Joelle’s piped paste before it goes into the oven.

Recuperating from a recent unpleasant bug, @underthebluegum of Under the Blue Gum Tree produced: Short and Tweet: Mini Coffee Paris-Brest. The write-up includes helpful guidance on ‘What not to Google’ (I can only second this: a search for a routine gadget that vibrates air pockets out of wet concrete yielded results that were startling and disturbing albeit not in the way I needed); oven temperature (matched experience with our fan oven); and how you might serve this if you can’t slice your pastry wheels in half, horizontally. It says a lot that, despite a couple of bumps with the custard and the wet caramel, the verdict is: “Despite the slip ups, the resulting dessert was delicious and one I would definitely make again”.

@lapindor of Lapin d’Or and More tackled: Paris-Brest, a challenging subject. In a theme that runs through #shortandtweet, Jane declares, “Pastry and I are not the best of friends and I felt apprehensive throughout making these”. After working through the recipe, she summarised the matter thus: “The finished pastry did taste very good but I really don’t think I would make them again unless I can rid myself of the fear of pastry; it just makes the process feel hard work rather than fun”.

As I said in@lapindor's comments, I feel that pastry is one of those things that we tend to attempt infrequently, and because we do it so irregularly, there’s no accumulation of competence with it. We tend to remember the problems from our last attempt rather than the fact that it tasted fine and that any errors could probably be fixed by tweaking the technique or that we would know more about what to expect if we did it again, within a reasonable time scale.

I wanted to write something here about how difficult it is to bake alongside someone who is baking something like this for the first time but that’s in danger of being a very long, off-topic digression. Let’s just say that reading the recipe through several times is essential, not optional. If someone is hurrying you along, so as to not boil off too much water at the early stage, this is not the time to start cross-examining that person as to why that detail isn’t in the recipe (because every recipe would be impossibly long if you had to explain every detail and anticipate every, “Why?”). This stage lead to a more con brio explanation of the water content of choux paste (and types of butter) than I would have anticipated even a few moments earlier.

Plainly, pastry causes disruption even in otherwise tranquil kitchens. In an attempt to circumvent what was an increasingly sharp-toned interrogation about why and how the water content in choux paste turns to steam in a hot oven, and how the increased pressure pushes out the skin of the dough, resulting in an airy, crisp shell, I played the McGee joker. I fetched McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture and read aloud the following:

"Choux is the French word for “cabbage,” and choux pastry forms little irregular cabbage-like balls that are hollow inside like popovers. Unlike popovers, choux pastry becomes firm and crisp when baked. It provides the classic container for cream fillings in such pastries as cream puffs (profiteroles) and éclairs…and deep fried beignets, whose lightness inspired the name pets de nonne, “nun’s farts.”

Choux paste was apparently invented in late medieval times, and it’s prepared in a very distinctive way. It’s a cross between a batter and a dough, and is cooked twice: once to prepare the paste itself, and once to transform the paste into hollow puffs…As with the popover, the surface sets while the interior is still nearly liquid, so the trapped air coalesces and expands into one large bubble.”

I can report that even the most inquisitive of people can be diverted away from questioning the fine detail of steam expansion puffing out a pastry ball by learning of the existence of “nun’s farts”. (Having learned that “nun’s farts” are fried beignets, retribution awaits the person who mislead in my formative years by confidently assuring me that “nun’s farts” was the colloquial translation for Religieuses (Mintwonderland has some charming pictures of Religieuses)).

Pour revenir à nos moutons, we had to tinker with the oven temperature because you can see how well advanced the browning of the dough and almonds was after 7 minutes (as above). They did puff up but not as dramatically as the first-time choux baker had hoped (we revisited the issue of whether the water and butter mix had been left to boil for too long and if the pan had been too large). We belatedly learned that one of the intended recipients of the pastries doesn’t like coffee and another was apprehensive about dentures and caramel. So, the wheels were served, intact, with strawberries and something my family refers to as Tangy Cream (it’s double cream with natural yoghurt/crème fraîche, stirred together, with dark brown sugar to taste and left to stand; after standing you can mix it to form a uniform colour, streaks or a marble effect).

Update: Peter Evans (@EvansPeterJ) tweeted a picture of his Paris-Brest from Short & Sweet that he’d prepared for a New Year’s Eve celebration. “Was indeed a lovely thing to do, my first time with choux and by heck they were tasty!”

It’s Mothering Sunday in the UK next week so this week’s challenge recipes are: Saffron peach cake pg 137 (an earlier challenge resulted in some useful tweaks for people who haven’t tried this previously); what Dan styles the “‘Sophia Loren’ of cake: four layers of orange sponge cake filled with a simplified Sicilian cassata mixture and drizzled with a light orange syrup”. Dan has provided notes for advance preparation on pg 133, specifically for a special occasion. The recipe for Orange cassata cake is pg 132 and the cassata filling is delectable (see March schedule for more notes and suggestions); option three is a deep-flavoured Butterscotch banana cake to evoke nostalgia in anyone who lost a filling to Banana Split Toffees and would appreciate both a more adult version and less dental jeopardy (again, the schedule has additional notes and reminders).

If you blog about your experience with one of the above recipes, please post links in the comments or tweet pictures or links to @foodcraftspace or @evidencematters using the hashtag #shortandtweet - Thank you. It’s the same procedure if you don’t blog but just post a photograph of your work. Please send the links by 8pm 18 March or as soon thereafter as practical.

Schedule for the #shortandtweet March 2012 challenge.

It’s apparent that #shortandtweet search doesn’t always show everyone’s tweets so I apologise if I missed any notifications - please let me know and I’ll update this compilation.

Thank you for sharing your Paris-Brest. I look forward to our cakes, whether or not they’re associated with Mothering Sunday.

Short and Tweet Challenge 18: Perfect Pita Bread, Simple Bagels and Double-Corn Muffins

This week’s #shortandtweet challenge from Dan Lepard’s Short & Sweet was for Perfect plain pita pg 76 or the Garlic, thyme and lemon version pg 77; Simple bagels pg 61; or Double-corn bacon muffins pg 533. The opening photograph is from Carla (see below) because, as ever, I’m in awe of her tidiness and am smitten by her kitchen.

I’m not a bagel enthusiast, mostly because I find the supermarket versions to be clammy and dense. For no particularly good reason, such bagels remind me of acres of sun-starved goosepimpled flesh in a park on the first sunny day, slathered with sun-screen or drenched in a tanning oil to accelerate the burn. I was therefore delighted when Dan Lepard gave headnotes on how to tweak his bagel recipe to adjust the chewiness and crumb. @lapindor of Lapin d’Or and More rose to the challenge of: Simple bagels. This is a good, illustrated account of shaping and poaching the dough. I like the summary and concur with the crumb sentiment: “I am no bagel expert so am not sure if I should have retained a bigger hole in the centre and if they should really be a bit flatter in shape…[Inside, you can see that] I have a few big air holes and I suspect a more open crumb than a traditional bagel. No complaints though as they were delicious and I was actually quite proud of them”.

Although she was stricken by a nasty bug, @underthebluegum of Under the Blue Gum Tree baked her way through the bagel recipe twice: Short and Tweet: Bagels. Go along for the useful notes and the briefly alarming digression into “poaching beagles”.

Although Bialys aren’t strictly related to bagels, the chew and the crumb are likewise important so I’d point people towards @Zeb_Bakes of Zeb Bakes's post: Bialys for Mellow Bakers. There are some good hints and tips here for additional toppings and serving ideas that might be adapted to this bagel recipe. It is also via the ever-helpful @Zeb_Bakes that I found these How to shape & bake your bagels videos.

Most of us opted for the pita bread challenge, egged on perhaps by the enthusiasm of those of us who’ve made them before (“almost qualified for the title of ‘the easiest bread in the world’”) and been taken aback by the difference between these and what is typically available in supermarkets. There’s also a whiff of kitchen excitement with pita bread. The baker arms-lengths a thin piece of dough into a searingly hot oven, and within a couple of minutes the heat turns the water content to steam, puffing up the dough to the point where nervous watchers suspect that the tension will be too much and it will burst and deflate, only somewhat less spectacularly than a over-stretched balloon. When the bread cools it relaxes and deflates but the pocket remains, waiting to be opened and stuffed.

@Misky of Misk Cooks offers a picture of Elmo Gnome alongside a description and shots of her ideas of how to stuff them: Dan Lepard’s Perfect Plain Pita Bread. There are clever suggestions for how to roll the dough out to the correct depth, how to move the bread with tongs and plenty of enthusiastic appreciation. “So, will I make them again? Yes. In every language recognised by the human ear, I say “Yes!”

Will I ever buy store-made pitas again? Not by the hairs on your chiny-chin-chin.”

There’s interesting discussion in @Misky's comments. I'm one of those who confesses to finding Short & Sweet to be both a remarkable baking resource and a fountain of benign domestic tyranny as the vast difference between home-made versions of items such as pita bread and that which is commonly available means that it’s unlikely one would voluntarily purchase them again.

@BakeCakeCrumbs of Cake, Crumbs and Cooking sent along a well-illustrated account of mixing dough and baking: Perfect Plain Pittas. “Tender and chewy, these are a million miles from the long-life excuse for pitta bread that you find in the supermarkets…[It’s] quite fun to keep seeing them pop out all puffed up! My one regret is that my oven has a solid door so I can’t see the magic happening!”

@Mitchdafish of Mitchadafish blog joined the WI not long ago and used their recently launched flour to bake her delightful breads: Pita.

@tomasi_carla tweeted a very helpful series of photographs and comments about making these pita, griddling them (rather than baking them in an oven) and serving suggestions: Dan Lepard’s Perfect Pita. There are helpful notes about cooking them from frozen. Update: Carla cooks the pita on both sides when she griddles them.

@BakerHay tweeted some pictures and comments about her experience in baking both the plain and garlic, thyme & lemon pita: @BakerHay bakes Dan Lepard’s Perfect Pita Bread.

@Choclette8 of Chocolate Log Blog tweeted her semi-wholemeal pita, baked at 225C. These pita have more colour than those made wholly with white flour and the pattern reminds me of reticulated seed pods.

My Best Beloved baked both the plain pita and, in the sweet flush of success, the double-corn bacon muffins. The pita were a light-crumbed triumph. In a (perhaps) poignant commentary on our lives there was lots of excitement derived from staring through the glass door of the oven to see the pita swell and then suddenly expand (see first photograph).

The Double-corn bacon muffins tasted fine but were a tad claggy in the centre (the empty case shows how damp the muffin mix was even after standing when first removed from the oven). This is possibly because Best Beloved’s reservoirs of patience had been sapped by the keen attention to detail paid to executing the pita bread recipe well so parts of this recipe went awry. Not least, grated aubergine had to substitute for the courgette and a misunderstanding meant that far too much of the aubergine was added. I suspect that the surfeit of aubergine accounted for the muffins being cooked and golden on the outside at the end of the baking time but claggy within: we returned the muffins to the oven for an additional 7 minutes which improved the texture (albeit the centre was heavier & damper than I like) but over-baked the top and darkened the colour.

This week’s challenge recipes are: Mini coffee Paris-Brest pg 418; Rhubarb and custard buns, pg 422; a third option is to use the sweet choux paste as a pie crust, as Dan outlines, pg 525. If you have any sweet choux paste left over, then if you adapt Dan’s recommendation for Soup choux, pg 524, and pipe/bake tiny blobs of it, you might sprinkle them on top of a stewed fruit dish (with or without tossing them in a dipping sugar of, eg, cinnamon and icing sugar). It looks very special and far more complicated than it is: it also offers a good texture contrast. (There are additional notes in the Schedule for the #shortandtweet March 2012 challenge).

If you blog about your experience with one of the above recipes, please post links in the comments or tweet pictures or links to @foodcraftspace or @evidencematters using the hashtag #shortandtweet - Thank you. It’s the same procedure if you don’t blog but just post a photograph of your work. Please send the links by 8pm 11 March or as soon thereafter as practical.

Schedule for the #shortandtweet March 2012 challenge.

It’s apparent that #shortandtweet search doesn’t always show everyone’s tweets so I apologise if I missed any notifications - please let me know and I’ll update this compilation.

Thank you for sharing your pitas, bagels and muffins. I look forward to our many explorations of choux pastry.

Short and Tweet Challenge 17: Dan Lepard’s Abundance of Meringues

This week’s #shortandtweet challenge from Dan Lepard’s Short & Sweet was for meringues in various guises. Eg pg 445 (plain, Double chocolate or Lemon sherbert) to be served plain or teamed with suitable available preserves (eg, chunky marmalade as a good contrast to the chocolate meringue shells); Apricot meringue tart pg 451; sunshine in a jar with the easy lemon curd (pg 342) and eating that with individual meringues or using it to prepare either the Lemon meringue sundae on pg 452 or Sue Lowenbein’s suggestion on the same page for an ice-cream gâteau. [The opening photograph is @underthebluegum's Lemon meringue sundae.]

There are so few ingredients in a basic meringue (egg white and sugar) and yet so many ways for the unwary to go awry. In some households, it has to be said, this may be attributed to a failure to read the useful headnotes for the recipe, or the blithe assumption that large and medium eggs sizes are equivalent and thus specifying that detail in a recipe is a charming foible on the part of the author. My Best Beloved’s lifetime first attempt at both meringue and lemon curd is pictured below. Both of them tasted fine. Nonetheless, I should draw attention to the relatively poor volume of the meringue and blobby shape that indicates the sugar was added a little too early, when the egg-whites were not quite at the soft peak stage. The lemon curd was as easy to make as the recipe promised. This version was too liquid at room temperature, yet in the fridge, it set more like a very good soft spread butter than a curd: I feel this may reflect that my Best Beloved used medium eggs rather than large which makes a difference when the recipe involves 5 egg yolks and a large egg.

Harold McGee is the sort of investigator who poses questions such as, Why whip egg whites in copper bowls? and researches the answer (if you’re interested in an updated answer to this question and would like to know far more then read Chapter 2 of McGee on Food & Cooking). Meringues are a friendly science lesson in the kitchen and teach a lot about the effect of whipping on unfolding proteins and incorporating air to create a foam. The addition of fine-grained sugar helps to stabilise what McGee describes as a “fragile egg-white foam into a stable, glossy meringue”: he has some interesting notes about the different effect of beating or folding sugar into the foam (folding in the icing sugar makes the meringue more tender).

Last week Claire, @underthebluegum of Under the Blue Gum Tree, baked five pies as part of her domestic renaissance of the pie. This week Claire prepared another fine abundance: Short and Tweet: Lemon Meringue Sundae, Double Chocolate Meringues, Coconut Meringues with Roasted Pineapple. Her summary: “All three recipes bring meringue kicking and screaming into the 21st century and yield such fabulous results that meringues are definitely going to be included at my dinner table from now on”. The following photograph is of her chocolate meringues: go and read her observations and experiences about all three.

@Misky of Misk Cooks has a rather playful account of her meringue baking: Dan Lepard’s Double Chocolate and Lemon Sherbet Meringues. Along with the photograph of the chocolate meringues (below and notice the difference between these and Claire’s above) there is shot of the empty bowl that the lemon sherbet meringues had been mixed in: Misky made the latter with Half Spoon Granulated Sugar rather than sugar and has some helpful notes about both the baking and texture of that in the finished meringue.

@lapindor of Lapin d’Or and More almost didn’t participate in this challenge: ” I was checking back through the challenge options and grumpily announced to my husband ‘it’s meringues’ expecting him to look bored, but a hopeful smile ran across his face and after checking he had actually heard what I had said I realised he would quite like some meringues, thank you. So meringue prejuduces aside I went into the kitchen.

Well, they were very easy and very delicious, delicate crisp outer shell and soft mallowy centre, what more can I say”. As it turns out, she has a bit more to say about meringues, blood oranges, fruit salads, biscotti and bergamot marmalade: Nearly didn’t make them, glad I did. I like this shot of the meringue texture and recommend you enjoy the colourful photographs on her blog.

As for us, we tested the first batch of meringues (shown above) which were caramel chewy in every mouthful when fresh (a little drier after an overnight stand, but still chewy). The second batch were prepared with greater attention to the recipe (we had to scale it down as we didn’t have enough eggs) and we were rewarded with a thick and glossy meringue mix. We should probably have checked more carefully after 90mins as the meringues were slightly cracked after 2hrs. However, these meringues had much greater volume, and were crisp on the outside and fluffy inside with a slightly chewy centre. They were lighter in colour and I suspect that the first batch were more caramelised because the sugar bonded with the water in the egg-white in a slightly different way and because the icing sugar was whisked into the meringue mix rather than folded.

This week’s challenge recipes are: Perfect plain pita pg 76 or the Garlic, thyme and lemon version pg 77. These breads are only vaguely related in taste and texture to the ones that are commonly available from supermarkets and are worth trying. Dan Lepard says: “Pita needs very little yeast, as the rolling and the very hot oven create the lift. So if your oven doesn’t get hot enough, you’ll have to make them at a friend’s house”. This is true - you will only get the full benefit of this recipe with a suitably hot oven. You will need very good, long tongs or superb oven gloves. You have been warned (but please make them as they are a revelation if you’ve not had fresh pita recently). Simple bagels pg 61 offers a very relaxed way of preparing a recipe that had always seemed fraught with complexity when I’d read about it elsewhere. There are notes to tweak the texture by altering the quantity of water or modifying the length of time for the rise. Again, unless you’re near a very good source for them, it’s remarkably different to make your own and discover that the result is not intrinsically heavy. For anyone who didn’t bake last month’s North-South cornbread pg 53 or who did bake it and wants to use up some of the polenta or yellow corn meal, then I suggest the Double-corn bacon muffins pg 533. These are an excellent hearty lunch or tea-time item (works well with firm cooked mushrooms for those who don’t want bacon): I’ve heard that they’re good for brunch but I tend to have a punitive attitude to that institution (only within my own household and only if I’m the one responsible for preparing and serving it).

If you blog about your experience with one of the above recipes, please post links in the comments or tweet pictures or links to @foodcraftspace or @evidencematters using the hashtag #shortandtweet - Thank you. It’s the same procedure if you don’t blog but just post a photograph of your work. Please send the links by 8pm 4 March or as soon thereafter as practical.

Schedule for the #shortandtweet March 2012 challenge.

It’s apparent that #shortandtweet search doesn’t always show everyone’s tweets so I apologise if I missed any notifications - please let me know and I’ll update this compilation.

Thank you for sharing your delightful meringues and I look forward to next week’s pitas, bagels and muffins.

Short and Tweet Challenge: March 2012 Schedule

March 2012 schedule for the #shortandtweet challenge from Dan Lepard's Short & Sweet. (Read about #shortandtweet challenge and its conditions.)

The dates are those by which I’d like to receive links or photographs: please tweet these @foodcraftspace or @evidencematters using the hashtag #shortandtweet or leave links in the comments for the appropriate challenge announcement post. I’ll then collate these into the compendium post for that challenge.

The choices for some of these challenges vary as I realise that some of us have different ingredients available (or want to use up previous special purchases) or may be concerned about exposing ourselves or others to particular temptations. Nonetheless, I hope that it is stretching some of us to experiment with unfamiliar techniques or to tweak our familiar routines or recipes.

4 March Perfect plain pita pg 76 or the Garlic, thyme and lemon version pg 77. These breads are only vaguely related in taste and texture to the ones that are commonly available from supermarkets and are worth trying. Dan says: “Pita needs very little yeast, as the rolling and the very hot oven create the lift. So if your oven doesn’t get hot enough, you’ll have to make them at a friend’s house”. This is true - you will only get the full benefit of this recipe with a suitably hot oven. You will need very good, long tongs or superb oven gloves. You have been warned (but please make them as they are a revelation if you’ve not had fresh pita recently).

Simple bagels pg 61 de-mystified bagels for me and presented a very relaxed way of preparing a recipe that had always seemed fraught with complexity when I’d read about it elsewhere. There are notes to tweak the texture by altering the quantity of water or modifying the length of time for the rise. Again, unless you’re near a very good source for them, it’s remarkably different to make your own and discover that the result is not intrinsically heavy.

For anyone who didn’t bake last month’s North-South cornbread pg 53 or who did bake it and wants to use up some of the polenta or yellow corn meal, then I suggest the Double-corn bacon muffins pg 533. These are an excellent hearty lunch or tea-time item (works well with firm cooked mushrooms for those who don’t want bacon): I’ve heard that they’re good for brunch but I tend to have a punitive attitude to that institution (only within my own household and only if I’m the one responsible for preparing and serving it).

11 March When I was little my parents had a French cookery book that gave full and grisly details of how to cook an eel dish that required fresh eel blood for the sauce (it involved impaling live eels on a hook, a sharp knife and a dish to collect said blood). When it came to pastry, however, it was assumed that one pretty much already knew what was required: “Take a quantity of rough puff pastry” was as detailed as it got. I knew what puff pastry was but the recipe that fired my imagination was Paris Brest. I had no idea what choux pastry was but I instinctively knew that I liked the sound of a praline filling and toasted almonds on top. And I dreamed of the time when I could eat this delight. What made this recipe the more aspirational was the book’s account of how the recipe was developed: allegedly, in honour of the Paris-Brest cycle race (hence the shape).
“[The baker’s] tire-shaped choux pastry was piped full of a huge amount of calorific praline cream, perhaps mimicking the newly invented inner tubes of the day and traditionally baked almonds and icing sugar decorated the cake, imitating the tread of the tyre and dust from the road.” The Hungry Cyclist: Paris Brest – The Breakfast of Champions

Dan Lepard mentions the Paris Brest cycle race as well so this week is choux pastry and variations. For some of us, the stand out recipe is for Mini coffee Paris-Brest pg 418. There is coffee cream custard filling and instructions for drizzling a caramel over the top (this may well be tweaked into a praline that is smashed up and heavily dredged on top: I have a premonition).

For anyone who has their own rhubarb, or is putting up rhubarb this month, there is a delightful choux recipe for Rhubarb and custard buns, pg 422. These are both good and flexible: a friend didn’t make the custard but put together a half yoghurt, half whipped double cream filling which provided a good, slightly acid bite to the buns. The recipe also works well with roasted apples.

The third option is to use the sweet choux paste as a pie crust, as Dan outlines, pg 525. This is a very helpful hint for those of us who have sporadic difficulties in piping that make it difficult to envisage a tidy array of buns or homages to small bicycle wheels.

If you have any sweet choux paste left over, then if you adapt Dan’s recommendation for Soup choux, pg 524, and pipe/bake tiny blobs of it, you might sprinkle them on top of a stewed fruit dish (with or without tossing them in a dipping sugar of, eg, cinnamon and icing sugar). It looks very special and far more complicated than it is: it also offers a good texture contrast.

18 March It’s Mothering Sunday in the UK so I feel obliged to mention that there is a recipe for Saffron peach cake pg 137 which some people baked for an earlier challenge, with good results and some useful tweaks.

Option two “is the ‘Sophia Loren’ of cake: four layers of orange sponge cake filled with a simplified Sicilian cassata mixture and drizzled with a light orange syrup. The sponge alone is a good standby recipe for the lunchbox”. Dan has provided notes for advance preparation on pg 133, specifically for a special occasion. The recipe for Orange cassata cake is pg 132 and the cassata filling is delectable: if you have any Fiori di Sicilia or Panettone essence from other recipes, then that might be another way of flavouring the filling to taste (adjust the vanilla accordingly). It’s a delight even though it reminds me of a post-restaurant romantic clinch and my Best Beloved’s ill-timed burp that gave me the full experience of the apricot cassata that I hadn’t eaten.

Option three is a deep-flavoured Butterscotch banana cake that also makes excellent cupcakes. This is a cake for anyone who has, or whose mother has, fond memories of Banana Split Toffees and would appreciate both a more adult version and less dental jeopardy. There’s also a handy Short & Sweet tip about baking powder, the alkalinity of ripe bananas and its impact on the crumb of a cake.

25 March I propose that we close the month with Light spelt rough puff pastry, pg 497. Dan Lepard notes that, “A smidgeon of baking powder softens the pastry and helps to gently aerate the tender buttery flakes as they bake”. This is a fairly free-form recipe as Dan suggests using it as you would puff pastry (lids for pies, or bases for tarts); as a wrap-around for items such as Pigs in blankets, or simply prepped for nibbles.

However, pp 498-503 have some excellent “ideas for individual savoury tarts”: be sure to read the additional baking notes for First-class tarts pg 498. The tarts can be as small or large as it suits you and the toppings can be simple or sophisticated. They’re flexible and allow a range of toppings to be baked at the same time (useful in families where people rarely agree on a single dish). For smaller households, the pastry freezes well and defrosts without mess for fast pie tops or tarts.

Short and Tweet Challenge 16: Light Cream Cheese Pastry and an Abundance of Pies

This week’s #shortandtweet challenge from Dan Lepard’s Short & Sweet was for light cream cheese pastry as a pie topping for: Chicken and mushroom pies, pg 488; Shin of beef, chorizo and pinto bean pies, pg 489; Pork and parsnip pies, pg 491; Leek, smoked haddock and Lancashire cheese pies, pg 491; or Broccoli, Stilton and potato pies, pg 492. The opening photograph is from @Misky of Misk Cooks who baked it for her wedding anniversary dinner (further tribute to the excellent nature of these pies is almost superfluous).

There’s a shared nostalgia about pies that evokes an affection that seems at odds with pie consumption amongst #shortandtweet -ers (nobody confessed to a Gregg’s habit or regular visits to a take-away). When discussing pies on Twitter it seems that a number of us hadn’t baked or eaten them in years. None of us seems entirely sure why although I suspect that several of us had rarely baked them because of apprehensions about the fat content or the calories in combination with the perception that pastry is inconvenient and fiddly (Sustainable Table offers an overview of the history of pie and changing perceptions of it). So, I’m pleased that pastry’s reputation has been redeemed by this effortless recipe for light cream cheese pastry. The pastry stores well in the fridge or freezer and it is easy to roll. This pastry means that it’s easy to transform left-overs into a delectable pie which is a boon on any one of those evenings in the week when culinary ambitions were high, right up until the realisation that the journey home would take 3 hours rather than 90 mins or that somebody has the sort of homework that doesn’t allow for attention to be split between a maths-averse child, a large knife and several burners. Now that #shortandtweet -ers have re-discovered the delight of pies some of us plan to include them in our repertoire of regular recipes and meals.

Claire, @underthebluegum of Under the Blue Gum Tree, is leading the way to the domestic renaissance of the pie: she made all 5 of the pies despite some hiccups relating to the availability of ingredients in Johannesburg: Short and Tweet: Savoury Pies with Light Cream Cheese Pastry. Go and learn how she coped with the absence of some ingredients and substituted others; what her tips are and what won out in the overall taste stakes. Claire’s summary is wholly positive: “It really is the perfect pie crust: quick to prepare, easy to roll, cooks to a nice crisp on top whilst being rich with pie juice underneath. I also found that the dough keeps well for up to two days in the fridge. If not eating in polite company, then it is lovely to break off chunks of pie crust with your fingers and use it to scoop up the succulent filling beneath”.

@Misky of Misk Cooks provides a delightful report: Dan Lepard’s Chicken and Mushroom Pie with Light Cream Cheese Pastry–Short and Sweet Challenge. “I served Dan’s Chicken and Mushroom Pie for my 32nd wedding anniversary dinner. Now that’s a testament to how confident I am about the recipes in “Short and Sweet”. It never lets me down; never disappoints, even on an occasion like a wedding anniversary. Husband declared it delicious.” I’ve included an image of how the dough looks after it’s been kneaded smooth.

@Mitchdafish of Mitchadafish blog enjoyed her: Pie. @Mitchdafish offers good advice for anyone who doesn’t have pie plates: “Decided to make the pies in cereal bowls as that is all I had, here are the snaps: The dough was a dream, no sticking or crumbling. Went brown. Tasted delish. Perfect”.

@jerronimissus of Jerronimissus is gaining in confidence from week to week: Light cream cheese pastry for pie tops. Nicky declares, “This pastry is brilliant!”: and, “Everyone thought it was really tasty (yes, including Little E who I promised could have left overs the next day as she was most put out I was having friends round for dinner and she wasn’t joining us!) and it was an economical way to make a big tasting pie”. Nip across and admire the cute pie funnel.

@tomasi_carla and zeb share a dislike of the soggy underside of a pastry lid (a strong reason as to why some people don’t like pies, it seems). Nonetheless, intrigued by favourable reports of the pastry, Carla, opted to make up the pastry with her own tweaks (to make it flaky) and use it for a delightfully light pasty. I’ve Storifyed Carla’s account of leek, mushroom, spinach & parmesan pasty.

@Zeb_Bakes of Zeb Bakes likewise tweaked the recipe to produce a Quark Felin Ganol pastry pie that sounded delightful (Felin Ganol is the mill that produced a flour with which @Zeb_Bakes is experimenting).

My pies will remain veiled in obscurity until I can wrangle the camera’s memory card.

Overall, this pastry has been a substantial hit and may well become bakers’ preferred pastry for savoury pies.

Next week’s challenge recipes are just as comforting in a sweeter vein: choose one of the meringues on pg 445 (plain, Double chocolate or Lemon sherbert) which can be served plain or teamed with suitable available preserves (eg, chunky marmalade is a good contrast to the chocolate meringue shells); Apricot meringue tart pg 451; create your own sunshine in a jar by making easy lemon curd (pg 342) and assembling either the Lemon meringue sundae on pg 452 or Sue Lowenbein’s suggestion on the same page for an ice-cream gâteau that uses similar ingredients (substituting crème fraîche for ice-cream).

If you blog about your experience with a recipe, please post links in the comments or tweet pictures or links to @foodcraftspace or @evidencematters using the hashtag #shortandtweet - Thank you. It’s the same procedure if you don’t blog but just post a photograph of your work. Please send the links by 8pm 26 February or as soon thereafter as practical.

Schedule for the #shortandtweet March 2012 challenge.

It’s apparent that #shortandtweet search doesn’t always show everyone’s tweets so I apologise if I missed any notifications - please let me know and I’ll update this compilation.

Thank you for sharing your delightful pies and I look forward to next year’s contributions.

Short and Tweet Challenge 15: Crêpes, Scotch Pancakes or Battered Fish & Onion Rings

This week’s #shortandtweet challenge from Dan Lepard’s Short & Sweet was for Crêpe Suzette Tour d’Argent pg 280; Betsy’s Scotch pancakes pg 279; or the Beer batter for fish that Dan details pg 285 (with a helpful suggestion to make onion rings from any leftover batter: “frozen ones on sale at the supermarket are just so dismal”). The opening photograph is @lgarland1's luscious stack of Betsy's Scotch pancakes.

Working with batters seems to have created feelings of guilt (“It’s batter, it will go straight to my thighs”) and nostalgia for tea-time/breakfast pancakes and proper fish and chips.

Betsy’s Scotch pancakes were a popular choice. I’ve storifyed @lgarland1 of Lauren Garland's pancakes because they illustrate an additional note that Dan Lepard offered when some of us were surprised by the thickness of the batter. To paraphrase, because there are so many variables involved, humidity and temperature of the day and the ingredients affect the absorption of the liquid into the dry ingredients, it is notoriously difficult to give accurate liquid amounts for batters. Most batters will benefit from a little test-cooking and thickness adjustment before preparing a full batch. Interestingly, Dan says, ” [Scotch pancakes] should be thick, almost like a soft bread, almost like a English muffin”. Lauren’s pancakes look like they match that description so she might have some useful advice on batter thickness for anyone who wants to experiment.

The chemical activity for the Scotch pancakes is a judicious combination of ingredients, the viscosity of the batter and heat. It’s a batter that releases some air bubbles and traps others. Both the milk and egg contribute steam and this helps the batter to rise alongside the quick lift from the bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar. Betsy Morrison mentions the importance of not turning the pancake more than once and this may be because turning encourages the flour protein and eggs to set on both sides which would restrict vertical expansion? The recipe instructs us to turn the pancake when we see “the air bubbles pop on top..’Not back and forth, mind, that only makes them tough’”. It’s possible that, once turned, the air bubbles continue to push up but are prevented from escaping by the set top and therefore give a light, aerated crumb. I’d speculate that the sugar might also work to preserve a tender crumb. However, I may be very wrong albeit it might explain why the drop scones with which some of us may be more familiar, tend to be flatter and less aerated.

Several of us reported a difficulty in finding a sweet temperature spot on our griddles or gas braai for these scones and had a few singed test runs. Nonetheless, I think we all enjoyed them, including that very important arbiter of home cooking, Little E - resident critic of Jerronimissus. @jerronimissus made a stack for breakfast and reports, “Little E’s opinion is what we’re all most concerned with and she said she wanted to eat the whole lot…”: Practising for Pancake Day. @jerronimissus has some useful shots of the batter thickness for anyone who wants to compare the one that they used to another.

Mitchdafish of Mitchadafish blog happily tweeted: “They were brilliant, loved the way they rose, magical. Maple syrup / lemon mmmmm”.

@lapindor of Lapin d’Or and More posted: Drop everything, the drop scones are ready. I not only enjoyed looking at the photographs but yet again envied the welsh griddle pan last seen in cider vinegar muffin week. I recommend going across to see the savoury and sweet ways in which Jill served these which has me reflecting on why I haven’t tried blue cheese and honey and when I might rectify this.

My Scotch Pancakes varied in depth, according to how much milk was in the batter. The very thick batter clung on to the spoon and had to be scraped onto the pan and pushed out into a circle: it rose a lot and had a light crumb.

After adding more milk, the pancakes were more like a ‘conventional’ drop scone - thinner and more dense.

I’m, again, grateful to @underthebluegum of Under the Blue Gum Tree for the vicarious enjoyment of a landscape I haven’t seen and a style of cooking I’ve not tried (Claire cooked on the gas braai mentioned above): Short and Tweet: Scotch Pancakes, Crepes Suzette and Beer Battered Fish. “I love cooking Scotch pancakes and often make them on trips into the African bush as they are so easy and no resting of the batter is needed. From start to finish, you can have a steaming pile of pancakes in about 10 minutes.”

Claire provides a charming account of what lies behind the name, Crêpe Suzette Tour d’Argent, and recreates this elegant pudding. I agree with her observation, “the big revelation was the inclusion of vanilla in the crêpes which added a really lovely creaminess”. Despite her disparaging notes about her flambé skills the crêpes were well received.

Finally, in a nostalgic flourish and in contrast to the sophistication of the crêpes: ” I made Dan’s beer batter for fish which was certainly very welcome as a good portion of British battered fish and chips is one of the foods I miss most from home…Dan’s recipe calls for the use of a “light ale” but South Africa being a nation of lager rather than ale drinkers, I had to settle for a rather dark imported Belgian beer, which whilst imparting a lot of flavour, did lead to quite a dark, rather than golden, batter”. The onion rings met with approval and Claire suggests that they might benefit from a light dredging with flour to help the batter adhere to them.

My battered fish didn’t take on the same hue as Claire’s because I used a pale ale. I also suspect that I was overly frugal with the volume of cooking oil which added to the difficulties of cooking the early batches of fish and onion rings because the oil temperature dropped steeply when an item was added. Nonetheless, the batter was light and crunched in a satisfying manner which contrasted well with the fish.

I haven’t battered and deep-fried fish in a long time. To digress, I think a number of home cooks have taken all of the warnings about chip-pan fires and such so much to heart that it’s difficult to feel confident around a pan of hot oil, no matter how well prepared you are with fire blankets and other paraphenalia. It’s rather a shame because it’s easy to lose track of how good fish and chips can be (I don’t live near a good take-away) and the merits of deep-frying as a method for cooking fish.

Fish is notoriously fiddly to cook. It needs to be cooked at lower temperatures than meat and is annoyingly fragile and prone to a collapse even when cooked perfectly and handled as if it’s more delicate than gossamer. For some fish, protecting it with a batter and then immersing it in hot oil (which Harold McGee reports to be “a relatively inefficient conductor of heat”), insulates the fish and heats it gently from all sides, allowing it to cook through, yet remain moist.

The first piece of fish I cooked dropped the temperature of the oil so much that it took a while to recover which is why the fish was dry after opening it (the fish was overcooked although the batter was not). After lecturing myself on the false economy of using too little cooking oil if it meant the fish didn’t cook properly, I heated a larger amount of oil and the subsequent pieces were fine. I rarely deep-fry, so I havered about whether I’d cook this recipe again although everyone who ate it enjoyed it with a sense of being indulged. It feels like an extravagant use for oil/dripping (I have some irrational guilt around anything that approximates to food waste). On balance, I would cook this again but I’d agree a time with neighbours as it’s probably worth me cooking enough for a fairly large number to justify that amount of oil and the lingering smell. (Time wasting economies R Us.)

It’s apparent that #shortandtweet search doesn’t always show everyone’s tweets so I apologise if I missed any notifications - please let me know and I’ll update this compilation.

Next week’s challenge recipes are all pies with a slightly unusual pastry. Pg 487 is the recipe for light cream cheese pastry and it is flexible and versatile: it rolls easily straight from the fridge and it freezes well. Dan suggests: Chicken and mushroom pies, pg 488; Shin of beef, chorizo and pinto bean pies, pg 489; Pork and parsnip pies, pg 491; Leek, smoked haddock and Lancashire cheese pies, pg 491; or Broccoli, Stilton and potato pies, pg 492. NB, in keeping with the quick and easy nature of this pastry recipe, Dan suggests using cans of soup to make the gravy for these recipes. However, I’ve substituted my own soup in a couple of the recipes and adjusted the thickness with either flour or some beaten egg, depending on the available ingredients. If you blog about your experience with a recipe, please post links in the comments or tweet pictures or links to @foodcraftspace or @evidencematters using the hashtag #shortandtweet - Thank you. It’s the same procedure if you don’t blog but just post a photograph of your work. Please send the links by 8pm 19 February or as soon thereafter as practical.

Short and Tweet Challenge 14: Lentil-stuffed flatbreads; North-South cornbread; Superwraps

This week’s #shortandtweet challenge from Dan Lepard’s Short & Sweet was for Lentil-stuffed flatbreads pg 73; Superwraps pg 72 or North-South cornbread pg 53. [I’ve opened with @north_19's photograph of her cornbread as it seems particularly comforting in the present weather and I'm feeling a trifle nesh and in need of even vicarious comfort.]

Although she name-checks Little House on the Prairie, @north_19 of North_19 has woven together a day that sounds like a grown-up version of A.A. Milne, it’s only an outdoor hum for snowy weather that is missing from Wintry Weather, Cornbread & Spicy Beans. In default of the hum, there is a quick overview of varieties of cornbread and a recipe for the spicy beans (featured in the following photograph) which is well worth a look in addition to photographs of her snowy garden (including footprints but neither Wizzles nor Woozles).

It’s my week for vicarious enjoyment. @underthebluegum of Under the Blue Gum Tree has fond memories of cornbread: “I love cornbread. It reminds me of road trips across the US and the guilty pleasure of an American diner I used to visit in London for a pulled pork sandwich and a side of cornbread all washed down with a Long Island iced tea”. I found Claire’s notes helpful when making this recipe and will adapt some of her tweaks (such as adding spring onions and sweetcorn) next time: Short and Tweet: North-South Cornbread.

The cornbread was soothingly simple to put together and I intend to make up bags of the dry-mix to pull out mid-week to make up a fast accompaniment to stews or soups. My Best Beloved would happily have eaten the entire quantity at one sitting had I not insisted that I needed to know if it would re-heat well (it does - even in a microwave). I didn’t have room for a skillet in the oven so resorted to a somewhat too shallow roasting tray (I reduced the bicarbonate of soda slightly to compensate for the faster cooking time) but the crumb was still light and tender.

I was delighted that several people made up the superwraps (they’re still on my schedule but keep being bumped). @jerronimmissus of Jerronimissus had tried out the Superwraps with oatmeal the first time and although they were OK, decided to re-do them using quinoa. The second time was the charm although I haven’t been able to locate a photograph for them.

@BakerHay tweeted a picture of her enticing superwraps as part of an elegant brunch and table-setting. This photograph contributes to the realisation that we all have very different understandings of the same word. In my household, brunch is the term for what is plonked in front of people when they are too late for breakfast and threats of wholly-disproportionate retribution are scarcely sufficient to bring them shuffling to the table under threat of having nothing until the evening.

Misky of Misk Cooks brought a smile to my heart with the shapes and faces she created while dry-toasting the quinoa for Dan Lepard’s Superwraps. In amongst musings about the nutritional profile of quinoa and its change in appearance as it was processed during the recipe, there are Misky’s level-headed interpretations of the recipe instructions: “Knowing from experience that when Dan says ‘”thin” he means “thinner than you’d believe possible” … I just kept rolling and rotating and flipping each 70 grams of dough until doing so any further seemed obsessive.”. Misky enjoyed the wraps and, importantly, “Mr Misk liked them, too. That’s always an important consideration in whether I’ll make something again or not. I’ll be making these again”.

A number of us cooked up the lentil-stuffed flatbreads with extra notes and guidance from the very helpful Franka Philip (@trinifood of Can Cook Must Cook) who was kind enough to share a gallery of photographs that illustrate how she and Dan Lepard made these.

@Zeb_Bakes of Zeb Bakes advises us to Try A Little Tenderness in her characteristically well-documented manner. There are some helpful, close-up illustrations of the roti making (including enviously thin rolling and superb colouration) alongside stray thoughts about why the lentil filling changed to red from the original yellow-orange (I think it has something to do with the interaction of the turmeric in the lentils and the acid of the dough/alkali of the baking soda). I was completely smitten by the image of the breakfast roti, served with egg and bacon in glorious sunshine.

@Zeb_Bakes mentioned rolling pins in her post and @tomasi_carla posted a photograph of some of her varied collection of them. Carla had also prepared the stuffed flatbreads with some of her own tweaks (she included potato and leeks and prepared the breads in a chargrill pan) and I’ve collected her tweeted notes with Storify: @tomasi_carla’s #shortandtweet flatbreads. Her conclusion? “That is one bread I will [definitely] make again.”

A warm welcome to @Leavened_Heaven of Leavened Heaven who has embraced his need for “clandestine midnight baking” and joined us with, Lentil-Stuffed Flatbreads; My Inaugural #ShortandTweet Adventure. There are lively notes and a reminder as to the need to be methodical: “Towards the end of the batch, when the family were getting cranky re the lack of dinner on the table, I made the mistake of rushing one and not using enough flour, and stretching the dough too thinly at the join. The results were a selection of tears in the flatbread, which produced the only runt of the litter. Overall, I rate the whole thing a success”.

Mitchdafish of Mitchadafish blog had had rather a trying time prior to attempting these which may explain the declaration: Lentil-stuffed Flatbreads - the stuff of nightmares. Apparently, the previous irritation meant that “these flatbreads did not have the benefit of much in the way of patient bakers ju-ju. It was the stuffing and rolling that challenged my patience”. Fortunately, @ernyberny stepped up to cook them which possibly averted something dire.

This is where I confess that I knew in advance that the stuffing and rolling of the flatbreads would completely sap my small store of tolerance so I delegated these tasks to my Best Beloved (I find it best to be realistic about what I can/not do). We enjoyed them with both cauliflower and egg curries: however, I’m also considering them for a hearty snack in the near future after seeing @Zeb_Bakes's breakfast version.

@jerronimissus of Jerronimissus was pleased to announce, “Another success in the Short and Tweet kitchen”: Lentil stuffed flatbreads officially “yummy yummy”. This is the official verdict of 4year-old Little E and should therefore be accorded great weight. “Little E is really keen on flatbreads and these and the Superwraps are a brilliant way to give them a bit of a nutritional boost.”

It’s apparent that #shortandtweet search doesn’t always show everyone’s tweets so I apologise if I missed any notifications - please let me know and I’ll update this compilation.

Next week’s challenge recipes are batter-based. Crêpe Suzette Tour d’Argent pg 280 looks like an extravagant dish but might just be an excellent way to use up small amounts of Cointreau or Grand Marnier left over from recent festivities. Less frivolous, but just as delightful for those of us with fond memories of similar drop scones, is Betsy’s Scotch pancakes pg 279. When you read the cooking notes, you can hear the friendly admonition. Another option is the Beer batter for fish that Dan details pg 285 (note the helpful suggestion to make onion rings from any leftover batter: “frozen ones on sale at the supermarket are just so dismal”). If you blog about your experience with a recipe, please post links in the comments or tweet pictures or links to @foodcraftspace or @evidencematters using the hashtag #shortandtweet - Thank you. It’s the same procedure if you don’t blog but just post a photograph of your work. Please send the links by 8pm 12 February or as soon thereafter as practical.

Schedule for the #shortandtweet February 2012 challenge.

Outline for #shortandtweet challenge and its conditions. Thank you to everyone for taking part. I look forward to seeing next week’s crêpes, drop scones or battered fish and/or onions.