More Tips for Better Baking

The count down to Great British Bake Off continues and so does Fabulous Foodie’s Tips for Better Baking. (See Part 1 here)

Fabulous Foodie’s Tips for Better Baking, Part 2

butterBEAT YOUR BAKE: In many cake or cookie recipes, instructions say to cream the butter and sugar. This does not mean to mix them together for just a minute or two – this means to beat with a beater or in a mixer (or stir rapidly and briskly) until the butter grows lighter in color and texture. Doing so incorporates more air into your mixture and gives you bake more lift.

FLOURY FRUIT: When making a fruit cake, you want the fruit to be distributed throughout the cake not just settled at the bottom. To help ensure an even distribution, dust dried fruits (such as raisins, dried cranberries or blueberries) with a bit of flour before adding them into the mix.

JUST WHAT YOU KNEAD: You don’t want to use too much extra flour when kneading or your dough will dry out – and that can mess up your crust formation. If the dough is sticky, try lightly oiling your hands first and see if that doesn’t make things easier. Some people find a dough scraper useful and while we have a dough scraper and it is one of the most used tools in our kitchen, ironically we have never used it on dough. Go figure.

CrackingEggGET CRACKING: I am about to make a suggestion I know will be greeted with a few rolled eye. HOw do I know? Because I had the same reaction when I first heard it. But via the hard knocks of baking experience, I’ve come around and I say to you: Crack your eggs into a separate bowl first and then incorporate them into your mixture. Even if your recipe says to add one egg at a time. Crack it into the egg bowl, the from there into the mixture.

Yes, yes, I know it creates one more bowl to wash up but trust me. You just never know when you might get a bad egg – it doesn’t happen often but it does happen. It happened to me. Using the separate bowl means that should a bad egg or utterly splintered shell come your way, the only thing you’ve lost is an egg or two, not your whole mixture. Even if you are rolling your eyes now, you will thank me later.

SO CLOSE, SO FAR: It’s frustrating when you realize that you are one ingredient away from having everything you need. Here’s some swaps that mean you can avoid the shops and still get your bake on.

  • Need self-raising flour but only have plain? Just add 2 tsp of baking powder to every 200g (8oz) plain flour and presto! Self-raising flour.
  • Need buttermilk but failed to pick it up when you shopped for everything else? Stir 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar into 1 cup of milk. Let the mixture sit at room temperature for 5 or 10 minutes, then use as you would do store-bought buttermilk.

As always, I hope these tips and tricks are useful should you find yourself in a baking way and I hope you’ll share your baking tips with the rest of us. I’ll be putting more up as we get closer to GBBO day.

 

Fabulous Foodie’s Tips for Better Baking

At Fabulous Foodie, we’re very excited about the return of Great British Bake Off next week.  So much so that we’re finding it hard to think about anything else. To be honest, we haven’t actually tried that hard to think of anything else. I mean, it’s Bake Off! So, having embraced our renewed obsession, we ended up with:

Fabulous Foodie’s Tips for Better Baking

START AT THE START: I’ve said it before, I will say it again and I will keep saying it until I go to the great big bakery in the sky:  Always make sure to read through a recipe before you do anything else. Yes, from start to finish, all the ingredients and instructions. Nothing will upset the apple cart and ruin the apple cobbler like discovering mid-bake that you are missing a vital ingredient or piece of equipment.

flour TAKING MEASURE: Are you scooping your flour directly out of the bag with your measuring cup? You may not be doing yourself or your baking any good. The flour will get compacted that way. Always spoon the flour into the measuring cup and then run a knife over the top to level it.

Brown sugar on the other hand should be compacted.  One cup brown sugar means a packed cup so press down a bit to make sure you’ve got as much as possible into a level cup.  Speaking of brown sugar – have you discovered the brown sugar in the pantry has gone hard? No problem. Place it in a microwave-safe bowl with a damp paper towel on top and zap it for 20 seconds at a time until it’s softened up the way you want.

Bundt-panGETTIN’ GREASY: Want to make sure you’ve greased every nook and cranny of that baking tin with butter? Forget using a piece of butter in paper. Too easy to miss spots that way and doesn’t always make it into corners. Try using a pastry brush instead. Just run the brush over soft butter then swipe it around the tin. I find that it covers better than the paper and goes on faster.

Another top greasing tin tip — learn from my mistakes and remember that when using a bundt pan, greasing the bottom and sides is all well and good but get the center bit also. Trust me. *shuffles embarrassingly at the memory*

CHILL OUT: You’ve remembered to soften the butter but did you remember to take the eggs out of the fridge to warm up? Those of you in the UK will quite likely be wondering why on earth the eggs were in there in the first place – that’s another discussion for another time – but to those of you in the US, trust me. Room temperature eggs emulsify and combine with other ingredients much better than cold eggs. Get those puppies out of the chiller for a couple of hours.

If you forget and need the eggs warmed up quickly, place them in a bowl of warm water for five minutes.

PLAY IT COOL: A lot of recipes offer cooling times, but if they don’t a good rule of thumb for sponge cakes is – leave it to cool in the tin for 5 minutes then turn it out onto a cooling rack to cool the rest of the way. This ensures you don’t end up with slightly soggy edges. If there’s an overabundance of fruit in the cake in question, leave it to cool in the tin. Those fruits carry a lot of moisture and can cause “cake spread” otherwise.

I hope you find these little tips helpful. I’ll be posting more baking tips and tricks over the next few days. After all, it gives me an excuse to wallow in the Bake Off glow just that much more. :-) And as always, if you have any tips or tricks you’d like to share – please feel free. We’re always looking for ways to mix it up in the kitchen.

Summer Time Is Sexy Food Time

Summer has well and truly arrived here in London. The temperatures have soared into the 90s (Fahrenheit)  then not backing down much and the humidity levels have been keeping pace. It’s that hot and sweaty time of year when you know who’s wearing deodorant and who isn’t, and when the commute to work can become a battle for breath.

sumemr_coupleBut it’s also PLAY time.  Sex is everywhere in the summer.

It’s right on front of you when couples are canoodling in the park. It reveals itself in the flash of sexy white skin that denotes a hot summer tan line. It confronts you in the stifling, airless night when you desperately need something, something, to completely exhaust and deplete you and bring sleep.

And finally – let me tell you, food is also at its sexiest in summer.

Summer food is lighter, fresher, and much more playful.

summer_grill Three-course dinner parties become informal barbeques; sit-down meals are replaced with street food on the go; and the flavours? Well they’re suddenly all about freshness and smoke, salt and tang and heat. All of which set you up nicely for Summertime Sexy Time.

Now there are a great many summer foods one can might think of as being sexy:

  • There’s ice cream, of which I am not personally a fan (I don’t like claggy creamy things in summer, although there’s certainly something to be said for licking that little puddle of good vanilla ice cream from the hollow at the base of your lover’s throat).
  • Or there are peaches and nectarines in their full juicy yielding tangy sweetness in the height of summer.
  • Or there’s a good steak, flame-grilled for mere moments until it’s as black and blue as I’d hope to be after a good summer night session.

But sexy as they are, none of the above are the foods that really equate- or inspire- summer sex for me. So here, in ascending order, are my favourite Summertime Sexy foods:

Number 5: Asparagus

asparagusIs there a more obvious summer sex food than asparagus? Probably not, but there’s a damn good reason for that. Loaded as it is with iron and other sexy nutrients, asparagus would be damn sexy already. But it’s also blessed with that fabulously phallic form.  And this positively priapic pillar of veg has its glorious season in the British summer.  You can boil it (if you must), but get steamy and steam it instead, or just grill it, with a brushing of olive oil and chilies. Or saute in butter, or have a foaming Hollandaise on hand to take the imagery even further.

Eat it with your hands. Asparagus shouldn’t be surgically attacked with a knife and fork (unless you have issues). It should be picked up, and inserted lovingly-head first-into your mouth. Then nibble or suck as lovingly as you please. One final note? Don’t go for those fiddly little strands of “fine asparagus” that will wilt away to stringy nothingness the minute they hit heat. Go for the full-size meaty heads, and let them cook just long enough to lose crunch but retain a meaty bite. When it comes to asparagus, it’s more than okay to be a size queen.

Number 4: Noodles

You might think there’d be no place for something as carb-heavy as pasta on this sexy list, but you’d be wrong. You’re gonna need some carbs to keep you going for the hot sweaty session that awaits…

Noodles are sexy; anything you slurp into your mouth is sexy. And who says noodles must be hot, or covered in a thick, claggy sauce. Cold Udon or Soba noodles with a chili-sharp sesame dressing, manipulated with a pair of sexily skinny chopsticks? Hot in mood but not temperature – perfect to share on a hot summer night.  Or a simple spaghetti aglio olio et pepperoncino shared in bed – a pleasurable break from more strenuous pleasurable activities. Or  that Italian classic; linguine with crab and chili – oil-slicked , fresh and fiery, slithering down your throat.

Just keep the portions light. Otherwise sleep may come a BIT too soon.

Number 3: Strawberries

You might think strawberries are as innocent as an an Eton Mess. If so, you probably have no idea of what goes on at Eton. The very act of eating a strawberry correctly  -holding it by the stem and caressing its puckered nether end with your lips, is just like that first exploratory kiss that’s about to turn into a full-on snog. Or, better, it’s like starting a pleasingly nasty round of mouth-on-nipple play.

But like those lips – or that nipple- that strawberry must be warm from the sun. Do not, for the love of all that is fruity, allow your strawberries to get anywhere near a refrigerator. Like tomatoes, they are hot weather fruits, and only give out their full treasures under the heat of a summer sun. Think of an afternoon in the park on a blanket with your lover, with cold white wine, and warm strawberries, and a conveniently close thicket for some impromptu entanglements…

Number 2: Shellfish

Ya gotta have some protein, right? And shellfish is the way to go in the hot summer months. Light, fresh with an ocean-side ozone tang, what’s sexier than that?  And the pure animal pleasure of tearing those hard shells off a lobster claw, or a crab leg, or the just ripping of  the entire carapace off a juicily plump shrimp or crayfish? Especially when it’s already been blackened with hot and spicy seasoning, or when there’s a sexy pot of drawn butter near by? Or both?  It’s the smoky salty hit of a night on a summer beach.

And anything you eat with your hands and makes you lick your fingers is damn sexy.

Or better yet, oysters that you hit with a dash of mignonette, or a squeeze of lemon, or a spike of chili ( if you hit them with anything at all- going nude for oysters is more than okay by me), and then just allow to make their briny way down your gullet with a caress from your tongue as they go.

Number 1: Chilies

chilies_summerChilies? Did I say chilies? You bet I did. Because when that big old summer sun is turning your world into a furnace – baby, it’s time to fight fire with fire. Now, I’m not talking “blow your head off” chili heat here. For my money, food should never be, regardless of season, some macho endurance contest. And you certainly don’t want to spend the next morning mournfully humming the tune to “Ring Of Fire.” But spiking your food with just enough chili to tingle your mouth and plump your lips, to wake up your senses and get your blood pumping, is the best dietary path to a summer full of sexy awareness.

Did you ever wonder why the people who live in the hottest climates eat the hottest food? Because it does two great things. First, it actually cools you down. Sure, eating chili-spiced food will initially make your head sweat. It’s a phenomenon called “gustatory facial sweating,” (which is quite a mouthful, especially if your mouth is already full). It means your body is is heating up to match the outside temperature, which will actually make you feel cooler as you sweat.  Second, and best for our topic today, sweating ups pheromone excretion and that’s something – knowingly or unknowingly – we all react to. And  in the heat of summer – we react with blazing abandon.

There are lots of many ways to add a little chili heat to your food and your life.

  • Sprinkle some Tabasco sauce on your morning eggs (which I actually do throughout the year)
  • add a pinch of chili flakes to any bbq marinade
  • eat your dang chocolate with chili!

After all, it’s Summer!  we’re all going to sweat so we might as well have fun while we’re doing it. And we should all be doing it.

Crafty Cardinal Creates Cutlery

Ah, Bastille Day – I’d say something about it in French but my French is lousy. So rather than subject us all to that, let’s celebrate it by looking at a few French moments and highlights in culinary history.

cardinal.jpgThe Richelieu clan was rich in cardinals – but also rich in culinary trivia. 

Imagine it. It is 1637. Cardinal Richelieu, for reasons known only to himself – maybe his own safety (he wasn’t universally popular) or maybe he was put off his dinner watching people pick their teeth with pointy ends – suddenly orders the blades of his dinnerware to be ground down and rounded off.

Behold, the modern dinner knife was born.

Of course, the French created the whole classification of sauces thing. From my “Saucy Month of March” post:

Sometime in the 19th century, Antonin Careme, one of the great stars of French cuisine,  categorized hundreds of sauces into 4 broad types. A short time later, Auguste Escoffier, who could rarely leave well enough alone, refined these categories further and we ended up with the five used today.

  • Sauce Béchamel (white)
  • Sauce Espagnole (brown)
  • Sauce Velouté (blonde)
  • Sauce Hollandaise (butter)
  • Sauce Tomate (red)

These sauces are called “mother sauces” and anyone interested in “mastering the art of French cuisine” (as Julia says) will need to tackle these basics.  In fact, because the techniques and methods of French cooking have had such a significant impact on Western cuisines generally – mastering these sauces establishes a very solid foundation for any cook – professional or amateur.

Speaking of sauces and as mentioned above, the Richelieus were of a foodie bent and if you’re a fan of mayonnaise, you have another one of that foodie family to thank. I go into more depth on this most popular of condiments in The Myths and Making of Mayonnaise but here is the key bit for our French theme today:

richelieu.jpg No one really knows what the true origins of mayo actually are but the most commonly accepted and reasonable sounding explanation is that is was created to celebrate the capture of Mahon by the Duke of Richelieu in 1756. That would be Louis François Armand du Plessis, duc de Richelieu, by the way – not to be confused with his Grand-uncle Cardinal-Duc de Richelieu, linchpin of French history and chief mustache twirler in the Three Musketeers sagas.

Now, if you ask me, it seems an odd way to celebrate a military victory but the Duke was an odd duck (often insisting that his invited dinner guests dine in the nude) and the truth is that it was all probably due to supply shortages. The cook prepping the victory feast discovers that “Sacrebleu! We have run out of cream! Mon Dieu, I am ruined!” Trying not to panic, he knows that must decide quickly how to salvage the situation or his reputation will be ruined. Suddenly – inspiration! A substitution can be made. He cries out, “Marcel! The olive oil! Tout suite!” It may not have gone exactly like that but something to that effect.

Other French cities like Bayonne and Les Mayons also claim to have been the birthplace of mayo – Bayonne actually going so far as to claim that it was originally called bayonnaise before a typo changed history. But you know, until they come up with a story as good as a hyperventilating French cook, his assistant Marcel and a nude dinner party at the Duke’s – I’m sticking with the story above.

And lastly, who loves bread and pastry more than the French?

  • I mean, hello? Croissants (we won’t discuss the fact that croissants are actually Austrian – shhhhhhhh) and pain au chocolat.

basket_croissant

  • The first mention of edible ice cream cones appeared in French cooking books as early as 1825.
  • The macaron is, of course, an iconic French confection but – as is so often the case – not as wholly French as you think. It’s an ‘immigrant confection’ of sorts, having been brought to France from Italy  in 1533 when Catherine de’ Medici brought (in addition to massive amounts of luggage) her own pastry chefs in preparation for marrying Henry II of France.

macarons

  • And of course, French bread. Yummmmmmmmmmmmm.

bread_french

So go on, get out there and celebrate Bastille Day by storming the food counters at your local bakery or deli. Enjoy!

 

Tale Of Many Ramóns for Piña Colada Day

Happy Piña Colada Day! Possibly it is a bit early where you are to indulge (it’s only 8:15am here). If so, then indulge in THIS classic tune ’till the bar bell goes off.

The residents of TransAtlantic Towers have just been discussing this song and its story – and we’re puzzled as to how and why this song ends the way it does. I like a happy ending as much as anyone else and I hope those two kids worked it out and lived happily ever after.

But surely, SURELY, one or both of these people would, when they initially get to O’Malley’s, say, “What the hell were you doing placing/answering personal ads?” Then there would be a row, someone would huff off and then they’d make up over piña coladas.

That’s not the only potential dust up linked to the fruity tropical drinks – try establishing who invented it.  See, it’s like this – there were these two Puerto Rican bartenders, which sounds like the beginning of a joke: Two Puerto Rican bartenders walk into a bar …

Never mind, back to the origins of the piña colada, or as I like to call it, “The Tale of Many Ramóns.”

  • ramon1Ramón ‘Monchito’ Marrero Pérez (henceforth known as Ramón 1) claims he made the first piña colada in 1954 while working at the Beachcomber Bar at the Caribe Hilton Hotel in San Juan. This version of history states that the drink didn’t get its current name until several years later and that it was this delay that causes “origin confusion.” That’s as may be but since ‘piña colada’ means (as I recall) pressed or strained pineapple in Spanish I really don’t know why it would take so long for a drink involving strained pineapple to acquire that name. But hey – that’s their story.
  • Ramón Portas Mingot (henceforth known as Ramón 2) , on the other hand, claims that HE created the tall fruity goodness in a glass in 1963 while working at the Barrachina Restaurant (also in San Juan but Old San Juan).
  • Ramón 3 does not lay claim to inventing the piña colada but he was instrumental in making it happen – regardless of who actually did it first. You see in addition to strained pineapple, a piña colada requires coconut milk and it was Ramón 3 (more usually known as Ramón López-Irizarry) who found a commercially viable way of processing the coconut milk. This became known as Coco Lopez and was newly available in 1954 when Ramón 1 was supposed to be concocting his cocktail. The fact that it was available since 1954 makes me wonder why it would have taken anyone until 1963 to put it all together but hey, I’m not a bartender. What do I know?

Now it seems to me that if SOMEONE should recall having one in the 10 year span between Ramón 1’s claim and that of his rival – and that would more or less settle the question of Ramón 2. But apparently no one spoke up post 1963 to say, “Hold on, I had one of these only last year at the Beachcomber. Been having them for ages!”  And when you consider the high profile nature of the guest list from the Caribe back in its heyday, you’d think they’d trot out one or two big names who’d sampled their local beverage.

pina-colada-mos

And that is the Tale Of Many Ramons. Both the the restaurant where Ramón 2 and the Caribe Hilton Hotel  still lay claim to their place in Cocktail History  but no one feels like throwing down about it so everyone just drinks their drink and chooses whichever history they prefer.