Spicy millionnaire’s shortbread

This week’s Great British Bake Off was all about desserts: trifles in round 1, Iles flottants in the technical challenge, and petit fours in the show stopper round. It hasn’t been easy to bake something particularly inspired by one of these rounds this week, because I can’t stand trifle (mainly the cold custard thing going on – yuk!) and I’m not a massive fan of meringues, I mean they’re OK, but I prefer to bake things that I’m actually going to enjoy rather than just eat politely because that’s on the menu.

As I don’t have a particular occasion to bake for, or the time to spend hours on intricate designs, petit fours weren’t really something I had the energy to do either. However, a couple of the contestants did some kind of millionaire’s shortbread for one of their petit four varieties, and this inspired me to have a go. I vividly remember the first time I ever baked millionaire’s shortbread: a tin of evaporated milk had been put in the wrong place amongst the condensed milk tins in the supermarket, and I gaily poured it in to the pan without realising until later when the caramel didn’t set that I had in fact bought the wrong thing! I have made it since, and it turned out much better, but it’s not something I make very often. As Tom has had a busy week at work and still volunteered to take both boys out on Saturday morning to a Dads and toddlers group in town, I thought he would appreciate a thank you bake 🙂

Millionares shortbread

I decided to do a twist on the usual millionaires shortbread by taking a bit of the edge off the sweetness – I added cinnamon to the shortbread base and ginger to the caramel. I think these spices work well with chocolate. I can’t call them petit fours, they’re nothing like that delicate or small, but my tester approved of their taste and texture. Sadly not long after I made these I came down with a bug and haven’t felt like eating them myself, so most have gone in the freezer for when I’m better.

Ingredients

  • Biscuit base
  • 180g flour
  • 90g semolina
  • 2tsp cinnamon
  • 180g margarine
  • 90g sugar
  • Caramel
  • 400g tin condensed milk
  • 150g margarine
  • 150g brown sugar
  • 2tsp ginger syrup (from stem ginger jar)
  • Chocolate topping
  • 100g plain chocolate

Method

  1. Pre heat the oven to 160ºC (fan) and line an oven dish with greaseproof paper.
  2. Cream the margarine and sugar for the biscuit base in a bowl.
  3. Add the flour, semolina and cinnamon, and mix until a stiff dough forms.
  4. Press the dough into the bottom of the oven dish, and bake for about 30 minutes until lightly golden, then leave to cool.
  5. While the base is cooling, make the caramel.
  6. Melt the margarine and sugar in a pan.
  7. Add the condensed milk and ginger syrup and bring to the boil, stirring all the time.
  8. Keep at the boil for a few minutes, until the caramel starts to thicken.
  9. Allow it to cool a little before pouring over the cooled base, then leave to set in the fridge.
  10. Once cooled, melt the chocolate in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water, and pour over the top of the caramel, spreading it out to cover all the top.
  11. Leave to cool in the fridge until set.
  12. To cut into squares, dip a sharp knife in freshly boiled water for a little while before using it to cut the chocolate – this will hopefully help it to glide through although it didn’t work every time for mine!

Apple pie (inspired by the Great British Bake Off, episode 5)

As we were away last weekend, I missed a week of baking inspired by the Great British Bake Off (GBBO). The desserts the contestants made last week were very impressive, and I think I would have gone for baking a torte if I’d have had chance to do some baking myself (that was one of the things they had to bake). This week it was all about pies. For the first bake they had to make a Wellington (with whatever filling they liked), for the second – the technical challenge – they had to make what looked like an incredibly difficult chicken and bacon pie with a hand-molded, hot-water pastry (a bit like a pork pie really), and for the third they had to bake a sweet American pie (with whatever filling they liked).

mmmmmmm apple pie 🙂

As I’m not into cooking meat at all at the moment, I thought a sweet pie would be my best option. I was particularly interested in the short clip that was shown as part of the programme, telling us all about the history of the apple pie in America, as that was one of the first sweet American pies to really make it big, even though none of the GBBO contestants chose to make something that simple – their flavours were along the lines of pumpkin pie, squash pie, sweet potato pie, Key lime pie, and peanut butter pie. I haven’t had apple pie for a long time, so I decided that this simple but effective pie would go down well with my boys and me. Andrew’s Aunty Jenny was even with us on the day I made it, so I had an extra taster this time; the adults approved, but Andrew wasn’t too bothered – I think he was too tired by the point we ate it.

An Andrew-sized slice - the first slice is always the hardest to cut nicely out of a pie, but I think this isn't bad, even if it did collapse a bit at the side. The next ones came out more in tact!

I went for a simple shortcrust pastry with no sugar, and a caramelised apple filling. I didn’t want to make the pastry sweet, because I don’t like pastry too sweet and think that it’s actually nicer to have the contrast of a plain pastry with the sweetness of the apple filling. (Maybe Paul Hollywood would approve? He didn’t seem to like the sickly sweet American pies that some contestants came up with, but preferred more mellowed-down British versions!) Plus I’ve found it hard to make sweet pastry in the past, whereas plain shortcrust is easier in my experience. I found a great page on Delia Smith’s website, giving tips on how to achieve good shortcrust pastry, which points out some of the potential pitfalls to avoid. I have to say it turned out very well and I found it pretty easy to make, even without a food processor – the main thing is making sure everything is at the right temperature when you need to use it.

Here’s my recipe, which has very few ingredients, but the outcome is a yummy, good classic apple pie.

Ingredients

Pastry:

  • 8oz plain white flour
  • 4oz unsalted butter
  • cold water

Filling:

  • 2 large Bramley apples
  • 80g brown sugar
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 20g flour

Method

  1. First make the pastry so it has time to rest whilst you’re doing the other bits (or leave it for a few hours or overnight). Take the butter out of the fridge and leave it to soften to room temperature. According to Delia, you should just be able to cut through it easily with a knife, but it should still be quite solid.
  2. Cut the butter into small chunks and add to the flour. Rub the butter into the flour using your fingertips, working quickly and lifting the flour up as you rub, to keep it light and aerated. Don’t overdo it, but stop when you have a rough breadcrumb-like texture.
  3. Gradually add small amounts of cold water, like a couple of tablespoons at a time, and mix with a knife to bring the mixture together into a dough. Once it gets wet enough, finish bringing it together with your hands, and form into a ball. Stop handling it, put it into a food bag, and leave it to rest in the fridge for at least an hour, if not more – overnight is good.
  4. Then make the apple filling. Peel and core the apples, and cut them into chunks.
  5. Melt the butter and sugar in a pan on a moderate heat. Add the apples, and cook for about 5-10 minutes until lightly golden and a bit squidgy. Just before you finish cooking them, add the flour and stir in until the caramel sauce thickens. Take the pan off the heat and allow the filling to cool completely.
  6. When the pastry is well chilled, take it out of the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature before rolling it. Getting the temperature right is key in making successful pastry, so don’t try to rush it. At this point, pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (fan).
  7. Once warmed up enough (but not too warm!), cut the pastry into two pieces: about one third of the whole for one piece and two thirds for the other.
  8. Roll the bigger bit of pastry out to about 3mm thick, big enough to fit the bottom and sides of your pie dish, with a small overhang.
  9. Line the pie dish with the pastry, and cut off any excess bits of pastry beyond the small overhang.
  10. Pour the cooled apple filling into the pastry-lined pie dish.

    A glimpse of the yummy filling before the lid went on!
  11. Roll the smaller bit of pastry out to about 3mm thick, big enough to cover the top of the pie dish. Place this pastry on top of the filling. There should be enough room in the dish after the filling has gone in so that there is a lip of pastry that can join with the lid pastry.
  12. Press the lid pastry together with this lip of pastry from around the side, using a fork to squish them together and make a nice pattern at the same time. Use the fork to make several pricks in the pastry lid, to allow steam to escape when cooking.
  13. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until the pastry is golden.
  14. Remove from the oven, and eat as fresh as possible – hot apple pie is so much better than cold apple pie! 🙂

    Spot the shadow from the photographer! You can tell I'm no professional. Must get round to putting into practice the tips I got from Britmums!

Apple and blackberry tarte tatin (inspired by the Great British Bake Off, episode 3)

Another week has passed in the Great British Bake Off (GBBO) competition, and yet again it has inspired me to have a go at baking something myself. This week was all about tarts – the contestants had to bake a tarte tatin of their choice, a treacle tart following Mary Berry’s recipe, and a decorated fruit tart worthy of display in a patisserie window. There were some amazing bakes. At the end of the program I turned to Tom and said: ‘Would you prefer it if I baked a tarte tatin or a treacle tart?’ His immediate response was ‘tarte tatin’, which I was hoping he’d say, because I’m not a massive fan of treacle tart (which incidentally has no treacle in it, but lots of sweet golden syrup and I don’t like baking with that very much).

Crunchy puffy corner

I have to say that pastry is not something I’ve had loads of experience with. On the occasions that I have made it, rather than going for the easy option of buying ready done stuff, it’s turned out well about half the time, and I’ve had problems the other half. I think the biggest problems have been getting it too warm and overworking it. And I’ve never thought about making puff pastry – all the times I’ve wanted to make it I’ve done shortcrust, either sweet or savoury. (I found out on the GBBO this week that sweet shortcrust is hard to make because the sugar does something to the dough that makes it harder to work with – maybe that could explain some of my mishaps when making sweet pies?) Puff pastry is what you need to make a traditional tarte tatin, so I decided this would be a good chance to have a go and see whether it would be added to my list of pastry success or pastry failures. I’m glad to say that it turned out to be the former 🙂

As blackberries are just in season now that we’re into September, I thought that it would be nice to try an apple and blackberry tarte tatin rather than just the traditional apple flavour. I was aware, however, that using a soft fruit like blackberries would potentially cause problems with it being too wet, just like one of the GBBO contestants who used plums and cherries found. So I used mainly apples, which I know work well for this, plus some blackberries to add to the main apple flavour. The blackberries were quite tart, so perfect to go with the sweet caramel that goes on the top (or bottom to start with before you turn it the right way up). The basic idea is that you make it the wrong way up, by putting the caramel sauce in the dish first, then the fruit, then the pastry, and when you turn it the right way up once cooked and cooled completely, the tart has a pastry base and fruity topping with caramel.

The finished apple and backberry tarte tatin. I love the colour that the blackberries have given it, so much more appealing than a light apple colour with a bit of browning from the caramel.

I’m happy with how it turned out. The pastry actually puffed up quite well and was properly crispy all over (no soggy bottom – that’s a success in itself!) I think if I did it again I’d make the pastry slightly thinner though, because although it was all cooked, the inside bit of the pastry was more like shortcrust (i.e. not so puffy) than the outside layers that puffed up well. The fruit combination worked really well and wasn’t too wet or too sweet for me. I love the way the blackberries have given it a deep red colour, which is more inviting than an insipid apple colour with some browning from the caramel. So overall a great tasting and looking tart in my opinion! My tasters, who this week featured my parents too, agreed. Here’s the recipe I came up with if you’d like to have a go yourself.

Ingredients

Pastry

  • 250g butter
  • 250g strong white flour
  • 150ml water

Filling

  • 6 small apples – I used Braeburns because that’s what was cheap in the supermarket when I went!
  • blackberries (about 100g)
  • 100g sugar
  • 100ml water

Method

The recipe I used for the rough puff pastry was from the BBC good food website – it’s Gordon Ramsey’s recipe. Check out that website to get the method for the pastry – make this first as it’s best done in advance and left to chill for quite a while – I left mine overnight.

This was after the first rolling out of the dough. Notice the marbled effect with streaks of butter in amongst the flour and water dough.
This shows the dough folded into thirds so there are three layers (see the above website for the exact method).
  1. Start by preheating the oven to 200ºC (fan) and lining an oven-proof dish with greaseproof paper. Traditionally it’s a circular dish that’s used, but I decided to be a bit different and use a square dish.
  2. Then prepare the fruit. Wash the blackberries and keep them whole. Wash and peel the apples, then remove the core and cut into quarters. The apples I bought were very small, perfect for cutting into quarters here, but if yours are bigger, maybe eighths or sixths would be better – they just need to be not too thick so they don’t take ages to cook as you’ve only got the length of time that it takes the pastry to cook otherwise that will be overdone.
  3. Then make the caramel. Put the sugar and water in a small saucepan (a plain metal one, NOT non-stick is best) and place on a medium heat. Stir briefly until the sugar is dissolved, but once it has, don’t stir it any more otherwise the sugar will crystallise and the caramel will be no good. Let it bubble away on the heat for about 10-15 minutes until it starts to thicken. Leave to cool slightly and it will thicken some more, but don’t leave it too long otherwise it will be hard to spread across the dish.
  4. Spread the caramel over the base of the dish on top of the greaseproof paper.
  5. Position the fruit in an attractive pattern on the caramel. I went for apples around the outside and in the centre, with a line of blackberries between the two (square) rings of apple.
  6. Roll out the pastry to about 1cm thick and cut to the size of your dish.

    Pastry rolled out ready to go on top of the fruit. It was slightly too wide, so I cut the edges off one side and made some pastry twists out of them, a bit like cheese straws but I wanted to keep them plain.
  7. Place the pastry on top of the fruit and press down lightly. Pierce the pastry in a few places to let the steam that comes off the cooking fruit out from the tart and stop the pastry going soggy.
  8. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, until the pastry is puffed up and golden.
  9. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.

    Nice crispy puffy pastry just out of the oven. Waiting for it to cool down completely before turning the right way up.
  10. Turn the dish upside down onto a plate, so that the tart comes out with the pastry on the bottom and the fruit on the top. Remove the greaseproof paper and the tart is ready to devour! Enjoy 🙂
    A slice of yummy tart. You can see that the pastry isn't as puffy inside nearer the fruit, but it is cooked, it's just got the texture of shortcrust rather than puff.

    I know this is out of focus, but I was trying to capture the lovely crispy puffy bit of pastry that came out around the edges of the tart.