Category: How-to-dos

How to Caramelize White Chocolate

How to Caramelize White Chocolate

There’s this new trend in the food-world that I’ve been itching to try for way too long that involves white chocolate getting a bit of a make over – so I thought I should give it a go! I feel like if you were to typecast chocolates, dark is the all-knowing friend who’s super healthy and idealistic; milk is the loving grandparent who’s always there to have a quick chat whatever the weather; whilst white is the super cute but annoying toddler who’s great in small doses and if you’re in the right mood. It’s nice, but a little too sweet and not much else. Well, here’s white chocolate’s chance to shine!

Caramelising chocolate is a really easy process in which you just bake the chocolate on a baking tray, stirring it every now and then until it turns all golden and beautiful. Doing this gives the chocolate a bitter caramel flavour which works really well with the sweetness of the white chocolate. You can then use the caramelised chocolate as you would a normal bar of white chocolate (cookies, ganache, mousse etc!). I’ve found that, whilst the technique is super easy, the type of chocolate you use will have a massive effect on the outcome of the process. If you use cheaper, more standard stuff it tends to come out dry and lumpy – great for cookies and cakes, not so good for mousses and ganache. Therefore if you do want a silky smooth end product you’ll need to use chocolate that has a cocoa content of over 30% (this info is on the back of most bars near the ingredients). I experimented with Sainsburys own brand, Lindt, Menier’s, and Green and Blacks and the Green and Blacks were the only type that came out smooth, so if you have any doubts that’s the one I’d recommend!

(^ this is an example of what you can use your caramelised white chocolate for – coffee walnut teacakes coated in caramelised white chocolate! Recipe going up soon!)

Recipe

Makes 200g caramelised white chocolate

Time: 1 hour

Ingredients

  • 200g White chocolate (at least 30% cocoa butter), roughly chopped

Method

  1.  Pre-heat the oven to 120˚C. Spread the roughly chopped white chocolate on a shallow baking tray lined with baking paper and put into the oven for around 10 minutes.

2. Take the tray out and give the white chocolate a good stir with a spatula until smooth. Then put back into the oven for another 10 minutes.

(^Chocolate after 10 minutes in the oven)

(^Chocolate after 10 minutes in the oven and a good mixing)

3. Repeat this mixing every 10 minutes for the next 30-50 minutes until golden and caramelised.

(^20 minutes in the oven)

(^30 minutes in the oven and ready to use)

3. The chocolate is now ready to use. If you want to store it for another day you can pour/spoon the caramelised chocolate into a jar or leave it to set hard and then wrap it in some grease proof paper to store it as a bar. It can be stored like this for up to 2 months.

 

Uses…

So far I’ve used this for two recipes – these delicious coffee and caramelised white chocolate cookies and the coffee walnut teacakes shown above (recipes coming soon!). As far as I can tell though, this will work really well in any recipe using chocolate! You can add it to your favourite cookie recipe like I’ve done here or why not try…

  • Pouring over 200ml warm double cream to make a ganache?
  • Sprinkling it over a cake or mixing it into some cake batter?
  • Making it into some ice cream? (I’ve heard this one is especially good!)

Thanks for reading!

Emma x

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How to Make Creme Patisserie (aka custard)

How to Make Creme Patisserie (aka custard)

A little while ago I did my first ‘how to’ which I really enjoyed so I thought I’d do another one. In my normal recipes I tend not to put copious amounts of detail in the method as it’s not necessary and it makes it look too long to work through when scanning, so I’m hoping these longer explanations will be helpful for the more technical dishes which might need a bit more explanation.

As with pastry in my first how-to, creme patisserie (aka custard) is something I used to really struggle with. No matter what I did it always seemed to curdle and split and just die on me which was really frustrating. But after lots of research into how to make it and experimenting with combinations of recipes I found this magic formula, and it’s worked for me ever since!

‘Course you can use powdered or even packet/tinned custard, but trust me, making your own is so much better. Not only do you move away from the shockingly yellow florescence of powdered custard but you get much richer flavour, which can be really important for some dishes. For a list of things you can do with creme patisserie scroll to the bottom of this post where there’s a list of alternatives and links to recipes you can use this in. Trust me once you can nail a good creme patisserie you’ll never go back to the packet stuff!

Recipe

Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 250ml Whole milk
  • 1 tbsp Vanilla bean paste
  • 50g Caster sugar
  • 3 Egg yolks
  • 10g Plain flour
  • 10g Cornflour

Method

1. Put the milk and vanilla into a saucepan, stir once and bring to the boil.

2. Separate the eggs by rocking the yolk between the two halves of the shell and letting the egg white drip into a bowl below. Put the egg yolks into a separate bowl.

3. Add the sugar and two flours to the egg yolks and whisk together until fully combined.

4. Once the milk is heated, remove the pan from the heat and mix around 1/3 of the milk into the egg mixture.

5. Whisk the mixture quickly and then pour the egg mixture back into the pan with the milk.

6. Put the pan back over a medium-low heat and whisk until the mixture thickens.

7. Pour the creme patisserie into a jug and, if not using straight away, cover with cling-film to prevent a skin from forming.

“Oh no it’s…”

Too runny…

  • Pour the mixture back into a pan and gently heat up again. Whisk constantly and keep it on the heat until it starts to thicken.

Gone lumpy…

  • This is probably because either the flours weren’t whisked into the egg yolks enough in step 3, or because the mixture wasn’t whisked enough when it was being heated through. To solve this  you can try giving it a good hard whisk for 1-2 minutes to break up the lumps. If this doesn’t sort out the problem put the creme patisserie through a sieve and you should have a smooth, silky custard!

Split…

  • This happens when the mixture gets too hot and boils, and can also happen when you add certain ingredients like lemon juice or alcohol to the mixture.  When it’s fully curdled it’s pretty hard to save and you will probably have to start again. Before you do though try pouring it into a bowl or different pan and blitz with a hand blender – you can sometimes save it this way!

Taking ages to thicken…

  • Sometimes creme patisserie thickens in a minute, sometimes 20, the trick is to be patient. Even if you have to stand there for 30 minutes whisking on a gentle heat keep going and you will get there. If you’re low on time (or just plain bored) you can try increasing the heat a little, just be careful the mixture doesn’t boil or it can split. In the past I’ve also sifted in a little extra cornflour (around 1/2 tsp) to make the mixture thicken quicker. If you do this, however, keep a really close eye on the mixture as it could go super thick and end up rubbery.
  • It’s also worth noting that the creme patisserie will continue to thicken as it cools down. Therefore don’t bring it to the consistency you’d expect your custard to be, instead bring it to the point where it’s thickened but slightly loose. It’ll then thicken to the perfect consistency within a few minutes of being off the heat.

Alternatives

Why not try…

  • Adding 1 tbsp cocoa powder to the egg yolks when you add the flour to get chocolate custard
  • Adding the zest of 1 lemon or orange to the milk at the start to get a citrus creme patisserie
  • Using almond, coconut or soya milk to make this dairy-free and to add some delicious flavour!

Recipes Using Creme Patisserie

Here’s some of my favourite recipes using creme patisserie, but the uses are definitely not limited to these! Click on the picture to go through to the recipes…

  

Thanks for reading!

Emma x

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How to Survive (and make the most of) Cooking at Uni

How to Survive (and make the most of) Cooking at Uni

Today is national uni mental health day – this year themed ‘use your voice’, so I thought I’d use mine to talk about mental health and cooking at uni. Whoever you are, where ever you are, you have a voice and story, and the best way to start making changes is to start speaking. I’m not the best writer out there, I wouldn’t even really consider myself a ‘writer’, just a person with something to say to the wide ether in the hope someone might find it interesting and/or useful, which I think is enough in this case.

In complete honesty the reason why I’m doing a how-to and not a recipe this week is because we’re hitting the end of term and the only recipes I have left from when I was cooking over the holidays are really bad. I also wasn’t sure how to link a recipe to mental health at uni, and therefore I’ve decided that a post on cooking at uni would be more insightful and useful than a plate of damp looking veg! That said, over the process of writing this I’ve realised how much cooking has helped me during my time at uni, and so I want to share some tips and thoughts on it for this mental health day.

Uni is never easy. It’s hard work for a reason and whilst it has great perks and can be really fun there will always be hard times to go with it. You can never get away from the essays and the deadlines, the late nights and the early mornings – but hey that’s part of the charm right? What we can do is find ways to get through the tough points. Work out what really matters and use that to power on through.

For me this term has been a bumpy ride. I’ve had higher highs and lower lows than ever before, so I’m coming out the other side feeling a little shaken and wide eyed. My mental health is not as stable as I’d like, but I’m starting to find ways to work with it, to not let it stop me from making the most of some of the best years of my life. For me cooking (or I guess more generally food) has been a really good stabiliser for me. I know it’s not always easy to cook when at uni, whether it be because of cost, time or facilities, but here’s some top tips and hacks from me on how to tackle cooking and how to use it to make your time at uni a little sunnier.

Top 10 ways to make the most out of cooking at Uni…

No.1 – Essential Ingredients

With a limited budget there’s no way you can make long elaborate recipes at uni without breaking the bank and wasting ingredients in some shape or form. This term though I’ve managed to get by with just the following staple ingredients….

  • 1 tub of butter (or dairy-free margarine) – maybe more if you spread it on toast every day, but one of these is perfect for general everyday baking.
  • 1 Bag white sugar
  • 1 Bag plain flour
  • Paprika (a little pretentious I know, but it adds a great kick to anything and everything)
  • 1 Pack of Rice/Pasta
  • 2 Packs of Tomato sauce/passata

It’s worth noting that I’m catered in college Monday-Friday, so those of you living out might need more than that, but I’ve found that those let me make everything I want to make in a term. I just buy perishables like yoghurt, eggs, fruit and veg as and when I needed them and voila. Of course there’s so much more you can add to that, but just having those staples in your cupboard lets you make pretty much anything you could want. I also find having the staples there to be used makes it so much easier to find the motivation to get in the kitchen and start baking!

No.2 – Essential equipment

On a similar note, you also probably don’t have the space for mountains of equipment at uni so here’s my essentials of what to take with you:

  • Chopping board
  • Kitchen knife
  • Mixing bowl
  • Small roasting tin
  • Rubber spatula
  • Range of crockery (spoons, plates etc for eating)
  • Tupperware pots
  • A tea towel
  • Medium-sized pan with a lid

Again, there’s so much more you can add to that, but I’ve found that’s all you need to get by in a term. Personally, I also use piping bags, cake tins, can openers etc, but those are just add ons you could take if you’re the kinda person who’d use them. If I were to highlight two essential essential things on that list they would be Tupperware and a tea towel as they’re really easy to forget when packing up for uni but they’re so so useful! Being able to pack up any leftovers is really important as when you’re tight for time and on a budget the last thing you want to be doing is throwing food away and then re-making it the next day!

No. 3 – Make it sociable

It’s the end of a long day. You’re tired. Stressed. You just want to go to bed. But I can say that having been forced to eat with people in college every day it’s actually one of the things I love most about being fed in college. Before arriving at uni I shuddered at the thought of forced socialising, but eating with people gives you a chance to relax, touch in with friends, and get out of your head for a few minutes. You can get into your own bubble so easy working day in and day out, but taking some time out of that with other people over a plate of food is a great way to realise there’s a bigger world out there than uni.

No. 4 – Get hands on

One of the things I love most about cooking is the practical side of it. Get your hands in. Get messy. Get playful. I’ve found myself making crumbles so much recently. Not only are they tasty and easy to put together, but they’re also really therapeutic to make as you have to get your hands into the mixture. Bread is another great one for this as you can get out your anger in the dough. If you don’t have time to do a full enriched dough that takes hours to rise try looking into sourdoughs or quick-breads you can make!

No. 5 – Explore no-scale recipes

Last term I forgot to take a pair of kitchen scales with me to uni so I did most of my baking scales-free. After the initial panic of having to measure things by eye I found that you can get away with not using scales in a surprising number of things – and it makes life so much easier! Once you get used to working without them you can literally just whack everything together in minutes, making cooking so stress-free. Mug-cakes, stir frys, and crumbles are 100% the way to go!

No.6 – Share what you make

On a similar note to no.3, sharing what you make can be a really good way of re-connecting with people and can give you that nice warm fuzzy feeling. I speak from experience when I say that it can feel just as nice to leave food out for people as it does to find some up for grabs on the table. Walking into a kitchen with something tasty on the counter and an invitation to eat it can be enough to put a smile on your face for the rest of the day, which can positively affect other people around you and so on. Just saying – have you ever seen a bunch of teens looking sad with a plate full or free brownies?

No.7 – Find some good ready-made meals for the long nights

When I first arrived at uni I was very pro-fresh food, anti-ready-made, yada yada yada – but lets be honest who has the time? I’m not saying abandon fresh fruit and veg, just that sometimes ready-mades can be the ticket you need. I’ve found that spicy rice pouches have saved my soul this term. They’re about 85p each, take 2 minutes to heat up, and can be bought ages in advance so you know you’ve always got a back up meal in your cupboard!

No. 8 – Get creative

Cooking is not only a great social and stomach-filling wonder, but also a great creative outlet. Maybe it’s just Oxford, but I found when I was studying psychology I really missed my chance to be creative, and I think a lot of academic degrees are like that. They’re so prescriptive and precise that we forget how creative we all are. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but I strongly believe that our education system is sucking the creativity out of us until we’re just little robots who can regurgitate information – and I don’t know about you but that doesn’t sound exactly healthy. So when you’re next in the kitchen let your creative juices flow. Whether it’s piping on a cake, experimenting with flavour combos, or even just trying a new recipe, see it as an opportunity to be a little less exact and more experimental. Cooking’s an art not a science after all.

No. 9 – Shopping late at night

I’m constantly aware of how much I’m spending on food as it’s something I have to do every day.  One thing that’s helped me out a bit though is shopping about an hour before the shops close. I’m not sure if everyone knows this or not, but in case you don’t know, note that most shops do massive price cuts towards the end of the day. I’m talking buying £3 sandwiches for 80p and the like. Where I live they often pile all these discounts in a certain place in the shop, so if you can work out where it is you can pop over there and bag some deals for the next day.

No. 10 – Don’t forget – food is comforting

And finally – don’t forget that food is a great comfort! I mean obviously be aware of comfort-eating and etc, but the odd comfort dish can be enough to perk up a day. I’ve found that whilst the food at my college is amazing it lacks the love of a homemade dish – as mamma used to make it so to say. So getting into the kitchen and rustling up a family favourite can be a great pick-me-up. Perhaps before you go ask for recipes of your family favourites, then when you hit a low point you’ve got a lil support there. I’m not saying food can solve all problems – but it’s done a good job of keeping me going through the roller-coaster of an Oxford term!

Of course there’s so much more I could have added to that list but I hope that’s vaguely useful and/or interesting. If you want some recipes relating to any of the specific points look at the ‘something that’s’ tab at the top of this page and you’ll find recipes under certain tags like ‘comforting’ or ‘quick’. So if you’re looking for a comfort-food fave, or a quick eat, or a therapeutic fun thing to make have a look there for something that could suit!

For more info on uni mental health day visit https://www.unimentalhealthday.co.uk/

Stay safe, stay strong and remember there’s always people wanting to listen. Have a great day!

Emma x

 

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Making a Pastry Case

Making a Pastry Case

Lots of people have been telling me that they love m’ blog but that everything looks too hard to actually make. Whist I’m perfectly happy to keep generating eye candy I thought I’d start some step-by-step posts on how to do relatively complicated but really useful things, like making a pastry case.

For years I couldn’t make these and I’d just buy the ready made ones from Sainsbury’s to avoid the disappointment of another soggy bottom or another crust that has shrunk, but alas years of practice has finally paid off and now these are one of my favourite things to make.

So here’s a step-by-step guide of how to make a pastry case, from making the pastry and lining the tin to baking blind and using your new found skill in actual recipes. Here I’m using a chocolate pastry as the recipe I’m posting next uses a chocolate crust, but feel free to use whatever flavour pastry you want.

How to make a pastry case

1. Make the pastry

This is a seemingly simple step but it is a very important one. How you make the pastry will vary between specific recipes but here’s a few top tips:

  • If the recipe says to rub the butter into the flour, begin this process by taking a table knife and cutting the butter up into the flour until it’s too small to keep cutting up. Then go in with your fingers. The warmer the pastry gets the softer it gets and the harder it is to work with, so you want to keep the pastry as cool as possible.
  • On a similar note, add your liquid to the dough gradually. If you add too much your dough will be super soft and hard to work with so you could end up over working the dough which would make the pastry undesirably chewy.
  • Finally make sure you chill the dough. Personally I’d chill it for at least 90 minutes, maybe more. This will help prevent the dough from shrinking and will also harden up any butter than may have melted during the making of the pastry, making it easier to work with.

2. Shape the dough

Take the dough out of the fridge and form into a ball. Sandwich the ball between two sheets of cling film and then squash slightly to make a flattened circle. Most people roll their pastry out onto a floured worktop but I find using cling film quicker, less messy and it saves on flour so why not?

3. Rolling out the pastry

Roll the pastry out between the cling film with large rolling pin into a large circle. Use the tin to see how much wider you need the dough to be and in what direction. The pastry should be about 2 cm wider all the way around (to be able to fit up the sides of the tin with some overhang), and be about the thickness of a 10p piece.

4. Putting the pastry into the tin

Now you’re going to have to get physical. Take the top layer of cling film off the pastry and discard it. Then ease the forearm of your less dominant hand under the pastry sheet and lift it up as shown above. (You could also do this with a rolling pin if you’d prefer). Then place the tin underneath where your arm is and roll the pastry off you arm and into the tin, making sure that the cling film is on top of the pastry. It’s a good idea to work from one side of the tin to the other, making sure there’s some good overhang.

5. Fit the pastry into the tin

Gently ease the pastry into the shape of the tin so that is has contact with the whole of the tin. This will help it to bake evenly. Then take the layer of cling film off the pastry.

6. Trim off the excess

Some people prefer to do this once the case has baked as it helps stop the pastry from shrinking away from the edges too much, but for tarts I think the best way to do it is like this. Make sure all your pastry is fitting snugly into the tin. Then take your rolling pin and roll it around the top of the tin so that the excess pastry is rolled off.

7. Using the excess pastry

Bundle up your excess pastry. You can use this to fill in any gaps in your base at this stage, or if any cracks appear after the first bake, so don’t throw it away! You could also use it to make pastry decorations, or even make cute little biscuits!

8. Blind baking

Blind baking is where you pre-bake the pastry case before adding the filling. This helps to make sure the base is cooked all the way through and stops you getting a soggy bottom! Some pies and tarts don’t need to be blind baked (pies with tops and bakewell tarts are two that come to mind) but it’s a useful skill to learn anyway.

Take a piece of baking paper wider than your tin and scrunch it into a ball like you were going to throw it away. Then un-crumple the paper and line the inside of the pastry case with it. Scrunching it up first should make it easier to make the pastry fit the shape, but still be careful when doing this as you could pull the pastry down from the sides of the tin.

9. Adding the beans

If you bake the pastry case without any filling or weight on it then the base will rise up and leave no room for any fillings. To stop this you can use ceramic beans like these which are re-usable and weigh the pastry down. Alternatively you could use rice, lentils or any other dried pulse to weigh the pastry down, but I prefer using beans as then I don’t feel like I’m wasting food.

Bake the pastry in the oven for 15-20 minutes. This will vary depending on the size and type of tart you’re making but you generally want the pastry to look cooked all the way through (see photo below), even if it’s not crispy yet.

10. Second bake

Once the pastry has cooked all the way through, take it out of the oven and take the beans or whatever’s weighing the pastry down out. Also take out and discard the baking paper. Then bake the pastry for a further 5-10 minutes until crispy but not burnt.

11. Be creative!

Hopefully you should have a perfect crisp pastry case to work with now. You can either stop the baking here and fill the case with things that need to be chilled to set, or you could fill it with mixtures and fillings that need to be baked. Here’s a few of my faves to try…

 

Baked fillings

Frangipane – This is a cake-type mixture made with almonds. It’s traditionally used for bakewell tarts but it’s also a great base for other types of baked tarts!

Custard – Whilst some custard fillings will just set naturally, some need to be baked, like Portuguese custard tarts. You can really experiment with this type of filling as the custard can be flavoured and customised a lot.

Fruit – Mainly for pies, but also for tarts. Peel and de-stone whatever fruit you like and then either stew it first or pop it into a pastry case raw.

Cold fillings

Jams – This works really well in the bottom of a tart with a baked frangipane or a light mousse over the top as it packs great flavour!

Ganache – The first tarts I made were just chocolate tarts made by pouring warm cream over an equal amount of chopped dark chocolate and leaving it to set. You can also add liqueurs to your ganache if you want to make a boozy tart.

Mousse – It’s slightly untraditional to put mousse in a tart,  but I think a soft fruit mousse can work really well in a pastry case, especially if layered with a jam or jelly.

Creme pattisserie – On the other side of our baked custard tarts are the tarts filled with creme patisserie – a custard that doesn’t need to be baked. This is really good when topped with fresh fruit and berries! (See recipe below).

Recipe suggestions…

Vegan Woodland Pie

Devils Fruit Pie

Bakewell Tartlets

Butterscotch Pear Tart with Blackberry Sauce

Fruit Tartlets

Thanks for reading! If you have any other pastry queries I haven’t talked about here please let me know by leaving a comment below.

Emma x

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