Third Time Lucky!

I’ve been a  bit quiet on here of late, mostly down to the fact that I’ve been busy getting ready for the Regional Final of IMG_4100Future Chef 2013 and haven’t had time to make much other than my dishes…or at least haven’t had the time to blog about them.

Future Chef is a nationwide cooking competition for 12-16 year olds run by charity Springboard that I’ve participated in for the last three years. In 2011 I made it to the regional final in Birmingham, got good feedback, learnt a lot and was determined to return victoriously the following year. I entered again in 2012, got to the Regional Final and left with that feeling of ‘so close yet so far’. I created a new dish with the help of the mentor chef that Springboard had introduced me to the year before and practised it about a million times, I got there and I experienced something new to me: Nerves. I’m a pretty chilled out person, I’m not easily phased, I walk into exams feeling as worried as when I walk into Tesco’s, I don’t panic in a crisis and my heart rate is weirdly low for someone who hates long distance running. But I remember being nervous on that day, I wanted it really badly, there’s a competitive streak inside of me and I wasn’t willing to settle for less that first place. The hour and a half of cooking is a blur of heat, splattered tuile biscuits, overcooked veal and tears. And if there’s one thing more out of character for me than nerves, it’s crying. In public. I came third. The worst part? I knew what I’d done wrong before it had even been judged. I’d messed up the things that had always gone perfectly when I’d practised.

I’ll admit, I left that heat annoyed at myself and upset. I wanted to throw the towel in for a few hours but if there’s something I’m not, it’s a quitter. If I do something, I don’t so it by halves, I do it to be the best and I won’t give up until I’m at the top. As soon as I got home that day I was on the internet looking for inspiration for a new dish that would get me to that illusive National Final in the last year that I was eligible to enter.

It came around quicker than you’d think and in January, in the midst of the first batch of this year’s exams, I found myself going into the Local heat having practised my menu once. Yes, once. It wasn’t the best I could have done it and I knew that but it was good enough to get me back to that Regional Final. My nemesis. And I was adamant this would be it, it was my last shot at it. I knew what I had to do this time.

I went into the kitchen this morning and the first thing I got asked was: “Are you nervous?” I thought for a second,”Um, no.” I replied. It wasn’t because I was cocky or confident that I would win but I was back to myself. I was proud of the menu I’d devised with little outside help, I was ready and I was calm. I’d give it a shot and hope for the best.

And I stood back once I’d put my plates up for judging, my station looking a lot less chaotic than it had at that point my previous year and rather than the feeling of self-annoyance, imperfection and oncoming tears, I stood there and I smiled. I’d done what I could, it was the best I’d made it so far and there were few thing’s that hadn’t gone to plan. I was relieved.

The nerves only returned when I stood waiting for the results to be read out, knowing it could well have been over for me. “And in third place…” I listened as my name wasn’t read out. I had a chance. “Second place is…” Not me. I’d done it. I waited for three years and I finally heard those words: “First Place: Laura.”

My aim was always to get to the National Final in London and I’ve done it. And it’s only reinforced my belief that if you try hard enough and try enough times at something,  if you want it enough, you’ll get there eventually. Good things come to those who wait.

I’ve fulfilled my original goal but is there a part of me that wants to be crowned Future Chef 2013? To be number one from over 8000 people that entered? To win?

Of course there is.

Me and One of the Judges

Me and One of the Judges

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My dessert: Chocolate and Raspberry Meringue Tart with Passion Fruit Sorbet an White Chocolate Custard

Laura wins Regional Future chef 2013 003

My Main: Stuffed pork fillet wrapped in Parma ham served on a potato rosti with a white wine sauce and vegetables.

Chocolate Swirl Brioches

Brioches, main image copyIt’s ridiculous that I’m saying this on 27th January but; Happy New Year! It’s getting to that time of the month where Christmas and New Year are distant memories and New Years Resolutions have long been forgotten- my unofficial one was to blog more often: the fact I’m writing my first post of 2013 today shows how well that one’s going and is why I never make New Years Resolutions.

This is way overdue but between a long list of exams, revision and coursework deadlines as well as practising for my third and final attempt at making it to the final of ‘Future Chef’ (read more here), I just haven’t had time to spend the time making, photographing and writing about a recipe. The fact is, when you read these blogs that post new things everyday or every other day, 9 times out of 10 that’s their job and unfortunately, this blog is not my job. I wish it was because that, would be a hell of a lot more fun than sitting at school or home learning about electricity and velocity time equations which is what I’ve been subjected to for the last month. For now I will just have to attempt to write post more regularly in between all that.

Oh and I cannot wait for my free periods (Sorry, ‘independent study time’? Yeah okay) which will mostly involve me coming home, baking a cake and taking photos of it.

Now, for today’s recipe, it’s one I love and have been meaning to post for ages. And, with it being my first post of the year it’s only right that we start where we start any day: breakfast. Chocolate swirl brioches to be specific. There’s not much I can say about them other than I love them and they’re in my top 3 breakfast foods which is quite a statement as breakfast food has probably recently become my favourite food, full stop… The breakfast club in London is on 2013′s to visit list!

The recipe looks a bit long and daunting but it’s fine! They’re what a I call a therapeutic bake, you might understand me or think I’m totally crazy saying that. Either is fine. The recipe relies pretty heavily on a food processor but if you’re looking for something to replace the gym with, making these sans-food processor/electric mixer totally works (as long as you don’t eat the entire batch after, obvs). The first time I made them was after our mixer broke and before we replaced it, dough got kneaded by hand, the chocolate mixer got thrown in a Tupperware and shaken with enthusiasm for a good 10 minutes and my arms got pretty tired but basically: don’t be put off if you don’t have a mixer, it can be done without one!

Ingredients

Bread Dough

120ml milk

50g caster sugar

1 sachet dry fast action yeast

1 large egg

250g plain flour plus extra to dust the work surface

½ teaspoon salt

45g butter

(Preferably all at room temperature)

Filling

45g butter

50g caster sugar

225g dark chocolate (or dark chocolate chips)

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 egg and drop of milk for egg wash

Method.

1. For the dough, warm the milk with a pinch of sugar over a low heat. You don’t want it anywhere near boiling, just warm to your touch. Remove from the heat and sprinkle the yeast over the milk and let it stand until foaming (about 5 minutes)

2. In a small bowl, whisk together egg and sugar, then slowly whisk in yeast mixture. In a free standing mixer with the paddle attachment, combine flour and salt. Then, with the mixer on low speed, add the egg mixture, and mix until combined. Add butter and mix until well incorporated.

3. Switch the attachment to the dough hook and let it knead the dough for 10 minutes on low speed. After 10 minutes, it should be sticky and stringy and probably, but will firm up a bit after it rises- butter a large bowl and put the dough in it. Cover loosely with cling film or a tea towel and leave to rise for 1 hour, or until doubled, (in a warm place, in case much like my baker-in-training-sister you didn’t know that everything must rise in a warm place).

4. Meanwhile, for the filling, bash the chocolate (still in its wrapping) against your unit to break it up the open it and chop it a little finer if you need to or just even the pieces up. Then, in a food processor pulse the chopped chocolate with the sugar, and cinnamon until the chocolate is very finely chopped and the mix looks almost powdery.

5. Add butter and pulse until it’s distributed evenly throughout the chocolate. Generously butter a 12 hole muffin tin.

6. To form the buns, when the dough is doubled in size, turn it out onto a well-floured surface and gently knock it back with floured hands. Let it rest 5 minutes then roll into a large rectangle. The short sides should be around 30cm and the others as long as you can get them- the longer they are, the swirlier the buns will be.

7. Sprinkle the filling over the dough’s surface then, tightly roll the dough back over the filling from one short end to the other, forming a 30cm-ish log. With a sharp serrated knife, cut the log into 1 inch sections and place each into the prepared muffin tin. Cover with cling film or a tea towel and allow them rise for another half an hour and pre heat your oven to 180°.

8. Whisk together the egg and milk and brush over to top of each bun before baking them for 15 to 20 minutes, until risen and browned. Leave to cool slightly then carefully remove them from the tin and eat them when they’re warm, it’s when they’re best.

NB. You can make these the night before, leave in the fridge in the muffin tin covered in cling then whack them in the oven and enjoy them for breakfast: they are the best Sunday morning food. Or indeed the best thing to get you out of bed in the morning. 

Recipe adapted from smitten kitchen via Pinterest.

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Swirl Brioche Buns 1

Swirl Brioche Buns

LG x

12 Tastes of Christmas: White Chocolate and Cranberry Cookies

An oven full of cookies has to be one of my favourite smells ever. And biting into a warm, soft, freshly baked cookie one of my favourite things ever.

 Eating copy

White chocolate and cranberry is the perfect Christmas cookie. You can bake them as thick cookies, my personal favourite or, bigger, flatter ones (see recipe for how to make each) and the use of bread flour, which came about because I’d used up all our plain flour actually makes the cookies chewier in the middle which is just how I like them.

This recipe makes a lot of dough so it’s great if you have people coming over or if you want to give them as a gift and if not, make up the log/balls as you want to bake them and chuck them in the freezer ready to throw into the oven when you fancy one or when you have an unexpected Christmas visitor. Just add an extra 5 minutes to the cooking time if cooking from frozen.

Ingredients

250g butter, melted then cooled to room temperature

100g granulated sugar

250g light brown soft sugar

1 tbspn double cream

2 eggs

100g plain flour

200g strong white bread flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 baking powder

100g white chocolate chips

100g cranberries

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 170° and pour the butter into a free-standing electric mixer with a paddle attachment. Add the sugars and and mix thoroughly on a medium speed until well incorporated then add the cream and mix again.
  2. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well in between each, be sure to scrape around the bowl too to make sure that there are bits stuck on the bottom or sides that haven’t been mixed in.
  3. Sift in the flour, salt and baking powder in two halves, mixing well in-between each and again, scrape the bowl.
  4. Stir the white chocolate and cranberries through so they’re evenly dispersed the either:

- Roll the dough into a long log shape and put in the freezer until hard (about an hour) then, cut 2cm discs from it for big cookies.

or

- Shape the dough into small balls with your hands then flatten them slightly before putting in the fridge or freezer until almost hard (about 20 minutes) then put the balls onto a baking tray, placing two on top of each other then pressing them down slightly (see below) to form smaller, thick cookies.

    5. Bake in the centre of the oven for 10-15 minutes.

    6. Cool slightly on a baking rack then tuck in while they’re still warm.

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LG x

12 Tastes of Christmas: Festive Shortbread

These are really, really simple and easy to make and they look great. They can be eaten on their own as biscuits, served with desserts like mousses or, you can use a straw to make a little hole in the top before baking then thread a ribbon through it once cooked and hang them on your Christmas tree.

Ingredients

170g flour

a pinch of salt

115g butter

55g caster sugar, plus extra for dusting

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 160° and grease a baking tray with butter.
  2. Sieve the flour into a bowl and cut the butter in to small pieces before adding that to the bowl.
  3. Rub the butter and flour together until it resembles breadcrumbs. Mix in the sugar and lightly knead until it comes together in a ball of dough. On a floured surface, knead until smooth.
  4. Roll out the dough until it’s about the same thickness as a pound coin, then using a star (or any other shaped) cutter, cut biscuits out of the dough and carefully transfer to the baking tray with a palette knife.
  5. Cook for 12-15 minutes. Remove from the oven, place on a rack to cool and dust with sugar or icing sugar.
  6. Eat!

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LG x

12 Tastes of Christmas: St. Lucia Buns

IMG_3383I’m a bit of a hoarder. Not so much of stuff but of  stuff like presents; I finished my Easter egg about a month ago, I’m still eating last Christmas’ chocolate coins and I have a Topshop voucher in my purse that despite buying at least two things in there since I’ve had it, I’m still insistent on ‘saving’. And until last night, I had a packet of Saffron that my sister had bought me from Morocco last Christmas that I was yet to use.

Today it St Lucia’s day and it’s tradition in Sweden that these Saffron buns, (St Lucia Buns, Lucia Cats or Lussekatter) are made and eaten to celebrate, someone gave me a recipe for these and I decided it was time to part with the saffron and make them.

I’ve had a bit of trouble with them rising but I think that’s probably due to the fact that me and fast action yeast have never gotten along and it didn’t affect the crumb too much so I was pretty happy with them in the end and although they’re not something that we traditionally associate with Christmas in this country, they do taste pretty Christmassy and I will definitely be making them again next year. They’re quite difficult to describe, the recipe looks similar to that of a brioche but they’re not as delicate or soft and the saffron adds a different flavour and although they have sugar in, they’re aren’t really sweet. They’re best eaten fresh from the oven as they are or with a little butter.

Happy St Lucia’s day!

I’ll be back tomorrow with the next recipe in my Christmas series, not long to go now!

Ingredients

150ml milk

1g saffron

1 sachet of fast action yeast

75g caster sugar

50g butter

350g plain flour

1 tbspn natural yoghurt

1 egg

a few raisins

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 190°. Heat the milk and saffron in a pan over a low heat, once warm, add the butter and stir until it melts. Don’t let the milk reach simmering point.
  2. Put the yeast into a free-standing electric mixer with a paddle attachment and pour the liquid mixture over it. Add the yoghurt, sugar and sift in the flour. Mix until  a smooth dough forms. Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover with a cloth and leave to rise for half an hour.
  3. Change the paddle attachment to a dough hook and return the bowl to the mixer, knead on a medium speed for about 3 minutes.
  4. Divide the dough in half, then divide those halves into halves and then divide those quarters into halves so you end up with 8 equal pieces of dough.
  5. Roll each piece of dough into a long strip of dough (see below) and then shape traditionally they’re shaped into an infinity sign or figure of eight, whatever you call it and are also often made into swirly ‘S’ shapes but i made a few different shapes and they all worked fine (again, see below) so you can shape them into whatever you fancy.
  6. Press a few raisins into the dough, cover with a piece of cloth and leave to rise for 20 minutes.
  7. Whisk the egg and brush the buns with it, place on a baking tray and bake for 10-15 minutes.
  8. Eat!

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LG x

Lemon, Lime and Poppyseed Loaf

 It was a while ago now that I got our food processor out to make something and had the trauma of finding out that it was broken. Although, as a believer in every cloud having a silver lining, I got a bit over excited at the prospect of replacing it with a KitchenAid or Kenwood Chef. I had a couple of weeks of bicep building baking without a mixer and then, one grey, cold, maths revision filled Sunday a few weeks ago my Mum and Dad came in the door with the Kenwood free-standing mixer that my Mum and I had been wanting for rather a long time.

As pretty and sparkly as it looked in its newly made home, in pride of place by the oven, I had to use it as soon as I could and this was the first recipe that came to mind, I adapted it from a magazine cutting that someone gave me a few months back- I am admittedly not the quickest at getting through my ‘to-bake list’ but my excuse is that it’s not as long as my arm but way longer- and I loved it. When I’m face with a choice of what dessert or cake to pick, I always go with whatever has the most chocolate in but, recently I’ve definitely become more of a lemon fan, this being one of the reasons.

Ingredients

125g soft butter

150g caster sugar 

3 large eggs

150g self-raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

1 lemon

1 lime

4 tbsp poppy seeds

50g icing sugar

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180° and line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper, line it lengthways and leave an otherhang at either end to make it easy to pull the finished cake out once it’s cooked.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together in a free-standing electric mixer (yay!) or with an electric mixer until light ad fluffy.
  3. Add the eggs, one at a time beating well between each one.
  4. Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into the mixture, folding it in carefully then grate in the zests of the lemon and lime.
  5. Stir in the poppy seeds then tip the mixture into the loaf tin and bake in the middle of the oven for 30-35 minutes.
  6. While it cooks, put the icing sugar into a small bowl, squeeze in a tablespoon on lemon juice from the lemon, mix well and add it little more if needs be, add just enough to make a runny icing.
  7. Check the cake is cooked by inserting a skewer and checking whether it comes out clean. Once cooked remove from the oven, leave to cool in the tin for about 5 minutes then tip onto a wire rack, drizzle with the icing and leave to cool.
  8. Eat!


LG x

Tre-Colore Stuffed Focaccia

I have a tendency to start feeling really awake late at night, normally right as I’d like to drift of to sleep. I start thinking about things I need to do, making plans and formulating ideas in my head. One night a couple of weeks ago I was turning over ideas in my head of the first thing I could make using our new kitchen toy would be and having read an old blog post somewhere on the internet about last year’s focaccia task on The Great British Bake Off and fancying something a bit different, the idea of a stuffed focaccia came to mind. After a it of thinking, I came up with taking the traditional Italian ‘Tre Colore’ salad’s flavours and putting them into a foccacia which by the way, is one of my favourite breads. When I was making it, I got thinking about pesto and realised that it actually deserved its own post rather that being part of this one and I do break the golden ‘don’t cook pesto rule’ and would probably get an angry earful from some Italians but, it still tastes good so maybe I can be given the benefit of the doubt this once…

The recipe for the bread is done using a free standing mixer and dough hook as that’s how I did it but I’ve made focaccia by hand plenty of times before, it just takes a bit more elbow grease and arm strength to do the kneading by hand but it can be done.

Ingredients

For the bread…

350g strong white bread flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 sachet (7g) fast action yeast

210ml luke warm water

20ml olive oil

To Stuff…

1 ball mozzarella

2tbsp pesto (Recipe here)

handful of cherry tomatoes

Method

  1. Lightly oil a 9″ round, preferably spring-form,  cake tin. Put the flour, salt and yeast into the bowl of a free standing electric mixer (or a large mixing bowl by hand if you don’t have one) fitted with a dough hook, gradually mix in the water an oil on a low speed.
  2. Knead for one minute on minimum speed then for 4 minutes on the next speed up, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
  3. Remove the owl from the mixer, cover with oiled cling film and leave in a warm place to rise for about 1 hour or until doubled in size. Meanwhile, prepare the filling by making the pesto, slicing the mozzarella and tomatoes.
  4. Return the bowl to the mixer an knock back on minimum speed for about 60 seconds.
  5. Transfer to an oiled surface, split in to two roughly equal balls and roll out as thinly as possible.
  6. Line the bottom of the tin with the first disc of dough, pushing it up he sides slightly, spread it with pesto then scatter with the mozzarella and tomato.
  7. Take the second disc, lay it over the top and push the edges down so they meet the edges of the first disc, press them together so they form a neat join.
  8. Cover and leave to rise for a further 20 minutes, meanwhile preheating the oven to 200º.
  9. Uncover the dough, sprinkle with sea salt and drizzle with oil then bake for 25-30 minutes.
  10. Cool slightly on a wire rack then serve warm- it can be eaten cold, I have mine cold the next day but it does taste better warm and fresh from the oven!

LG x