Chilli Thins (or, an alternative to coco pops)

When the going gets tough, the though stay home on a Friday night and make crackers. Or something. 

This week, work has been a bit difficult – just in terms of unpredictability and the additions that brought to my To Do list, rather than anything especially terrible. My upstairs neighbour seems to have a new partner and they are enjoying throwing each other onto the bed with full force at regular intervals throughout the night, while my downstairs neighbours have rediscovered their love of thumping dubstep at any and all hours of the day. So, I’ve been a bit tired and it’s been a week of mostly having coco pops for tea. 

So it’s a quick update this week – these fiery wee chilli crackers, which are simple and for a small amount of ingredients yield a massive amount. They are also still quite delicious even if you burn them a little bit since you nodded off during the cooking time. I’m quite glad to have them on this blog because, despite it’s other endless virtues, the internet is not a good resource for cracker recipes. 

Crackers are one of those things it maybe seems a faff to make yourself, but a) a chilled dough needs a good hammering, which is good after a stressful week and b) they are customisable and so can be adapted to whatever you want. This recipe is adapted from the fennel seed thins in Richard Burr’s BIY (actually a super handy cookbook), essentially with slightly less stuff and, y’know, chilli. Eat with a mild, creamy cheese or stuff them into your mouth in much the same way one might with crisps. 

Chilli Thins
Fiery little biscuits.
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
30 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
30 min
Ingredients
  1. 250g plain flour
  2. 1 tsp baking powder
  3. 1/2 tsp salt
  4. 1/2 tsp ground black pepper (or, a lot more, if you are a fiend for this)
  5. 1 - 1 1/2 tsps dried chilli flakes (I used the latter, they were spicy - adjust to your taste)
  6. 1/2 tsp paprika
  7. 60g unsalted butter, chilled
  8. Some extra sea salt flakes
Instructions
  1. Combine flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, chilli flakes and parika in a bowl.
  2. Cut the butter into small cubes and pop in the bowl. Rub the butter into the spices and flour until the mix resembles breadcrumbs.
  3. Add in 100ml of cold water, get your hands in and bring together to a smooth dough. Don't overmix or knead.
  4. Wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge for 20 mins (or up to 4 days).
  5. Cut the dough in half. Between two sheets of baking parchment, roll out on half of the dough until it is only about 1mm thick.
  6. Cut out small biscuits using the cookie cutter of your choice, then place the cut crackers on a lined baking sheet. Using a fork or similar pointy thing, stab the crackers all over to create small holes. Place the cut crackers in the fridge for 20 minutes.
  7. Preheat over to 170°C.
  8. Remove crackers from fridge, place in oven for 18 - 20 minutes, or until a light brown (do not use my pics as a guide because they are a bit over). Once cooked, transfer to a wire rack to cool. I also sprinkled some extra sea salt flakes over them t this point.
  9. Repeat steps 5 onwards for the other half of the dough.
Adapted from Richard Burr
Adapted from Richard Burr
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/

Lemon and Honey Hot Cross Buns (or, sun’s out, bun’s out!)


Happy Easter and happy hot cross bun season! 

Quite often, this blog is a bit doom and gloom; self care, cooking for colds, Rory Gilmore is terrible. But not today! Because let me tell you: everything is coming up Millhouse. 

It has been 3 and a half years since I moved to London, which means it’s been 3 and a half years since I needed somewhere to live and lied about how good I was at baking to get people to like me enough to let me live with them. 3 and a half years since I had to learn to bake to come good on that lie (my first Easter in London I made creme egg brownies which did go down well). 

Without wanting to sound like a total wang, I am SO PROUD of how far I have come in those years. I’ve gone from working in a bar for minimum wage (in some ways the most important experience of my life) to someone who has to go to management team meetings in a big-ass theatre. I got a job I like that pays me enough money to live in and enjoy London, and I worked hard to get there and I am so happy about it all. 

Perhaps most importantly, I am allowing myself to be publicly proud of myself. To think (know?) I am good at things.

See, I have also gotten good at the baking thing. No longer a lie, I can knead with the nearly-best of them, and these hot cross buns are a sunny celebration of the fact that I am a vaguely successfully human being. And of the fact that in the last two weeks there has been actual sunshine and drinking in parks and generally good things. They are laced with a lemony flavour, which makes them taste a bit fresher, lighter and sunnier. 

Lemon and Honey Hot Cross Buns
Yields 8
Fresh and zesty buns for a celebration
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Total Time
3 hr
Total Time
3 hr
Ingredients
  1. Half a cup of lemon juice (fresh or the bottle kind), plus another few tbsps for the cross)
  2. A few good fistfuls of raisins and candied lemon peel (I had about a cup and a half full)
  3. 250ml milk
  4. Zest of 2 lemons
  5. 50g butter
  6. 500g bread flour (plus another 100g for the crosses)
  7. 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  8. 85g caster sugar
  9. 30g runny honey (plus 2 tbsp for glaze)
  10. 10g salt
  11. 7g sachet instant dried yeast
  12. 1 egg (plus another for an egg wash, if desired)
Instructions
  1. In a wee bowl, soak the fruit and candied peel in the lemon juice. Set aside.
  2. Gently heat the milk until warm but not hot. Take off the heat and add in the butter and lemon zest. The butter should melt without needing extra heat. Set aside to cool a little.
  3. In a big bowl, add the flour, cinnamon, sugar, salt and honey. Then add the yeast on the opposite side of the bowl to the salt (if you dump it right on there and kill the yeast). Add the egg and the milk mix and bring together into a dough.
  4. The dough will be shaggy and quite loose, tip it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8 - 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Don't add more flour if you can help it.
  5. Lightly oil the bowl (I tend to use sunflour oil), pop the dough back in and cover with cling film. Leave to prove for 2 hours or until doubled in size.
  6. When proved, add in the soaked fruit and knock back for a minute or two.
  7. Shape into buns (I did 8 big ones, but do however many you like at what size you like). Prove for 1 hr or until doubled in size.
  8. Prehet oven to 180°C.
  9. Mix the other 100g of flour with 2 - 3 tbsp of lemon juice until you get a paste that is pipeable.
  10. When the dough is proved, do a quick egg wash and then pipe crosses onto each bun (I cut the corner off a sandwich bag. I m terrible at piping).
  11. Bake for 30 mins (adjust depending on size - smaller buns will need less time), or until they sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
  12. While they are still warm, mix 2 tbsp honey with 1 tbsp water, then brush on the buns to make them shiny and sweet.
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/

Mango Meringue Pie (or, the alternative birthday cake)

mango-meringue-pie-3
I turned 25 on Wednesday. While I’m not much one for going off the rails or getting wild, I did spend a whole day baking stuff, which could certainly be viewed as a sign of a quarter life crisis. I made a polenta cake, party rings, an elaborate bread (watch this space), brownies and a pizza cake. And, of course, this: the Mango Meringue Pie. It was the sweetest, the sickliest and the very best.

mango-meringue-pie-1

I really love mango. I put that shit in salads and in stir fry and generally in my face at any opportunity. Recently, when I was at a music festival, I nipped out of the festival grounds to a local village and bought a wee pot of mango. Amidst the heavy, hearty festival food it was heaven. I sat and ate it in the door of my tent, and some high guy came, sat with me, and just started eating the mango. When he took the last bit I was more quietly filled with violent rage than ever before in my life. So, yeah. Mango – I love it. When I randomly saw something on pinterest about mango curd I knew exactly what I needed to do. This recipe for mango curd is the product of about an hour of internet research of different curds and weights and such.

mango-meringue-pie-5

My love of the sweet, stickiness of mango is rivalled only by my love of the kitchen blowtorch. Those of you who know me in real life may feel a real sense of fear descend upon you when you learn I own a blowtorch, but own a blowtorch I do, and I wield it with glee. I’ve made meringue a few times and creme bruleed a rice pudding into submission, though I do mostly use it to melt mozzarella onto bruschetta (or cheese onto anything). But the discovery of mango curd meant it was time to venture back to meringue. Also because blowtorch. This meringue recipe is this one. The pastry – just to make sure I properly attribute – is from James Morton’s brilliant bible of a cookbook How Baking Works, but with a zesty twist. 

mango-meringue-pie-4

Meringue pie looks impressive – a perfect pile up of pastry, curd and meringue – and so it seemed ideal that I would make this for my birthday – a proper decadent, ostentatious show off of a thing to celebrate my quarter century of existence (which has been the exact opposite of decadent and ostentatious, given that I made my own cakes and watched GBBO).

mango-meringue-pie-2

Mango Meringue Pie
Ostentatious, ridiculous, amazing.
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Prep Time
1 hr
Cook Time
30 min
Prep Time
1 hr
Cook Time
30 min
For the mango curd
  1. 2 big mangoes
  2. 160g unsalted butter
  3. Juice of 1 lime
  4. 160g caster sugar
  5. 4 eggs, lightly beaten
For the pastry
  1. 125g unsalted butter
  2. 75g icing sugar
  3. 1 egg
  4. A dash of vanilla extract
  5. 250g plain flour
  6. Zest of 1 lime
For the iltalian meringue
  1. 4 egg whites
  2. 140ml water
  3. 250g caster sugar
Instructions
  1. Start by dealing with your mangoes - peel them, and cut out the stones, then roughly chop the flesh. You should have about 2 cups of mango flesh. Puree it in a blender or food processor until smooth (mine was a bit lumpy, and still fine, because my blender is terrible).
  2. Make the mango curd. Boil a bit of water in a pan, then place a heatproof bowl over it to make a ban marie (don't let the bowl touch the water). Leave the pan over a low-medium heat. Put the butter in the pan and melt.
  3. When it has just melted but is not yet *hot*, add in the lime juice, caster sugar, eggs and mango pulp. Cook, continually stirring, for 8 - 10 minutes, until thick. It should coat the back of a spoon. When it's thickened up, cover it with cling film (to stop a skin forming), then put it in the fridge.
  4. Pastry time! Weigh out the butter and icing sugar and beat them together until they form a smooth, pale paste. Chuck in the egg and vanilla and beat in. Mix in the flour and lime zest (don't overdo it!), then form into a dough, using your hands if necessary. Wrap in clingfilm and leave to chill for at least 30 minutes.
  5. Preheat oven to 180C. When your pastry has chilled, roll it out to be about the thickness of a £1 coin. Grease a 23cm tart tin, then place the pastry into the tin, with a cm or so of dough hanging over the rim. You can use a small piece of dough to press it into the corner. Prick the pastry all over with a fork. I made this on a VERY hot day - if you are doing similar, place the tin in the fridge for 20 minutes.
  6. Place some baking paper over your pastry, then fill with rice or baking beans. Put in the oven and bake for 15 mins, then remove paper and baking beans and bake for 15 mins more, or until golden brown. While it's still hot, trim off the excess pastry. Set aside to cool.
  7. When your pastry has cooled, pour in the mango curd and spread evenly. Return to the fridge.
  8. Make the meringue. In a stand mixer (a hand one is fine if that's what you have, but be careful), put the egg whites in the bowl and mix on high heat until it forms stiff peaks.
  9. While the meringue whips up, heat the water and sugar until just starting to boil. Once the meringue has reached soft peak stage, pour in the sugar syrup slowly while the mixer is still running. Leave to mix, until the bowl is cool and the meringue is glossy.
  10. Remove pie from fridge, pour on meringue. Drag a fork through it until it cover the pie and looks vaguely attractive.
  11. Fire up your blowtorch and torch the meringue until it browns a little. It will look lovely.
Adapted from Really Nice Recipes / How Baking Works
Adapted from Really Nice Recipes / How Baking Works
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/

White Chocolate and Lime Shortbread (or, basic maths)

Lime and White Chocolate shortbread

I’ve been thinking about maths. 

When I was at school, I dreaded maths. Sitting in the corner, pining for the use of a calculator and struggling on question four while everyone raced ahead onto question 30-something.

Shortbread_Sugar and butter

Now, I find maths quite enjoyable. I don’t necessarily sit around doing simultaneous equations or transforming a triangle around a grid in my down time, but I do find the methodical-ness of maths incredibly satisfying. I like things that have an order,  and a definite answer. In my day to day life I’ve developed a love of spreadsheets that is at times a little worryingly intimate, and I firmly hold the belief that data makes everything better. 

Lime and White Chocolate shortbread

I think a lot of the comfort I find in numbers is part of why I like baking stuff. When I was at school, I felt quite fiercely dedicated to being an artsy type; full of words and otherness and being an outsider. Now, settled into the person I actually am, I like structure, clarity and efficiency. Baking is a bit of both; it is precision and it is science, but it is also flair and fun. 

Lime and White Chocolate shortbread

Shortbread is good because it is based around a beautifully pleasing ratio of 3:2:1. Flour, butter, suagr. It is easy to change the yield of your recipe with the ratio, easy to do less or more, and it’s still easily 3:2:1. It is lovely, simple maths that produces crumbly buttery goodness. This version has lime and white chocolate, and those are my little additions to satisfy the bit of me that still wants to be one of life’s creatives. These zesty, sweet little morsels are the intersection of me and maths. 

Lime and White Chocolate shortbread

White Chocolate and Lime Shortbread
Zesty, sweet, buttery and crumbly little biscuits.
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Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
25 min
Total Time
55 min
Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
25 min
Total Time
55 min
Ingredients
  1. 300g plain flour
  2. 200g unsalted butter, room temperature
  3. 100g caster sugar
  4. A big handful of white chocolate, in chunks*
  5. Zest of two limes
Instructions
  1. Line a large baking tray (or, a few littler ones) with baking parchment. Preheat your oven to 160°c.
  2. Using a wooden spoon, mix together the butter and sugar until combined into a paste.
  3. Gently, mix in the flour, the hunks of white chocolate and the lime zest. Use your hands if you need to. Don't be too rough; you want it to just come together - be careful not to overmix. The less you work it, the more crumbly your final biscuit will be. Since this is shortbread, crumbly is the ideal.
  4. Wrap your dough in clingfilm and chill it for a bit in the fridge - about 30 minutes will do.
  5. Roll out your dough (mine were about the thickness of my phone, or about half the thickness of a DVD case, but it's all down to preference) and cut into desired shapes** Prick them a bit with a fork, which will stop them rising up and keep them snappy.
  6. If you have time, chill your shaped biscuits in the fridge again (they'll spread less in the oven)
  7. Put in the oven The best advice here is from James Morton's How To Bake: "Baking time will depend heavily on the thickness of biscuit... the key is to check regularly and if they are beginning to brown at the edges, take out the tray." A slow bake at a lower temperature will make them a little crumblier, and means they are less likely to burn.
  8. When cooked, transfer to a cooling rack and leave to cool. Or eat them warm, while the chocolate is still melty and delicious.
Notes
  1. *I used a big old Milky Bar, hacked up into big chunks with a knife - which means I used 100g. You might want to use cooking chocolate, because the Milky Bar went a kind of caramel coloured brown - and I'm not sure white chocolate in a cookie should. It was, however, delicious, so don't discount a Milky Bar for flavour.
  2. **I used a little flower cutter, which looked alright but did play havoc with the dough a bit and made them difficult to remove from the cutter.
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/