Nougat

It seemed a natural progression from marshmallows to nougat. Boiling up a sugar syrup is the base of both sweets so it wasn’t too big a leap. The recipe I used was one of Rachel Allen’s that she demonstrated on TV. I have adapted it slightly by adding both chopped toasted hazlenuts and plain chopped pistachios.

The recipe can be found here. It did take me a little longer to prepare than stated in the recipe, mostly due to the time my hob took to heat the syrup to temperature other than that it went to plan. It really is well worth the effort as the end result is a firm but softly chewable nougat without the slight plasticky chewiness that some commercial varieties have …unless of course you prefer that – but I hope not. Next time I will remove the top layer of rice paper before serving/packaging up – that’s personal preference – there’s only so much rice paper I can stand.

I am also going to experiment by cutting the nougat into neater oblongs and then coating with plain chocolate. You will need a very sharp knife to cut the nougat cleanly. A batch this size using 675g sugar + glucose produces enough to make four generous gifts for friends. Just package up in cellophane bags.

 

 Tip – if you are wondering where to buy glucose in the UK try Holland & Barrett.  I used Glucose with vitamin C that came in a 454g box.

MMMMMarshmallows

Image

It’s the time of year I start thinking about making treats for Christmas. Usually that’s as far as it gets – thinking about it. So last weekend I made a special effort to put some of my thoughts into action and decided that homemade marshmallows might be a fun experiment. These are definitely good enough to become small gifts for friends who neither care about their teeth or waistline… ok, ok my friends are slim and have very good teeth. They are very disciplined when it comes to their sugar intake and dental care.

For this recipe I didn’t have any kind of baking pan with perfectly square sides but I do have one with slightly rounded corners that I use for flapjacks so I used that. Please note – this has to be one of the rare occasions when I didn’t rush out to my local kitchenware shop to buy an exact pan for my needs. I am trying not to add to my stash of barely used pans/trays/rings/nozzles/baking things that I no longer recollect what they are for.

Although not particularly difficult I wouldn’t recommend you allow children to be involved making this recipe because of the very hot syrup. Instead get them to create decorated boxes or paper bags for the finished sweets. These are so good their presentation is worthy of some attention.

So for this recipe you will need:

a sugar/jam thermometer
an electric whisk
a heavy-based medium sized saucepan (one with a pouring spout makes life easier)

20cm square non-stick pan at least 5cm deep
2tbsp cornflour
2tbsp icing sugar
sunflower oil

Prepare the pan by sieving the cornflour and icing sugar together into a bowl. With a pastry brush paint the inside of the pan all over with sunflower oil. Tip the flour/sugar mix into the pan and tip the pan around making sure the base and sides are well coated. Tip the surplus back into the bowl for use later.

Vanilla Marshmallow Recipe
(makes approx. 36)

400g granulated sugar
250g water + 90g for the gelatine in a separate bowl **
2 tbsp golden syrup
2 tbsp gelatine powder
2 large egg whites
1 tsp vanilla bean extract
pinch of table salt (not the flaky variety)
yellow food colouring (optional)

 ** I always weigh water as it is more accurate than trying to judge measurement levels by eye and it also means you can use any container.

Other flavours you could use instead of vanilla:
4 tbsp rose water 
1/2 tsp peppermint essence – be careful with this as it can easily be overpowering
1 tsp lemon extract

Choice of colours are entirely up to you or can be omitted completely.

Sprinkle the gelatine onto 90g cold water and set aside. After a few minutes push the gelatine down with the back of a spoon to get everything moistened – don’t stir it though.

Into the pan (I use a cast iron one for preference but stainless steel is fine too) put the sugar, golden syrup and 250g water into the pan and heat over a brisk heat until the sugar has dissolved then increase the heat so that the syrup boils. Keep the mixture at a boil until the temperature reaches 120 °C -  be patient – it took about 10 minutes steady bubbling on my electric hob to reach temperature.

Whilst the syrup is boiling whisk the egg whites in a heatproof bowl almost to the stiff peak stage. The boiling syrup will be poured into this so make sure the bowl is big enough and can withstand high temperatures (I used a stainless steel mixing bowl). Add the salt and whisk again until stiff peaks.

As soon as the syrup reaches temperature remove from heat immediately to prevent caramelisation. With a large metal spoon at the ready tip the gelatine and water into the hot syrup and stir until completely combined. Add the vanilla bean extract and mix. Remember this syrup is HOT so stir gently.

Make sure the bowl with the egg whites is seated on a non-slip surface and with the whisk running gently pour the hot syrup into the egg whites (avoid the beaters unless you want 3rd degree burns) and mix until it is a nice thick gloop. Don’t lose heart if the mixture looks a bit of a murky beige colour as you start – it will end up beautifully white in the end. Continue to whisk on a high speed for approximately 4 minutes more or until the mixture leaves a good ribbon trail when you lift the whisk out.

Pour half of this mixture into the prepared pan – move the pan around to ensure it gets into the corners.  Put 3 – 4 drops yellow food colouring into the remaining mixture and give it a quick whisk until it is well  combined. Pour/scrape this over the first layer in the pan and level again. Then leave at a cool room temperature for about 3 – 4 hours until completely set. Don’t put it in the fridge.

 Dust the surface of the marshmallow and a cutting board with the sugar/flour and dust your fingers too to avoid stickiness. Tip the marshmallow out onto the board – you may have to run a knife around the edges of the pan and ease it out with your fingers. It comes out in a nice “pillow”. Make sure the surface of the pillow also has a light dusting of the flour then cut with a sharp knife into cubes. I cut it into a 6 x 6 grid but you could make them slightly smaller and get more  if you are less of a glutton than me. Store in an airtight container on greaseproof paper dusted with flour/sugar and they will keep for a week.

This recipe isn’t suitable for vegetarians because of the gelatine but I plan to experiment with agar flakes soon and will blog the results.

Waffles

Recently I acquired an electric Delonghi waffle maker – unfortunately it didn’t come with any recipe suggestions as most kitchen gadgets do these days and I couldn’t find any recipes specific to this machine online. So after a bit of experimentation with various recipes I came up with one that gives me good reliable results every time. I’m sure you could use this recipe in regular waffle irons too – I’ll be interested to hear if anyone tries this out.

Tips for using the waffle maker
I discovered that it doesn’t pay to be too prissy with the waffle maker operating  instructions and that insufficient cooking time was probably the reason for some less than impressive waffles I made initially. Also the dial glass on the lid steams up during cooking so I wasn’t sure what the settings were during experiments. SO – my top tip for using this piece of equipment is ignore the instructions – heat it up to full blast – put in your waffle mixture and let it cook the maximum time the machine permits, check the waffle and if it’s not nicely coloured cook it for another couple of minutes. Simple.

It takes a little experience to work out how much mixture to use in the waffle maker if you don’t want a big beardy ooze creeping out from the machine whilst it’s cooking…but you need enough mixture to ensure it doesn’t come out like a piece of old string vest. With my recipe there is enough raising agent so that if you just fill each of the waffle segments it will rise enough to give you good mattress-like waffles.

Recipe
475ml semi-skimmed milk
250g plain white flour
30ml sunflower oil
20g caster sugar
7g baking powder
5g salt
2 large eggs

Sieve all dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Put the milk into a suitable jug and microwave it for 10 seconds to slightly warm it – room temperature is fine. Break the eggs into the jug with the milk and whisk lightly with a fork to break up the yolks and is well mixed. Pour the egg milk mixture into the dry ingredients and combine with a large metal spoon but don’t overmix. Lastly add the sunflower oil and stir in gently. Again don’t overmix – this isn’t a batter pudding…hey a culinary joke!

Use the mixture straight away in the pre-heated waffle maker. This quantity makes 4 – 5 waffles . Each waffle takes approximately 5 minutes to cook.

 

Spelt Flour Oat Crunchies

Crunchy Oat biscuits are a favourite of mine. I used to love Abbey Crunch biscuits but I don’t think they are made any more. I’ve tried to create something similar but adapted it to my personal taste.

There are two batches in the photograph – the one on the left was made using plain white flour whilst the one on the right (my favourite) is made with stoneground spelt flour. The white flour version uses caster sugar and produces a very sweet biscuit but I used light muscovado sugar and agave nectar in the spelt ones which I think complements the flavour of the spelt really well.

Spelt Flour Oat Crunchies Recipe
Makes 12
75g spelt flour (I used Bacheldre Watermill Organic Stoneground Spelt)
75g oats (not the jumbo variety as they tend to make the biscuit too crumbly)
75g light muscovado sugar
75g softened unsalted butter
2 tsp dried skimmed milk powder
1 tsp agave nectar syrup
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Beat the butter and sugar really well until creamy and has lightened in colour ( I use an electric hand mixer here).Then add all other ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until combined.

Using your hands bring the dough into a big ball – it will be crumbly so don’t be afraid to crush it together – break off equal-sized pieces about 25g in weight and roll into individual balls. Squash each ball between the palms of your hands (you can use a rolling pin if you prefer a neat finisher… and the washing up) and place the biscuit round onto a non-stick baking sheet.

Space the 12 biscuit rounds a little bit apart on the tray and put into the centre of a pre-heated oven at 150 C for 22 minutes (mine is a fan oven so you may want the temperature a little higher for other types). They should be a medium brown colour when cooked – allow to cool for a minute or two before removing from the baking sheet, they will be soft still so move them carefully to a wire rack. Allow to cool completely before eating so they become nice and crunchy  - they will keep for 3 to 4 days in an airtight container … as if they will get the chance!

Approx 121 calories per biscuit.

And if you want the white flour version:

Oat Crunchy Biscuits 
Follow exactly the same method as above but replacing the ingredients as follows:

75g plain white flour instead of the spelt flour
75g caster sugar instead of light muscovado
1 tsp golden syrup instead of agave nectar syrup

These biscuits will be lighter in colour than the spelt ones when cooked.

If you want extra indulgence you can dip the tops of the biscuits in melted chocolate – I think the spelt ones cry out for 70% dark chocolate on top but feel free to go with your own chocolate preference here.

The GBP (Ginger Beer Plant)

Ginger Beer Plant brewing

I have always liked ginger beer and whilst vaguely thinking about making some but not having made any since I was a teenager (using dried ginger and dried yeast), my internet enquiries revealed bits of information about a Ginger Beer Plant. Not really a plant in the conventional sense but a strange growing hybrid of fungus and bacterium. Having found a couple of articles about this strange beast they suddenly brought back long lost memories of an end of term Biology lesson where the teacher gave one of the girls in my class a Ginger Beer Plant to brew from over the holidays. The idea was that she should grow it on and then divide it up to share with any of the others in the class who would like to try it. At the beginning of the next term most of us had forgotten all about it until the next Biology lesson when the teacher enquired about the health of The Plant. At that point the holiday guardian of The Plant had to admit to feeding and tending to it rather too well - the vigorous brew she had developed during the holidays had exploded in her Mum’s airing cupboard and liberally doused all the family’s clean washing with immature ginger beer. The Plant didn’t survive her Mum’s wrath.

It was really only at this point that I realised that my previous efforts at brewing a fizzy ginger drink in the past did not produce the traditional old English ginger beer that I had heard of. Mixing yeast and ginger, dried or fresh, and fermenting them together simply doesn’t produce ’real’ ginger beer. From what I could remember the end product had been quite harsh and if not drunk quickly would continue to ferment but became less palatable.

What exactly is it?
The traditional Ginger Beer Plant is a composite organism containing both a fungus called Saccharomyces pyriformis and a bacterium called Brevibacterium vermiforme, botanist Harry Marshall Ward is attributed to have formally identified it. It’s a very old traditional ‘plant’ that used to be divided up and handed on to friends and family as it increases in volume during the brewing process.

My internet browsing led me to an online supplier of a Ginger Beer Plant and so became one of my more useful late night online purchases.

This is what the Ginger Beer Plant looks like:

 
It’s funny stuff – it looks a bit like tapioca and feels slightly crunchy a bit like cartilage, it doesn’t smell though.
 
 
 
 
 
Brewing ginger beer is in 2 stages but is very simple. The first stage consists of mixing the plant with water, sugar and flavourings and letting it brew for a few days until it has reached maturity. The second stage requires you to strain the liquid from the plant, bottling it and leave to ferment for a short time before drinking. The plant that has been strained off can then be used as the starter for your next batch of ginger beer.
 
How to make Real Ginger Beer
(Makes 2L)
 
Ingredients
1 Ginger Beer Plant
2L water (filtered water or tap water left to stand overnight in a covered jug)
200g granulated sugar
1 good sized ‘thumb’ of fresh ginger (or to taste)
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
 
As with all culinary activities cleanliness is important so ensure all utensils and storage containers are scrupulously clean before you start.
 
Peel the ginger to remove outer skin, slice fairly thinly and then either grate or put into a blender until you have a fine mush. Using clean hands squeeze the juice out of the mush into a clean container large enough to hold all the ingredients (you can also put the mush into a piece of clean muslin and twist it to get the juice out). The amount of ginger you use is really according to taste but fresh ginger is: a) ‘as cheap as chips’ and b) far tastier than using dried ginger.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Add all the other ingredients to the ginger juice and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Then set aside in a covered container for between 2 – 5 days. How long you leave it depends on how warm your environment is. The important thing is actually not to let it get too warm otherwise it bubbles out of control leaving no time for flavours to develop. I usually leave mine for about 5 days in the kitchen which is approximately 17°C (though obviously a lot warmer when I’m cooking).  Taste it to determine if it’s ready to bottle. If it’s sweeter than you would like to to taste then it’s time to bottle.

Strain through a sieve/funnel into a clean bottle. Put a top on it and LEAVE IT SOMEWHERE SAFE. 
 (I only say this as I have teenage memories of an experiment with yeast and Bramley apples in an attempt to make cider…using old-fashioned glass cider bottles. Too much yeast = explosion in food cupboard leaving glass shards embedded in cupboard door).

 

I am assuming you will use the ubiquitous 2L PET bottles used by all the fizzy drink manufacturers. These are safe to use and you can tell if the ginger beer has brewed sufficiently by feeling the bottle. It will feel fat and solid if there has been enough brewing activity happening inside. Mine usually take around 5 days to reach this stage. Then drink!

 
The strained off solids can be used to start your next batch of ginger beer.