I arrive at 10.26. Sunset’s last fingers still waving. Lights on the river gleaming.
I walk cobbled streets, twinkling squares. Face lit up by maps. Trying hard not to look like a stranger in a new city.
But my backpack gives me away. Besides, which of these smiling, laughing, Drinking, chattering merrily, Dining out because it’s the weekend, people care anyway?
My hotel is at the corner. Worn yellow. Hotel Continental. Chosen for its 3 stars and 5 minute walk from the station.
Hi – Hanna Sha? Yes. Please sign here. He gives me a key and I take the lift to the top. My room is round the corner at the end.
It is minimal and bare. I imagine I’m in a monastery. Then, I pick a stray black hair up from the pillow – 3 stars. I wash my face, brush my teeth, open the window.
The noise from the city centre spills in. Tomorrow I will round a corner and be awed by Kungsparken’s trees, running paths and blue skies.
But now, this circle says no to my travel adaptor. So I half-watch Bush Snr and Jnr silently charge my phone. And sleep, feet at the headrest.
Unexpectedly, I holidayed in Malmö recently. I was meant to be staying in Copenhagen for the entirety of my holiday but Covid and last minute AirBnB cancellations interrupted those plans. I loved Malmö. The cycle lanes, the parks, the pastries, the falafels, the breads… I ate the best kanelbullar (a cinnamon roll) at Slottsträgårten Kafé and fell in love with breakfast sandwiches at St. Jakobs Stenugnsbageri. I did eventually make it to Denmark and my friends there.
Here is a very easy kimchi recipe for you. It is my mum’s mak-kimchi 막김치 or 맛김치 recipe, made even easier by me. Mak-kimchi is the one where the cabbage is all cut up, rather than quartered, which makes it quicker to make and serve up. The leaves are cut into bite-sized pieces. This means that you don’t have to cut them when you serve it, which you do with a traditional kimchi recipe where the cabbage is quartered and fermented thus.
In Korea it is made with Korean cabbage, baechu. I only discovered recently that it is slightly different from Chinese leaves or Napa cabbage, which is what my mum uses and most kimchi recipes outside of Korea use. In the UK, it’s called Chinese leaves; in the US it is called Napa cabbage. I haven’t provided an exact quantity of cabbage in grams as in the winter, the Chinese leaves can be so skinny that I need 3, but in the summer they are so big and I use 2.
We grew up in the North East of Scotland, where there wasn’t a big Korean community. There weren’t any Korean food shops like you got in New Malden (London) then, and the Chinese supermarket hardly, if at all, stocked Korean ingredients. So my mum learned to adapt her recipe to supplement the carefully hoarded essential Korean ingredient – the gochugaru, the Korean red chilli pepper flakes – with the ingredients that were readily available to her. This is all by way of an explanation of why this particular recipe is perhaps a bit different from the others that you’ll see on the internet.
By the way, gochugaru is an essential ingredient. The Korean red chilli pepper flakes have a particular flavour, that you won’t get from another chilli substitute. People have tried to substitute it with the following and then reported back to me that it didn’t taste right (well of course – you missed out an essential ingredient!):
fresh birds eye chillies
Learn from their mistakes, go and buy some. Korean food has gained in popularity since I was a child, and in the UK, gochugaru is readily available in many Chinese or Korean food stores. I’ve even spotted it in some of the larger supermarkets.
This version is not particularly spicy. You can adjust the spice levels if you desire by adding in more tablespoons of gochugaru. There was also a period of time when my mum had to cut out all spicy food from her diet, and as she was the main chef in the home, meant that we did too. However, she continued making kimchi and the recipe evolved around her dietary requirements.
*My recipe varies from my mum’s a little (or a lot, depending on how important you think the changes are). Firstly, in our method of cutting up the cabbage. She separates out each leaf of cabbage, halves it and then cuts it into pieces. I halve the whole cabbage lengthways, then cut again lengthways so that it is quartered. Then I cut them into bite-sized pieces – about 2.5-3cm wide. I think that my way is quicker; my mum is shocked by it. I also don’t use shrimp paste, or fresh shrimps when I make it simply because I can’t be bothered to and I stick to fish sauce for ease. However, my mum does because it adds a deeper flavour to it. Maangchi’s Easy kimchi recipe and Korean bapsang Easy kimchi recipe, the other two recipes that I refer to from time to time, include shrimp. Maybe one day, I will do the same.
Equipment you will need:
A large sharp knife and chopping board
A blender or food processor. A hand blender also works. If you don’t have any of these then you’ll need a vegetable grater.
1-2 large bowls, like a washing up bowl.
1 large colander
Saucepan and spatula
Storage: I store the kimchi in various former large (500-700g) pickle/beetroot jars. Prepare about 5, depending on their size.
2-3 Napa cabbage or Chinese leaves, depending on their size. Normally I use 2 medium-large ones.
lots of table salt
1 medium white/brown onion, peeled
1 ripe pear
10cm ginger, peeled
6-7 cloves of garlic, peeled
1-2 red peppers, depending on the quantity of Chinese leaves
5 spring onions
1-2tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp gochugaru – the Korean red chilli pepper flakes
1 tbsp glutinous rice powder, sometimes called sweet rice powder (GF people – this doesn’t contain any gluten but it is sticky)
5 tbsp or 75ml of cold water
Method – Stage 1: prepare and salt the cabbage. This is an important step in cleaning and killing any bad bacteria.
To clean the cabbage, remove any of the outer leaves that have discoloured too much or too bruised. Cut the cabbage into bite-sized pieces using either my mum’s way or my way* and put into a large bowl/basin. Fill the bowl with water to clean the leaves. Drain in the colander. You will probably have to do this in stages due to the quantity of the leaves.
In a separate bowl, put one layer of cabbage in, then generously sprinkle salt over it. Next put another layer of cabbage over that first layer and generously sprinkle salt over it. Repeat with all the cabbage.
Leave for about 2-5 hours, turning every 30-60mins to salt evenly, so that the salt draws out the moisture out of the cabbage. In my experience, the length of time it takes varies depending on the quantity and the weather. It is faster in warmer weather. Do not, and I repeat DO NOT, leave the cabbage to salt overnight. It will make the overall flavour of the leaves a bit too salty.
You will know when it is ready when the white sections of the cabbage are more translucent, bend easily and don’t snap. The cabbage will have reduced by about half too. When ready, drain the water and rinse in clean water 2-3 times to remove the salt. Drain and set aside.
Stage 2: make the rice paste. Do this while the cabbage is salting to give it time to cool. This is optional, but does add make the fermentation process quicker and helps the cabbage to absorb the kimchi paste better.
In a small saucepan dissolve 1 tbsp of glutinous rice flour into 75ml of cold water. Heat it on a medium heat, stirring, until your spatula leaves a line through it. Leave it aside to cool.
Stage 3: prepare the kimchi paste
Wash and prepare your vegetables (apart from the spring onions – you’ll use them later) and pear to put into the blender/food processor. Peel and cut the onion into quarters, cut the pear into 3 cm chunks (skin on), cut the ginger and red peppers into 3 cm chunks, and pop in the peeled garlic cloves. Whizz it up so that it has all blended.
If you don’t have a blender or food processor then use a grater to mince the garlic, ginger, pear, onion and red pepper into a large bowl. The coarse side of a box grater may work or I’ve used one of the Korean vegetable graters that I listed under equipment.
Mix in the gochugaru, the rice paste and 1 tbsp of fish sauce and give it another whizz in the blender.
Wash and clean the spring onions. We use be using the whole spring onion. I notice that in the UK only the white part gets used, which makes me 😢. Chop the bottom off, trim the top, then slice the spring onions diagonally in 2-3cm strips.
Stage 4: mix them all together
Now thoroughly mix the cabbage with the kimchi paste. Taste and if you think that it should be a bit saltier, add one more tablespoon of fish sauce. Taste again and if you think it needs a bit more then add a bit more. Remember though, you can always add salt but you can’t take it away.
Stage 5: store, ferment and serve
Then it’s time to store it in cleaned jars. Leave a bit of space at the top so that any kimchi juices can bubble up during the fermentation process. I leave it out on a kitchen countertop for 1 day and then store it in the fridge. From experience, it is a good idea to put it on something, such as a plastic container in case any juices spill out.
To serve and eat – it is best to leave it to ferment for a couple of days. When you go to serve some up, then turn it around a bit in the jar and get the stuff that isn’t at the top. You can also eat it immediately on the very day that you made it, if you want to. If you do, I recommend serving it like a salad drizzled with some sesame seed oil and sprinkled with some toasted sesame seeds over it.
Recently, I felt like I have had a breakthrough with my approach to vegan baking thanks to the MsCupcakes book. So I have been leaning into it. The book helped me reevaluate how I approach the free-from baking category. I’ve noticed that many vegan recipes have adapted an existing recipe purely with substitutions for ingredients, like ground flaxseed instead of an egg, or oil instead of butter. Sometimes the ingredient can seem peculiar and unusual, depending on where you live. For example, flax seeds were difficult to get hold of for a while. However, the book helped to start thinking that rather than finding substitutions for things, I should try to think about what that particular ingredient brings and whether I can replicate that texture or flavour in another plant-based way.
Therefore in the last month, I have been testing out vegan hot cross buns because it’s Easter and because enriched bread should, in theory, be quite simple to adapt. Spare a thought for the family that I live with. They have been through five iterations of a vegan hot cross bun recipe in my quest to perfect them.
The first time, I substituted soy milk for milk and oil for butter and omitted the apples. They were alright but under-proved and missing the freshness from the apple. Next, I made buttermilk, using soy milk and cider vinegar in order to create a softer, rich dough. Buttermilk helps to create a soft texture normally in bread. They were better but the texture was a bit dense. Then I used the tangzhong method to create springy soft buns that would last longer and they were amazing. Why didn’t I stop there? They took 3 rises. One for the dough, then an overnight one with the fruit added in, and a final prove once the buns were shaped. The buns were cracking a bit as if they were underproved. As amazing as they were in flavour and texture, I wanted to simplify and shorten the method. (You can, of course, still do this recipe in 3 rises.) The fourth time, I decided to try reducing the number of rises to two, but they ended up under-proving and cracking at the top. I left it for a week while my brain mulled over it. Do plant-based enriched bread recipes generally take longer to prove than non-vegan recipes? I felt like they shouldn’t as they don’t contain eggs that can slow down the rise. Perhaps it has just been my impatience to get them baked that has resulted in under proved buns. I almost hit publish on the recipe at the end of March but then my perfectionism kicked in. A few days later, I hit on an easy solution – double the yeast in the recipe. It is such a simple answer that you wonder why I hadn’t thought of it earlier. Anyhow, that is what I did and this is what I present to you now.
I adapted this by adding the tangzhong knowledge I learned from last year’s sticky apple and raisin hot cross bun recipe to Paul Hollywood Hot Cross Bun recipe because mixed peel is back in the shops this year. However, I reduced the amount because I think that 50g is just fine. Some more notes on how you can vary the method. I like making this in the stand mixer as the tangzhong makes it a wetter dough. You can knead by hand but it will take longer.
I’ve also been trying out different ways of mixing in the fruit with varying degrees of messy success. Method 1 is the put the fruit and the dough into the same bowl and mix it in. A slightly more detailed explanation of this is in my non-vegan version of Paul Hollywood’s Hot Cross Buns. Method 2 is to roll out the dough into a rectangle, scatter the fruit evenly over the top and then to take hold of one of the shorter sides and fold it a third into middle, and repeat on the other side so that it looks like a long rectangle. Next take one short end of the rectangle and repeat the folds again, so that it becomes a more compact rectangle. It is a neater process until the point when I roll it out into a long sausage shape in order to portion out 15 buns. At which point the dough starts breaking and the fruit spills out and away from the dough like runaway gems onto the countertop. Maybe I just need to work on my method 2. Finally, you can also make this with three rises or two, depending on your schedule. If going for three then reduce the yeast to 7g to allow for the overnight rise. The first rise is just the dough, the second as an overnight one after the fruit is mixed in and the third after the buns have been shaped. The method below details it for two.
Ingredients for vegan hot cross buns. This makes 15.
500g strong white bread flour
125ml water for the tangzhong
250ml soya milk (or any unsweetened plant-based one) + 20ml apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
60g caster sugar
14g instant yeast
1tsp (10g) salt
1tsp mixed spice
70g dairy free margarine (I used vitalite) or vegan butter
Zest of 2 oranges
50g mixed peel
Ingredients for the crosses
45g plain flour
2-3 tbsp cold water
Ingredients for the orange glaze
1.5 tbsp granulated sugar
Juice of half an orange
First, make the buttermilk. Mix 250ml of soya milk and 20ml of apple cider vinegar in a measuring jug. Stir and leave to coagulate.
Next make the tangzhong. Weigh out 500g of bread flour into a mixing bowl and from it take 25g (about 1 heaped tablespoon) of flour and put it in a small saucepan. Add 125ml of cold water, put it on the hob at medium heat and whisk or stir to combine the flour and water together in order to make a roux, or a paste. Keep stirring until it comes together and your whisk or spatula leaves a line. It’ll take about 1.5-2 mins. Leave to cool while measuring out the dry ingredients.
In the mixing bowl with the flour, add in the yeast, sugar, salt and spices. Stir to mix.
In the saucepan with the tangzhong, add the margarine and buttermilk and stir to combine. The margarine won’t melt completely and the buttermilk will make it look bitty and curdled but that’s okay. It will all get mixed in.
Now add the wet ingredients to the flour and knead. I knead it in the stand mixer. I start at low (1) until all the ingredients are mixed in and then continue at medium (3) for about 9-10 minutes until the dough is stretchy and smooth. Take the dough out of the mixing bowl to form into a ball. Put a bit of oil in the bowl and place the dough back in there and cover. Leave for about an hour or until doubled in size.
In the meantime, chop the apples, zest the oranges and stir to combine in a small bowl with the sultanas and mixed peel. Line two baking trays (or one large one).
When the dough is ready, lightly flour the surface and turn the dough out onto it. Gently make it into a rough rectangle using your fingers to gently knock the air out of the dough. Take one long end, fold into the middle and press down with the heel of your hand. Repeat it with the other side. Then fold it in half and gently roll. The dough should feel stronger.
As you know, I’ve been trying out a new way to incorporate the fruit with varying degrees of messy success. Here, I’m going to say to go with the second method because I think that with practice and tweaking, it will be easier. Roll out the dough into a rectangle, scatter the fruit evenly over the top and then take hold of one of the shorter sides and fold it a third into the middle, and repeat on the other side so that it looks like a long rectangle. Next, take one short end of the rectangle and repeat the folds again, so that it becomes a more compact rectangle. Then roll it out into a long sausage shape, divide into 3 equal parts, and then each part into 5. Each piece of dough will roughly weigh 90g. Cover the little portions with a tea towel as your form the buns.
Add more flour to your surface. I like to have a little mound of it to dip into. Form the buns by taking each corner into the middle so it is a tighter round shape. Then flour the palm of your hand, or dip the top of the bun into some flour. With the dough in the middle of your hand, make your hand into the shape of a claw and move it around quickly in a circular shape. I’ve included a video of it below because it’s easier to show it.
Then put each bun onto the baking trays, leaving 2-3cms between each bun. Cover and leave to rise.
As you wait, make the paste for the crosses by mixing the flour and water together. Put it into a piping bag and snip a little hole off the end.
The buns will have finished their second rise after about an hour, when most of them will be almost touching each other or if you press down slightly on them, they will spring back gently but leave a small indent. Of course, this depends on the weather. In a hotter climate, this will take about 30 mins. About 15 mins before you think they’ll have finished rising, preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.
Pipe crosses on them by piping a line along each row of buns and then repeating in the other direction. The crosses want to hug the sides of the buns.
Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 10 mins and then lower the temperature to 180°C. Bake for another 15-20 minutes, until golden brown. My oven has hot spots, so I turn the tray around after the first 20 mins.
As they bake, make the orange glaze. Measure out the sugar and juice from half an orange into a small saucepan and melt the sugar over a gentle heat. Then turn it up to a medium heat for a few minutes so that some of the water evaporates and it thickens slightly. Brush the sugar syrup over the warm buns and leave them to cool.
The verdict? I can’t resist one, still hot from the oven, sticky with the glaze and too hot for my mouth. They are full of flavour from the orange zest, fresh apple, spices and dried fruit and the kitchen smells delicious as you’re making them. The texture is springy and soft and they stay like that for 3 days. I love the sticky glaze on them. They are yummy toasted and buttered but honestly, I prefer to just eat them as they are. So, after day 3, when they are a little hard, I will heat them on high (800W) in the microwave for 15 seconds and they’re perfect.
Finally, everyone who has tried them tells me that they can’t tell that they are vegan.
I decided to lean into vegan baking last month, it being Veganuary. I came across a recipe book at the library, The Naughtiest Vegan Cakes in Town by Mellissa Morgan, of Ms Cupcake (a London vegan bakery which sadly closed 2 years ago). First off, this is a fantastic recipe book if you are new to vegan baking. She includes a Quick Start guide with explanation on ingredients, which is useful if, like me, you’ve felt overwhelmed by them, and a guide to baking without eggs and dairy. There is an additional section on substitutions (e.g. if you want to go gluten-free and refined sugar free) and trouble shooting common vegan baking problems. However, as the best way to review a book is to test out the recipes, I duly borrowed the book and tried out the Victoria sponge cake, which turned out very well. Then when my vegan colleague mentioned that she craved muffins, I set out to make them.
Now, there is no double chocolate chip muffin recipe in the book. Therefore, I adapted her mint chocolate chip cupcakes. The first iteration were incredibly good. The texture and the flavour were spot on. I made the first batch with soya milk and another with almond milk. They both worked and the type of plant based milk didn’t make enough of a difference. However, I calculated the amount of sugar in each muffin and at the original 200g in the recipe (which makes 12) that was just over a tablespoon of sugar per muffin. That’s without the additional sugar from the chocolate chips/chunks. A little high perhaps? Thus began a series of experiments to reduce the amount the sugar in the recipe. I detailed it in a little table for you.
Amount of sugar in the recipe
Sugar per muffin (approx) without the addition of chocolate
16.67 (just over a tablespoon)
1.5 tsp instant coffee
15g (1 tbsp)
1.5 tsp instant coffee
2 tsp vanilla extract and 1 tsp instant coffee
10g (2 tsp)
denser texture, slightly too bitter
1 tbsp vanilla extract
Results of sugar reductions in double chocolate muffins
I took it as low as 120g, which then changed the texture of the muffin so that it becomes denser, slightly stodgy and began to taste a bit soapy and bitter. The chocolate chunks in the muffin masked that unpleasantness. However, let’s be frank. When you bite into a double chocolate muffin, you want it to taste good, not healthy.
So, in the recipe below, I’m going to suggest that you could add anything between 150-180g of sugar. Consult the table above to decide how much sugar you’d like and how to adapt the additional flavourings. I think coffee always complements and enhances chocolate. The vanilla extract brings out sweetness without adding any sugar.
In the end, as I was testing out many variations of this recipe, I decided that I’d halve the recipe each time. That is one of the joys of this particular recipe. It’s pretty simple to scale up or down.
By the way, I like making this in a large measuring jug. It is easier for pouring the mixture into the muffin cases at the end, but a medium sized bowl also works. I alternated between using a whisk and a metal spoon/spatula to mix, but I prefer the whisk for the quantity below.
Top tips: mix until it has just combined and bake them immediately.
Ingredients for Double Chocolate Chip Muffins, adapted from Mellissa Morgan. It will make 12 muffins.
200ml unsweetened plant based milk – I tend to use soya milk
20ml cider/rice vinegar or lemon juice
150-180g caster sugar (my favourite is 180g*)
170g self raising flour (or 170g of plain flour and 2tsp of baking powder and omit the 1/4tsp of baking powder that follows)
30g cocoa powder
1/4 tsp baking powder (omit this if you’re using plain flour + 2tsp of baking powder)
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/4 tsp salt
150g 70%+ dark chocolate roughly chopped up, alternatively use dark chocolate chips (check to see that they are dairy free)
80g vegetable oil
1 tsp instant coffee granules/powder*
2tsp of vanilla extract*
*When using 180g of sugar, add 1 tsp of instant coffee but no vanilla extract. Unless you really want to.
Mix the soya milk and the vinegar together and set aside for 10 minutes. This makes a soya buttermilk. Then add 1tsp of instant coffee so that it has a chance to dissolve. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas mark 4 and line your muffin tray with muffin cases.
In a large measuring jug or a medium sized bowl, measure out the dry ingredients, that is the self raising flour, caster sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarb of soda, salt and the roughly chopped dark chocolate. Whisk it together so that they are all combined thoroughly.
Add the vegetable oil and the vanilla extract (if using) to the curdled soya milk mixture and whisk to combine. Then add this to the dry mixture and mix quickly until just combined. It’s important not to work quickly and not over mix it. If there are a few lumps, that is okay. If it is lumpy, on the other hand, I’d continue mixing it for a few more seconds.
Tap the jug onto the surface. This stops the raising agents from working too quickly. Then pour or measure out the batter evenly into each of the muffin cases. Tap the muffin tray hard on the work surface to pop the bubbles, then bake in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes. They’re ready when a skewer comes out without cake crumbs but may have a little bit of melted chocolate hanging onto it. Let them cool in the muffin tray for 5-10 minutes before taking them out to cool completely. They will store in an airtight container for 5 days, maybe more..? Honestly, they haven’t made it any further than that in my house.
The verdict? Incredibly good. The texture is airy and light, and the chocolate chunks in the muffin are so satisfying. I always think that almost every chocolate baked good will taste better the next day. So, make them at night and have one for breakfast the next day. 😉
On the note of vegan chocolate. I’ve observed a greater selection of vegan chocolate, which is great. However, they are often much pricier. A lot of dark chocolate, 64%+, is dairy free. I will always check the list of ingredients on the packet before using. I prefer to chop it up roughly and then add it. I haven’t ever checked to see if dark chocolate chips are dairy-free. If you do, then please let me know in the comments.
This is part 2 of the baking challenge that I set myself whilst I watched the Great British Bake Off 2021. Three of these were baked in the week that I unexpectedly had at home because the winter holiday I had booked was rescheduled due to Omicron. The disappointment of that was offset by relishing the unexpected free time to do some Christmas baking.
I’ll write my final reflections here before I list how the bakes went. What I like about setting myself a baking challenge like this, is that I can grow as a baker in my repertoire and knowledge. I will bake things that I don’t normally make, such as genoise sponge and puff pastry, push myself to try something new, like tuile biscuits and vegan sausage rolls and give me the excuse to make something that I’ve been wanting to for a while, like the Twix bars. Most of the bakes went well and of course there were some that I could definitely improve on. The important thing for me is that I enjoyed doing this and learning from it.
At this current time, I am fortunate to be living with a family who give me the time and space to bake. Between them, the workplace and well-timed visitors, everything gets eaten in good time. In the past, one of the things that would have stopped me from doing a challenge like this would be the difficulties in sourcing the ingredients, the obstacles faced by the climate (try making the Prinzregententorte in a hot and humid climate) and that so much of the end product would end up with so much going into the freezer and forgotten.
I was really excited when they announced this as the technical challenge on Patisserie week because I had made it already, 2 years ago, on a whim during my sabbatical. The recipe came from Suzue and William Curley’s Patisserie. I can report to you that my sablé dough was too hard, the pistachio paste lacked the pistachio flavour and I bought jam rather than make a raspberry/strawberry confiture. I’ve had a quick glance over the GBBO recipe and noticed the inclusion of pistachio oil and extract. I don’t know where you’d buy that from but I’d get it to produce a stronger pistachio flavour. While you are at it, if you can afford the extra expense, buy shelled pistachios because shelling them takes a tediously long time and your thumbs will hurt after a while.
I love experimenting with vegan baking so I wanted these vegan sausage rolls to taste really good but I was a bit sceptical as to whether they would work. Correction – whether I could make it work. In the past, I haven’t had much success with rough puff pastry as the butter would leak out as it baked in the oven resulting in a soggy, unrisen pastry. This time round, I really pleased with the end result as the filling was delicious and the resulting pastry was crisp and the lamination evident. I don’t know whether it was because I used baking block which has a higher melting point, or I’m gradually getting better at making it. The only way to find out is to conduct a side by side experiment with one made with butter and the other with baking block. I would definitely make this one again as the filling was delicious and substantial. Yes, it was a bit of a faff to get the different ingredients. I replaced the flax seed egg with a chia seed egg, which was fine, as we already had chia seeds. The kids weren’t so keen on the filling as the adults were.
I made these in the run up to Christmas and so I substituted the hearts for stars. They made a good Christmas cookie/biscuit. We all enjoyed eating them, even if overall I found them a little too sweet. You can see from the photo how much the oven temperature differs in our oven. I substituted jam sugar with the same amount of granulated sugar and a tablespoon of lime. I think the lime juice is also what gave the raspberry jam such brightness. A nice challenge to do and with Valentine’s Day coming up, you could go back to using hearts.
Hands down, this was one of my favourites to bake and eat in the technical challenges. I love baking bread. There was a confusing/funny moment when I misread the recipe and missed out the 120ml of water that is added to the dough, alongside the milk and butter. I thought that it looked too dry, but when you are trying out a new recipe, how are you supposed to know exactly what you are looking for? I only spotted my mistake later. Did you know that you can add water to dough once it has been kneaded and left to rise? Yes and that is what I did. After searching online, the internet seemed to suggest that I could knead the water in gradually. The dough was much better after that, soft and silky. The lemon curd filling was a fresh and welcome variation from the normal cinnamon butter fillings that I’m used to, so much so that I professed to liking it more. It’s pretty easy to make so make it and thank me for it later. However, if you don’t like lemons or are allergic to citrus fruit, then don’t make them.
This was the final one that I made. I had put it off for a few reasons:
I needed to get the small pudding moulds
The toffee sauce was made more like a caramel and different to how I’d made them previously
I’d never made tuile biscuits before
We don’t eat a lot of desserts
I wasn’t sure that I wanted to make something that was going to be so sweet.
Dear reader, I made it just so that I could finish this baking challenge that I set myself. Was it worth it? If you like sticky toffee pudding then I think that it is worth making them. The sponge is light and springy and the tuile biscuits were my favourite component to eat. However, it was too sweet for me. I could only eat half of it before I felt sick. I would still want to make a toffee sauce in the way that I normally make it (because it’s easier than making a caramel). I didn’t bother making the creme Anglaise purely because I’ve made custard before and I had run out of containers to freeze the egg whites. Besides, in the past, I would pair sticky toffee pudding with double cream.
So there you have it. If this inspires you to bake some of them, then do let me know.
One Christmas back in 2010, my friend Andrew introduced me to a cranberry mincemeat recipe using very fresh ingredients that is quick to make and can be used on the same day. There is no suet or butter, nor gentle cooking or baking of the ingredients so the trade off is that it will not last as long as more traditional mincemeat recipes. It was a game changer for me in two ways. Firstly, I loved how the lime zestiness and cranberry tartness cut through what can be the overly rich sweetness of mincemeat. Quite a few people, who object to the richness of traditional mincemeat, like this one. Secondly was the fact that it could be made last minute and used immediately. At that point, I don’t think it registered with me that it was also vegan.
I realised that I hadn’t noted down exact quantities when I went to make it the following year and the internet helped me to find a Delia variation of it. Then I moved to Cambodia, where I couldn’t get cranberries so I created another version of it using local dried fruit. However, when I discovered frozen cranberries in Thai Huot, I happily reverted back to using what had now become my own version of Andrew’s original recipe. When I returned to the UK, I took a 2 year hiatus from making this to try out Delia’s more traditional versions because suet was available. However, this year, when my Christmas holiday plans got derailed by the Omicron variant and I suddenly had a week at home, I decided to cheer myself up and make mince pies with this last-minute mincemeat.
This recipe will make about 650-750g of mincemeat. I sterilised a 500g beetroot jar and 330g jam jar to store them in. When I want to bake a lot of mince pies, I double this recipe and prepare more space in the fridge.
Ingredients for Cranberry Mincemeat, adapted from Andrew.
225g fresh or frozen cranberries
1 large green apple – preferably Granny Smiths or Bramley, but any tart apple will do
100g currants – can be substituted with raisins
100g mixed peel
zest and juice of 1 lime
half a fresh nutmeg, grated
65g dark brown sugar
Method – also in the photos below.
Cut the cranberries in half and put into a medium sized bowl*. If they are very large cranberries, then cut into thirds or quarters. If they are very small cranberries, then you can leave them whole. Very small cranberries are difficult to cut and are more commonly found, in my experience, in the frozen packets.
Add in the currants, sultanas, mixed peel, the zest and juice of 1 lime.
Grate the apple with the skin on, into the bowl. Then add in the sugar and grate in half a fresh nutmeg. Give it a good mix to combine it all and use straight away.
Top Tip: I halve cranberries this way because I think it’s slightly faster. Lay one hand down firmly on the cranberries so that they don’t move. With your other hand, use a sharp knife parallel to your palm and carefully cut the cranberries horizontally. I haven’t got a video of this – but if you search for how to halve cherry tomatoes, you should be able to see it.
From experience, you can store this in sterilised jars or tupperware for up to 4-6 weeks in the fridge. Sterilise jars by washing them and putting them in an oven (140°C and above) until they are dry. This normally takes less than 10 minutes.
As well as the usual mince pies (bottom photo), I’m planning to use it to make a stollen babka wreath using a challah dough that was far too chilled out to rise over the weekend, and now finally is ready to be used.
The adjustment to going back to working onsite and the teaching load in the first semester in the academic year resulted in a quiet blog recently. I’m also trying to get my head around Instagram reels and whether to create one on poaching eggs, which has delayed that post. Anyhooo, that all aside, I have been baking, though not creating new recipes.
*Spoiler alert* If you haven’t watched the GBBO 2021 yet and would not like to know what the technical challenges are, then please don’t read ahead.
There was no plan to bake this year’s technical challenges until I realised it was happening by pure accidental happy spontaneity. Then I made an active choice to continue on with it because baking makes me happy and I like trying out and learning new things. Below you have my attempts at five of the technical challenges. I’ll write about the others later on, when I complete them. If you’re a bit unsure about making them, then my top tips are:
Read the instructions of the recipe all the way through and then again.
Have the ingredients and equipment prepared.
Don’t worry if things go wrong, Prue and Paul aren’t going to be judging them anyway.
This is an easy bake and you can leave the fruit to soak in the tea overnight as prep. I made them the same weekend that I made the ciabatta breadsticks. The homemade version is SO much BETTER than what I’ve ever bought. I’m not sure I can ever go back. I baked two at the same time and took one into work. I found two things difficult. The most challenging thing was sourcing the malt extract. I try not to buy on Amazon in an effort to support local stores. I went into a supermarket, where I was shown Marmite, when asking for malt extract and then directed to Holland and Barratts. I bought it from there. The second one was self-created. I heated the malt extract and sugars for too long and so it was overly-sticky. Don’t do that and you’ll be fine.
The most delightful thing about this bake was when I opened the malt extract and tasted it. I was transported back to something I ate as a small child in Korea. I don’t know what it is (Koreans out there, can you help me?) but I remember thinking that this is surely nectar from heaven. I am a big fan of malt extract.
I made the ciabatta breadsticks on the same weekend that I made Nigella’s beetroot hummus recipe. I discovered that the make a delightful pairing. It is also delicious with some kimchi as well. Get all the colours and flavours together for a party in your mouth.
Ciabatta dough is tricky because it is so wet and soft. Alternatively, I think of it as a soft, plush dough, luxurious to work with. “Show the dough who’s boss” – Richard Bertinet quote – rings in my head when I work with it. I deliberately bought manchego cheese to make this. I was surprised by the combination of olives and coriander but it is scrumptious. The recipe says that it will make 18. Make the 18+ if you don’t have baking trays that are long enough. I gave about half of them away to friends but they were gone in our household within 3 days.
This was the bake at which I realised that I wanted to commit myself to baking each of the technical challenges. There was a playdate happening at the same time as this bake which got in the way of trying to complete it in the 4 or so hours that the bakers had in the tent. I didn’t. It has been awhile since I had baked for more than 2 hours straight so I found this bake physically tiring, although satisfying when making the various elements. We had a break for dinner and so it took me about 5 hours to make. The next day, people reacted with a mixture of horror and surprise that I chose to bake a cake that took me 5 hours.
The recipe is detailed and methodical. Have all your ingredients and equipment prepared, clear out an afternoon/evening and don’t put a time pressure on yourself. We don’t have a 23cm baking tin, so I did some maths to reduce the recipe to make a 20cm one and I improvised acetate with baking paper. I enjoyed making the German buttercream and the genoise sponges. I was tempted to see if it would work on a pan, like pancakes, but decided against it. Dinner coincided with when I had just melted chocolate for the decorations. Thus I left it to cool down a bit too long and therefore lost the tempering. However, in this context, it didn’t really matter. There was a birthday at the weekend and so we cut into the cake. I was so pleased with the even layers and the cake is one of the best chocolate cakes I have ever tasted.
I was really nervous about this one because of the filo pastry. A long time ago, I had tried to make filo. It dried out and the texture of the resulting bake was both stiff and rubbery, an unpleasant combination. I hadn’t seen the method that they use in this recipe and it worked really well.
Again, I adapted the recipe because we don’t have a 25cm round baking tin. I halved the filling recipe to fit into the 20cm one. The next challenge to this was cutting the star design. I asked Sarah to help me figure it out and we did. Use a sharp knife and cut all the way through. I took it to church the next day for a bring a share lunch, and to my surprise it all went. Fortunately, I had kept back about a quarter of it for us to try out and to share with friends.
The 5 year old was looking through some of my photos and when she spotted this and said ‘oh look, sausages!’ 😆 I have called them, chocolate sliding off the caramel bars.
I decided to make these on the same afternoon as making the baklava. I’m just going to name them as most of us know them 😄 – the Twix bars. They are one of my favourite chocolate/confectionary bars and I have been wanting to make them for a long time, so this technical challenge gave me the perfect reason to get on and bake them.
I added a bit of toasted almonds in the biscuit base to add an extra flavour element to it (I’m not sure they did really). I did what one of the contestants did and broke the biscuit as I took it out of the tin. I like making caramel but still scared my housemate a little when I made it. I should have let my milk chocolate cool down a bit more before I dipped the caramel and biscuit into it. However, I was distracted by watching fireworks (it was the day after Bonfire Night) and creating photos in the garden with the family with sparklers making fun shapes. Once the chocolate had sufficiently set enough for us to handle, we ate them with a hot drink whilst watching the Strictly results.
Tonight as I was wondering which recipe to share with you (it was between apple crumble and poached eggs), I remembered that I’d been baking a lot of cookies recently and posting photos of them on Instagram. It’s time, isn’t it. The time has finally come to share my crack cookie recipe that I’ve been promising for a while.
Top tip: Keeping cookie dough balls in the freezer are an investment in your future self’s happiness.
There are variations of that sentence around the internet and social media. That’s my paraphrase above. It is one of the reasons why I love making these cookies. This recipe will make enough so that you can store some away (like squirrels do with their nuts in preparation for winter) for a moment when you really want to eat a cookie, or bake something but have no energy for it. That was me two nights ago. I arrived home from work physically and emotionally exhausted, wanting to be fed and then to sit down with a home baked biscuit to watch episode 2 of the Great British Bake Off – Biscuit week. Fortunately I live with a family who will let me do all those things and I had frozen cookie dough balls stashed away in the freezer.
I went through a phase when I was obsessively recipe testing chocolate chip cookies in Phnom Penh to perfect that American style cookie of soft and gooey on the inside, with crispy edges. This was a pretty happy time for those around me. Being around so many more internationals opened up a whole other world of baked goods, their expectations of them and their tastebuds. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to recreate those baked goods that they were nostalgically craving that I had never tasted before. And then of course selling them.
I learned stuff as I researched which I’ll share with you because that’s what this blog is about:
THE MOST IMPORTANT part is to REST the dough so that the baking magic can happen. Firstly, it allows the flour to absorb the fats and the liquids and thus create that puffy, crispy texture. Secondly, the sugars get a chance to chill out and mellow out resulting in richer flavour. In some baking chemistry magic by resting them, they will taste sweet but not overly sugary. It’s a minimum 2 hour wait if you’re impatient, but preferably overnight.
I often use a stand mixer to make this but the joy of this recipe is that as all the butter is melted, it is easy to do in a large bowl and a spatula/large mixing spoon.
Allow the brown butter to cool down. Sometimes I don’t and it results in a more delicate, tender cookie.
Remember with a cookie recipe, you don’t want to cream the butter and sugar together. We just want to mix them sufficiently, not beat air into them.
Mix up different types of chocolate to create a more complex chocolate profile, that’s why I use dark and milk chocolate. I read somewhere (I’m sure it was on Serious Eats but I can’t find the link) that if you use one type of chocolate then your taste buds get used to and stop tasting it. However, if you vary different makes or types of chocolate, your tastebuds will continue to taste them.
My recipe testing pales in comparison to Serious Eats. I am still learning.
Brown butter creates a rich, nutty flavour which I really enjoy.
Why do I call them crack cookies? That’s the nickname that my friend Grace gave them and it caught on. These cookies are really more-ish, sweetly addictive, soft but slightly crispy and satisfyingly not overly sweet. The brown butter gives a slightly nutty flavour, without any nuts, and the two types of chocolate means that each mouthful is a flavour party. I made two batches of these cookies for the soft opening of her store, Ginger and Grace. For some reason, they didn’t make it onto the tables but her friends discovered them later that evening and ate through an entire batch of them. I guess that cemented their reputation as crack cookies.
Now I tell people that these brown butter, chocolate chunk cookies are my best work.
The cookie recipe comes from Ambitious Kitchen. I haven’t made any major changes to it, except I like to weigh everything so obviously here I’ve converted it into grams. There’s a very similar recipe on Joy the Baker. The differences are that Monique browns ALL the butter, uses dark brown sugar, uses two different types of chocolate, adds in a tablespoon of greek yoghurt and doesn’t use nuts. Joy uses light brown sugar but adds in 1 tsp molasses, adds pecans and uses dark chocolate only. I prefer the Ambitious Kitchen version.
Ingredients for Brown Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies very slightly adapted from Ambitious Kitchen
100g white granulated sugar
200g dark brown sugar
1 large egg and 1 egg yolk
1 tbsp natural yoghurt or greek yoghurt
2 tsp vanilla extract
280g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp table salt
140g dark chocolate cut into small chunks, or the chocolate chips, or round discs*
140g milk chocolate cut into small chunks, or the chocolate chips, or round discs
*for prettier looking cookies: if using round discs of chocolate, keep around 21 discs aside to firmly place on the cookies after they have baked. The chocolate will temper as they melt and thus have a nice shine making them prettier to eat.
First brown the butter. Add all the butter to a medium-sized saucepan and place over medium heat. It will start to froth and cackle. That is the water evaporating. Continue and stir the sides and scrape the bottom a few times so that it doesn’t burn. When it is ‘as quiet as a ninja’ (quote from Stella Parks) it is ready. Take it off the heat and either pour the butter in a bowl to cool down, not forgetting to scrape the browned bits from the sides and bottom. Or as I often do, fill up the sink with cold water and carefully place the hot pan in there to cool down.
Add both the sugars into a large mixing bowl and the cooled brown butter and mix for a minute or two until they are combined. I use the paddle beater (K-beater on the Kenwood). Don’t discard the egg white. Store it in the freezer for a cocktail or macaron/meringue baking on a later date.
Now add in the vanilla extract, yoghurt and the large egg and egg yolk and mix again for a minute. It will look and smell like toffee.
In a separate bowl, measure out the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt and whisk to mix. Then add this to the butter/sugar/egg mixture and mix slowly so that the flour doesn’t fly up.
When it looks like the flour has just about combined then add in the chocolate chunks and mix again.
At this stage, I prefer to measure out into 2 tablespoons of cookie dough (I like to use a medium ice cream scoop) and roll them into balls and place them on a lined baking tray so that the cookie dough can chill out in the fridge for at least 2 hours before baking them. Sometimes, I will cover them and leave them overnight in the fridge to bake the following morning. More often, I will cover them and put them in the freezer overnight and then store the frozen cookie dough balls in a bag.
When you’re ready to bake them, pre-heat the oven to 170°C/350°F/Gas mark 4 and line a baking sheet/tray with baking paper. Space them out so that there are 5 cms between each dough ball as they will spread. Sprinkle the cookies with a bit of table salt. If baking from chilled, bake for 11-13 minutes. If baking from frozen, bake for 14-16 minutes. The dough will spread out and go a golden brown colour. The middle will be gooey so when you take it out, it is important to leave them to cool and harden for 15 minutes on the baking sheet. Otherwise it will split into many pieces and chocolate goo will cover your fingers. That doesn’t sound too bad, does it. Haha.
You’re welcome and enjoy.
You can vary the flavour and texture. I added 140g dark chocolate and 140g chopped pecans to the cookies at the top of the post. You could substitute the pecans for walnuts or hazelnuts if you like. Play around with it and let me know how you get on.
You may have picked up already that I really enjoy playing around with the different flavour combinations in a brownie. When I ran a home baking business, as my side hustle, in Phnom Penh, I’d sometimes put a poll out on social media. What brownie flavour would you like next? Cheesecake was a popular request. Cambodians generally really like cheesecake but I made very few to sell because the ingredients were pricey. Thus when this hybrid worked out, it turned out to be a happy compromise. As I am me, I found ways to play around with more flavours and ingredients. I’ve listed them at the end of the cheesecake ingredients.
Last month, I wrote about how I’d picked up a painful thumb injury which I was trying to let heal. It is mostly better now so I made cheesecake brownies and a giant cookie this weekend.
When I posted a picture of this cheesecake version on the post about the infinitely variable fudgy brownies, I said that I’d give you the recipe later as it involves a few more steps. Since then, my brownie recipe and story have featured on TheBrightApp (which is a new social networking site that someone I know is involved in – go check it out). There was a comment that the variations could feature as a different recipe post each time, which is kind. I’m not sure if that will be possible, but here’s the cheesecake brownie version in the meantime.
I adapted this from Smitten Kitchen’s Cheesecake-Marbled Brownie recipe. I wanted to use my more recent whisking to ribbon stage brownie method, so I took note of the cheesecake ingredients and the marbling instructions but combined it with my chosen brownie method. However, you could use my simpler, no frills or ribbons, brownie recipe too. There are more detailed instructions in the previous posts on how to make brownies in general. I’ve added photos below the recipe to expand on the addition of cheesecake.
150g dark chocolate (at least 60%), broken up, roughly chopped
2 large eggs plus 1 egg white*
200g caster sugar
100g plain flour
20g cocoa powder
1/2 tsp of salt
1 tsp of vanilla extract
150g full-fat cream cheese
1 egg yolk from the egg in the brownie ingredients*
50g caster sugar
1tsp vanilla extract, or replace with
Optional flavour ideas – zest of an orange, 1 tbsp of dark rum or plum wine.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/355°F/Gas Mark 4. Line a deep tin. For this quantity a 20cm square tin or a rectangular 27×20 or 28×18 will work.
Start preparing the brownie mixture. Melt the chocolate and butter together and just after it has melted, add in the salt, vanilla extract and leave it on the side to cool down. Ways of doing this are on a previous post.
As you keep an eye on the chocolate and butter melting, prepare the cheesecake mixture. Put all the cheesecake ingredients into a small bowl. Save the egg white for the brownie mixture. Mix to combine until smooth. I often use a hand mixer, but you could beat with a spatula. See photos below.
Turn your attention to readying the rest of the brownie mixture. In a stand mixer bowl (if using) otherwise a medium bowl, crack the two eggs and add the saved egg white into the bowl and add the sugar. Use a stand mixer or an electric hand mixer on high speed to start whisking the eggs and sugar until they are at a ribbon stage. Ribbon stage is when the egg and sugar mixture are a pale yellow colour, doubled or even tripled in volume and when you lift the whisk over the mixture, the batter will fall slowly and leave a trail like a ribbon that will hold its shape for a few seconds. It will take about 10 minutes. I still use a timer to make sure I beat them for long enough. Don’t start beating the eggs/sugar until the chocolate/butter has melted because the chocolate/butter mixture needs this time to cool down.
As the eggs and sugar are whisking, measure out the flour and cocoa powder into another bowl. Sieve it if there are lots of lumps in the flour and cocoa. Otherwise, use a whisk to loosen and mix them together.
When the eggs and sugar have reached a ribbon stage, reduce the speed to low and add the melted chocolate and butter mixture to the eggs and sugar. Whisk until it all appears to have mixed together. If you are using an electric hand mixer, you may need to turn off the mixer, add the chocolate/butter and then switch it back on again to avoid a mess. I speak from experience.
Now fold in the flour and cocoa powder using a spatula, or a spoon until it is well combined.
Pour all the mixture into the baking tin. Debs says that if you want to create an even more marbled effect, then reserve some brownie batter to dollop on top of the cheesecake before swirling them together. I’ll let you experiment.
Use a tablespoon to dollop the cheesecake mixture evenly into the brownie mixture. Use the back of the spoon to swirl the brownie and cheesecake together. I like to go up and down vertically and then again horizontally. See photo below.
If you want to add in any texture (such as crushed biscuits) or fruit (such as raspberries or blackberries), do it now and push them into the marbled mixture.
Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. They should be firm to touch at the top but still wobble when you shake it. Leave to cool completely in the tin and if you can bear it, cover them and leave them overnight in the fridge. They will be easier to cut and the flavours will have deepened.
I injured my thumb in June and 6 weeks later it is still healing, so there’s no recipe or poem from me this month. I think that I sprained it (or hurt it anyway) whilst balancing my iPad on my knees. Then I aggravated it baking and cooking a lot whilst on holiday at my mum’s. Following this with an epic house move meant that there wasn’t much opportunity for it to rest like it needed to.
Whilst I was forming this little paragraph in my head to post, more sentences wanted to tumble out and create a longer narrative about house moves, injuries, recovery and self-care. I started to think about what photos I had kept on my phone to include on it. Truth be told, I could write multiple blog entries about each one, given my experiences in the last 8-10 years.
However, this post was never meant to be long. So, I’m going to stop here.
I’m enjoying watching the courage and bravery of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and I hope that you are too. I just finished watching replays of Team GB winning gold in two mixed relay team events, the triathlon and the 4x100m medley. What an achievement. But so is this – Simone Biles’ fortitude and leadership to take a stance and prioritise her own well-being. In it’s own way it has had a ripple effect on me in writing this post.
Peace out until August. Lots of baking and poetry love Han-Na