Hobnobs revisited


Note: since I originally wrote this post, I have tried the method recommended by Judy in the comments, and it made a dramatic difference. So I have updated the post to reflect her method. The biscuits came out thin and crispy, with a nutty flavour just like the “real thing”, and didn’t spread as much.

When I was partnered with Ivy for Taste & Create, I decided to try making her hobnobs. Noting her problem with oozing butter, I adjusted the recipe a little, but still had to add loads of flour. The end result was quite nice, if not much like hobnobs. But the mixture was still sloppy and spread hugely in the oven, so I ended up with big, squishy slabs that were more like cookies than biscuits. So I ended up making her carrot cupcakes instead (and they were fab).

I was still curious about the hobnobs though. I followed Ivy’s recipe back to its source and noted that everyone who tried it had the same problem. Then I did some googling and found this. The ingredients and method made it seem as if it must be the original, but — quelle surprise — somewhere along the line someone had converted the ounces to cups and completely messed up the proportions. Easily done!

So I eventually got around to trying it again — with much more success! They came out a bit thick — I might add a smidgin more liquid next time. Maple syrup is not traditional, but I like the taste, so I used it instead of golden syrup. Optionally, you can add other flavourings such as cardamom, vanilla, orange, or lemon zest. Or even dip them in chocolate for chocolate hobnobs!
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Sugar and Spice Rolls

Cinnamon rolls with apricot glaze

It took me two goes to get these right. The first time the dough was far too stiff, and the yeast didn’t act properly, so they didn’t rise well and were tough and dry. But they smelled so lovely when they were baking, and tasted nice too, so I decided to try again. Success — they rose beautifully and the crumb was soft and light.

The recipe is from my Taste & Create partner’s blog: Fun Foods on a Budget! I liked the title of this blog because one of my favourite standby books when I was an impoverished student was Good Food on a Budget, a fat — and soon food-stained — paperback organised by month in order to make the most of seasonal and hence cheap ingredients.

Like that book, Stephanie’s blog showcases simple, family-friendy recipes which are cheap, filling and generally easy to make. There were quite a few recipes I liked the look of: I hovered over the lemon sugar cookies, the pull-apart loaf, and the parmesan potatoes, but in the end I plumped for these cinnamon rolls because they sounded so good despite Stephanie’s problem with them not rising. It was worth persevering! Once you get the quantities right, they are easy to make.

Update: I stored the left-overs in the freezer, and later used them to make a nice cinnamon-flavoured bread and butter pudding; slice in half or thirds crossways, then cut diagonally in half to make triangles. Then proceed as usual.

My metric conversions follow. The second time, I pre-soaked the yeast in a little warm water to make sure it was actually working, and added only just enough flour to stop the dough being sticky.

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Carrot cupcakes with mascarpone frosting

Carrot cupcakes with mascarpone frosting

I wouldn’t say I was exactly an expert at cupcakes, but I found I enjoyed making these, so thank you Ivy, my Taste & Create partner this month. Some of Ivy’s cupcake creations are amazing; as a rank beginner in the field, I decided to be relatively unambitious, and went for the carrot cakes with mascarpone frosting — largely because I like carrot cake, and they involved apricot jam — I have lots of that.

I made the candied carrots a couple of days before, and left them on a windowsill by an open window for 24 hours before storing them. They look great and are easy to make.

Candied carrots

As usual I battled with the American cup measurements; my cakes came out a bit moist yet again, and I wasn’t sure whether it was bad measuring or the fact that I baked them in muffin tins as I don’t have any cupcake cases. Ivy didn’t mention an oven temperature, so I guessed at 180 and baked them for 25 minutes. Anyway, even if they were a bit soggy in the middle, they tasted fab — I loved the subtle combination of maple syrup and orange, and the mascarpone frosting really is yummy. Read on for my metric version of the recipe.

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scones for tea

One of those things that seem so obvious you hardly need a recipe. But it’s handy to have one for reference. This is from Taste & Create partner Ginny’s blog, and even though I now have some cup measures I’ve converted it to metric weights because, well, how do you measure a cup of butter?

Scones aren’t as easy as you might think. The key is to mix/handle the dough as little as possible. Don’t roll it out; as soon as it holds together, tip it onto a floured work surface and pat it out with your hands. Not too thin; it should be about 2 cm thick. Then cut into triangles or squares with a sharp knife. They might not look as elegant as round ones made with a cutter, but they will be lighter. Sprinkle a little flour on top before putting in the oven. If you have any buttermilk or even milk that’s gone sour in the fridge, your scones will be even lighter. I sometimes substitute yoghurt for part of the milk.

You have to eat them the day they are made, preferably when they are still just warm. Ginny likes hers with honey, but being British I consider that you can only eat them spread with home-made strawberry jam, with a generous dollop of clotted cream on top. Or crème fraîche if you can’t get clotted cream. And a cup of tea of course!

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Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

My first five-minute loaf

… or goodbye bread machine. There’s been a growing buzz about this book on the web and I finally managed to get a copy last week. I’ve made one batch of dough so far and while the results are not perfect yet, they are startlingly good for such a low-effort method. They are certainly far better than any bread machine bread I’ve tasted.

Basically you make a large batch of rather sloppy dough using unbleached plain flour (not bread flour), and store it in a bucket in the fridge (no kneading; just mix it all together). When you want some bread, pull off a lump, shape it, and let it rest at room temperature for an hour, before putting it in the oven. Half an hour later, fresh crusty bread!

You can keep the dough for up to two weeks; my first batch lasted five days, and the last loaf I made with it had a pleasant sourdough flavour and improved texture compared to the first one.

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Ricotta Pound Cake

Ricotta pound cake

I happened across a food blog event called Taste and Create in which food bloggers are paired up and cook something from each other’s blogs. It sounded like fun, so I signed up. I was a teeny bit alarmed when I saw who I’d been paired with: Megan is obviously a baker who specialises in fancy cakes, which are not my forte at all. I was worried I wouldn’t find anything I thought myself capable of cooking, but luckily I quickly found ricotta pound cake, which looked like the sort of cake I make to take to choir practice and doesn’t involve fondant icing. I briefly toyed with the chocolate cupcakes, but they involved piping bags and I just didn’t see myself with a piping bag; I think I’ve probably used one about once in my entire life, and that was for making Duchesse potatoes.

Next challenge: the American cup measures. Gah! I hate these! How do you measure a cup of butter?? Off to Google, and I found this handy calculator, instantly bookmarked.

So off to the kitchen with the scales and a measuring jug. Now I have to confess that even after I’d done the conversions I fiddled with the recipe. 340 grams of sugar to 170 g of flour?? Pound cakes normally have equal weights of egg, butter, sugar and flour, and I’m sure most Americans have a sweeter tooth than I do, so I reduced the sugar to “only” 200 g. This might have something to do with the fact that my cake took even longer than Megan’s to cook, and was very moist — er, soggy even. But it had a lovely crisp, caramelised outside which contrasted nicely with the golden yellow interior. It’s a “pudding” sort of cake; it would be nice with some soft fruit such as raspberries or blueberries, or even as the basis of a trifle.

So I’m not disappointed with my choice. Maybe I should put more sugar in next time though. The quantities below are what I actually used after my measuring/weighing/converting session; if you want the real recipe, I recommend visiting Megan’s blog!

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Little lemon cakes

lemon cakes

The latest lesson of the food photography course I’ve been following along with is up. As it happens I’d been reading C’est Moi Qui l’ai Fait, and noticed a recipe for cake au citron très citron, version mini. Well, I love lemons, I still had a naked one in the fridge from the limoncello, and they sounded like a good photo opportunity, so off I went.

They are very easy to make and turned out beautifully: light and moist (if not very lemony in my case through a shortage of zest; I had another small lemon but it didn’t produce much zest).

Ideas for variations: lemon icing, or maybe a blob of lemon curd in the middle (I didn’t have any, or I would have tried this to make up for the lack of zest).

Pascale’s pink silicone mould is prettier than mine, but I was still quite pleased with the photos, as I just did them quickly.

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Almond pastry

Perfect for an apricot tart … or any other sort of fruit tart. Bake blind, add a layer of crème patissière if you want, and then top with fruit of your choice, arranged in a nice pattern and glazed with redcurrant jelly or sieved apricot jam.

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