It’s time that I admitted my addiction. As these things go, it’s a fairly harmless one, but it has been taking up an increasingly substantial proportion of my time, and it’s only fair that I acknowledge it.
You see, I LOVE baking. I’m especially addicted to making bread, of every kind, from the fluffy white milk loaf to the rustic sourdough. There’s something so magical about the transformation of a few simple, uninspiring ingredients – flour, water, yeast, salt – into a supple, silky ball of dough, and then into a loaf of warm crusty bread. Yes, it can be frustrating, especially with sourdough bread, when your much-loved, doted-on starter suddenly lets you down and presents you with a leaden brick, but such failures only spur a true addict on to the next loaf.
It’s hard to decide what my favourite part of the whole process is – I thoroughly enjoy the kneading and shaping of the dough, something that many people dislike – but on balance I have to say that I take particular delight in The Crust. And yes, it deserves those capitals! A good crust is a thing of beauty to look at, especially on a gloomy winter’s day…
Last night I made an egg custard tart to a slightly different recipe than usual, due to the fact that I had a pot of double cream in the fridge that had to be used up. I love egg custard tarts so I thought I may as well make one of those, since I had seen loads of recipes that called for cream in the custard rather than just milk as I usually use. I was also under the impression that there were some overripe pears sitting in the fruit bowl, so I thought I could incorporate them into the tart.Having made the pastry and custard, I then discovered that the pears were a figment of my imagination…so the pear version will have to be another time!
The tart turned out well, although I prefer my normal recipe to be honest – the double cream just makes it too rich for my liking, although T didn’t seem to mind the change. I was however pleased with the pastry, which I had to make with self-raising flour instead of plain; obviously it puffed up a bit more than usual, but it was still light and flaky with a lovely hint of orange so I didn’t care!
The pastry recipe is pretty simple: 4oz Trex / pastry fat, 6oz flour, pinch of salt. I added the zest and juice of one orange and 1/2 tbsp of sugar, but this is optional. I froze the fat for about an hour before I used it, before grating it into the flour and mixing with a knife. I then used the orange juice and a splash of cold water to help bring it together, before quickly kneading it into a rough ball and putting it in the fridge to rest. I was worried that the dough was too dry, it seemed very crumbly when I put it in the fridge, but resting seemed to help and it came out perfectly when I baked it!
The egg custard recipe is just as easy: 2 eggs, 1 oz sugar, 3/4 pint of milk and 1/4 pint cream. Beat the eggs and sugar, gently heat the milk and cream and pour onto the egg, beating as you do so.That’s it: all you need to do then is line a tin with pastry, blind bake it for approx. 15 minutes at 200C, and then pour the custard in, grate loads of nutmeg over the top (I use nutmeg in everything I can, love it!) and bake at 180C for approx. 25 minutes, or until the custard has set.
I actually made this the day before I made the cheese, but it’s taken until now to post about it – let’s just say the cake itself didn’t last that long! I had a tub of yoghurt sitting in the fridge that I’d forgotten about, and was going to use it to make soda bread (which I LOVE) but at the last minute I decided to go down the sweet route instead. In actual fact this cake isn’t that sweet, although next time I make it I think I’ll cut down the sugar more to let the tartness of the lemon and the yoghurty tang come through even more.
Ingredients: 250g plain flour; 2 tsp baking powder; 1/2 tsp salt; 300g Greek yoghurt; 175g light brown soft sugar; 3 eggs; zest of 2 lemons; 1/2 tsp vanilla extract; 100g oil*; juice of 1 lemon.
* – I translated this recipe from one using cups, and just weighed the oil rather than measuring the volume. Also, the recipe stated vegetable oil but I used olive, and it worked really well.
Method: Whisk together the yoghurt, sugar, eggs, zest and vanilla extract until smooth. Add the dry ingredients and whisk again. When smooth fold in the oil and keep folding until completely incorporated into the mixture. Pour into a tin and bake at 180C for 45-50 minutes. When ready, leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, make up a syrup using the lemon juice and honey or sugar to taste – I kept it pretty sour but that’s just my preference! Spoon the syrup generously over the cake. Remove the cake from the tin and cool on a rack.
We really enjoyed this cake: it was wonderfully light but moist, sticky on the top and not too sweet. You could taste the yoghurt but only if you thought about it, and the olive oil worked well too – it didn’t taste of olives but I think it combined with the other flavours to deepen the taste a little. It smelled and tasted very Mediterranean!