Banana Bombs

I’ve just had a bite of a Banana Bomb.

As I bit through the just-crunchy skin and into the moist flesh within, life stopped. Oh, the pleasure. But then I panicked. As I swallowed, it was like it had found a hidden fistula that bypassed my intestines, instead sneaking straight into each vulnerable nook of every artery.

There was nothing for it – a dash to the cupboard and a sip of live-saving Laphroaig 10 and I’m here to warn the world. I might have even dissolved the bulk of the fat fast enough to limit the lasting damage, until the next bite.

The inspiration for this experiment came from a few sources: yesterday I was complimented on my banana bread recipe by a local café owner; this morning, flipping pancakes, I marvelled that I was simply frying a loose muffin mixture and wondered what shallow-fried cake-mix would taste like; this afternoon, I saw that Tesco is now selling the notorious, and deep-fried, “Duffin”.

This was the natural progression. The first attempt, made using my standard banana bread recipe, ended up like a soggy amalgamation of those little bits of overfried chip that collect in the polystyrene corners at the bottom of a chippy.

Then I upped the flour, lost the egg and quenelled the (considerably stiffer) mixture into the hot oil. Now, they may look like chicken dippers encrusted with days-old cat semen, but if these came out of a trendy bakery in Shoreditch, there’d be a queue worthy of national news. They are, as you probably guessed, dangerously good. Cronuts? Duffins? You’ve got a new top dog.

Disclaimer: if you live anywhere south of Carlisle and are therefore minimally adept in the handling of hot oil, don’t blame me if you burn your house down.

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Banana Bombs

30g salted butter

1 banana, ripe or overripe

50g caster sugar

30g milk

1 teaspoon baking powder

120g plain flour

500ml vegetable oil, for frying

Caster sugar, for dusting

Makes 6-8 bombs. Plenty.

 1. First, melt your butter in a medium bowl in the microwave. Add in your banana, sugar, milk and baking powder and use a whisk or spoon to mush everything together until mostly-smooth.

 2. Add your flour in and stir until it is combined – you should have a mixture that resembles a scone-mix for consistency. At this point, slosh some oil into a saucepan and place it over a medium heat. Whilst that begins to heat up, coat the bottom of another mixing bowl with caster sugar.

 3. Keep an eye on your oil. You want it at 170C, and you should make absolutely sure it never gets above 180C. When it’s up to temperature, turn down the heat and spoon in lumps of your mixture.

 4. Fry for at least a minute, checking the bottom for golden-brownness. When present, flip them and fry for an equal amount of time on the other side. They should rise plenty.

 5. Using a slotted spoon, give any excess oil the choice to drip away or be absorbed, then place each bomb into the sugar. Toss them until fully coated.

Best enjoyed approximately half an hour after frying. I made use of the leftover fat by oiling up our wooden boards, thus permanently infusing our kitchen with the evocative aroma of childhood fairgrounds.

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Cinnamon Buns

Boredom.

Not boredom like I’ve been doing nothing and have nothing to do; what I have to do is so tedious that my mind is wandering onto nearly anything that interrupts the monotony.

My medical finals are in three days. And as I do the 3000th MCQ or past paper question today, I think it’s forgivable that my mind moseys onto other, less important things. In this case, that’s buns.

Cinnamon buns. Have you seen Better Call Saul, yet? The excellent Breaking Bad spin-off makes American chain Cinnabon looks so unbelievably appetising in its opening scene that I sat in the library for a solid week salivating, lamenting the lack of any Scottish branch. Product placement works on me, anyway.

So here’s the recipe I used to make some (superior) substitute cinnamon buns. These are much less sickly than the aforementioned chain’s offerings, the subtle sweetness of the dough balancing well with the cream-cheese icing. The secret to the most amazingly soft buns you’ll ever have is baking them in a pot; the cold, thick walls and steamy, lidded environment prevent any crusts from forming.

TIP: If your tastes lie on the more American spectrum of life and you fancy an oozing sweet centre, up the brown sugar in the filling to a whopping 250g. Mix this with two teaspoons of corn flour so the filling holds its shape after baking. And enjoy your diabetes.

For the dough:

500g plain white flour

8g table salt

One sachet (7g) instant yeast

50g caster sugar

280g milk, warmed until tepid in the microwave

1 medium egg, at room temperature

50g unsalted butter

1 tsp cinnamon

For the filling:

Another 50g butter

Soft brown sugar; a sprinkling (or 250g as above)

2-3 tsp cinnamon

For the topping:

250g icing sugar

150g FULL FAT cream cheese

Makes 6 US-sized buns.

  1. First, make the dough. Weigh your flour, salt, yeast, sugar, tepid milk, egg and cinnamon into a large bowl and mix them together. Yup, just bang em all in. If you’ve got a mixer or you enjoy kneading, give it a slap about for 10 minutes. If not, just leave this covered for 30-40 minutes at room temperature and the yeast will do their thing and you don’t need to knead.

  1. Heat your butter (best use the microwave) until just-melted, then add this to your dough. Mix it in by hand or using a machine until completely combined. Cover your bowl with cling film and leave the dough to rest for 60-90 minutes at room temperature, or until it has swollen to roughly double its original size.

  1. Turn your dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll it out into a big, long rectangle. You want the rectangle to be about 20cm by as long as you can make it – mine was nearly a metre without any effort. Melt your other 50g of butter in the microwave and brush this over your rolled out slab. Next, sprinkle on your brown sugar and finally an even coating of cinnamon.

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  1. Roll up your dough along its long edge (so it’s still 20cm wide post-rolling, I mean). You’ll essentially have one really tall cinnamon bun. Slice this cinnamony sausage into 6 roughly equal pieces using a knife. Line a large lidded casserole pot with a piece of baking paper (non stick greaseproof) and arrange your buns on their cut end, as shown above.

  1. Place the lid on your pot and leave your buns to rise for another hour at room temperature. Half an hour before you’re going to bake them, preheat your oven to 200C/180C fan/Gas 6.

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  1. Your buns should have risen plenty. I sprinkled a little more cinnamon on top at this point, then placed the pot in the oven, lid on. In my oven using a heavy cast iron pot, my buns took 40 minutes lidded then another 10 minutes with the lid off. If your pot is thinner walled, they’ll probably bake quicker – check ‘em after 25 minutes and make sure the sides aren’t crisping

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  1. It was late, so I left my baked buns overnight. I awoke to observe their glory. God, they’re awesome. Tear them apart and make the cream cheese icing – use an electric whisk to beat together your cream cheese and icing sugar in a large bowl; no sieving needed. You need to beat for at least 5 minutes, and eventually you’ll have stiffish peaks. Spread this over your buns. Congratulations, you should now be very happy.

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My new book, How Baking Works, is available for pre-order. It is out March 12th and it is bloody amazing. Order it here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/How-Baking-Works-what-doesnt/dp/009195990X/

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Blueberry Pizza

This isn’t even distraction from writing my book. This is a recipe going in my new book. I thought I’d share it on here because it’s special.

 

BLUEBERRY PIZZA

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This recipe exists because of a wee boy called Elliot. The lovely Sarah Lavelle (@InnatelyN8), who is going to be editing this book and edited my last book and who heads up food and drink at Ebury Publishing, is his mum.

Elliot invited me round for dinner once during his first year at primary school. He was turning the house into a restaurant, accomplishing his lifelong ambition. I was thrilled to learn that “blueberry pizza” was on the menu.

The experience at Elliot’s restaurant was definitely 5 stars (the sherry he served was especially excellent) but there was one disappointment: there was no blueberry pizza. I promised we’d make some together next time I was around. And this is what I have planned.

Despite involving a genoise sponge, three different types of superheated sugar and a blowtorch, this is an excellent recipe for doing with kids. Seriously. It’s healthy (well, it involves fruit, and you can use low fat custard), fast and pizza-shaped. You can take care of the potentially scalding stuff whilst the kids do all the whisking.

 

For the sponge:

2 medium eggs

50g caster sugar

50g plain flour

The finely grated zest of a lemon

For the jam:

200g blueberries (frozen are best)

100g caster sugar

For the drizzle:

The juice of a lemon

100g caster sugar

One quantity of vanilla custard (see my up and coming book), or shop bought

A little caster sugar, for sprinkling

Chopped nuts, for the praline

Fresh Blueberries, to finish

1. First, preheat your oven 200C/180C fan/Gas 6. Line the bottom of the largest tin you own (I used a 12 inch springform) with baking paper, grease the sides and dust with flour. If you’ve not got shop-bought, make the custard.

2. Into a large bowl, weigh out your sugar and crack your eggs and grate your zest. Whisk these for at least 10 minutes until light and fluffy and nearly stiff peaks. You can get the kids to do this if you like.

3. Fold in the flour gently with a spoon, until it is all combined. Pour your mix into your prepared tin and spread it out evenly.

Bake the cake for 10 minutes on the middle shelf, or until light and springy.

4. Whilst that’s baking, you can make the jam. Into a pan, put your frozen blueberries and sugar. Place this on a medium heat to melt the blueberries, then continue heating until they’ve broken down and the mixture is boiling. Turn the heat down and simmer for 5 minutes to thicken, then remove from the heat until it’s time to use.

5. Once your cake is done, leave it to cool in the tin. Whilst it’s cooling, make the drizzle. Squeeze your lemon juice into another pan and add the caster sugar. Place the pan on a high heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil, and as soon as it is bubbling furiously, remove from the heat completely, Use a skewer to make little holes in your cake, then spread about half your drizzle on top with a pastry brush.

6. Transfer your drizzled cake onto a pizza board or peel, then upcycle the baking paper it was baked on by folding it and placing a handful of chopped nuts (I used pistachios) on top. Place your pan with half your drizzle back onto the heat (medium this time) and simmer until golden brown. Pour this onto your nuts and leave to set.

7. Spread your jam on top of your ‘pizza base’, nearly to the edges.

Then, spread a thick layer of custard on top and sprinkle the whole thing with sugar. Blowtorch lightly (or put it VERY close to a high grill) to brown for a melted cheese-style effect.

8. Scatter your fresh blueberries on top, and blowtorch these quickly to give them a shine (or glaze them, but the former is quicker). Chop your praline up into shards and lay this on top. Your pizza is now ready to enjoy. Keep it in the fridge for up to a day or two.

Pizza Cake

Hullo!

Today, I’ve been distracted from the furious final dash to deliver the manuscript of my 2nd book on time. There was one post/possible-troll that kept popping up on assorted social media that I just could not ignore. The Pizza Cake.

Pizza Cake

This genius concept (for it is still just that: a concept) comes from Canadian chain Boston Pizza, who are asking their customers to vote for the next pizza trend. Obviously, this is winning and by a mile.

The above image was created by a combination of photographer’s fakery and photoshop. Despite the fact the pizza cake isn’t yet here, I was struck by two things:

1. There’s no cake: it’s just a load of pizzas stacked on top of each other.

2. This is awesome.

So today, with a couple of friends, I set about creating the pizza cake. And what a success it was. Seriously, it was delicious. But you already knew that. The following set of pictures and steps, however, shouldn’t exactly be used as a perfect guide. I’d suggest a read-through first, to see where I went wrong so you can adjust and improve. I’ve included a set of learning points at the end. Many thanks to Paul and Cathryn for helping me out during this one.

 

PIZZA CAKE

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For the dough:

500g strong white flour

330g tepid water

30g olive oil

7g instant yeast

10g table salt

For the sauce:

A tin of tomatoes

2 cloves of garlic

salt

pepper

tomato puree

Toppings:

375g fresh mozzarella, chopped (3 blobs of cheese)

Pepperoni, chorizo, jalepenos

 First, make a pizza dough. I mixed the ingredients together in a bowl, covered it with cling film and left it for half an hour at room temperature. I then stretched and folded it until smooth, then left it to prove another 90 minutes. This could all be replaced by leaving your dough overnight in the fridge. During this rest, I made a basic tomato sauce out of chopped tomatoes, garlic, puree and seasoning – you could just use tomato puree. Any pizza dough/sauce recipe will work.

To get started, I turned my dough out onto a floured surface ready to use and preheated my oven to 200C/180C fan/Gas 5:

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My first thought was to start by coating the sides of a high-sided cake tin and then to build the layers up from the inside. To do this, I cut off a chunk of dough, about an eighth, and rolled it into a rough rectangle.

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I stretched it out so it was long enough

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Then I made it into a cylinder shape:

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I then lined the sides of the cake tin with this cylinder, cutting off another chunk of dough and rolling it into a rough circle to line the bottom of the tin.

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However, quickly after spreading the first layer of thick tomato sauce, I could see that the dough was gathering in a thick layer towards the bottom. This method wasn’t going to work.

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So I removed the bottom from the cake tin and cut off all that excess dough from the sides. Leaving a disc covered in about a tablespoon of tomato sauce. If attempting at home, this is how you should start.

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I then began to build up the layers. Each layer should essentially be a complete pizza:

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Beginning to take shape. Don’t worry about the excess – this is going to be cut off so you can make MORE pizza cakes (or just make a nice loaf of bread with it)

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Once you’ve done 6 or 7 layers, top out and don’t put any more sauce on top. You should have at least a tablespoon of sauce left. Trim around the edges with a sharp knife, feeling where your cake tin is:

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Take a small chunk of dough and roll it out into a long rectangle, as wide as your unbaked pizza cake is tall. This should then be wrapped around the sides:

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Carefully, squish the loose bottom back into the rest of your cake tin. There’s a knack…

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Bake your pizza cake in the oven for approximately an hour, until a golden brown colour. If you have a thermometer, you want the inside temperature to be over 90C before proceeding. Check it regularly.

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Once baked through, spread your remaining tomato sauce on top and build a final pizza layer. Turn your oven up to maximum.
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Bake to brown the toppings and melt the cheese:

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Remove from the tin (again, a knack)

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Serve, and enjoy. You will enjoy it.DSCF7866

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The glorious innards. Mmmmmm.

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Served with homebrewed beer and cider, extra jalepenos, cornichons, mayo and sriracha. Nom.

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A breakdown of the layers:

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Learning points:

The inner layers were soggy. This was due to the wetness of the cheese and the tomato sauce, as well as probably underbaking. If trying at home, make sure your tomato sauce is reduced until a thick, dry paste. Bake your pizza cake for bloody ages.

Building up the sides first is a waste of time. Build it up like lots of pizzas, then cover the sides.

It’s never going to look like it does in the picture. The only way to achieve this would be to par or fully bake lots of different pizza bases and stack them on top of each other. This is against the principle of the thing, in my mind.

 

I hope you enjoy baking this. I did.

How to Make Cider (or Scrumpy)

Cider Ingredients

This isn’t intended as a guide on how to make the most artisanal product in the world – this is a guide on how to make a genuinely nice, drinkable cider for those of us who live in cities, in flats or without a supply of time, cash and apple trees. The above juice was half price due to the season, so this batch will end up less than 50p a pint.

You CAN do it with all supermarket ingredients quite easily. This involves using Baker’s (rather than a Brewer’s) yeast and will give you “turbo-cider”, or one that’s not really going to be appropriate for giving as a thrifty gift, lest it be for a distant, unloved or alcoholic relative. However, it’s now October. Most of the off-flavours you get from fermenting with Baker’s Yeast will dissipate out by… Christmas, say? Just saying.

The most important thing you need to think about is keeping everything CLEAN – and I mean cleaned to the point of being dirt free, and THEN  sterilised. This is fine for the first stages because you’re dealing with ingredients that are clean anyway. Afterwards, I’ve recommended a fast rinse with boiling water or a run through the dishwasher for simplicity’s sake. If you’re going to make a habit of brewing, get a sanitising solution such as Star San.

 

What you’ll need to start making cider:

One 5L bottle of water

5 litres of apple juice (not from concentrate)

200g caster sugar (will bring final abv up to about 6.5-7%)

One sachet of yeast*

 

*The choice of yeast (and it’s fermentation temperature) will largely determine the quality of your cider. Going for baker’s yeast (“instant”, “easy bake”, whatever) will give you a hard cider that tastes a bit bready, but this will age out by a couple of months. For a great tasting cider from just a week or two after bottling, use a brewer’s yeast from your local homebrew shop. Any English Ale yeast will work, as will champagne yeast or mead yeast (or indeed, cider yeast). Good examples to look out for are “Nottingham” and “s-04”.

 

Method

1. Empty your large bottle of water down the drain, keeping the lid.

2.  Fill your just-emptied 5L bottle with apple juice – this must be from just-opened cartons/bottles.

3. Add your sugar and your sachet of yeast**, replace the lid and shake like hell

4. Remove the lid and replace with a bit of tin foil – this is to let the CO2 that builds up inside, out. If you’ve got an airlock like on mine (below), you can use that too to keep the bugs out.***

5.  Leave to ferment for 2 weeks, by which time it should have completely stopped bubbling (shine a light in to have a look). During this time, do not touch or bump it or you risk oxidising it – it should be in a safe place. The temperature is also important – it should be definitely less than 20 degrees but not under 15. Fluctuation in temperature is a bad thing and will cause more off-flavours. I use our windowless box-room, which stays a lovely 17. Little-used cupboards can be good.

6.  Once fermented, you’re ready to bottle. I’d use screw-top wine bottles, seeing as this is going to be flat. If you were adding some sugar to the bottles (about a quarter teaspoon per pint) to make a carbonated cider, do not use wine bottles as these will explode. Fancy flip-top lemonade (or beer, Grolsch) bottles would be ideal. Or just plastic soft drink bottles. Anyway, clean your bottles with hot soapy water and rinse until there’s no suds. Add some boiling water to each one, replace the lid and shake until too hot to hold all over – be careful! If you have a dishwasher, you can just run them through this.

7. Using some sterilised tube (important that it is clean, you can do the same way as above. It should also be “food safe” tubing, but I’m not going to stop you using garden hose), syphon your cider from your fermenter into your laid-out, clean, empty bottles. The tube should be at the bottom of the bottles so there’s no spray – spray means you get in air in which means oxidisation – think 3-days-since-you-opened-it wine flavours. Be careful not to disturb the yeast and sediment-cake at the bottom of the fermenter. You will get roughly 9 pints of cider, or 6 wine bottles full. Leave for 2 weeks before cracking one open. For a clearer, less yeasty cider, leave the bottles at the back of the fridge.

 

**Pitching the yeast: Ideally, you should rehydrate your yeast before “pitching” into the juice. For this, prepare a mug. Fill it 1/2 full with boiling water, cover with foil and swirl around to heat/sterilise. Leave the mug until just about room temperature – this will take a wee while. Once cooled, add your sachet of yeast, stir, replace the foil and leave for 15 minutes. Add a heaped teaspoon of sugar (make sure to sterilise your teaspoon with boiling water!), stir, cover and leave for a final 30 minutes. This mixture is now ready to be added into your juice.

***Keeping the bugs away – rather than using boiling water and risking breakages of glass and deforming of plastic, you can use a sanitising solution in a skooshy bottle. I use Star-San, an emulsifier-acid combo that kills nasties in high concentrations and acts as a yeast nutrient in lower concentrations, so there’s no need to rinse anything. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough

Bubbling cader

The Power of Pots

The Power of Pots

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If you’ve read my book (did you know I’ve got a book out?), you might have noticed I’m a fan of baking bread in cast-iron pots. It’s simple: all you’ve got to do is preheat your pot, lid and all, to as hot as your oven goes. Then, slide your risen loaf into it and bake with the lid on for 20 minutes and another 20-30 minutes with it off.

Cooking on a thick, hot surface helps give you a good crust and even bake all round. The pot’s heavy lid keeps any steam inside, helping to caramelise the sugars on the surface and give a crispy, tasty final crust. On top of that, the humidity delays this crust’s formation to give you a better ‘oven spring’ (the rise of the loaf in the oven).

What I didn’t emphasise enough in the book is just how AWESOME cooking in pots is.

If you’ve read all those wandering words, you might notice I also talk about the two proves and how underappreciated the first prove is. It is far more important than the second. To emphasise this, and the power of the pot, I did a wee experiment.

 

I made a loaf with the following ingredients:

420g strong white flour

80g plain wholemeal flour

10g table salt

7g instant yeast

390g tepid water

And I didn’t knead, I left the rough dough for ½ an hour, gave it a few stretches and folds in the bowl until it had a smooth surface and then I proved for not-far-off 2 hours. By this time, it had got big, but not to the point of collapsing. I scraped it out, shaped into a tight ball and placed it in a proving basket to prove.

Straight away, I put this in the fridge and I put my Le Creuset pot in the oven at 250C for 20 minutes to preheat.

Then I scored and slid my loaf into the scorching pot and baked. When I closed the lid over it was barely bigger then when I put in the fridge and a little squint due to the way it had fallen (not a concern). And then the next I saw, it was spectacular.

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Explanation:

In that first prove, there are loads of bubbles that you then smoosh whilst shaping. But if you’ve shaped well, those bubbles aren’t gone, you’ve just squeezed most of the CO2 out of them. The potential space is still there. Then, because of the steam that’s kept in by the pot, you’ve got a humid and unrestricted environment for what little gas is there to expand HUGELY. As a result, you get the most phenomenal oven spring.

The result is a loaf that is just about as massive as a loaf that has had a 2nd prove that is 3x as long. So check out these pictures (sorry, just taken on my iPhone) and remember: take your time with the first prove.

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(you’ll notice it’s a bit wonky – this is due to the sliding and will affect it’s appearance but not it’s overall texture)

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NB: Some bakers don’t like this. Some would say this loaf was “underproved”. But it’s not – it has been proved enough to plenty it a good flavour and good structure. It’s just been baked and shaped at different times. It is still of exceptionally light texture.

 

Order Brilliant Bread here!

Focaccia

UPDATE! Check out this awesome video for a comprehensive guide. For the full recipe, see down the bottom:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qh5WLi0kYWo

Hullo everyone!

One question I get asked most often by those who have got my book is: “what recipe should I start with??”

Usually, what I suggest tends to vary depending on my mood. But the most frequent answers will be focaccia or pita breads if you’re a complete beginner, or my “never-fail” rye and raisin if you’re experienced.

Focaccia and Pitas are both from the “basic breads” chapter of my book – these breads don’t require any kneading if you don’t want to, or any other prior thought really. They just let you get on with making great loaves without any fuss. Each is designed to take the beginner through a different aspect of breadmaking and to suggest concepts that will help you later on. Because these are so simple, we’ve put together a few recipe cards to give everyone a chance to bake brilliant bread!

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So here I present my focaccia recipe and why it is so awesome. This one is designed to introduce the beginner to really wet doughs – and it is very wet (though not as sticky as some in the book). To view it full size, just click below!

(Direct link to image if above doesn’t work: FOCACCIA)

Cheers!

James

Brilliant Bread is OUT NOW and available to purchase HERE

 

Bread Beckons

Last night’s GBBO4 debut brought back some memories.

The initial exhilaration at meeting Mel and Sue. Memories of the massive marquee and the hundreds of insects that would congregate in the peaks of its rolling ceiling. And memories of the intense nausea brought on by faltering self-control in the face of unlimited cake and its constituent ingredients. I imagined half the chocolate chips involved in this year’s cocoa-showstopper went raw into the mouths of the contestants and crew and comediennes.

After our first two days of filming, we were all averse to sweetness – the mere thought brought on the boak. There was one flicker of optimism and that was that next week was bread week. Savoury week. The week where we were released from our saccharine shackles and could pig out without fear of repercussion.

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And now, today, next week is bread week. I’m worried. My own bread experience on GBBO was less than ideal – I was frustrated with my results in every challenge and selfishly lashed out at Paul and producers for setting such short challenges. Good bread takes time. Great bread takes a lot of time – with spells that can be spent doing other things. By asking us to produce a plaited loaf in 2 hours (TWO HOURS) you’re simply condoning this drivel to the population.

Last year, I pleaded for a challenge for next year’s contestants in which there was an unlimited or protracted time limit – let us see the best of the best of what they can do. Today, I can see why they won’t do this (it’s TV, after all) but I still live in hope. I want to see some acknowledgement of this glorious school of baking that often seems as diverse as all others combined; I want to see sourdoughs and wholegrains and not just underproved and underbaked white breads with each contestant’s own desperate ‘twist’. I’m guilty of using the beyond-clichéd ‘Ispahan’ combination (rose, lychee, raspberry) but last night we saw it too many times. Maybe when bake-off becomes tired and the format needs rejigging, maybe we’ll see true innovation. But the problem is that for the moment, it’s just too darn good to change.

[PLUG ALERT]

On Tuesday next week, there will be GBBO’s bread episode. I fully expect it to reduce breadbaking to a circus and will not in any way shine light on the remarkable abilities of 12 beautifully talented individuals left.

But if you want a proper introduction to bread, wait until Thursday. To see just how hard bakers can make loaves look (and how easy it really is), to see how you can bend baking amazing breads around the busiest of lives and to be taken through every step in as much or as little detail as you and still always make something to be proud of, wait until Thursday.

On Thursday, my first book is out. It’s called “Brilliant Bread”. Notice: Mr Hollywood’s book is merely “Bread”.

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And I’m proud of those 60,000 words. My aim was not just to take bread baking to a new and younger audience, it was to try and produce the best beginner bread book on the market. I think we’ve done that.

Inside, you’ll find a full set of step by steps for every process I felt couldn’t be accurately portrayed in words. And the step-by-step theme continues: you’ll find a range of breads for a range of circumstances and abilities. Begin as a book is meant to: at the beginning. Read my spiel about the ingredients and the processes and take it one step at a time. I promise that do it this way, listening to what I have to say and baking just a bread or two from each chapter, you’ll soon be baking loaves as good as the best Artisan Bakeries in the world. Truly: world-class bread is achievable by the even the indifferent amateur. I love that about bread.

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And people say to me: “YOU can bake great bread in 5 minutes, maybe. But me? Naw.” Please trust me: anyone can. Just read the book and don’t try a sourdough or a panettone as your first go. You’ll be grand. Moreover, you’ll save the full cost of the book after just the first two times you leave a bottle of wine at home bring fresh focaccia or magnificent miche round as a dinner party gift instead.

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Order here and it will be with you on Thursday: AMAZON

Mars Bar Macarons

So, this is the first blog in a while. But I’m going to get back into it. Whilst I’ve been quiet here and on the twittersphere, I’ve been busy polishing off a book, writing plenty of recipe columns for the Sunday Mail (note: not associated with the Daily Mail) and trying to learn lots of stuff about cardiology. Hopefully, bits and pieces of all of these will end up on here!

But far more importantly, Mars Bars. Battered, they are excellent, as we all know. But there are few other chocolate- and chocolatebar-related recipes that, I feel, actually become better than if you were to just eat the pure product. So in the interests of proving Scotland can do more than fry the Mars and in finding a way to combat that soft-sickly texture the original bar can sometimes have, I came up with this. It’s a bit of fun. And it’s actually really, really good. And it’s easy.

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Mars Bar Macarons

110g icing sugar

60g ground almonds

2 medium egg whites

40g caster sugar

2 teaspoons cocoa powder

3 standard Mars Bars, chilled in the fridge

 

Makes about 12 sizeable macarons

1 Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper. In a food processor (or using a blender/stick blender if you don’t have one), grind together the icing sugar, cocoa and ground almonds until there are no lumps – you want them as powdery as you can.

2In a large bowl (don’t use plastic), whisk your egg whites and caster sugar until stiff. Add your sweet almond powder to your airy sugary egg whites and mix everything together until you’ve forced most of that air you’ve captured out, so that the mixture tumbles from your spoon, gradually but gloopily. Stop when it reaches exactly the consistency of flowing lava – when you drop some into your bowl, the surface should slowly flatten out to leave no visible peak.

3 Scoop your mixture into a freezer or piping bag and pipe little circles onto your prepared baking sheet –  anything between 1-2 inches in diameter. Once your macarons are piped, lift your baking tray about a foot or two above your work surface and drop it so it smashes down dramatically. Repeat 2-3 times – this removes any big bubbles that might be left in the mixture.

4 This is the most important step. Leave your piped macarons uncovered and at room temperature for, at the very least, 30 minutes. The longer the better. You want the surface to dry out and a skin to form. At this point, preheat your oven to 180C/160C fan. Your oven must be properly preheated.

5 Bake for between 10 and 12 minutes, depending on the size you’ve gone for. You must take them out before they begin to go brown. A good tip is to open the oven fully, then quickly close it again, at least twice during cooking. This will remove excess steam.

6. Once done, cool the macarons on their tray whilst you make the filling. First, take 1 and a half of your mars bars and melt them in a microwave until smooth – this filling hardens up quickly, but you can just re-melt as many times as you like. Add a teaspoon of filling to the underside of a macaron shell, then cut a sliver off your remaining bars using your sharpest knife and place this on top. Sandwich with another macaron shell then place another sliver on top. Repeat.

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Christmas Mincemeat Tarte Tatin

Let’s face it: Christmas should be care-free. It should be for curling up near something warm with a hot and spicy mug of mull.

Is it ever?

I’ll concede that when it comes to baking and Christmas, sometimes it’s really worth making the effort. Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, panettone… I wouldn’t ever rush them. As the days grow shorter, though, I don’t want to take time or make effort. I want television and alcohol and paper hats.

This recipe is for the short days,

Ingredients shameless and shop-bought and proud.

 

Christmas Mincemeat Tarte tatin

1 packet of shop-bought all-butter puff pastry

6-8 sweet apples (any kind will do)

200g golden caster sugar

50g unsalted butter

A splash of water

Juice of 1 Large Lemon

A wee pinch of salt

1/2 a jar of cheap mincemeat

A wee pinch of cinnamon (optional)

 

Flour, for rolling

 

Makes one large tarte tatin

1. Preheat the oven to about 180C. Peel, slice and core the apples in any way you like. I cut them into 12, by cutting them in half, then in half again, then each bit into three. It doesn’t matter if they start to turn brown – this helps them hold their shape.

2. In an ovenproof frying pan, weigh out the sugar, butter, water, lemon juice and salt. Place the pan on a medium heat, stirring to combine the ingredients. Once it’s boiling, turn it off.

3. Add the apples, the mincemeat and the sprinkling of cinnamon. Return to a high heat and don’t be afraid to boil furiously for about 10-15 minutes, until the apples themselves (not just the surrounding caramel) are beginning to blush brown. The lemon juice will stop the caramel from crystallising.

4. Whilst the apples are bubbling, roll out the pastry with plenty of flour so it is wide enough to cover your frying pan. Once the apples are ready, place the rolled out pastry on top of the pan and trim around the edge using a sharp knife. Tuck the edges of the pastry inside the pan, around the apples.

5. Place the whole pan in the oven to bake for at least 30 minutes – you don’t want a soggy bottom. The pastry should be a deep, golden brown and nicely puffed up. Enjoy hot, with cream.

 

Have a very, very merry Christmas,

James