Thursday, 26 May 2011

Pizza Pizza - Testing the Stone!


Isn't it always the same - when you go out for a meal you want food to taste "home cooked" and when you cook at home you feel you want to taste "restaurant" food?  Well, this is how I feel about pizza - whenever I go out for pizza, I always feel, if only I could make this to taste this good at home, well tonight was the night to try!

I have just purchased a new Pizza Stone from Jean-Patrique JP link; this culinary dream works by giving the pizza dough the crispiness of a wood fired oven as you see in the likes of Pizza restaurants.  The stone is preheated in the oven (at 250ºC/480ºF/gas mark 9) for about 10 minutes, then either home made or shop bought pizza is placed on the hot stone and the pizza cooked for the required time.  Hey presto - perfect, crispy crust and deliciously melted cheese and other toppings of choice!

My recipe, courtesy of the lovely Lorraine Pascale, is as follows and boy does this one work!

First of all, as always, get your equipment together:

  • large bowl
  • dough hook (optional, but helpful!)
  • scales
  • pizza stone (or pan to bake pizza on!)
  • oven mitt
  • wooden spoons

Dough base:

  • 250g/9oz strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 tsp salt 
  • ½ tsp fast-action dried yeast 
  • 125–145ml/4½–5fl oz warm water
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for oiling and drizzling
For the pizza topping
  • 1 tube good-quality tomato puree
  • 250g/9oz mozzarella cheese, sliced/shredded
  • Approx 5 asparagus spears (break off hard root ends) roasted for 15 minutes in 220ºC/425ºF/gas mark 7 oven with balsamic vinegar, pinch sugar, salt, black pepper and tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
For the base, take the flour, yeast and salt and mix together in a large bowl.  Mix together the warm water and olive oil and make a well in the centre of the flour mix and add the water/oil.  Take a wooden spoon and mix together until the mixture forms a soft but non-sticky dough.

Either knead by hand or use a dough hook in your stand mixer and knead for 10-15 minutes.

Place the prepared dough onto a lightly floured baking tray in a small ball shape; oil a piece of cling film/plastic wrap and place over the dough, ensuring it is air tight.  Place the tray of dough into a warm environment for about 30-40 minutes (I use my airing cupboard) until the dough is more elastic and has increased in size.  TIP:  this stage of dough making is called proving and allows the yeast to work and makes the dough more pliable. 

While the dough is proving, preheat your oven to 220ºC/425ºF/gas mark 7. 

After 30-40 minutes, check the dough and, if more elastic and slightly increased in size, roll it out into a flat circle of about 10 inches (you will notice that the dough at this stage is much more pliable and easy to work with).  Prick the dough circle with a fork several times, this prevents the dough from rising too much during cooking.  Add the tomato puree to the dough and spread out with the back of a spoon or a knife allowing an inch gap around the edge.  TIP:  if you are using a preheated pizza stone, remove the stone from the oven place the pizza dough onto the heated stone at this point and continue as follows.  Add the cooked asparagus spears and top with the shredded mozzarella.  Drizzle over the extra virgin olive oil and add the salt and pepper.

At this point, place the tray of dough into the preheated oven and bake for about 15-20 minutes until the dough is brown and crispy at the outside and the cheese has melted and brown on the top.

Remove the pizza from the oven and enjoy!

 All I can say is - Delizioso!!

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

I can't believe you made these - French Macaroons

Whenever I make cakes or savoury goodies for friends or family, they often say "I can't believe you made this"!  I just love cooking and find the whole thing very relaxing.  It can be tiring when you are juggling several recipes, but when the food is all complete and ready to eat, the work has been worth it. 

Today, I am going to discuss the tips for making macaroons, the delicious, colourful French patisseries.  It does seem like a lot of work, but, when you get to taste them and when you hear the compliments from friends and family, boy are they worth it!!  They are lovely as a dessert for a lovely meal or as gifts for friends or family.

Here is the recipe:

Filling (1):

  • 1 pint double (heavy) cream
  • 2 tablespoons caster (superfine) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Filling (2):

  • 250g/8 oz softened unsalted butter
  • 500g/1lb icing (confectioners') sugar sifted
  • a couple of drops of vanilla extract
Before you do anything, get all the equipment you need organised.  This will be:

  • stand mixer or hand mixer
  • mixing bowl(s)
  • small bowl(s)
  • measuring spoons
  • scales
  • candy/jam thermometer (if you have one!)
  • small dessert spoon
  • egg separator (if you need one!)
  • baking tray(s) - lined with baking paper or silicone sheets
Preheat oven to 170°C/325°F/Gas mark 5

First of all, weigh out your egg whites.  It seems strange weighing egg whites, but it does work!  Only problem is, that each egg weighs slightly differently, so it will be trial and error to see how many eggs make the 90g total amount needed.  I find it easier to weigh out the first 40 g and then place in one bowl and then the second 50 g and put that aside.  TIP:  make sure that everything you use for the egg whites is spotlessly clean and also that no presence of egg yolk is in the whites, as it will prevent the mix from whipping up for the Italian meringue element further down the process.

In one of your mixing bowls (a largish one) mix together the 40g egg whites, ground almonds and icing sugar to make a paste; it is at this point that you can add some food colouring to the mix to make pretty coloured macaroons.  Put this mix to one side.

Take the 50g egg whites and whisk, in a stand mixer (preferably) until it forms soft peaks.  If you don't have a stand mixer, then a hand mixer if absolutely fine too.  TIP:  if you want to make sure you bowl is spotlessly clean to whip the egg whites, cut a lemon in half and rub the cut side around the bowl which ensures all traces of past residues are erased!  Leave the whipped whites to rest while you continue with the next stage.

Following this stage, start the sugar syrup by putting the caster sugar and water into a heavy bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil.  TIP:  do NOT stir as this will cause the sugar to crystallise.  Leave the syrup boiling until the consistency becomes more like a thickened syrup and, if you have one, use the candy thermometer and allow the temperature of the syrup to rise to 115°F/239°C.

As soon as the required temperature/consistency has been reached, remove the sugar syrup from the heat and take over to the whipped egg white mixture.  Start the mixer up again and slowly add the sugar syrup to the whipped whites to form a meringue mix.  Basically, what you are making now is an Italian meringue, where the warmed sugar syrup cooks the egg whites.  Now you need to keep whisking this mixture for some time to cool the mix down and the mix is thickened and shiny.  TIP:  keep whisking until the side of the  mixing bowl feels cooler.

Once you have reached the stage of a cooler mix, take the meringue mix to the ground almond mixture from earlier and tip the meringue into the ground almond mix.  TIP:  do NOT tip the ground almond mix into the meringue as you will remove all the wonderful air you have whipped into the whites!  Once the meringue has been added, take a wooden spoon and fold the whites into the ground almond mix and stir 54 times!  This may sound strange, but it really needs no  more or no less and by this time you will have the perfect macaroon consistency.

Now the really fun part; take your greased and lined baking trays and either pipe or spoon circles of approx 1 inch onto the trays, allowing about ½ inch between each macaroon.  Once the tray is ready, lift it up and drop it down flat onto a table or work surface about 3 times; this forms the "foot" (or "pied" as the french say) onto the macaroons.  Now put the tray to one side for about 30 minutes for a skin to form on the macaroons.  Once you have achieved this stage, bake the macaroons in a preheated oven for about 12-15 minutes.  In order to avoid too humid an atmosphere in the oven, leave the door of the oven slightly ajar while you bake the macaroons.

After 12 minutes, check the macaroons; they are done when they are firm to the touch.  If they look or feel like they are wobbling at all, they need a little more time.  TIP:  if you are baking these in an Aga, you can leave the door open, but remember that the oven will be cooler each time if you are baking several trays of macaroons and you will need to allow slightly longer than the 15 minutes!

As soon as they are ready, take the macaroons out of the oven and slide the baking paper off the tray and leave the macaroons to cool on the baking paper.  Once cooled, they are now ready to fill.  You can either fill with a butter cream filling or a whipped cream filling.  For the whipped cream filling, take 1 pint of cold double cream and whip until it starts to thicken and then add the 2 tablespoons of caster sugar and 2 teaspoon of vanilla extract and whip until the cream forms soft peaks.  TIP:  don't overwhip as the cream will turn to texture of butter and be too firm to enjoy!  For the butter cream filling, take the softened butter, the icing sugar and the vanilla extract and beat until combined and fluffy; you can add food colouring if you wish at the fluffy stage and beat until combined.  TIP:  to voice getting icing sugar all over your kitchen, put a kitchen towel over the bowl of the mixing which prevents clouds of sugar escaping!

Now you are done; carefully sandwich the macaroons together and serve when ready.  You can also gift box the macaroons for friends or family.  TIP:  if you are not serving the whipped cream filled macaroons immediately, keep in the refrigerator to avoid the cream spoiling.

Finished article with ice blue food colouring for the macaroons and pink food colouring for the butter cream filling.

I hope you have enjoyed my first blog.  It does seem like a long-winded recipe, but I wanted to make sure I covered all the stages properly with tips (the tips are from my own learning with this recipe where mistakes have happened or where I wish someone had given me some advice!).

Let me know if there are any other recipes you would like me to cover in this blog.  I do both savoury and sweet dishes and am willing to try anything!  I also hope to add some more 'photos of the stages in the future.