Monday, 27 August 2012

Pitcaithly Bannock - Scottish Shortbread

A few weeks after I started blogging, my flatmate from University, Becca wrote to me. She had just had a closer look at my posts and recipes and was wondering if I would be interested in a family recipe. "Yes, please!!!", I replied back. And she sent me the recipe for a Scottish shortbread, know as Pitcaithly Bannock.

Back in University, Becca was the native British girl who alternated between being amused and outraged at the ways of her eccentric flatmates, including yours truly, who came from every inhabited continent of this world, except Australia. She is now married to a wonderful Scottish man whom she met, coincidentally, when we were flatmates. She was a student of English literature with a focus on 17th century Erotica and he, a student of history, with a special interest in Medieval Piracy!! Boring is obviously not a word that exists in this couple's dictionary!!!

And they served this bannock at their wedding. But what caught my attention was the fact that "Pitcaithly" in the recipe title was also her husband's family name. This was truly a family recipe!!

This is a straight forward shortbread recipe with the standard ingredients being flour, sugar and butter. The difference in the recipe is the addition of almonds and candied mixed peel. The only minor change that I made was to toast the almonds to enhance their nuttiness.
Putting together this recipe is simple, as with any shortbread recipe. However, when it came to their shape, I wanted to do something different. Last week, I came across the idea of shaping the dough into a round and then scooping out a small circle from the centre. It gives the shortbread a slightly different shape from the regular. I got the idea from the blog that has me captivated with its outstanding photographs and recipes. It is written by a Russian woman in Texas and is aptly titled, "From Red Star to Lone Star"!!

These shortbread are everything a shortbread should be - buttery and crumbly and perfect with a cup of tea!! The addition of the roasted almonds and candied peel are interesting and something you might want to keep in mind the next time you bake shortbread!!

Do remember the shortbread hardens as it cools, so you might want to take them out in time or else you risk them becoming rock hard!! I confess that I might have baked these a few minutes longer than was necessary as this batch was slightly crisper than normal.

The Pitcaithly bannock is traditionally made at the beginning of August to coincide with the Lammas feast, marking the transition from summer to autumn and the beginning of the Scottish harvest festival. But, I had a better reason to make these this August. Simple...this August, Mr and Mrs Pitcaithly celebrate their first wedding anniversary!!!

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Popovers : "TWD : Baking with Julia"

Every once in a while, I come across a baking recipe that I've never tasted, seen or for that matter, even heard of!! Popovers, today's choice for the TWD:Baking with Julia group, falls in that category. I didn't even know whether it was a cookie, a cake or a bread!!

Initial research on the Web revealed that it was the American equivalent of Yorkshire Puddings. That wasn't really helpful ... I've never had Yorkshire Pudding!! A little more digging around and it turns out, it is a "light, hollow roll", that maybe had at breakfast or afternoon tea with a drizzle of honey and butter. It can also be had with roasts and meats for dinner or lunch.

It is made with a simple milk-flour-egg batter that is poured into muffin tins, or if you have it, a special popover pan. Once placed in the oven, within few minutes, the batter expands and puffs out of the moulds. The end result should be a golden-brown roll that has a crisy, puffed-up crown that is hollow in the middle and has a slight custard-like interior!!

There was no way I was going to get a popover pan in India and so, went ahead with a muffin tin. The process is a simple one. Simply whizz together all the ingredients in a bowl, pour the mixture into the moulds and then pop them in to the oven.

As promised, within a few minutes, the batter puffed up and popped out of the moulds. Everything was going according to script. It is when I pulled them out that I got confused. I had the crispy, puffed up tops. I had the hollow interiors. It even seemed that the interiors could be called 'custard-like'. But, most of them had puffed up so much that when I got them out of the moulds, there didn't have any bottoms... they had the sides.. but no bottoms!! Yikes, that can't be right, I thought!! Could someone clarify if that can actually happen or did I do something wrong!??!

But, how did they taste, you ask?? I drizzled a bit of honey on them  and had a bite. First impressions, they were a bit too eggy for my liking. And then when I thought about it a bit more, I realised that if I took a bite of it with the honey, with my eyes closed, I would have probably thought it was something close to a french toast!!

Dorie Greenspan writes in the book how Popovers conjure up childhood memories for many Americans. In her words, it is "the messy thrill of eating popovers dripping with butter and honey". Unfortunately, I could not quite see their appeal. I did not love 'em or hate 'em but they left me feeling rather confused. I just didn't see the point of them!! I put it down as a learning experience and am ready to move on!!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Chocolate Cake Pops

Last week was Enid Blyton's 115th birth anniversary. If the books you read as a child were written in English, more often than not, they would have been written by her. At an age when one's imagination is boundless, her books were the perfect vehicle for one's flights of fantasy!! It all started when you made friends with 'Noddy' and 'Big Ears' and stayed with you as you went secretly scouting with the 'Secret Seven' and the 'Famous Five'. And if you were a little girl, you wished and hoped you could go to a boarding school like 'Mallory Towers' or 'St.Clare's'.

But, my all-time favourite has to be the "Magic Faraway Tree" series. A series of stories about three kids who discover the "Magic Faraway Tree" in the "Enchanted Woods"!! Each time the kids climb up the tree, there is a new magical land waiting to be discovered. With names like "The-Land-Of-Do-As-You-Please" and "The-Land-Of-Take-What-You-Want", the book was the stuff of kiddie dreams. And characters like "Moon-Face" and "Saucepan Man" ensure that the book will always be an all-time bestseller!!!

And for all the adventures that were going on in these books, the food was equally important. With her way with words, Enid Blyton got us excited about lemonade, cucumber sandwiches and even, hard-boiled eggs!! I've lost count of how many times I wished for a midnight feast like the ones in Mallory Towers. But nothing fired up my imagination, like the Faraway Tree treats - "Google Buns", "Toffee Shocks" and my inspiration for today's post, "Pop Cakes"!!

No, I won't attempt to make Pop Cakes. Some things are best left in the realm of imagination as reality can only disappoint!! But, I use them an an excuse and an inspiration to try my hand at cake pops. Invented as a solution for leftover cake and popularised by 'Bakerella', these bite-sized creations have caught the fancy of the baking world!!

There is nothing complicated about cake pops. It's just time consuming with a lot of steps, much like a craft project. I went with chocolate crumbs bound by chocolate ganache, rolled them into balls that were stuck on top of lollipop sticks. Then, dipped some in white chocolate and some in white chocolate tinged with colour and tried my best to make them look pretty. Browse the internet for inspiration on how to customise these cake pops and trust me, you will be amazed by people's creativity and patience!!

I don't think I need to elaborate on how they tasted. Chocolate cake crumbs held together by chocolate ganache and then, dipped in white chocolate - close your eyes and it will come to you!! And no matter how old you are, there is something delightful about biting and breaking into that hard-ish white chocolate shell, only to encounter this luscious, soft chocolatey filling. These are not just crowd-pleasers, they are crowd-winners!!!

Thank you Enid Blyton!! As a child, for my flights of fantasy and as an adult, for keeping the child in me alive!!

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Lime and Olive Oil Cake

While browsing through food blogs, I come across many interesting recipes that I bookmark for the future, only to promptly forget all about them the next day. And then I come across some recipes that once seen, keep themselves alive in my sub-conscious, imploring me from time to time to have a go at them!! Today's post is about one such recipe!

I first came across this cake on Peter's blog - one of the most popular travel and food blogs from Australia!! Incorporating all his favourite ingredients - lime, olive oil and Greek yoghurt, it struck a chord with his Greek roots and he called it his "happy cake". And that's how it got stuck in my head!!

So, when a lone lime appeared on the tree in my mother's garden, I thought of the "happy cake". When I saw Donna Hay make a lemon and yoghurt cake, I thought of the "happy cake". When Masterchef Aussie contestant, Debra, made lime and ricotta cakes, I thought of the "happy cake". And finally, when I spied a whole bunch of green limes at the vegetable stall, I knew the time had come to make the "happy cake"!!

Simplicity is elemental to this cake and it all starts with how easy it is to make it. It follows the quick and fuss-free technique of simply mixing the wet ingredients into the dry. To up the lime quotient, instead of the usual lime-sugar frosting, this recipe uses a sprinkling of sugared lime zest!! 

While making the cake, I did wonder on how the cake would deliver on two fronts. I wondered if the flavour of the limes would shine through or would it get lost like when I had made this lemon loaf cake. I was sceptical about the use of olive oil too. Having only worked with sunflower oil that doesn't have a discernible taste or smell, I wondered if the olive oil would come on too strong and dominate.

And this cake outperformed on all counts. It may sound cliched, but in this cake, the flavours just burst through from the first bite you take. The olive oil is distinctive, not dominant and compliments the lime. But, the flavour that dominates is the lime, unabashed and uninhibited!!

The sugared lime zest does its extra bit in terms of flavour, texture and colour. It is what makes this cake fresh and zesty and will make your taste buds dance!!

A slice of this cake will conjure up images of green grass and wild flowers, of picnic baskets and delightful company and most importantly, of easy-going conversation and exuberant shouts of laughter!! Yes, this is a happy cake!!

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