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Thursday, 28 October 2010

Baking Special - Halloween Surprise Cookies

OK, here's something a bit more interesting and challenging... Every so often, my boss bakes a round of what she calls 'Cardiac Cookies' (so called because the quantity of sugars involved in making them means they're liable to induce cardiac arrest if consumed to excess). Since starting this li'l ol' blog, I've been thinking about baking... I've got the makings of brownies, but in a box bought from a shop, so the next most interesting option was to attempt to bake my own Cardiac Cookies.

...Or my own version.

I considered what could be used in place of the Snickers chunks used in the original recipe, and ended up with After Eight mints... after all, how often do you get mint choc cookies? So... here we jolly well go...

Apologies for the use of American cup sizes for measurements... The recipe is technically American, but I shall endeavor to update with coherent UK measures once I have them figured out. Please note that these measures do not equate to a teacup... though I'd imagine that, as long as the proportions remain the same, you'd just end up with loads more cookie dough if you used teacups.

Ingredients
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup softened butter
  • 1/2 cup Golden Syrup
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 cups flour (preferably self-raising, or add a tablespoon each of baking powder and baking soda if using plain)
  • 1 box After Eight mints
Preparation Time: About 20 minutes for the dough, then about 10-15 minutes per batch to bake

Tools Required:
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Measuring cups
  • Bowl or jug for beating the eggs
  • Fork or whisk for beating the eggs
  • Spoon or somesuch stirring implement for mixing the dough (but see personal note below)
  • Baking tray
  • Foil
  • Oven for baking cookies
  • Rack for cooling cookies
  • Microwave for softening butter (or patience, if waiting for it to happen naturally)
Process:
To begin with, soften the butter by chopping it up into manageable chunks, placing in the measuring cup, and sticking the whole thing in the microwave on the lowest setting for about 30 seconds. Mix together the two kinds of sugar, butter and golden syrup. Beat the eggs then add them to the bowl and mix thoroughly. Add in the flour and mix some more, until you're dealing with a sticky mass of sugary, cookie dough goodness. Due to the way I measured out my ingredients, I got this bit hopelessly wrong, and consequently had a very hard time mixing it all up. My bowl received three cups of self-raising flour first, followed by the sugars, butter and syrup. I may have given myself RSI trying to beat that stuff into submission so, once I'd added the eggs and mixed them in to a certain degree, I cast aside my spoon and got to mixing the old-fashioned way.

Meaning 'By Hand'.

Oh yes, I did.

This automatically makes my cookies sexier, not to mention more sensual and intimate... Or something. Certainly more personal than carrying on with the spoon and, frankly, more comfortable.

And, yes, I washed my damned hands. Several times, in fact. Messy work, making cookies, and I can get a little obsessive about keeping my hands clean when dealing with food.

Anyway, once the dough was ready, it was placed in the fridge for a while, just to give me a bit of a rest. Cooling the dough does make it easier to handle, also. It is very, very sticky, and will end up sticking to your hands better than the fillin' once it's warmed up. Theoretically, this fridge time was also when I should have made myself some dinner.

Ahem.

Once the dough is cooled, yank it back out of the fridge, and grab a heaped tablespoonful. Grab an After Eight mint, pretending it's nowhere near 8pm so you're not obliged to eat it, and wrap the dough around it. Try to ensure it's all even and nicely sealed. My first round of cookies used rather too much dough, and ended up swelling to virtually fill the baking tray. These things expand a hell of a lot in the oven, so be sparing. There should be sufficient dough should make about 20-30 cookies in total.

Lay out on foil on the baking tray (this makes extracting the baked cookies far easier) and bake in an oven pre-heated to 200C (350F) for 10-15 minutes (closer to the low end, if using a fan-assisted oven like mine). The cookies should be golden brown when done. Transfer the foil sheet to a rack, allow the cookies to cool for a couple of minutes, then remove them from the foil to allow them to cool more fully without going sweaty. As long as they're not overdone, they should remain reasonably soft.

Once the baking is complete, scoff any remaining After Eight mints. Go on, you deserve them.

The Results:
Y'know, I have to say I'm pretty happy with the way these turned out. As mentioned, the first batch turned out pretty massive... four of them almost becoming one megacookie... but, other than that, they were probably the most successful. Subsequent batches suffered slightly (none burnt, but they were more than 'golden' brown) through mistiming and leakages where the corners of the mints protruded from the dough. The original recipe suggests 12-18 minutes baking time, which must be for ovens that are not fan-assisted (or possibly the Snickers bar, and the addition of Peanut Butter, change the composition of the dough to the extent that it takes longer to bake), so I had to dial back the time for each batch. Even ten minutes turned out to be a bit too long once I'd got the correct amount of dough per cookie.

I must further confess that the later batches suffered from a loss of attention as my inherent laziness kicked in. Making up the cookies to be baked is a very fiddly process, made worse by the stickiness of the dough as it warms in the hand. Possibly rolling it out might have been a better idea, but I don't have a rolling pin, and I didn't have space to do the rolling anyway. I ended up washing my hands a lot.

I ended up with about 28, 8 of which were the oversized initial batch, and two of those were used for sampling purposes (the first one was pretty good... but I just needed to be sure, darn it!). The remaining six oversized cookies will be given to my sister tomorrow, and the 20 'normal' sized cookies will accompany me to the office. Not enough for a full house but, being Friday, I don't expect there to be a full house.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Terry's Chocolate Orange - Volcanic Popping Candy version

Look, it's called 'snacks & the single man'. It's inevitable that chocolate would come into it sooner or later.

I'm not quite sure why I've avoided Terry's Chocolate Orange. It's not that I dislike chocolate, or orange-flavoured chocolate, or orange-shaped, orange-flavoured chocolate, either in theory or in actuality. Maybe I tried one when I was younger, and it didn't light my candle..?

These days I'm clearly not so fussy about my chocolate delivery systems.

The standard version is perhaps a little too sweet for milk chocolate so, if Terry's were to make a dark chocolate orange, I'd be all over that like... well, like the remnants of chocolate on my fingers from the last one. Or, most likely, more so.

I was given the mint chocolate variety by a friend, and I found that very moreish. It really was a struggle not to finish it in one sitting, despite it being still quite rich... the milk chocolate again somewhat spoiling the otherwise pleasant flavour... Though whoever thought of making a mint-flavoured chocolate orange was clearly in need of some quiet time in a padded room. It's just not right, OK?

So when I saw this thing in all it's orange and purple Halloween/Bonfire Night glory, I could not help but try one. I quite like the concept... but does the execution live up to the promise of 'volcanic' popping candy?

The short answer is 'no'.

The popping candy is barely discernable, causing only the mildest of crackling at the back of the tongue. The average serving of fizzy drink is comparatively more 'volcanic' than this stuff, even without having been shaken. What little popping candy there is does add to the sweetness, though, making the end result almost unbearably sugary except when eaten straight from the fridge.

Rather disappointing... and probably best not given either to diabetics or hyperactive children on Halloween.

Iceland Italian Stonebaked Mediterranean Vegetable Pizza

This appears to be a fairly new product, considering I'll often pop into my local Iceland to restock on the simple, freezer-friendly stuff. It looks interesting enough and, for a mere £1.50, I could probably even forgive the usual Iceland trick of using too much tomato purée and not enough cheese... However, this one seems quite well-balanced, and certainly has no shortage of toppings, in the form of peppers (yellow and red), spinach, courgette and red onion. Furthermore, it lays claim not just to the presence of Mozzarella, but of "cheese sauce", whatever that may be.

The blurb on the back describes it thusly:
A real Italian pizza made in Meduno, a small village near Venice in Northern Italy. The dough for this pizza is prepared and left to rest for 6 hours before it is baked traditionally in a stone oven producing a delicious thin and crispy base.

And here, in many ways, is the problem with ready-made pizza: the base is pre-baked. When you go to a restaurant the serves pizza - even the place we have at work - they start with the dough, add the toppings, and slap the thing in the oven in its properly raw state, there to cook for 10-15 minutes. This produces a pizza base that's far fresher - crispy, yet still almost moist inside - than ready-made, pre-baked pizzas can deliver.

But, y'know what? This has to have been one of the best ready-made vegetable pizzas I've had in a long while. All of the toppings survived being frozen with all their flavour both intact and distinct (with the possible exception of the red onion, some of which seemed a little bland). My worry with vegetable toppings on frozen products, particularly low-budget ones, is that they'll just go soft and tasteless in the oven, so top marks to Iceland for this pizza.

Once cooked, the cheese-to-tomato purée ratio did start to look a bit more like Iceland's usual but, in terms of flavour, the whole thing was just right. I do wonder if they'd be better off freezing it with the base raw... but then, since most UK ovens come with wire racks, rather than solid flat surfaces like a proper pizza oven, that probably wouldn't work out so well.

Having eaten it, though, and read the ingredients list, I'm still none the wiser as to what the "cheese sauce" was.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Variations onna Theme... Inna Bun: Filet o'Vegetable Fingers

Following the success of the Filet o'Fish Fingers, I have been considering my options for other bun-filled snacks. While browsing my local Iceland today, I happened to espy Birds' Eye Vegetable Fingers, and thought to myself they would make an interesting experiment.

Virtually everything about the procedure is identical to the original (though the fingers take 15 minutes to cook, rather than 12), so take a look at that page for the finer details. Obviously no tartare sauce with this variation... and, on this occasion, no sauce at all, just the processed cheese.

The Results:
It needs a little something extra because, frankly, the fingers themselves are not particularly flavourful. Not bland, as such, but not seasoned in any significant way, and the content just merges into a melange of breadcrumb-coated mixed veg.

So, what do we think? Ketchup? Brown sauce? Mustard? Either one of the latter two would certainly give the snack a much-needed kick, and there are certainly plenty of mustard varieties to play with. It's actually amazing how well the processed cheese slices go with fillings other than the fish fingers... but I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that they worked here, considering that veg can be served in all manner of cheese sauces. Still, for a quick, vegetarian snack, this worked out very nicely.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Adventures in Omelette #1 - Mushroom

Yes, I made this one myself. Go figure.

It's actually quite surprising that, considering how easy these things are to make, I don't put in the minimal effort more often but, as I say in my blurb, I'm lazy.

Really, really lazy.

But I digress. I popped out to stock up my fridge with the simple stuff and decided to do something more than a plain old omelette. My first instinct was to go for some ham, but that seemed a little boring. I picked up a pack of Pepperoni and some of the shop's own-brand processed cheese slices, but decided to put some of them in a bun for lunch... And, while I like Pepperoni, I don't necessarily want to have it for every meal.

The next thought was mushrooms. The selection on offer at the shop I visited was the standard white mushrooms that you can get just about anywhere, and tend to be a little bland, or 'Closed Cup Chestnut Mushrooms'. Described on the packaging as "mild and nutty", I figured they'd make an interesting ingredient to a slightly less boring omelette. And, just to make the interesting a little more interesting, I started by stir-frying the mushrooms, as per the suggestion on the packaging. I know how to live on the edge, don't I?

Ingredients:
  • Eggs (Duh. Sorry, three for a decent-sized omelette)
  • Closed Cup Chestnut Mushrooms (4, from a punnet of many)
  • Butter (for to stir-fry)
  • Olive Oil (prevents the butter caramelising too quickly, it is said)
Preparation Time: about 10 minutes in total

Tools Required:
  • Bowl or jug for mixing eggs
  • Fork or egg whisk, also for mixing eggs
  • Knife, for to cut the mushrooms
  • Hob
  • Frying pan
  • Spatula optional

Process:
The first step should be getting the eggs ready - it would be foolishness itself to start anything else before the blended eggs are ready to add to the pan. Having selected my mushrooms, they were sliced thinly (well, 3-4mm thick). Butter and oil were added to the frying pan. Once they were good and melted together, the mushrooms were added and fried till they started going brown. At that point, the blended eggs were added, aiming to fill the base of the pan evenly, in amongst the mushrooms as they fry.

For some reason, my frying pan has a problem with 3-egg omelettes. The underside browns all very well, but the top takes ages to cook, so I've taken to flipping them to prevent burning on one side.

Yes, that's right, I said I flip my goddamn omelettes. I said I know how to live on the edge, didn't I?

In some ways, I think the butter and oil exacerbated the situation, but they did also make it far easier to flip the omelette. I wish I'd taken photos, because this one flipped perfectly - I kid you not, nor do I exaggerate. 180degree flip, and straight back into the pan to finish.

The Results:
I kind of wish I'd added some kind of seasoning, but my first mushroom omelette was a great success. The underside exhibited some signs of caramelisation, but the flavour was unaffected. The mushrooms were not only nutty, but fairly sweet. Quite pleasant, overall. I suspect another part of the problem with the slow cooking was down to the addition of the mushrooms, but it hasn't put me off trying more and different additions to my omelettes in future.
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