What to Bake and How to Bake It, by Jane Hornby

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What to Bake and How to Bake It, by Jane Hornby

I’d describe most cooking as an art of sorts, something that allows the cook a certain freedom of expression in the design and construction of a dish, some latitude to interpret a set of instructions into something new and different.

I don’t think that about baking.

That’s a science

It’s a set thing that does not change. Deviate from the recipe at your peril.

This shows more about my lack of confidence when it comes to baking than it does about the discipline itself. I’m terrified of messing up something that’s destined for greatness by fiddling with the ingredients, which stops me, quite successfully, from experimenting or straying from the well-trodden path at all.

That said, I did chuck some mixed nuts into a banana bread last week, with surprisingly good results, so maybe there’s a shade of the radical left in me yet.

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Flourless chocolate cake

Food & drink
Flourless gluten free chocolate cake

I made this for Christmas Day because, pretend as we do, nobody in this family really likes Christmas pudding.

There’s no point persevering with the lie anymore, so we did something different, and it was a vast improvement on the traditional bowl of stodge.

This is our new Christmas pudding.

The absence of flour makes this particular cake light, but richer than normal, as if the chocolate flavours become more concentrated because of the lack of flour to dilute them. A splash of very strong coffee draws out and bolsters the cocoa taste even further … this is the sort of cake that you’d naturally eat alongside a good cup of coffee, so why not add a little to square the circle?

The body of the cake is made from ground hazelnuts. You’ll be lucky to get skinned hazelnuts in the shops, and you don’t need or want the skins in this cake, so do the skinning yourself, you must.

Methods for doing this litter the Internet, but only one of them works – cover the hazelnuts in water in a pan, and add a couple of tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda. Bring to the boil and simmer for three minutes before draining … the skins will just slip off the nuts very easily. It’s a little laborious, but it works.

If you can’t stand the hassle, try ground almonds instead.

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Egg, by Michael Ruhlman

Books
Egg, by Michael Ruhlman

Fried, scrambled, poached, boiled?

This is going to be difficult, isn’t it?

No, no. It’ll be fine. Eggs = breakfast, right?

Yes, that’s right. They do equal ‘breakfast’, but that’s the mere tip of the iceberg. All of those ways are superb ways to eat an egg, but egg-appreciation can’t just stop with a couple of rashers of bacon alongside. There’s much more to the humble egg than just that.

Think of an egg as a spacecraft.

A spacecraft?

Yes, a spacecraft.

You’ve got to realise exactly what an egg is, and what it’s for. An egg is an incubator. It’s a container that holds the very essence of life itself, with everything that life needs to get a kick-start … protection, food, energy. It’s just like a little self-contained spacecraft, except without the whole rocket and orbiting the earth bit.

I see. A little far-fetched perhaps, but there’s a good point in there somewhere …

There sure is. The fact that an egg has all the things on board that are needed to give birth to life means that it’s the most primordial and essential of food. Those nutrients that are intended to nourish a chicken embryo give us a powerful dose of protein, amino acids, minerals and vitamins in a handy, portion-sized shell, and on top of that, it’s so very versatile.

Micheal Ruhlman, in the introduction to his new book, Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient, writes of a conversation with the author and TV presenter Alton Brown, who mused that he thought of the egg as the Rosetta Stone of the kitchen, something that ‘unlocks the secret language of the kitchen’. The egg is more than just a breakfast staple – it’s the glue that holds the kitchen together, the gateway to truly wonderful cooking:

Learn the language of the egg – understand completely the amazing and beautiful oblong orb – and you can enter new realms of cooking, rocketing you to stellar heights of culinary achievement.

Blimey! I’d better up my game with them there eggs. Where do I start?

Funny you should ask. I’ve been engrossed in Ruhlman’s book for weeks now. It’s a superb place to start if you want to find out more about cooking with eggs and the colossal range of things you can do with them.

Ruhlman has some pedigree – his earlier book, Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, is my most often recommended introduction to curing and preserving meat. That book gives open, no-nonsense, practical guidance on a very tricky subject indeed, and I’ve had some huge successes through using it. Egg is just the same, a comprehensive and well-researched volume of recipes and information that’s both accessible and informative. More…

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Baked chicken curry

Food & drink
Baked chicken curry

Here’s a turn up for the books.

Instead of bubbling away on the hob for a couple of hours to cook, this curry goes in the oven.

That’s right … in the oven!

Can you imagine that! It’s baked instead of braised. Unbelievable. Your world is never going to be quite the same again, I can tell.

In truth, it’s not that radical, but it does make a nice change, and adds an extra dimension to the dish, if you’re careful and don’t nudge it around too much, allowing the edges to crisp and catch, blackening in the heat of the oven … and that’s the draw, really – those slightly charred bits are delicious, reminiscent of marinaded and barbecued meat, roasted over an open fire.

In most other ways, this is a standard curry, at least in its preparation and assembly. There should be nothing to surprise in the next few lines …

Start with a chicken. A whole chicken. Don’t bother with chicken pieces – a waste of money – just buy a chicken and learn how to cut it up into pieces. You get far more bang for your buck, that way.

Once your chicken is suitably dismembered, get on with the spices, toasting two teaspoons of cumin seeds, the same of coriander seeds, and a teaspoon of fennel seeds in a dry frying pan until they turn a nutty brown colour.

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Bread, by Dean Brettschneider

Books
http://www.them-apples.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Bread.jpg

I bake a lot of bread, as you’ve probably noticed, but I’m just a novice … there’s so much to learn about turning the most basic of ingredients – flour, yeast, salt, water – into something so elemental and elegant as a loaf of bread.

I have a long way to go, and this is a large part of what draws me to bake bread. It’s a process that’s never finished.

None of this stops me from searching for that perfect loaf, that fortuitous combination of ingredients, technique, environment and luck that leads to a truly outstanding loaf. I’ve been close a few times, and it’s true that the general standard of my bread nudges gently upwards the more and more I bake, but the self-critical part of me isn’t satisfied, and I doubt it ever will be.

Good books help, and I’ve bought many. My bread making canon includes the superb River Cottage Handbook dedicated to bread, the best tenner an aspiring baker will ever spend, Daniel Leader’s Local Breads for everything European, the frankly beautiful Tartine Bread, and now Dean Brettschneider’s Bread.

This is a compact list of dependable books, and it’s rarely added to. Brettschneider’s book is the first new one on there in years.

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