24 Apr 2012

The cupcake is dead, long live the whoopie pie!

Right, a London girls afternoon out must include a trip to The Hummingbird Bakery and the purchase of red velvet cupcakes while secretly hoping you'll bump into Gwyneth and her kids because, hey, you are so cool. But the truth is the cupcake is like the pretty girls most of us used to hate in high school; it’s beautiful but it’s dull.
Yes, I do dare saying it : a cupcake is nothing more than a muffin deprived from what made it good (chocolate chips, fruit chunks, nuts, etc) and on top of which you’ve just added a unreasonable layer of lovely yet boring icing.
On the other hand, a whoopie pie combines the benefits of a cookie, a cake… and even a cupcake. It’s not a double, but a triple rainbow.
For those who don’t know it yet, a whoopie pie is made of two indulgent cookies/mini cakes sandwiched together by marshmallow fluff or other kinds of cream cheese filling / butter cream. Yes, it a kind of evil macaroon, but easier to make.

Classic chocolate whoopie pie

You can change the cookie base or the filling; you can dip them into melted chocolate; you can roll the edges in sprinkles…there is no limit to your imagination. And they taste better than a cupcake.  

By the way, whoopie pies come from the US. The Amish mums used to bake them for their husbands and children who would shout “whoopie!” while discovering them in their lunch boxes.
After cheesecake, whoopie pies… You are probably wondering whether this blog is genuinely going to be about British Baking, hey?  
Actually, I got passionate about all cakes I discovered here in the UK. Compared to French gastronomy, which I find generally quite self centred, British baking culture and gastronomy is a wonderful melting pot of traditional local dishes and foreign influences. As I have eaten only French food for most of my life, I find it very exciting. (As I always say, living abroad is like an everyday small adventure, and embracing local food culture is part of it).
So going back to my point, my blog does is not only inspired by traditional British baking, but also by all the other amazing foods the UK has imported from all over the world.
Whoopie pies, by Sarah Billingsley 
and Amy Treadwell
I did buy my American book about whoopie pies in the US though (a souvenir from my holidays in NYC): Whoopie pies, by Sarah Billingsley and Amy Treadwell.  I think this book is a very good starting point to explore these lovely little treats and you can buy it from amazon.
To be entirely honest, I baked these whoopie pies while cooking dinner and chatting with friends, which resulted in me forgetting altogether to put sugar into the dough. (I’m not very good at doing several things at the same time). You’ll guess what happened next: adding the sugar at the last minute, I over-beat the dough. The whoopie pies were consequently very dry and got renamed by my friends The Chocolate Poopie Pies (which made us laugh all night). But trust me, if you don’t mess up with the recipe, these are amazing!
So if you too want to be as cool and lovely as Gwyneth, stop buying cupcakes and make whoopie pies!


Classic chocolate whoopie pies with cream cheese filling

Ingredients for the whoopies: (for approx 15 assembled whoopie pies, depending on how big you’ll make them)
1 2/3 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
4 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 tablespoons vegetable shortening
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup milk
Make the whoopies:
1/ Heat the oven at 210°C and line baking parchment sheets on 2 baking trays.
2/ Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt.
3/ In a big bowl, beat together (with an electric hand mixer or in the bowl of a stand mixer) the butter, shortening, and brown sugar on low speed first until just combined, then on a higher speed until smooth and fluffy for about 3 min.
4/ Add the egg and vanilla and beat for another 2 min.
5/ Add half of the flour mixture and half of the milk to the batter and beat on low speed until just incorporated (be careful to beat you batter as little as possible to ensure it stays moist). Scrap down the sides of your bowl and add the second half of flour mixture and milk, and beat slowly until completely combined. If you are not sure; you’d better do this with a wooden spoon, and beat everything together until combined.
6/ Using a spoon or a piping bag, drop about 1 tbsp of batter onto one of the prepared baking sheets and repeat spacing them at least 3cm apart. Bake one sheet at a time for approx 10 min each or until the pies spring back when pressed gently.
Remove from the oven and let the cakes cool on the sheet for about 5 min before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Ingredients for the cream cheese filling:
150g cream cheese, at room temperature
4 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Make the cream cheese filling
In a bowl, beat together the cream cheese and butter on low speed until combined. Add the sugar and the vanilla and beat on high speed, at least 4 minutes. The longer, the better! Your filling will be lighter and fluffier.
Assemble the whoopie pies
Drop a generous spoonful of filling on a whoopie, and sandwich another whoopie on top, pressing gently until the filling comes to the edges.

Option Death by chocolate:
You can drop half of each assembled whoopie in melted dark chocolate (or white chocolate). Leave the whoopies to dry on a cooling rack.
Or, roll the edges of the whoopie pies in mini chocolate chunks.

17 Apr 2012

A baking maniac is only a step away from a shopaholic

When the first part of Sophie Kinsella’s sequel came out, my sister called me immediately “Pau, you’ve got to read this book. This is soooo about you!” Getting on with it, I had to admit that she was right. One could hope that my passion for baking would bring up better instincts in me than the ones driven by a debit card…but let’s face it, it doesn’t. 
Firstly I love recipe books. I read them a bedtime like other would read novels. I often go to the book store and get lost in the cooking section, looking for ages at all the books about baking. If I am in search of a book on a specific theme (a book about muffins, a book about bread, etc), I’ll look at all the books and score each of them on several criteria before I make my choice. The decision process is usually very elaborate and results from detailed market researches. (Yes, that probably makes me lend somewhere between a freak and a geek). But like any shopaholic, some days I buy books in 5min just because they look beautiful, no matter how many identical-ish books I already own.
I also love all kitchenware and baking accessories. I store all of them in a big picnic hamper that I call my Treasure Box. When I open it at the beginning of a baking session, I feel like a little girl ready to play at tea party and who can't wait to use them all. 

So for you today, here is a guided tour of some of my baking favorite tools: 

- The amazing robot: my Kenwood. I've dreamt of it for a year before I finally got it on sales last winter. “Sure it costs a fortune, but it’s half price now. It’s an investment. I’ll use it for 10 years… at least...and my friend who is a professional baker says it’s amazing”. Does that ring a bell, dear fellow shopping addict? Yes, sure, it does look like a super expensive electric hand mixer, but it’s not (entirely)! It mixes cake and bread dough at different speeds, it beats egg whites and the cool thing is you can leave it do its job while you are already preparing the next steps of a recipe.

- The silicone spatula (called maryse in French) and the silicone brush: I cannot simply bake without them. Just buy some if you don’t have any yet, you’ll understand.

- The timer: when you have got the attention span of a gold fish like I do, a timer is a must have. How many times did I spend hours preparing cakes that were supposed to be amazing until I simply forgot them in the oven? This Pylone timer is a gift from my housemates so I love it all the more. 

- The digital scale and the oven thermometer: as I have been taught, baking is about precision. A wrong measuring of the ingredients or an oven at the wrong temperature can easily ruin a cake.

- The measuring spoons and cups: compulsory for Australian, American and British recipes where measures are given in cups (rather than grams).

- The cooking rings: my best friends for presenting savoury and sweet dishes like a pro. You can make tarts that look like those you buy in the shops (thanks Guillaume for teaching me how to use them like a pro!), individual cheesecakes, etc. 

- The piping set: this probably would be more useful for someone who bakes cupcakes and is more into decorating cake than I am, but it is still quite useful for piping macaroons or whoopie pies. To be honest, if you can afford disposable plastic piping bags; it’s even better.

- The silicone muffin cases: like all other silicone cake moulds, I just cannot understand how one could bake before them?

-The “homemade biscuit” stamp: a gift from my sister. It’s just so cool to stamp “homemade” on your oreos!

I also discovered that nothing can really replace a cooling rack. A silicone mat just makes your life easier…as you can guess, the list of “compulsory investments” is endless! ;-)
And you, what are you must haves in your kitchen?

3 Apr 2012

Cheesecake: the real reason why the Romans invaded Greece

The first memory I have of cheesecake was on TV.
Friends, Rachel and Chandler crawling on the floor with spoons, eating the neighbour’s cheesecake that fell on the floor in the corridor (Hello, my name is Pauline and I’m a TV addict!)
When I was a teenager, cheesecake belonged to these amazing foods I used to see on American TV series and dream of while stuffing myself with Marrons Suisses (chestnut mousse)
15 years or so later, I had cheesecake for the first time and God that was so good…well worth the wait.

Geek information: Ancient Greeks baked cheesecake (no wonder Romans wanted to invade them so badly). In 1912, an American called Mr Kraft invented a cream cheese called Philadelphia, which has since become the most common cheesecake filling base.
Today, each country offers different variations on cheesecake fillings: ricotta or mascarpone in Italy, quark in Germany, cottage cheese in the UK, cream cheese in the US, etc. Ok…back to the real business.

There are two main categories of cheesecakes:
- baked: the filling based on cheese + eggs + sugar (using caster sugar or condensed milk for example) is cooked before being chilled and served. The star baked cheesecake is the traditional New York cheesecake. Its texture is creamy, dense, almost heavy but divine.
Best served under a blanket with a good movie on a Sunday afternoon. It’s the quintessential comfort food.
- chilled: the filling based on cheese + sugar + often gelatine is chilled before served. Its texture is lighter that its fellow baked cheesecake.
Best served for dessert on a first date (or in the final of Come Dine With Me). Mini-cheesecakes made with cooking rings are perfect for showing off and pleasing crowds!
In both cases, the crust is usually either made of crumbled digestive biscuits (re-combined with butter, because there is not really enough butter in digestive biscuits) or a homemade short crust pastry.

If you could take only one book about cheesecakes on a desert (dessert?) island, I would recommend Cheesecakes, baked and chilled by Women’s Weekly. Its 50 or so recipes take you through many easy-to-make and delicious variations of baked and chilled cheesecakes.
Once you’ve understood the main constraints and tricks for both categories of cheesecake, you can be creative and go wild. There are endless variations of cheesecakes and your chances of messing it up are quite low. 

Chilled ginger cheesecake
The freshness of smoothness of its filling goes amazingly well with the kick of ginger. The candied ginger acts like mini-flavoured bombs, I love it.
The ginger syrup added to the crust makes it slightly caramelized, and almost crunchy.

For the crust:
-12 gingersnaps
-30g melted unsalted butter
-1 tbsp of ginger syrup (from a jar of stem ginger in syrup)

For the filling: 
- 600g of cream cheese
- 250g of double cream
- 110g of caster sugar
- 3 balls of stem ginger in syrup, drained
- 1/2 tsp of ginger powder
- 1 tbsp of ginger syrup (from the jar of stem ginger in syrup)
- 3 to 4 tbsp of lemon juice
- 2 tsp of gelatine
- 2 tbsp of warm water

Optional icing:
- 3 big tbsp of spiced ginger jam

Prepare all your ingredients and take the cream cheese and double cream out of the fridge.

Make the crust:
1. Preheat the oven at 150deg C. Cover the base of a loose-bake cake tin (approx 22cm diam) with baking parchment
2. Crush the biscuits to fine crumbs either by whizzing in a food processor or put them into a polythene bag and bashing them with a rolling pin. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the melted butter and the ginger syrup. Spoon this mixture into the base of the tin, pressing the biscuit well into the base (with the bottom of a glass for example).
3. Bake in the oven for 10min or until golden. Leave to cool completely

Make the filling: 
1. Sprinkle the gelatine over the measured warm water in a small cup. Put the bowl in the microwave on middle heat for 20 sec. Stir until the gelatine is dissolved and leave to cool for about 3 min (the gelatine must not be lumpy); stir until the gelatine is dissolved,
2. Mix all the other ingredients with an electric hand mixer until well combined.
3. Pour this mixture over the top of the biscuit base

Refrigerate overnight. 

Optional icing:
2 hours before serving, heat the spiced ginger jam in a small bowl in the microwave for 30 sec to soften it. Brush the top of the cheesecake evenly with jam.
Put back in the fridge.
Before serving, remove from the tin and carefully peel off the parchment. 

NB: I know the pictures on my blog are not good yet but please bear with me, I promise I'll sort something out very soon. In the meantime, please try the recipe, I swear it looks amazing in real life :-) 
And as a proof : a picture from Adeline who tried my recipe! (I am so proud!) I love the UK flag and the sweets, it's so cute! 

Please do not hesitate to send me pictures of the cakes you've tried too! :-)