Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Adventures in Marshmallow Making - AKA What Not To Do

A few years ago whilst having Sunday lunch at a pub my husband enjoyed a dessert of chocolate fondant topped with homemade marshmallow.  Pretty much ever since then he's been asking me to make marshmallow for him and as quick off the mark as ever I have finally got around to giving it a go.

I'm not going to keep you in suspense here though; things did not turn out well.  My experience is a classic example of why you should always read a recipe through right to the end before you start doing anything else.  Learn from my mistake kids - I really ought to learn to follow my own advice.

Things started well enough with some egg white whisking and some sugar syrup boiling.  Simultaneously!  Eyes on the sugar syrup and a hand mixer taking care of the egg whizzing.  I was pondering at this point that I still don't have a stand mixer after all these years of baking and wondering if I'll ever give in and get one.  For most of the cakes, brownies and biscuits that I make I've never really felt the need but as soon as you start working with meringue and other eggy based recipes freestanding mixers start to make more sense as you can be whizzing away for a fair amount of time.  If you're trying to boil sugar syrup to hard crack at the same time then you're just asking for trouble.  Obviously I like trouble.

Anyhoo, where were we?

Ah yes.  Marshmallows.  So once your sugar syrup reaches hard crack (use a sugar thermometer, I think it's essential in this recipe, you can't guess) the next step is to pour your gelatin mixture into it.  The first alarm bell started ringing about now.  I'd already added my gelatin powder to some water as instructed but I was surprised just how thick it was.  The use of the word 'pour' definitely wasn't going to apply to my gelatin.  It looked scarily like wallpaper paste in fact and had a lot of lumps in it that just wouldn't go no matter how vigorously I stirred it.

I decided to persevere thinking that maybe the lumps would sort themselves out when there was more liquid from the sugar syrup.  I added, I stirred, I stirred a lot more and.....erm..... well take a look.

Yeah, that's not nice is it.  It was at this point that I took a look through the recipe again trying to work out where things had gone wrong.  And it was now that I noticed the comment at the end - if you're using vegetarian gelatin be sure to follow the instructions on the packet.  Bugger.

It's a long time since I used gelatin and I've never used the vegetarian version before.  The only reason I did this time was because the recipe called for powdered gelatin.  The only powdered one available in my usual branch of Sainsburys was their own brand vegetarian one.  I naively assumed this would do the same job.

On inspecting the box it sounded like one packet of gelatin would be enough for setting 1 litre of liquid.  I'd used four packets and my total liquid was less than that!  No wonder it looked so awful.  The only way forward seemed to be to sieve the mixture which would get rid of the lumps and reduce the gelatin at the same time.  I did this and finished off the making stage then poured my marshmallow into my prepared tin.

It looked awesome and on scraping the bowl I found it tasted awesome too so I was feeling a bit better.  I estimated that if I'd filtered out half the gelatin in the form of lumps then I only had double the amount of the recommended gelatin so perhaps it would be OK.

Now here's the really fucked up part.  MY MARSHMALLOW HAS NOT SET!!!!

Whichever way you look at this, that is absolutely ridiculous.  All through making this I was totally on board with the fact that I'd messed up and that I could learn from it for next time.  But you know what I've really learned after a quick Google about using gelatin in general and reading a review of Sainsbury's vegetarian gelatin?  This is a shit product and I'm not the only one who had massive lumps when attempting to use it.

Marshmallows will be attempted again because the large bowl of fluff that I've made does taste really good.  It's just not very transportable.  Next time though I'm all about Dr Oetker and Sainsbury's can bugger right off.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Christmas Baking Ideas to Impress

At this time of year most of us are thoroughly enjoying / getting totally stressed out by planning for Christmas and getting together with friends and family.  The bakers amongst us may well be planning something special to wow people with and those that don't normally bake might be tempted to have a go during the season of permissible overindulgence.

I'm constantly stumbling across new ideas that I'd like to try and I thought it would be nice to collate some of them in one place.  Hopefully it will also show some of you things you haven't seen before that are fun and tempting to make.

There's a real mixture of difficulty so if you're looking for inspiration there should be something to suit your skill and ambition.  If you have made any of these or do so in the future please share your thoughts in the comments so we can all admire your results.

Britt Whyatt's Rice Krispie Christmas Puddings

The video of how to make these adorable Christmas puddings has been all over social media this year and it's easy to see why they're so popular.  One of the easier bakes, they're no less impressive for it, and definitely one where you can get the kids involved if you like.

You can either make your own holly leaves or buy them ready done so this really is a straightforward make.  They'll also keep really well so you can have a tin of these at the ready for any visitors popping in.

Normal Kitchen verdict: easy but effective - ideal for those who are short of time

Heston Blumenthal's Christmas Cookie Tree

This edible tree would surely make a wonderful centrepiece on any Christmas table.  The star stencil is provided for you to print so that you can easily make the right sizes for all the different layers, and the only limit on decoration would be your own imagination.

The comments seem to indicate the recipe makes too much biscuit dough so you could either change the quantities or use the leftovers for extra biscuits.  It would also be extremely easy to swap out the recipe for a favourite one of your own if you prefer.  Just make sure your biscuits are rigid enough to hold their shape once assembled or your tree could end up being rather sad and droopy.

Normal Kitchen verdict: a stunning centrepiece that you can achieve at home

Tea Cake and Create's Bauble Biscuits

Packs of cookie cutters in festive shapes are easy to pick up in the supermarket so grab a selection for these gorgeous marbled cookies.  Whilst these aren't that difficult at first glance I can't help but think that it's the meticulous and tidy execution that Marina has achieved that make them look so attractive.

You could make all sorts of flavours for these biscuits and icing and even fit them into your festive colour scheme.

Normal Kitchen verdict: Take your time and use a steady hand for maximum impact

Santa Coming Down the Chimney Cupcakes

Just when you think it's all about cookies and biscuits these chimney cupcakes come along and take things in a different direction.  Use whichever chocolate cake or brownie recipe you prefer and bake these directly in the tin without using paper cases for smooth sides.

Whilst strawberries are totally out of season here in the Northern hemisphere they really do add a lovely splash of colour to these gorgeous cakes and frankly after all that chocolate you may well be glad of a touch of fruity refreshment!

Normal Kitchen verdict: Perfect for your party table

Mary Berry's Gingerbread House

Christmas baking simply wouldn't be the same without a good dose of Mary Berry and this gingerbread house is the perfect example of festive kitchen goals for me.  Those stained 'glass' windows, that snowy roof, the inviting open door.  Sigh.

A printable template is provided and if you've ever watched the Bake Off Masterclass programs you'll have seen Queen Mary making this and handing out plenty of tips for success.

Normal Kitchen verdict: Christmas personified

Lauren Caris's Rice Krispie Christmas Trees

Another recipe using rice krispies these trees would be ideal for giving kids a chance to show off their individuality and go wild with edible decorations.  That said I do think Lauren's version looks particularly elegant and grown up.

A few of these in different heights would be a lovely tabletop forest so they could double up as decorations as well as festive snacks!  If you're feeling especially inspired why not make these to go around your gingerbread house?

Normal Kitchen verdict: Create a forest full!

Beck's Bakes Skiing Gingerbread Men

Whilst Beck's Bakes Facebook page doesn't provide you with instructions for these skiing gingerbread men it would be super easy to find a great recipe and take inspiration from her fabulous creations.

Those candy cane skis are genius and for extra impact you can create a display with a white sheet.  Team them with rice krispie trees and pretend you're in Whistler.

Normal Kitchen verdict: Perfect for all ages

Moje Wypieki's Cranberry Macarons

More ambitious or experienced bakers might be tempted by these supremely festive macarons.  A little decoration transforms a brilliant red cranberry macaron into an adorable Santa outfit - surely this is what patisserie perfection looks like.

For an extra challenge the recipe itself is in Polish but these little delights were far too incredible to not include and there's always Google Translate.  If you've never tried macarons before or would like some extra tips (in English ha ha) I can't recommend Stella Parks at the Brave Tart enough.  I had real success following her tips and recipes so you can always take Moje Wypieki's wonderful idea and combine with the Brave Tart's recipes to give these a go.

Normal Kitchen verdict: A Christmas challenge for those who want to take things to the next level

Melted Snowman Cookies

There are lots of versions of these cute biscuits all over the internet but I'm a particular fan of the look of these Lakeland ones.  Their meltiness is just so sweet and the faces on the snowmen are adorable.

Get the kids involved and go colourful and bright for extra Christmas cheer.

Normal Kitchen verdict: Ideal for children's get togethers