Homemade pizza

I am going to tell you how to make a pizza in 20 minutes. That wasn’t really a lie. Slightly bending the truth, I accept that. But wait! You honestly can make a pizza in 20 minutes. You just need to be sneaky… sneaky is good. Sneaky pizza is very good.

Now tell me you don’t want to make it. That would definitely be a lie.

Ingredients:
For the bases (makes 4):
3 tbsp olive oil
1 packet (7g) fast-action dried yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
600g strong white bread flour
large pinch salt

For the pizza:
a few tbsp tomato paste
50g cheddar
50g mozzarella
oregano or Italian herbs
any other toppings you like

Method:
1. Put the yeast, sugar and oil into a jug with 335ml lukewarm water. Set aside for a couple of minutes
2.  Put the flour and salt into a large bowl, then add the liquid. Mix until it all comes together, then knead on a floured surface for 10 minutes
3. Oil a large bowl (or use the same one) and put the dough into it. Cover with a teatowel and leave somewhere warm to rise for an hour
4. Preheat the oven to 230C (fan 210C). Briefly nead the dough again on a floured surface , then split into four and roll out each piece to a 1/2 cm thickness
5. Transfer the pizza base to a baking tray. Spread on enough tomato paste to cover the base, then add the toppings and sprinkle with cheese and herbs. Bake for 10-12 minutes

This pizza was truly delicious – I had it with anchovy paste mixed in with the tomato paste, and onions on top. Stinky but delicious. The second time I made it, I had it with mushrooms. Less stinky, still delicious. This pizza tastes way better than the ones you buy in the supermarket. And because you’ve made it all yourself, it feels positively virtuous. Well, it may not help your daily vegetable intake but the fact that it’s completely handmade has to count for something, right?

The real genius lies in the fact that you can freeze the spare bases by wrapping them in clingfilm. They take barely any time to defrost (I just put one on a baking tray when I get home from work), then barely any time again to whack on the toppings and bake. Not to mention that you can have your pizza exactly how you like it, AND you can save pennies in the process. Great news if you are saving for your imaginary vintage china collection, or, you know, a house in which to keep said china collection (amongst other things). Normally I wouldn’t consider eating pizza off a vintage plate but in this situation I would say it is completely justified. Eat and be happy =)

Eggless double chocolate cookies

I am still searching for the perfect cookie recipe, so I was delighted when I picked up the June edition of Sainsbury’s magazine and found six variations on a cookie recipe. What is interesting is that the recipe uses condensed milk instead of egg, so while I now have half a tin of condensed milk in my freezer that I will pull out in three month’s time and wonder what the heck it is, the brilliance is that you can eat as much raw cookie dough as you like. You could also use it to make cookie dough ice cream, but I suspect I will really start to appreciate the egglessness in the future when I am pregnant. Just saying.

Makes 16

Ingredients
125g butter, softened
125g granulated sugar
2 tablespoons condensed milk
125g self-raising flour
50g cocoa, sifted
pinch salt
100g white chocolate, chopped (or white chocolate chips)

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 150C (fan 130C). Line or grease two baking sheets
2. Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in the condensed milk, then the flour, cocoa and salt. Finally, stir in the chocolate
3. Roll into balls then squash flat onto a baking tray, leaving space for the cookies to spread
4. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the edges are firm but the centres are still soft. Cool on the baking tray for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack (but not for too long. We all know cookies are best still oven-warm)

Firstly, I have to say that the cookie dough was delicious. I probably ate a whole cookie’s worth before I managed to get them in the oven. And the cookies themselves were delicious too – crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. I look forward to trying some of the other variations… toffee fudge chunk here I come… after I finish off the chocolate ones, of course.

Giant French Fancy

Ah, bank holidays. After a three day week that felt like it would never end, what better way to pass the time than making a giant version of a Mr Kipling classic? Henry and I decided last week that this was something that had to be done. This is undoubtedly not the way most people would consider spending their bank holiday but hey, that’s just the way we rock and roll.

Due to immense skill luck with the sizing of the pan (which, might I add, I bought specially), the proportions turned out just right. See him there with his baby brother? He’s 96 times larger – the regular size measures 1.5″ square and 1″ tall. Ours was 6″ square and and 4″ tall – not including the dome of buttercream topping – a total of 144 cubic inches of cake. Nice.

For your pleasure here is how we did it:

Ingredients
For the cake:
450g butter
450g granulated sugar
8 eggs
420g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
50g cornflour
9 x 13 inch deep baking pan
Plus a really big mixing bowl (imagine trying to fit 100 French fancies in your mixing bowl… that’s how big it’s got to be. Incidentally, if you halve this recipe you can make a lovely 8 inch layer cake)

For the buttercream topping:
80g butter
3 tbsp semi-skimmed milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
350g icing sugar

For the outer icing:
1 packet ready-roll icing
red or yellow food colouring
A couple of tablespoons of buttercream and some milk to dilute

Method
1. Eat a regular French Fancy so you are au fait with what you are trying to recreate.

2. Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 180 (160 fan). Grease and line the pan – I used a non-stick baking sheet that stuck out over two sides of the pan – this really assisted in getting the cake out in one piece. Cream the butter and the sugar in the large bowl. Mix together the dry ingredients in a separate bowl then add the eggs in twos, alternating with the dry ingredients until all are used up. Finally, mix in the milk. Pour into the pan, smooth out and bake for around an hour, turning during cooking. You may need to cover the top with foil to stop it browning too much (mine rose more than I was expecting and got close to the element, so the top was very brown). When done, a knife inserted into the centre should come out clean.

3. Lift the cake out of the pan and leave to cool. Cut into two 6 x 6 inch squares. Do whatever you see most fitting with the spare cake.

4. Make the buttercream: Soften the butter (but don’t melt it), then cream with the milk, vanilla and half the icing sugar. When smooth, beat in the rest of the icing sugar.

5. Assemble the cake: Put the bottom layer of the cake on whatever you’re planning to serve it on. Spread with a thin layer of buttercream, so the top layer will stick. Put the top layer on – careful now! Because of the way mine rose I turned the top layer upside down and put it on so that the risen corners were diagonal to each other, giving a nice flat top to the fancy.

6. Add the buttercream topping: Dollop on to the centre of the cake then smooth into a nice round dome. Keep back a couple of tablespoons for the lines of icing on the top. Pat down with a spatula (or clean hands) for a smooth finish.

7. Put on the outer icing: Knead in the red colouring until you achieve the desired colouring. It helps to have the original to compare. Roll out as big as you can get it and drape over the cake. Mould around the buttercream topping so it’s smooth on top, then smooth around the sides. I couldn’t get mine big enough as it was getting quite thin and falling apart, so I had to do a couple of the sides separately. You can spend an age trying to smooth it all down and get it perfect if you like, or you can decide enough’s enough and move on when it’s satisfactory.

8. Dilute the buttercream you savedfrom step 6 with a little milk, until it’s fairly runny. Pipe or drizzle the stripes on.

I have to say, the giant version is definitely an improvement on the regular size. Not only does it taste better, but did I mention it’s 96 times larger? A pretty good use of an evening I think!

Lemon iced tea

This weekend we have been graced with extraordinarily unseasonal weather for British summer (let alone April). Ordinarily in summer it’s overcast, cold and raining – much like winter only a bit less dark in the evenings – but this weekend the sun is shining, temperatures are soaring to 18C and there is nary a cloud in the sky to cast a shadow on this perfect summery day.

The only sane reaction to this sort of weather is, of course, to don shorts, slap on some sun cream, do some gardening, have a BBQ and… make some iced tea. Yes, I have done all of these things this weekend and I couldn’t feel better about it.

I had some issues trying to find a recipe for iced tea. Possibly this was because I was so over-excited by the prospect that I just started it, then halfway through thought maybe I should consult a recipe, then ignored all recipes and just carried on as I was. The main issue though was that all the recipes seemed to be something along the lines of:
1. Make tea with tea bags
2. Add lemon and sugar to taste
Erm, thanks? Firstly this is unofficial English Summer and tea bags just won’t cut it. Secondly, any recipe that only requires three ingredients (well, okay, four if you count the water) and tells you to add two of them “to taste” is not really a recipe so much as a list of foodstuffs that can somehow be combined into something delicious but you’re on your own figuring out how.

So this is what I came up with, and it was just lovely to drink whilst sitting out in the garden in the sunshine, being amused by a small cat who was being very silly.

Makes approximately 2 litres (I say approximately 2 litres because our large measuring jug has chocolate sauce in it, so I was trying to measure the iced tea by pouring it between three different containers . For a short while I felt I’d actually been transplanted into a Professor Layton game)

Ingredients
2 teaspoons tea leaves (I used Ceylon)
1 litre water
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
juice of one lemon (approximately 60ml)

Method
1. Make the tea. Boil the water then pour over the tea leaves and steep for around 15 minutes (I have heard you can experiment a lot with amount of tea used vs. steeping time. I just used 2 teaspoons of tea as this is how much I’d use if I were making a pot of tea, and steeped for 15 minutes while I ate my breakfast)
2. Remove the tea leaves. Stir in the sugar until dissolved. Add the lemon juice and top up to around 2L with cold water
3. Chill completely before serving (alternatively use ice in step 2 to get it cold quickly)

Serve with ice, in the garden, with sunshine. Small cat optional.

The Chewy

I’ve been having one of those evenings. You know the ones? Yeah, one of those ones. The ones where you’ve had a kind of unproductive day, then you get a call – dinner date, great, kicked back into action. Dressed nicely, hair looking good. Then you get another call, which you were beginning to suspect anyway, because it comes half an hour late – sorry, cancelled, something came up. Can’t be helped.

So I have no dinner and my hair looks nice for nothing and I trudge on over to Tesco’s to pick up a ready meal, practising my look of aloof desolation, as I really am dressed rather too nicely for this, and also feeling rather sorry for myself.

I am thinking it’s time to bake. I am thinking of a cookie recipe I have been wanting to try for ages but never got around to: The Chewy. I am thinking that if these are the best damn cookies in the world (or even, let’s be honest, just half decent) then this evening might just be salvaged.


Makes around 24
Ingredients
250g butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 tbsps milk
1 tbsp vanilla essence
2 1/4 cups bread flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1.5 cups chocolate chips (or 200g chocolate, chopped)

Method
1. Melt the butter, then cream with the sugars using an electric whisk (or stand mixer, if you’re lucky enough to have one that’s not a repository for kitchen detritus that you have nowhere else to put, so shove it in this handy large bowl so helpfully kept on the counter)
2.  Mix in the egg and yolk, then the milk and vanilla, until well combined
3. Mix together the flour, salt and baking powder in a separate bowl. Add, but by bit, until all combined
4. Stir in the chocolate chips and chill the mixture in the fridge (you can chill for however long you like really – anywhere from half an hour, if you want your cookies ASAP, up to a day and a half. Apparently the flavour improves the longer you chill as the sugar does some sort of magicky caramelly thing which makes them richer and more delicious)
5. Preheat the oven to 180C. Drop balls of mixture onto greased baking sheets, being sure to leave lots of space as they really spread (I did approximately 1/8 a cup of mixture and 6 to a sheet, then for the next round a little less and 7-8 to a sheet). Bake for 14 minutes or until golden brown.

Recipe notes
I modified the recipe very minimally, decreasing the salt and chocolate (as I read that they are almost TOO chocolatey… and I didn’t have enough chocolate anyway) and upping the vanilla. They were yum, and just right for eating while curling up on the sofa with a glass of milk and some knitting. I even tried thinking about Big Things like careers and my upcoming wedding. Now I’m not saying that these cookies spurred me into action on either count, though I did finally get around to emailing the caterer, which I had been putting off all week and had been filling me with apprehension for some reason. Coincidence? Maybe, but I have this recipe bookmarked for the next time I want a handful of comfort. Things somehow seem easier to tackle when you have a cookie in one hand and a glass of milk in the other, and if that is all it takes to make me feel better about life in general then, well, I might just help myself to another.

Challah

Rummaging through my baking cupboard the other day I found some sachets of yeast getting near to their use by date. Not wanting to waste the poor little yeasties it was time to come up with some bready treats, and pronto!

As good timing would have it, the very next day one of my colleagues was telling me about how she had made some challah, a type of Jewish bread. It sounded delicious so I begged the recipe off her and set to making it this morning.

Now, I am not an expert in bread-braiding but I think it turned out pretty well! Just the thing for a sunny Sunday too, when you can mix up the dough after breakfast, leave to rise in a sunny porch when you go out for a Sunday stroll with your beloved, and come back to the smell of bread, before it’s even gone near the oven. The only way to improve this scenario would be if we had had a kite to fly, but you know, that’s not really the bread’s fault.

Makes 2 loaves (you can happily freeze one)
Ingredients
Step 1:
2 cups strong white bread flour
1 sachet dried yeast
3 tablespoons honey
1.5 cups lukewarm water

Step 2:
1.5 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons vegetable / corn oil
1 egg
Optional: raisins

Step 3:
1 egg
Oil for greasing
Optional: poppy seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds

Method
1. Put the water, honey and yeast in a large bowl, stir lightly and leave for about 10 minutes, by which point it should be a little frothy. Add about 2 cups flour to make a liquidy paste. Leave for another 10 minutes

2. Add all the ingredients for step 2 and stir well. Add flour to take up all the liquid and make a dough that is not too sticky (I don’t know exactly how much flour I used, but it was between 1-2 cups and I erred on the side of more rather than less). Knead to make a smooth dough (or use a mixer with dough hooks). Add the raisins (if using) then cover with a teatowel and leave in a warm place for a couple of hours

3. Preheat the oven to 180C (160 fan) Grease a baking tray, or two if you don’t have a really large one. Split the dough in half then split each half into three. Stretch each portion out into a long strip, lay three strips side by side and plait the dough (hint: start from the middle and plait towards one end, then turn it around and do the same on the other side. Tuck the ends under the loaf)

4. Brush the loaves with beaten egg. If using, sprinkle with seeds. Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden, and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped (mine sounded hollow-ish, not as much as when I  have made bread before. I poked in between the plaiting on the bottom with a knife to check it wasn’t still doughy inside)

Recipe notes
Oh my. This was delicious. I had some with butter, fresh from the oven, with a cup of tea. I made some into pudding. The pudding made me want more, so I had a slice of toast (as did Henry). The toast was so good I had another piece. Now, out of the loaf… there is just enough for toast tomorrow morning (and I NEVER have toast on a weekday morning, but as I was chomping down my second post-pudding slice I was already plotting the banana toast sandwich I will have for breakfast tomorrow).

I even found it fairly easy to make. Any bread will take time but this just came together nicely and with minimal fuss. I would make this again in a flash, but I don’t even need to because the great thing is that it made two loaves, so one is happily hibernating in the freezer until I next decide I want some truly excellent toast. The best accolade came from Henry, who when I make something really good will polish his helping off in no time, then turn to me and say with intentional irreverence, “You can make this again”. Any time, my dearest, but I can’t guarantee I’ll share.

Mushroom risotto

I never used to like risotto. I think I’d had a bad risotto at some point, then was more annoyed by the principle of the thing – as a vegetarian, when you eat out you can almost guarantee that for one of the courses, risotto will be one of the two options you can eat (it’s either risotto or some hideous aubergine dish – why? why do people think that vegetarians really like it when you do awful things to aubergine?)

I’ve actually managed to avoid risotto entirely for the past few years, until we went skiing in February. I mentioned my dislike one day, and the chalet hosts looked concerned as we were having mushroom risotto in a couple of days, but I said I’d try it as all the food had been delicious so far (apart from the polenta, but, well, it’s polenta). The risotto was indeed delicious. Flipping through a recipe book the other day I came across a recipe for risotto, and decided to try it for myself.

I didn’t use the recipe from the recipe book though, as they wanted me to microwave it (“which cuts down the need for stirring” – maybe, but you presumably have to tend to your microwave every few minutes anyway). Seeing as I was trying to achieve a risotto that was actually nice, I read up on a few recipes then freestyled it.

Ingredients (serves 2)
100g chestnut mushrooms
1 small onion
knob of butter
100g risotto rice
250ml stock or water
2 tbsp double cream (optional but makes it yummy)
grana padano or parmesan
pepper, to taste

Method
1. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Chop the onion and mushrooms and add to the pan, cooking on a low heat until soft
2. Add the risotto rice and cook until translucent
3. Add the stock bit by bit, stirring until all is absorbed. Keep going until the rice is cooked and you are happy with the consistency (you may not need all the stock)
4. Turn off the heat. Add the cream and stir well, then season with the pepper. Finally, add the cheese (to taste)

Recipe notes
It was delicious! The chestnut mushrooms gave the dish a beautiful sweetness that was just scrummy (so much so, that I would be hesitant to use any other mushrooms). Though I did have to stand and stir, it wasn’t like the risotto required my undivided attention, so it gave me a good opportunity to tidy up the kitchen and get out the things I needed for some cakes I was making. And it took under 30 minutes to make start to finish, so I was hardly chained to the kitchen for an unbearable amount of time. I took the leftovers for lunch and it was equally tasty reheated (so, it did see the inside of a microwave after all). Finally, it was one-pot, so minimal washing up. A weeknight winner if ever there was one!