Saturday, 25 May 2013

a little (grilled) cheese

Without fail, the first plan of action when I fly home is to hop in my papa's truck and drive to Sonic Drive In. Nothin settles my jet-lagged tummy quite like a grilled cheese, a side of tater tots & a fudge milkshake.

Nearly a year ago, after months of well-orchestrated planning with papa bluebirdcage, I hopped on plane to surprise my mama for her 50th birthday.

After a nine hour flight to Chicago and a mini internal flight to Memphis (including an intermittent six hour layover, which I spent instant messaging mama bluebirdcage, telling her tales of weekend boredom and back to back movie watching - feeling a bit like Carrie in Sex & the City, hiding from my computer's built in camera…"can she see me?!?" - my subconscious nervously asked), I met my sister and her family - who also secretly drove eleven hours from Iowa - at the airport. 

We then set off on the last leg of our journey to the only place - the perfect place - we could think of:

Sonic Drive In

Happy (early) birthday mama.

i can still smell these...

peppermint. chocolate. liquorice. nostalgia.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Boozy Pecan Sticky Buns

Sometimes nothing can beat a sticky bun. Whether it's a midnight snack (which it was), or your breakfast (which it was, too). Here's my take on the cinnabon - cinnamon swirls with a pecan crunch, bathed in a sticky smokey caramel sauce.

Boozy Pecan Sticky Buns

I've died and gone to southern-style sticky bun heaven.

For the boozy goo:
3/4c butter
1 1/2c brown sugar
2/3c heavy cream (you can use soya cream too)
1 heaping tsp mannuka honey
3tbsp kentucky bourbon (Jim Beam was my man)

In a small pan, heat the butter until it is melted. Use a wooden spoon to slowly stir in the brown sugar until it's dissolved, then remove from heat. 

Stir in the cream, honey, salt & bourbon until the mixture is well blended and leave to cool. 

Your boozy goo should be a dark caramel colour and have the texture of a thick liquid.

For the buns:
500g bread flour
10g salt
20g sugar
10g fast action yeast
30g butter (at room temperature)
2 eggs
250ml tepid water
sunflower oil (for kneading, and lining the proofing bowl)

For the filler:
1/4c brown sugar
1/4c granulated sugar
1/4tsp cinnamon
1c chopped pecan halves (half for the filler, half for the goo topping)

In a large glass bowl, add the flour, salt, sugar, yeast*, butter and eggs. Use your hand as a mixer to crumble these ingredients together.

*Remember to add the yeast and salt to opposite ends of the bowl - salt kills yeast; this will help to tame the beast. 

Next, slowly add in the water while continually using your hand to blend the mixture.  Your dough will be extremely wet & you may find it hard to work with - this is normal! 

Tip the wet dough onto a well greased surface. Knead and work the dough until it becomes stretchy & slightly holds it's shape - this will take 10 to 15 minutes. Your resulting dough will still be sticky.

Tip the dough into a well-greased, clean glass bowl. Cover with cling film & a damp tea towel, and leave to prove until it doubles in size (1 to 2 hours).

Prep the filling in a small bowl by mixing together the two sugars, cinnamon & half the pecans. Set aside

Once risen, tip the dough onto a floured surface. Work the dough for another 8-10min - this will knock the air out of it & help it to keep a better shape.  

Use a flour-coated rolling pin to roll the dough into a long rectangle, keeping the long side towards you.

Evenly sprinkle the filling over the entire surface of the dough. Then starting from the long side farthest from you and working your way down, tightly roll up the rectangle like a swiss roll.

Use a sharp knife to trim the edges (this will ensure your buns are equal in size - unless, like me, you like a few monster buns in your batch!), then equally cut your roll into 12 portions.

Add your boozy goo to a well greased baking tray, and evenly sprinkle the remaining pecans onto the goo.  Evenly space your cut swirls into the tray. Cover and leave to prove for approx 40min - the edges of your swirls should now be touching.

Pop into a pre-heated 220C oven for 20-30min. Take care to rotate the buns while they are baking so that they turn a lovely golden brown.

To serve, flip the buns upside down onto a plate & spoon any remaining boozy goo onto the top.

From my kitchen to yours. xx

Monday, 6 May 2013

(Not-so) Innocent Chocolate Cake

I started heavily baking several years ago due to the fact that mr. bluebirdcage was vegan. Aside from the odd trip to Brighton for beautiful (albeit expensive) vegan fayre, we found it hard to find vegan treats that weren't stodgy & chalky. I decided to nib that in the bud quickly.

Calling on help from the Post Punk Kitchen , I honed my skills as a vegan baking domestic goddess. Often bringing vegan goodies to my asos co-workers, reducing them to moans of foodie-delight (to my surprise, moans I hadn't until then heard outside of the bedroom).

As the years have gone by, and with the absence of a vegan diet in the house, I've shy'd away from specialist baking out of convenience. 

Yesterday I went back to my roots, baking a monstrous vegan gluten/wheat free cake for my birthday boy of a father-in-law who in recent years has grown intolerant to almost anything you put in front of him (except for chocolate).  For extra cake-induced amusement, my sister-in-law (who is also dairy intolerant) did a plie-filled dance of joy when she found out she could eat the cake too.

My work here is done.

(Not-so) Innocent Chocolate Cake

For the cake- 
2c Soy Milk
2tsp Apple Cider or White Wine Vinegar
3/4c Granulated Sugar
2/3c Sunflower Oil
3tsp Vanilla
2c Self Raising Flour (dove's farm - gluten & wheat free white self-raising flour blend)
2/3c Cocoa Powder (green & blacks)
1/2 tsp Salt

For the Ganache - 
150g Dark Chocolate (green & blacks 70% cocoa)
150ml Soy Cream (alpro single soya cream)
Cocoa Powder (for dusting)

Bake that Cake:
In a large bowl, blend together the soy milk and vinegar and set aside to curdle for a couple minutes.

Next add the sugar, oil and vanilla to the milk mixture until everything is well blended. 

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder and salt. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture and blend until smooth.

Evenly pour the mixture into two greased round cake tins & pop into the oven at 180C for aprox 25-30min.

Cool thoroughly on a baking rack before icing.

Ganache it Up:
It's best to make the ganache when the cakes are almost completely cooled.* In a small pan, heat the cream (do not let it boil!). While the cream is warmin' up, break the chocolate into small pieces and place it into a heat proof bowl. Pour the warm cream over the chocolate and use a wooden spoon to slowly stir the mixture together until all is blended.

Leave the ganache to cool before decorating.

*I find there is limited time between the time it takes for ganache to completely cool & harden, and the time it takes to decorate your cake. It's best to plan how you want to decorate your cake before using ganache, or you might end up with frustrated with hard-to-spread topping & a half crumbled cake.

 before the stack - add a knob of vegan butter & some icing sugar to the ganache for a thicker consistency

T for Tel -  a hand-drawn stencil and cocoa powder can be your best friend

happy birthday Tel!