Assorted crackers and ramblings

I’ve never attempted making crackers or crispbreads before. If I’m honest I’ve always been a fan of those ‘Biscuits for Cheese’ boxes, the ones from Carrs or Jacobs with assorted crackers, that you only ever seem to buy at Christmas. I’ve never felt the need to try and replicate or better them as I’m scoffing down the last crumbs of my fourth water biscuit. A few weeks ago however I thought I’d have a go myself. I knew I’d never recreate the classic Cream Cracker (not that it’s ever been one of my favourites) so I thought I’d try something a little spicier. I had a fridge full of washed rind cheeses from a Pong order that I thought might go nicely. Every so often, when I get tied of melting cheese at The Cheese Truck I order a bunch from Pong Cheeses.co.uk (who are really great by the way), scoff the lot and call it research.

I made four different crackers: cumin seed, fennel seed, plain with sea salt and wholemeal with sea salt. This recipe has a number of variations and you can create even more yourself but playing around with the types of flour and the seeds and spices. I think fennel seed and chilli flakes is a nice combination and for my wholemeal crackers I used a 50/50 mix of white and wholemeal flours. It’s a really easy recipe so play around with small batches experiment. If someone could play with different combinations of white and rye flour I’d be really interested to know the results.

Assorted Crackers

Makes roughly 24 2 inch crackers

125g Plain flour (or wholemeal flour or 50/50 white and wholemeal)

1/2 tsp Salt

1/2 tsp Baking powder

3 tsp cumin, fennel, poppy, celery or caraway seeds (any that take your fancy…or a combination of them…or none)

25ml olive oil

45ml water

Sea salt or extra seeds for topping (optional)

Preheat your oven to 160°C/140°C fan/gas 3. Begin by sifting together the flour, salt and baking powder  in a large bowl. Next mix in the spices or seeds if you’re using them.

In a jug or bowl whisk together the water and olive oil until roughly emulsified or at least mixed a bit.

Gradually pour the wet mix into the flour and mix until a slightly sticky dough is formed. You may need all the water, you may not, that will depend on your flour e.g. wholemeal and rye flours will need more.

Knead the dough for 5 minutes and leave to rest for 15-20 minutes.

Generously flour a work surface and with a rolling pin roll out the dough until its roughly 2-3mm thick.

Lightly grease a baking tray and carefully transfer onto it the thin sheet of dough.

Stretch out any creases in the dough and prick all over with a fork. If you want to top the crackers with sea salt or extra seeds brush the dough light with a wet pastry brush and sprinkle over the topping.

Using a pizza wheel cut the sheet of dough into the shapes and sizes you desire. I cut some into diamonds and some into squares and rectangles, it’s up to you. It’s important to move the dough onto the tray as one whole piece and cut it on the tray. Because the dough is so thin if you cut it first and them move the individual pieces they stretch, warp and tear and you can end up with melted-clock, Dalí-esque crackers (see the photo below).

Bake the crackers for around 20-25mins until they are crisp and slightly golden. While you let the crackers cool on a wire rack take your cheese out of the fridge to come up to room temperate. Devour.

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Fennel seed (top left), cumin seed (bottom left), wholemeal with sea salt (middle bottom) and Salvador Dalí plain sea salt (bottom right) crackers

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Cheesy Chilli Muffins

A little while ago I took a trip to Gringa Dairy, a converted railway arch down in  Peckham, where owner Kristen hand-makes authentic Mexican style cheese. A woman of boundless enthusiasm, Kristen makes three cheese Queso Fresco, Queso Chihuahua and the intricately tied Queso Oaxaca. All three are beautiful, delicious cheeses and we actually use her Queso Chihuahua at The Cheese Truck. We talked about Mexican food and she kindly gave me a jar of Gran Luchito chilli paste. When opened, this tiny little jar gave off the most incredible smoky, dried raisin and tobacco aromas.  This stuff is seriously delicious, I just had to bake with it.

Gringa dairy

The cheese making room inside Gringa Dairy, Peckham

When I think of baking and chillies together the first thing my mind is drawn to is cornbread. I love cornbread. There is something wonderfully savoury about the flavour of cornmeal that, having quite the opposite of a sweet-tooth, I adore. Cornbread always reminds me a particular holiday as a small child. We’d gone to an old fashioned dinner show; the show was Wild West themed and so we sat in a big, dusty hippodrome and I had my first taste of cornbread.

This recipe isn’t actually for cornbread however, although it is cornbread inspired, and as most things in my life at the moment involve cheese this recipe is no exception. I’d use a good strong cheddar for this recipe, the nicest you can afford, otherwise the muffins won’t have that pleasing cheddar tang. Devour these warm, as they come out of the oven, with butter or a little cream cheese. Buen provecho!

Gran Luchito and Cheddar Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

175g plain flour

115g fine cornmeal (polenta)

1/8 tsp salt

1 tbsp baking powder

85g unsalted butter (melted and cooled)

2 medium eggs

250ml buttermilk

1 tbsp honey or Gran Luchito Smoked Chilli Honey

140g mature cheddar cheese (grated), plus extra for topping

20g Gran Luchito Chilli Paste

Preheat your oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6. Begin by sifting together the flour, salt, baking powder and cornmeal in a large bowl.

Next whisk together the eggs, melted butter, honey and buttermilk.

Gentle combine the wet and dry ingredients and add in the grated cheese. The key with muffins is not to over-mix the batter, try to combine everything in less than twelve strokes. It should look a bit rough and lumpy but this helps give the muffins their characteristic, uneven texture.

Finally, take the chilli paste and, using a knife, ripple it through batter. You want streaks of chilli running through the batter so again don’t mix too thoroughly.

Grease a muffin try or line it with muffin cases and evenly distribute the batter between the 12 cases and top with the extra grated cheddar.

Bake in the preheated oven for around 20-25mins until the muffins are risen, golden and the cheese have melted.

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Blue cheese biscuits

I’ve been lax with my baking recently, I’ve been neglecting flour and yeast in favour of curds and whey. Hopefully this post will restore the balance (at least a little). I like baking with what I’ve got to hand and lately that means cheese! I’ve never seen an over-abundance of cheese as a bad thing; however when the crackers have run out this is great little recipe for using up blue cheese. My Mum makes these at Christmas, when there is always large hunk of Stilton in the fridge.

You’ll need to use a semi-firm or crumbly blue for this, so no Gorgonzola Dulce or Cambozolas. I used the creamy Blue Monday in mine. This is made up in Yorkshire by Shepherds Purse for Alex James of Blur fame. Its nice and creamy (would be a good introduction for people not keen on blue cheese) but for these biscuits something with a bit more punch is necessary like a good Stilton or the incredible Stichelton made in Nottinghamshire by Joe Schneider.

These cheesy little morsels make great snacks with drinks and I can firmly recommend you try one with a Dirty Martini (or two).

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Girlfriend approved!

Girlfriend approved!

Blue cheese, poppy seed and walnut biscuits

Makes about 20 2 inch biscuits 

100g plain flour

85g unsalter butter, cold

100g strong blue cheese, plus extra for topping (optional)

1 tbsp poppy seeds

50g walnuts, chopped

pinch of salt

Start by cutting the cold butter and cheese into small chunks. Mix together the flour, salt, walnuts and poppy seeds and begin to rub in the butter and cheese with your fingers as if making pastry.

Make sure you get all the butter rubbed into the flour (it can be hard to tell with all the cheese and nuts in there feel around with your fingers). When its all rubbed in you should have a smooth, firm dough.

Roll the dough into a log shape with a diameter of around 2 inches/4cm. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for 1 hour until it has set.

Pre-heat your oven to 190°C/170°C fan/gas 5. Take the log out the fridge, unwrap and slice into thin rounds between 3-5mm thick.

Place on a baking sheet, if you want to you can top each disc with a little blob of cheese like my Mum does. Bake in the pre-heated oven for around 10-12 minutes until they are golden brown and the cheese topping is bubbling. Remove and cool on a wire rack. Enjoy with drinks and friends.

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Cheesy Apologies

It’s been a busy month. I just wanted to apologise for not posting anything here in a long time.  So for anyone who was worried I’d fallen into an abyss/been hit by a bus/cycled into by distracted hipsters, here is a short update on what I’ve been doing instead of blogging.

I’ve been working on a new project, here in London, all centred around cheese! I met a guy who wanted to start a new business selling, grilling and promoting British artisan cheeses. I learn’t a little bit about cheese making while I was at SAF so I really interested in getting involved. Who wouldn’t wanna work with delicious cheeses? For the past two months we’ve been talking ideas and refining menu items. We spent one day trialling grilled cheese recipes the other week (imagine  eating grilled cheese sandwiches for an entire day!) we’ve also been out meeting potential suppliers including the amazing charcuterie of Black Hand Food in Hackney Wick.  To start with we’re going to be going around London selling a range of grilled cheese sandwiches. We had our first outing as ‘The Cheese Truck’ last Sunday at Maltby Street market in Bermondsey. It was great fun and it’s just the start, we’ll be there again next Sunday too if you fancy a melty treat.

I promise though that new baking-related posts will be coming to this blog shortly, man cannot live by cheese alone.

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Grilling sandwiches at Maltby Street Market

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Hams curing at Black Hand Food. Thanks to Hugo for showing us around his palace of meat.

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Our flagship Cheddar, Ogleshield and onion sandwich

New Year, Old Bananas

One thing you should know about me is that I hate wasting food. No matter how insignificant the portion I really hate throwing food away. This is fine with me as I actually really enjoy cooking with leftovers. When I returned to London this week, after being home with my family for Christmas, I came back to my kitchen to find that one of my house mates had a pair of bananas in the ‘fruit bowl’ (a wicker basket that serves also as a bread bin and for some reason is home to our garlic).

old bananas

 As you can see in this picture they were pretty darn  old. Luckily there are loads of delicious things you can  bake with overripe bananas. However, a second thing  you should know about me is that there is only one  food on this Earth that I do not enjoy the taste  of…bananas. Which left me in a dilemma: unnecessarily throw away food or face my culinary nemesis. 

 Of course in the end the desire to bake won. This then left me racking my brains, cookbooks and the internet trying to decide what to do with the things. Banana cream pies, banana and passion fruit tarts, banoffee everything, the list is endless. I narrowed it down to one of two banana bread recipes: Dan Lepard’s brilliant Butterscotch Banana Cake from Short & Sweet or a rich, chocolate banana loaf like my Mum used to bake.  A third thing you should know about me is that I am not great at making decisions. So why pick one recipe when I could make both and mix the two together! The banana marble loaf was born.

If you’ve got old bananas knocking about I can’t think of a better way to use them up. This is a seriously moist cake great for a tea-time treat or a desert with a dollop of yoghurt and some berries.

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House mate approved!

Butterscotch & chocolate marbled banana bread

Makes 1 900g/2lb loaf

 Butterscotch bananas 

125g overripe bananas (approx 1), mashed

75g caster sugar25ml water

1 tsp vanilla extract

10g butter

Basic wet batter

175g melted butter, cooled

3 eggs

50g plain yogurt

Pinch of salt

100g caster sugar

Banana batter

135g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda

Chocolate batter

125g overripe banana (approx 1), mashed

90g dark chocolate

2 tbsp cocoa powder

80g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda

Start off by making the banana butterscotch. Put the sugar and water into a pan and boil, on a high heat, until you get a red-brown caramel. Then add the butter, mashed banana and vanilla extract. Turn the heat down and simmer until the banana has broken down. Tip onto a plate and allow to cool.

Preheat your oven to 170°C/150°C fan/gas 4 and line a 900g/2lb loaf tin with greaseproof baking paper.

Beat together to ingredients for the basic wet batter until smooth and slightly aerated. Split the mixture equally between two bowls.

To one half of the wet batter add the cooled butterscotch. Sift in the plain flour baking powder and bicarb and fold until smooth.

Melt the chocolate gently in a bain marie or in short bursts in a microwave. Once cooled slightly beat the chocolate into the second half of the batter along with the remaining mashed banana. Sift in the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and bicarb and fold it all together until smooth.

Now the fun part; spoon alternate dollops of each batter into the prepared tin. You should be able to do this in two layers so you have a rough chequerboard of butterscotch and chocolate in the bottom half of the tin and another in the top half. With a skewer, chopstick, spoon handle etc. Make brief strokes through the batter to create the marble effect. Don’t go too crazy though or you’ll overmix the two batters and end up with more of a mud than a marble.

Bake, in the middle of the oven, for 55-65 minutes until the cake is risen and firm to the touch. Test with a clean skewer, if the skewer comes out clean then remove from the oven, if not bake for another 5 minutes. Leave in the tin to cool for 10-15 minutes before removing and cooling on a wire rack.

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Happy New Year!

Just a short post to wish you all a happy new year! If you were partying on Tuesday night I hope you’re feeling a little bit more human by now. Sadly I was working new year’s eve so will have to delay my festivities for another time.

Keep your eyes peeled and try to hold off on your new year’s diet for a little longer as the first recipe of 2014 (still feels weird to say) will be coming soon! Just as soon as I get a day off to bake it.

Yuletide Cookies

Ok, so I started this blog because I was doing so much baking on my days off and wanted to write about it. So I set the thing up, buy a domain name, install all the widgets and fiddle with the settings, ready to go. Problem is since then I’ve seem to have spent all my free time making chutneys instead of baking. Not that I don’t like making chutney, I even like the vinegar smell that permeats the house for days after. In fact it’s opened my eyes to the whole world of  preserving, one that I’d been blind to before, I now worry that I’ll have to stop myself from turning everything I find to a relish or marmalade. Anyway it doesn’t give baking blogger much to blog about so I’m retrieving a recipe from a few weeks back.

It was still light at 4 o’clock, the house didn’t smell like pine, the Christmas season was still a little way off and I had an urge to bake cookies.  Little did I know on that November day that I would stumble upon something so evocative of Christmas. I’d been reading Chad Robertson and Elisabeth Prueitt’s lovely book Tartine and this recipe evolved out of their orange-oatmeal-currant cookies. My take is admittedly very similar but with, I think, a far more British choice of ingredients. I mean who in the UK ever used light corn syrup in anything? So armed with one green and one crimson tin of Lyle’s I ended up with these delicious little treats.

It must be the combination of the mixed spice with the orange and the fruit that gives these soft, chewy cookies such a Christmasy taste. Perfect sat in front of the tree with a cup of tea (or even better a glass of mulled wine). This batch makes about 12 big 4 inch cookies and because of the oats they will last, sealed, for about 2 weeks (not that they’ll last that long, my house mates devoured them all in a couple of days). The currants are soaked in tea in this recipe to give them a nice plumpness; I used one I happened to have that really goes well with the other flavours of the cookie. It’s a black leaf tea blended with orange peel and cloves, think mulled wine flavours in a tea, it goes really well but any black tea would do. If you’re making your own Christmas cake these would also work really well with the boozy soaked fruits that go into that :p

yuletide cookies

Makes 12 large 4 inch cookies

Currants      100g

Winter tea/Yule tea/black tea

Plain flour      145g

Bicarbonate of soda      1/4 tsp

Ground mixed spice      3/4 tsp

Unsalted butter, softened      112g

Golden caster sugar     125g

1 large egg

Vanilla extract      1/2 tsp

Golden syrup      1 heaped tbsp

Treacle      1/2 tbsp

Salt      1/4 tsp

Zest of 1 large orange

Porrige oats       75g

Begin by brewing a good strong cup of tea and combine it with the currants in a small bowl. Cover and set aside for about 20 minutes to half an hour until the fruit is plump and juicy. Then drain well and set aside.

Preheat your oven to 170ºC and line two baking trays with baking paper.

Sift together the salt, mixed spice, bicarb and flour and set that to one side also.

Now beat together the caster sugar and butter until it is light and fluffy and has taken on a slightly paler colour. Then beat in the egg, golden syrup, treacle and orange zest until combined. Stir in the flour mixture along with the currants and oats to form a soft dough.

Once you have your dough take about a dessert spoon amount and roll it into a ball. Repeat until all the dough have been rolled and place the balls onto the lined baking trays. They should be a good 2-3 inches apart because they will spread quite a bit in the oven.

Bake for around 10-12 minutes until the centres have lost that wet sheen of the raw dough but before the edges start to go a dark brown. They will still be very soft but they will be cooked. Let them cool on the trays to set before moving them to a wire rack to fully cool.

These really are delicious and I think actually better on the second or third day after the oats have absorbed a little moisture and soften a bit. Enjoy and Merry Christmas!