I can’t believe there’s only one episode of the Bake Off left! I have really been enjoying my challenges (except the evil choux nuns) and I have even managed to get to my Weightwatchers goal weight – I am pretty impressed with myself considering the amount of cake and pies I have been eating over the past few weeks.
However, despite hitting goal weight, I am very conscious of the fact that I am going on holiday in two weeks to a warm country which will require the wearing of a bikini (at least it will if I want a nice tan). So I wanted to be able to do a bit of damage limitation in preparation for my hols, and lucky me – I was fortunate this week to be able to treat some new friends (or palm off some goodies to them, depending on your perspective) . Jo of Alphabet Adventures is getting married in a few weeks, and so we spent the weekend in Brighton for her hen celebrations. As 20-odd girls would be sharing a house and drinking a fair bit, I decided that savoury canapes would be appreciated by all, even if only to line our stomachs in advance of our nights out.
Also, I confess that the brain cake (the Charlotte Royal) looked much too complicated for my liking, and the Opera cake sounded totally delicious but again quite an effort to make, and I had to be able to make all my goodies after work. Plus my friend Sophie suggested that I should make gougeres (apparently very easy and super tasty), which sounded like a pretty damn awesome idea to me.
So, I rushed home from work and unpacked my Ocado order, forgetting to photograph all the ingredients for this blog post – very annoying. You’ll have to imagine lots of flour, butter and cheese. Yummy.
I had decided to make Sophie’s gougeres (cheesy flavoured choux buns), pesto palmiers (adapted from a BBC recipe) and some Good Housekeeping mini cheese and bacon muffins. I also decided to make some brownies with caramel in the middle (well, if you are going to have a weekend of indulgence, you might as well go for it and really plan to stuff your face with goodies). I felt like I was on the Bake Off – racing against time to bake everything before bed.
So I started with the brownies. They are a Nigella recipe at heart – so easy to make, and I have yet to find a better brownie. I had come across a recipe for salted caramel brownies from Edd Kimber I think, and so decided to buy a tub of Bonne Mamam caramel sauce (on special offer in Waitrose) to try and copy his recipe. The result looked like it was going to be a disaster, as the sloppy brownie mixture didn’t hold the caramel sauce on top – in fact it all just sort of merged together in the pan, so I was getting a bit annoyed about having ruined a perfectly good brownie with caramel. However, when I had taken the tray out of the oven and allowed the brownies to cool a little, I tried a little bit from the edge of the pan and it was DELICIOUS! So I tried a little bit more, then a little bit more, then before I knew it I had eaten the equivalent of about two brownies worth (possibly more)!
Then they were quite squidgy to cut apart when cool, so I ended up eating more scraps, and then I also ate the ends which I had trimmed off as I only wanted to give the best bits to the girls. Hmmmmm. I think I had eaten a quarter of the brownies by the time they were sliced and put away. Definitely a success, although not for my waistline!
So in between baking (and eating) the brownies, I started on the gougeres. Again I was nervous about mucking up the choux after my religieuse experience, but Simon Hopkinson’s recipe was easy to follow and whilst the resulting batter was wetter than I am used to, the buns rose beautifully in the oven. Luckily I was feeling quite sick from munching on the brownie scraps, so I resisted eating any of the gougeres straight out the oven, although they would be perfect if served that way. I did, I confess, do some sampling the next day (obviously for quality control as I wanted to make sure I took the nicest things to Brighton). One word: addictive.
So with the gougeres in the oven I made the palmiers – which could not have been simpler – I hesitate to even describe it as a recipe. A ready rolled puff pastry sheet, spread with ready made pesto from a jar, rolled and sliced, brushed with egg wash and baked. Done! And once again – YUM!
So finally I had to make the cheese and bacon muffins. I have never actually made muffins before, and now had to make mini ones – realising at the last minute that I had a mini muffin tin and no mini muffin cases. Bugger. I had to hope that my mini muffins wouldn’t be sticking (arghhhh, stress once again!). They were easy to make, but having to cook bacon first was a bit of a faff – next time I would use ham, and some spring onions mixed in as well. Happily the muffins didn’t stick in the pan, and because the muffins are quite dense a smaller muffin is better in my view than a full sized one would be. They are quite substantial and certainly very tasty.
So everything was made, packed up (or in my tummy) and ready for the hens. All easily transportable, and easy to eat with a glass of wine in one hand, and a gougere or three in the other. Even if I do say so myself the canapes were a hit (even though the puff pastry palmiers were a little worse for wear by the time they made it to Brighton).
I would say that the mini muffins were the biggest success, but the gougeres were deemed delicious by someone who doesn’t even like cheese – which is a success in my book. The palmiers were very tasty and it was nice to have something which wasn’t cheesy (especially as we were hoovering up pizza, cheese and crackers alongside the canapes). Finally, the brownies. They were fabulous – I hadn’t realised I could improve on perfection, but yes I did. They were gorgeously gooey with a nice hint of caramel, and would be even more delicious served warm with ice cream. Also very nice served the next day for breakfast with a rotten hangover.
Madame Parrot’s gougeres – makes around 30 (this isn’t Sophie’s recipe but she gave me the idea so they are named for her. They are based on Simon Hopkinson’s recipe, which you can find here).
250 ml water, 80g butter, 1 tsp sea salt, 100g plain flour, 4 eggs, 150g grated gruyere, paprika
Melt the butter in the water and bring it to the boil with the salt. Remove from the heat and stir in the flour. Allow to cool slightly and whisk in one egg at a time until well combined. Add the cheese, whisking well, and shake in some paprika for flavour and colour. Spoon walnut sized dollops of the mixture onto a baking tray (they double in size, so leave some space between each) and bake in a preheated oven (200 degrees) for 20-25 minutes until golden and puffy. Remove onto a baking tray and allow to cool slightly before serving (or cool completely and bag up for Brighton!).
One pack of pre-rolled puff pastry, a few spoons of pesto (red or green), one egg
Spread the pastry with pesto and then roll the long sides into the middle so you have a long tube. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes and then slice, brush with egg wash and bake in an oven for 10 minutes, or until puffed and golden.
Cheese and ham muffins (Good Housekeeping’s original recipe is here, but this is how I would make them next time)
One small pack of smoked ham (3-4 slices), 150g self raising flour, 50g cheddar or the rest of the gruyere, a shake of mustard powder (around 1 tsp), 2 chopped spring onions, 1 egg, 125ml milk
Mix the ham, flour, cheddar, mustard powder and spring onion in a bowl. In a separate bowl beat together the milk and egg. Then combine the two gently until just mixed, as the more you mix them the tougher the batter becomes. Spoon the mixture into muffin tins and top with a little extra cheese or some dried chilli flakes. Bake for around 12-15 minutes at 80 degrees.
All of the above are best served amongst friends (old and new), dressed in your onesie … and bottomless pants for some people … (just before going out clubbing in your PJs, obviously), with a large glass of wine or vodka (or both), followed by brownies and cake (save leftovers for breakfast, along with pizza). All with no guilt, knowing that you’ll be working it all off the next day by learning to dance to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and stumbling around Brighton trying to find the elusive karaoke club.
Thanks girls for a fabulous weekend, and I look forward to toasting to Jo’s happy future with you in a few weeks.