March, 2013


27
Mar 13

The art of coffee making

Speakeasy

Speakeasy

I do love a good cup of coffee. And I’m certainly not alone in that respect, with coffee becoming firmly entrenched in British culture. As a nation, we spent £730 million on coffee in the British Isles last year alone.

We can see for ourselves that coffee shops are a growing fixture in our landscape, and, in fact, on a recent trip to Oxford, I was stopped by a tourist, asking where the nearest tea room was. And I actually couldn’t think of one. If the lady had asked for a coffee shop, I could have reeled off half a dozen nearby.

Whilst there are no shortage of coffee shops in every town and city in the country, I have been interested to discover some of the really excellent independents that take coffee much more seriously than the larger chains, and dedicate themselves to producing the very best coffee they can.

I recently visited Speakeasy Espresso and Brew Bar, located just off of Carnaby Street in London.  I spent the morning with John Kyle learning how to make the perfect cup of coffee using a Rocket Evoluzione Machine, which is quite a serious piece of kit at £1400.

Making coffee with John at Speakeasy

Making coffee with John at Speakeasy

Like John, my coffee of choice is always a flat white, so this is what we learnt to make. Of course, every coffee shop has its own way of doing things, so what I learnt was very much their way of doing things, but it certainly produced an excellent cup of coffee.

First up, I learnt that one of the secrets to a perfect brew is that everything must be measured. The coffee beans, and the time taken to prepare a shot of coffee are all controlled precisely to ensure the perfect result. This will depend on your machine, but my homemade technique of pouring ground coffee aimlessly out of the bag has to go. The coffee beans need to be accurately ground too, for the right result. Again, my home coffee grinder seemed woefully inadequate compared to the Mahlkonig Vario grinder we used which has tens of grind settings to get your beans just right – but it is £400 new.

John showing me what to do

John showing me what to do

John expertly guided me through the process of making a shot of coffee, showing me how to tamp the coffee perfectly, which is where the ground coffee is flattened into the basket before being attached to the coffee machine. This simple stage is really crucial to get right, as the flow of water through the ground coffee affects the flavour and consistency of the output.

Next, we had a go at the milk. John described the milk on a flat white as “as close to drinking velvet as you can get” which I think is a pretty accurate description. Getting your milk just so is harder than it may appear. We used the arm of the Rocket machine and a small metal jug to heat our milk. This was the hardest part for me, as I felt I could have done with more hands as there are several processes to carry out at once, from controlling the steam levels of the machine, to holding and swirling the milk jug and feeling how warm it’s getting against your hand. Although it doesn’t sound like much, it all happens really quickly, and there are lots of things to do and think about when you’re at this stage.

My turn to froth the milk

My turn to froth the milk

After a couple of attempts, I did manage to get it just right, although my pouring techniques leave a little to be desired – I was trying to attempt a heart shape in the milk. Still, it tasted pretty darn good, so I was happy.

My flat white

My flat white

This is a brilliant opportunity to for coffee enthusiasts to learn how to improve their coffee making skills at home with fun, likeminded people. Courses take place in the evenings and are around £35-45 for a couple of hours. You can even bring your own equipment and learn how to get the best out of it. There are many alternatives to an expensive coffee machine, such as cafetières and filters too, so you don’t need to buy a particularly expensive machine.

Visit Speakeasy Coffee and Brew Bar and find out more about their Coffee School here


26
Mar 13

Perfect pies

Homemade pie

Homemade pie

Pies are, quite rightly, gaining much more popularity of late. Having been shunned for years by people deeming them as unhealthy, they are enjoying a long overdue resurgence.

Making gluten free pastry is simple, and below, you’ll find a fantastic recipe for shortcrust pastry, both sweet and savoury – tender, melting and flaky and very straightforward to make. For ease, I like to make it in the food processor. Simply add the ingredients and whizz until smooth. How easy is that?!

Gluten free pastry is very simple to make but can be harder to handle. It is a lot softer and stickier, so you need to handle it carefully. For the best results, use a non-stick pie dish. This will mean that your pastry cooks perfectly and releases first time. And no soggy bottoms. I have used the pie dishes made by Mermaid which are just brilliant for this and make pastry making so easy.

Here are two pie recipes we have been enjoying recently.

Prawn and chorizo pie

Prawn and chorizo pie

Prawn and chorizo pie

Serves 2, generously

Ingredients

For the pastry

275g plain flour (I use Doves Farm blend)

150g chilled butter

2 large free range eggs, beaten

Pinch of salt

For the pie filling

1 tsp butter

3 cloves garlic

300g prawns

250g chorizo, cooked

2 glasses white wine

Salt and pepper

A pinch of thyme

Method

Start by making the pastry. Place all the ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth. Bring the mixture together into a ball. Flatten and wrap in cling film. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Now, make the filling. Melt the butter and cook the garlic until fragrant. Add the prawns, chorizo and wine, and allow to bubble away for 15 minutes and allow the liquid to reduce. Season well.

When the pastry is chilled, preheat the oven to 180C

Roll the pastry out between two sheets of clingfilm. Cover the bottom of the pie dish with one layer of pastry and trip neatly around the edges. Retain the excess pastry.  Fill the pie with the prawn and chorizo filling.

Roll out the remaining pastry and cover the pie, again trimming off the edges and cutting a cross in the top to allow excess steam to escape.

Brush the pastry with the remaining egg.

Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden and crispy. Enjoy hot or cold.

 

Apple pie

Apple pie

Apple pie

Serves 2, generously

Ingredients

For the pastry

275g plain flour (I use Doves Farm blend)

150g chilled butter

125g caster sugar

2 large free range eggs, beaten

For the filling

2 large Bramley apple, peeled and thinly sliced

2 eating apples, peeled and thinly sliced

2 tbsp light brown soft sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

Method

Start by making the pastry. Place all the ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth. Bring the mixture together into a ball. Flatten and wrap in cling film. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

When the pastry is chilled, preheat the oven to 180C

Roll the pastry out between two sheets of clingfilm. Cover the bottom of the pie dish with one layer of pastry and trip neatly around the edges. Retain the excess pastry.

Fill the pie with sliced apples and sprinkle over the sugar and cinnamon.

Roll out the remaining pastry and cover the pie, again trimming off the edges and cutting a cross in the top to allow excess steam to escape.

Brush the pastry with the remaining egg.

Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden and crispy. Enjoy hot or cold.


20
Mar 13

Baking bread at home

Black olive and parmesan bread

Black olive and parmesan bread

Baking gluten free bread can be hit and miss at best. I have tried hundreds of combinations of ingredients, but this one is a favourite. It is a super bread to have with a meal, to dip into soups, stews or pasta sauces, and makes great sandwiches, too. It is full of flavour and very moist, meaning it keeps well for a few days.

This recipe is based on a recipe on the BBC Good Food website, which I have adapted. Using boiled water in the oven to create steam makes the crust extra crunchy.

A good quality non-stick loaf tin is a great investment for baking, particularly with gluten free bread. This one is a recent addition to my kit, made by Le Creuset (lecreuset.co.uk). I also have a new Cuisinart rapid boil kettle, from Steamer Trading, a fantastic chain of cook shops, which I am really enjoying using.

Black olive and parmesan bread 

Makes 1 large loaf

Ingredients

200g brown bread flour (I use Doves Farm)

Pinch salt

3 tsp baking powder

285ml milk

2 tsp lemon juice

3 large eggs, beaten

8 tsp olive oil

50g finely grated parmesan

100g pitted black olives

Method

Preheat the oven to 180C. Lightly grease a good quality 2lb loaf tin with sunflower oil and set aside.

Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into a large mixing bowl and stir well.

Place the milk and lemon juice together into a jug and stir. Set aside for five minutes.

Add the eggs, olive oil and milk to the flour and stir together until all the flour has been incorporated. Now, add the parmesan and olives and stir together.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin. It will be runny, so don’t worry!

Fill a roasting tin half full with freshly boiled water. Place in the bottom of your oven and place the loaf on a higher shelf.

Bake for 55-65 minutes until crusty and browned.


14
Mar 13

American pancakes

American pancakes

American pancakes

There are times when you just can’t beat an American pancake. They are fantastic to make for breakfast, when you have time, or make a gorgeous dessert which can be whipped up in a matter of minutes, and which mainly uses store cupboard ingredients.

This is a fantastic recipe for gluten free American pancakes which we regularly enjoy. They can be a little more fragile than pancakes made with wheat flour. To get around this, I find it really works well to use a really good non-stick spatula. I use one made by OXO Good Grips. It helps turn the pancakes really effectively. I use their plastic bowl and whisk, too which make it so easy to whisk the batter and pour it into the pan cleanly (which has been a revelation!).

The hardest part of making these is deciding what you would like on top. My favourite is maple syrup and fresh blueberries.

American Pancakes

Serves 2, generously!

Ingredients

200g self raising flour (I use Doves Farm gluten free blend)

50g caster sugar

Pinch salt

30g butter, melted

1 large egg, beaten

300ml milk

Extra butter or sunflower oil for cooking

Toppings of your choice

Method

Sift the flour into your mixing bowl. Add the sugar and salt and stir well.

Whisk the butter, egg and milk together and pour into the flour. Whisk well until smooth. Allow to sit for 10 minutes.

Now, heat the butter or oil in a large frying pan. Pour in blobs of mixture according to the size of pancake you would like. Cook on a high heat for around 1-2 minutes on each side until browned and the pancake comes away from the pan cleanly. Flip, cook on the other side and then serve immediately with your favourite toppings.

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