The Classic Waterford Blaa

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Coming from Waterford, in South-East Ireland, there are a few things that are corner stones of my childhood – Waterford Crystal; Hurling and…of course – the blaa. “The what?”, I hear you say. Well, are you sitting comfortably? The blaa is basically a bread roll. But there are a couple of features that set it apart. Roughly square-shaped, liberally dusted with flour, it has a soft chewy texture and pleasing bitter tasting crust that is dear to the heart of Waterford natives. Many a school lunch’s main feature was a buttered blaa with “Red Lead” (pink sliced deli sausage meat) or filled with Tayto crisps. Quintessential Deise fare if ever there was any!

Dating from 17th century, blaas are well ingrained into the history of Waterford. In their original form blaas were thought to be made from the scraps left over from families baking their own bread. The name “Blaa” is thought to have been possibly derived from the old Huguenot word ‘Blaad’ – an old French word for flour, or ‘Blanc,’ – a French word meaning white, which refers to the white floury appearance of the baked blaas. To the best of my knowledge there is yet to be a confirmed origin.

Such is the fame of the humble blaa that in 2013, the Waterford Blaa Bakers Association (yes there is such thing!) succeeded in getting PGI designation for the Waterford Blaa. “PGI”  stands for Protected Geographical Indication, which essentially means that only Blaas made by specialist bakers in Waterford city and county can be called Blaas. This guarantees an authentic heritage product, based on the traditional methods and the unique skills of the bakers- think champagne; Parmigiano-Reggiano and Melton Mowbray pork pies. Basically if you see something called a “Blaa” for sale outside of Waterford? It’s not the real deal. Waterford Blaas are now supplied by traditional family bakers operating since the 1800’s. Sadly these days the family bakers have deminished with but a handful remiaining.

Whilst this recipe isn’t PGI approved, it has stood the test of time in my family. Having been passed down through generations (to date I’ve confirmed 3) there apparently has been no tweaks or amends to the original recipe. It remains true with a form that conjures memories of frenzied Saturday morning sibling debates as to whose turn it was to fetch the weekly dozen from the local store. I’ve eaten in some fancy restaurants with both divine and questionable cuisine. However I’ll be perfectly honest and say I have yet to experience anything that makes my heart swell and induce instant comfort like biting into a buttered blaa filled with Tayto cheese & onion crisps. Flour-dusted lips savouring that sweet chew contrasting with crunchy savoriness. Bliss!

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Ingredients

  • 4 cups Bread flour
  • 2 1/4 tspns quick-rise instant yeast
  • 1 tspn fine salt
  • 1 tbspn fine sugar
  • 1 tbspn butter
  • 50ml milk
  • 325ml water
  • 1/2 cup AP flour (approximately) for final dusting

Method

  1. In a pan combine the milk and butter. Heat gently until the butter is melted. Set aside and leave to cool while you prep the rest of the ingredients, stirring occasionally
  2. Lightly oil a large bowl and set side until needed later
  3. Sift the flour into the bowl of a stand mixer. To one side of the bowl add the yeast and to the opposite side add the salt. Add the sugar in the middle
  4. Combine the warm water and milk/ butter mixture and stir well. With the dough hook attachment working on slow speed, slowly add the liquid to the dry ingredients in a steady stream. Continue to add until  50 ml remain. Depending on your kitchen conditions eg temperature and humidity, you may not need to add all the liquid- only add enough liquid for your dough to form a ball and clean the bottom of the bowl. Continue to knead on slow for 7 mins. The dough should come together in a ball that is smooth and elastic to touch, without cracking or breaking
  5. Remove the dough ball from your mixer bowl and place in the preoiled bowl. Cover and set aside to proof in a  warm place for between 50-60 mins until doubled in size
  6. After this time, remove the bowl and punch down the risen dough to knock back the air. Gather the dough in to a smooth ball shape, place back in the preoiled bowl and recover for a second proof. This proof won’t take as long, between 30 – 40 mins. DO NOT SKIP this step as it helps to add to the distinctive flavor of the finished blaas
  7. Once the second proofing has been done, remove the dough from the bowl and divide equally into 9 or 12,  depending on how big you want your final blaa to be. An amount of 9 will give a more traditional palm-sized blaa
  8. Roll each of the equally-sized pieces into a smooth ball and place together in a high-sided pan. I tend to use a roasting tray that I have dusted/ dredged with flour. Place the dough balls side by side until you have a “sheet formation”. Ideally they should be spaced so that when they finish rising they touch each other. The “mouths” that are formed from this at the sides of the baked blaa are a distinguishing feature allowing easy opening
  9. Cover the dough balls with oiled clingfilm and allow to rise in a warm place for a further 30 mins.
  10. Preheat your oven to 425 F. By this time the balls should have risen and be touching each other
  11. Dust the tops of the blaas liberally with flour and place on the middle shelf. Bake for 20-25 mins. The tops of the blaas should be lightly browned and bases sound hollow when tapped
  12. Remove the baked blaas from the tin and allow to cool to warm before serving
  13. Blaas are best eaten on the day they are baked. If you do have any left the following day you can refresh them by wrapping in foil and baking them at 375F for 10 mins. Overall they will keep in an airtight container for up to 3 days

Traditional fillings for blaas

  • Bacon (rashers)
  • Tayto crisps (Irish potato chips and they MUST be Tayto!)
  • Sausages
  • “Red Lead” (Irish deli meat sausage slices. Ultra-pink in color!)

Other fillings that can be delicious-

  • Sliced roast chicken and stuffing
  • Bacon and fried egg
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A meeting of worlds- The Waterford blaa filled with Canadian peameal bacon

 

 

 

 

Golden Coconut Shortbread

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Shortbread is the stuff of legend in our house. Having a family that is Scottish means they’re well qualified to judge what falls in the parameters of acceptability. A fussy bunch they are and rightly so. Many a commercial highland cookie has fallen for being “too crumbly”, “not buttery enough” or “too damp” to name a few of criticisms. So I set about experimenting to find that correct combination of ingredients that would yield a shortbread that crumbly enough with falling to pieces; buttery enough would feeling too greasy or damp in your mouth and crisp enough to yield enough with a satisfying snap. In the words of everyone’s favourite flaxen haired domestic critic, “Just right”.

The historic recipe for shortbread hails from Scotland and in it’s basic form is one part sugar; two parts butter and 3 parts plain flour. Time and tide has, like many an ancestral recipe, meant that the original recipe has been tweaked and adjusted with many families input and alterations.

My recipe here has been tweaked from an original from my mom. I found the additions of the more unusual dry ingredient of semolina, rice flour and cornstarch increase the more desirable textures of crispness and crumbliness without marring the buttery taste. The inclusion of the ancient grain flour of Red Fife was purely a whimsical  addition as I was exploring baking with differing flour types at the time. It adds a subtle nutty flavor to the finished shortbread cookie that works really well with the signature butteriness of the cookie. And the toasted coconut? Well who doesn’t like toasted coconut?

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • 1 cup AP Flour
  • 2/3 cup Red Fife flour
  • 1/3 Semolina
  • 2 Tablespoons Rice Flour
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons fine sugar, divided
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 cup/ 2 sticks salted butter, cold and cubed

Method

  1. Lightly grease and line a 9″ x 12″ traybake tin
  2. In a pan over a medium heat toast the shredded coconut until fragrant and lightly browned. Remove from heat and set aside until needed
  3. In a large bowl combine the flour, semolina, rice flour, cornstarch, sugar and salt. Whisk together to further combine
  4. Add in the cubed butter and rub together with your fingertips until the mixture is just beginning to bind together. Every so often do a  quarter turn of the bowl to make sure you’re using all the dry mixture. You’ll want a texture somewhere between breadcrumbs and damp sand before you stop. Be wary of overworking the butter into the mixture – you want to avoid a dough that is feels slimey from the butter melting too much into the dry ingredients
  5. Tip in the toasted coconut and lightly rub in with your fingers until combined
  6. Tip the crumb mixture into your prepared tin and press the dough so that it forms a solid layer. Level the surface with the back of a spoon or measuring cup, making sure the mixture is evenly spread and uniform. Prick all over with a fork
  7. With a knife or pizza cutter score the shortbread into 24 rectangular pieces (2 cuts by 7 cuts) taking care not to actually cut the full way through
  8. Refrigerate for 30 mins minimum
  9. Preheat your oven to 325°F
  10. Remove the shortbread from the fridge and bake for about 35 minutes or until a very pale golden brown.
  11. Remove from the oven and cut fully through the baked shortbread with a knife or pizza cutter at the score lines you previously made
  12. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons of fine sugar and leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes. Carefully lift the fingers out of the tin with a palette knife or the parchment paper overhang and finish cooling on a wire rack
  13. Store in an airtight tin for up to a week

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Salted Fudge Brownie Cookies

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So waaaaaay back when- in a time when we could still hug each other; be in public without looking like random members of GI Joe or when Lysol still stocked grocery store shelves, I baked brownies. A LOT of brownies. The quantity of brownies baked in my kitchen was only just outdone by the amount of experimental cupcake flavors I would try tempt people with (Vanilla genoise w/ white truffle buttercream frosting, topped with strawberry, black pepper and a balsamic drizzle anyone?) Brownies satiated my passion for baking and my love of chocolate. In fact so much so was this the case that I ended up winning the title of Observer Food Monthly Best Reader’s Recipe 2014. The victorious recipe was my Smokin’ Pig Licker Brownies and can be found here if you interested.

Anyway I digress, as so often seems to be the case when I write these days! The current abundance of time indoors led me to wonder if this basic brownie recipe could be tweaked and applied to cookie format. And I was not to be the first. I’ll be perfectly  honest and admit I was utterly coerced by the glut of crinkle cookie images that seemed to be flooding my feed along with those of the omnipresent sourdough. The cookie recipe here follows pretty much the base template of brownies – melted choc/ butter combo; dry ingredients stash and sugar/egg volume. A dash of baking powder adds some leavening power to the cookie “dough balls” and stops them becoming a singular cookie en masse on the baking tray.

Overall I gotta admit to them being a tasty success, if thinner than I expected. I guess the word “brownies” in my head is synonymous with thick and chunky (applies to me in all walks of life!) so I was a little perturbed when these cookies baked to be a bit thinner. Nonetheless they still had the fudgy texture that I love of brownies and the crinkle topping certainly provided a certain visual ASMR.

So add these the long ever-growing list of what I should start calling “Quarantine Cookies”. Little morsels of baked goodness that have become my tasty alternative to crossing days off a calendar. The only downside being that whilst my repertoire is expanding so too, it would seem, is my waistline!

Stay safe!

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup AP Flour
  • 1/4 cup Dutch process cocoa (if you can’t get this standard cocoa is fine as long as it’s unsweetened)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 8 oz semi-sweet chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 1/2 cup salted butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coffee extract
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup fine sugar
  • 2 eggs, large
  • Optional: Flaky sea salt, to finish (I use Maldon)

Method

  1. Heat oven to 350°F and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and Kosher salt until combined.  Set aside until needed later
  3. Combine the butter and chocolate pieces in a bowl over a pan of water. Gently heat over medium-low heat until melted, stirring occasionally to combine. When fully melted remove the bowl from the hot water/ heat, add in the coffee extract and give one final stir to combine. Set aside until needed
  4. While the butter/chocolate mixture is melting, combine the eggs, brown sugar and granulated sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on medium-high speed until pale and increased in volume
  5. Slow and steadily add the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and fold them together until uniform in color and it is just combined
  6. Sift in the dry mixture, again fold it in until just combined
  7. Using a large (3 tablespoon measurement) scoop drop batter balls onto your prepared baking sheet, spaced at least two inches apart.  The batter will be quite runny and will spread significantly as the cookies bake.  (Sprinkle each cookie with a pinch of flaky sea salt, if using)
  8. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the tops of the cookies are crinkled and slightly domed. Remove cookies from the oven and transfer the pan to a wire baking rack to cool. The cookies will flatten and crinkle even further as they firm up and cool down

*These cookies will keep in a sealed container for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 3 months

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Chewy Maple & Bee Pollen Oat Cookies

Not really much of a tale behind these other than I just REALLY wanted an oatmeal cookie one day. But I can be particular about my oat cookies! Not for me are the crisp, brittle types. I prefer the soft, chewy variety that meltingly give when you bite. Maple syrup ALWAYS makes things better so why not include it? To be honest it’s not too prevalent in the taste of this cookie- just enough boost the “cookie comfort factor” (I may trademark that as a baking calibration tool!) The bee pollen was a “why the heck not?” addition from a pantry rummage, albeit with added health benefits. If you don’t have any feel fee to omit. Which of course means these become “Chewy Maple Oatmeal Cookies”. One less ingredient but just as tasty.

Makes 30 apx

Ingredients

• 1 1/2 cups All Purpose flour

• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

• 1 teaspoon baking soda

• 1 teaspoon salt

• 1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened

• 1 cup light brown sugar, packed

• 1/2 cup granulated sugar

• 2 large eggs

• 1 tablespoon fancy molasses

• 3 cups whole rolled oats

• 1/2 cup bee pollen

• 1/4 cup maple syrup

Method

  1. Whisk the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl. Set aside
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars on medium-high speed until blended, about 5 minute, then increase to high speed and whip for another 5-6mins
  3. In a jug combine the eggs, molasses, maple syrup and vanilla. Add to the butter mixture and beat for 3 minutes until combined. Scrape down the sides and beat again as needed to combine
  4. Add the dry ingredient mixture to the wet ingredients (I usually do it in 1/4 cup increments) and mix on low until combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the oats and bee pollen. The final dough will be thick and sticky.
  5. Cover and chill the dough for at least 45 minutes in the refrigerator
  6. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats
  7. Use a medium cookie scoop (about 2 tablespoon size) to scoop the cookie dough on to the prepared baking sheets, placing 2 inches apart. Bake for 15minutes or until lightly browned on the sides. The centers will look soft.
  8. Remove from the oven and allow cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely
  9. Cookies can be kept at room temperature in a sealed container for up to 1 week

Classic Angel Food Cake

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I recently tired making one of these to pass (yet another) day in self-isolation. I knew of it’s reputation for being a difficult and finicky cake to master. I’ve got to be honest- as long as you have the correct Angel Food/ Tube cake pan it’s a breeze. The recipe is a classic standard and sure it can be found with ease on Google. I’m posting it here for convenience as I’ve had a number of people inquiring about it.

A final parting word. Despite it’s fabled complication in the kitchen the cake itself is quite easy and well worth the effort. In my opinion it hands down beats any Japanese Souffle Cheesecake.

Angel Food Cake Checklist

  • Always use Cake Flour (see note below)
  • Always use room temperature egg whites
  • Always whisk/ sift the flour to aerate it
  • Always leave the cake pan ungreased
  • Always FOLD the mixtures together, do not beat
  • Always invert the baked cake straight out of the oven
  • Always allow to fully cool before removing from tin
  • Always use a serrated knife to cut cake slices to avoid squashing the crust

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Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups Cake flour*
  • 2 cups sugar, divided
  • 14 large egg whites, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Special Equipment

  • 10″ Angel Food/ Tube cake pan

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and 1 cup sugar. Set aside until later
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites at medium speed until foamy
  4. Add remaining 1 cup sugar. Increase mixer speed to high and immediately add cream of tartar and salt. Add vanilla extract, and beat until peaks form
  5. Transfer egg white mixture to a clean and dry large bowl. Gently fold in flour mixture in 4 additions just until combined. Transfer the batter to an ungreased 10-inch removable-bottom tube pan. Run a sharp knife through batter to remove any hidden air pockets, and smooth the top level
  6. Bake until cake is firm to the touch and an instant-read thermometer inserted near center registers 205°F (96°C) to 210°F (99°C), about 40 minutes.
  7. Remove from the oven and immediately invert pan** and let cool completely.
  8. When cool turn cake-side up and using an offset spatula, loosen cake from sides and remove bottom/ cake insert from pan surround. Loosen cake from bottom and tube by same method. Invert onto a cake plate and serve, cut using a serrated knife

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    Served with blueberry & gin compote and peaches

    *When I was making this I discovered I didn’t have cake flour to hand. A frustration-saving substitution for cake flour is as follows

    For 1 cup of cake flour- 1 cup of All Purpose flour but remove 2 tablespoons of it. Add in 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and sift the mixture twice. Remeasure 1 cup of the resulting mix as 1 cup of cake flour. DO NOT use All purpose flour on it’s on in this recipe – your cake will have a texture verging on bread!

**Some Angel Food/ Tube cake pans come with pronged feet attached which allow for inverted cooling. If yours doesn’t have them (like mine) then invert the baked cake tin tube onto a narrow wine bottle neck or spirits miniature bottle (some balancing or leaning against something may be required)