Maple Pecan Baked Doughnuts

These are delayed celebratory doughnuts because our community garden got funded last week! I’ve been doing a kind of internal dance ever since. We can now buy and establish a large greenhouse, get wellingtons for volunteers and buy seeds. It’s all very exciting. I get slightly giddy when I think about it. Oh! The things we will grow!

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And nothing says celebration quite like a doughnut right? Particularly one made with brown butter, maple syrup and pecans. (Yes, I realise that it actually screams autumn and it feels very much like spring is on fast-forward right now but they’re so divine that hardly matters.) I find these are best iced and eaten whilst slightly warm, preferably in a sunny spot with a good book. (I’ve just started Hollow City, the second novel in the Peculiar Children series. I love the way the text and photographs work together to create the story. I’m hoping to do something like that in my thesis. I am making small progressive steps towards the Foucault chapter. The ideas are there. It’s just taking time to make them make sense. And to know the various arguments. Slowly, slowly.)

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This recipe is adapted from a Joy the Baker one, which you can find here. I reduced the sugar content to make way for the maple syrup, used self-raising flour not plain flour and added cinnamon rather than nutmeg. I’ve discovered I’m not the biggest fan of nutmeg in doughnuts. And obviously the icing has to be cream cheese based.

Maple Pecan Baked Doughnuts
Makes 7 (awkward I know – I made 6 but it means there were no holes in the middle of the doughnuts)
1 cup self-raising flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp golden caster sugar
30g butter, unsalted
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
50g pecans, roughly chopped

Glaze
75g full-fat cream cheese
2/3 cup icing sugar
3 tbsp milk

Preheat the oven to 175C*. Lightly grease a six-hole doughnut tin.
Mix the flour, soda, salt, cinnamon and caster sugar together. Stir in the pecans.
Brown the butter. (If you haven’t done this before, melt the butter on a medium-high heat in a saucepan, and then leave it to cook until the aroma turns nutty and there are brown flecks in it. It will sputter a lot initially whilst the water separates out but then will cook quite quietly. Watch it as it burns easily and you don’t want the butter to turn black.) Cool.
Whisk the egg, buttermilk and vanilla extract. Then add in the maple syrup. Whisk in the butter.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and stir until all the flour in incorporated. Then stop. You don’t want to over mix the batter.
Spoon the mixture into a piping bag (or ziploc plastic bag) and pipe the mixture into the doughnut tin. (I find this way easier and quicker than trying to spoon it in. It’s less messy and if you use the ziploc you can chuck the bag away at the end so no cleaning up. I realise that perhaps that is not the most environmentally friendly so you can of course clean the ziploc bag and reuse it for other batters at a later stage.)

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Bake for 10 minutes, rotating after 8 if your oven is uneven (mine likes to cook the back right of everything way darker).

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Cool completely before icing.

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To make the icing, whisk the cream cheese until smooth. Add in the icing in three goes (this helps prevent lumps) and then whisk in the milk. You want a fairly liquid icing, so you can dip the doughnuts into it or spread it on with a spoon. Add more milk if you need to. (I made double the icing I suggest here. You don’t need that much. I’m going to have to swirl it into brownies or something this week.)

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*My oven seems to run at temperatures hotter than what it says. (Not exactly a surprise.) But I’ve started to bake things at 175C as a result.

Milk Tart Pancake Stack

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Well well well. It is now March. Of 2014. I last blogged in November. Of 2013. Whoops. I’m fairly sure the only explanation for the massive gap in-between posts is: I have now entered that period of a PhD known as ‘writing up’. It’s also known as (perhaps not officially), the period of mass freak outs and major questions. Of like everything. But particularly, why on earth am I subjecting myself to this quest of intellectual endeavour? What is wrong with baking cakes for a living? Why on earth did I decide to leave that perfectly satisfying profession? And what in the world is Michel Foucault saying? This week, all of my work is on old Michel. And his ideas on how we come to know what we know. And what it is we can claim to know. And how this knowing is used by people in power. And how it forms a part of governance and bio-power. I am using Michel to help explain how all we seem to be concerned with is childhood obesity. And eating fruits and vegetables. And getting children to eat more fruits and vegetables. I’m not particularly concerned with this in my project per se, but everyone I read certainly is. So Michel Foucault and I are getting to know each other. Or I am getting to know him. He is certainly not getting to know me.

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But today is fat Tuesday. A day, I read (via the copious links on my Twitter feed), for eating fried foods (if you’re in the States) or pancakes (if you’re here in the UK). I’ve chosen pancakes. I am in the UK, after all, and whilst I don’t think I’d even heard of pancake Tuesday until I started my PhD, I’ve given things a South African spin and filled them with milk tart custard. I don’t have many food memories from my childhood. I’m not one of those people who has had various epiphanies of long-lost flavours or has distinct childhood memories of food. (I remember the practically white, flourly beef tomatoes that used to be a feature of salads in my youth and which nearly turned me off tomatoes for life though.) But milk tart – unbaked mind you – was a big love of mine from early on. I have no time for the baked variety. I love the custard in milk tart. I think it is the origin of my love of custard in general, but milk tart custard is particular. Slightly cinnamon-y, sweet, gloopy. And preferably from Pick ‘n Pay. And what better way to fill a pancake than with the custard mixture that would normally fill a tart base? It’s a winner I tell you.

For pancakes (or crepes, if you’re being very technical), I used the recipe on Poires au Chocolat – mostly because she made a crepe cake with them. Emma’s cake was much prettier than my stack. I learnt that having a decent sized crepe pan is something rather necessary if you’re going to get all the pancakes the same size. (Otherwise you’ll end up with what I had, a domed shape of chaos and confusion). I made the milk tart custard first, so that it could cool in the fridge whilst I made the pancakes. In terms of flipping them, I find it’s easiest to do so with fingertips – something I learnt whilst making crepes for crepe Suzette in the downtime around service at Gleneagles. (As a chef you can never not be busy and so we used to flip crepes on quiet nights or whilst we waited for things to pick up.)

Milk Tart Custard
(This makes enough to fill 20-odd pancakes with a thin layer of custard. Double if you’re filling a regular tart case.)
500 ml whole milk
20g butter, unsalted
1 cinnamon stick
25g plain flour
25g cornflour
1 egg
125ml golden caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Heat the milk, butter and cinnamon stick to scalding point.
Mix the flour, cornflour and sugar with the egg. If it won’t make a smooth paste, add in some of the milk you’re heating. You want a smooth, fairly loose, paste. Whisk in the vanilla and cinnamon. Temper the scaled milk onto the paste, whisking to incorporate. Pour everything back into the saucepan and cook on a medium heat until the custard is very thick.

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Pour into a square baking tin, smooth out with a spatula and cover with cling film (so that it doesn’t skin). Allow to cool for 15 minutes before placing in the fridge.

Once you’ve got all your pancakes cooked, assemble the stack by placing a pancake on a plate. Dollop some custard onto the pancake and smooth it out thinly.

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Repeat until all the pancakes and custard are used. Slice with a hot knife and eat.

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This photo proves how not pretty the whole thing looked. But it looks fab when sliced no?

Also, here is a picture of another Pancake. One with a capital P. No, I’ve not gone and got domesticated. She belongs to friends of mine, who, when I said I was making pancakes for fat Tuesday, suggested I include her in the post. So here she is.

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Bologna and Parma, Italy

Last weekend I hopped on a short flight over to Italy (the novelty of which never gets old), to hang out with friends who are currently living in Parma. I spent Friday afternoon in Bologna, having a wander and eating. Bologna may be my spiritual home. Just off from one of the piazzas is a myriad of tiny streets with food vendors, food shops, kitchen equipment, pastry shops and restaurants – all selling fabulous things.

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I loaded up with salami and marrons glaces before hopping on a train to Parma, where I continued to eat. Despite the constant rain on Saturday, we ventured out, basically to do more food shopping and to eat sandwiches at Pepen (another spiritual home), before collapsing and having one last, late meal, at a local place around the corner from my friend’s apartment.

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It was an excellent sojourn, and reminded me of my love of food and food cultures and why it is that I am currently fighting with my data set in order to craft something worthwhile about food experience. Judith Jones’ autobiography, My Life in Food, is also helping – her descriptions of life in 1940s Paris make me a) want to time travel and b) book a seat on the Eurostar immediately. Sometime soon I will finally decide what the story of my thesis is (there are several) and will begin the writing process. At the moment I am organising the things children say about food and food experience into relevant themes. I’m very nearly done collating all the data – only 6 4 more focus groups to do! And then I will be hopping on a plane to fly South for some sunshine. (2 weeks tonight til I fly.)

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Community Garden UoN

It’s been ages since I’ve given you an update on what’s happening in the garden. Many plans are afoot, we’ve been rebranded as the University of Nottingham Community Garden, I’ve been writing funding grants with other garden leaders, we’re doing epic battle with slugs (I don’t understand slugs), our courgette plants have grown their last courgettes (ridiculous production capabilities those), and we’ve got onions and garlic in the ground for the winter. This week we made an insect house and we’re planning some Christmas themed festivities too. Here’s what it looks like at the moment.

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As you can see we’ve entered ski jacket and wellington boot gardening weather. But on clear days, it’s not too bad. And our leeks are coming along slowly.

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Our kale, cabbage and brussels sprouts on the other hand, seem to be a festive celebration of fantasticalness for the slugs. I don’t think there’s any coming back from the destruction.

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The autumn colours are amazing.

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Things look a bit muddy and forlorn but they are actually growing.

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And our insect house is up! Hopefully we’ll have some fascinating bugs move in.

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes

We haven’t done a cupcake here in a while. And in the last few weeks everyone has been talking all things pumpkin. So who am I to resist this call? I can get into the whole pumpkin vibe. Easy. Remember these? Pumpkin cinnamon rolls? They were amazing. And these cupcakes are too. They taste like fall, or what I imagine fall to taste like – being South African I have only ever experienced autumn but I have this feeling that fall, as termed with notes of longing, reverence and memory by all North Americans I meet, is something completely different. Perhaps it’s because winter falls in July and is not therefore associated with Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas and does not signal the on-coming holidays that I don’t hold this season in such awe. I don’t know and now I’m rambling. So to these cupcakes.

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I have of course, consulted the bastion of American baking, the queen, you might say, that is Martha. You can find her recipe here. Unlike other recipes I examined, this one does not call for ‘pumpkin spice’. What pumpkin spice is, I cannot say for sure, but I imagine that it tastes like the combination of the spices in this recipe. I’ll be honest, I changed only the flour to white spelt flour and added in a 1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves. I also browned the butter – because, when in doubt, always brown butter. I’m sure it adds a nutty, whole-rounded flavour to the finished cupcakes but that may just be me trying to be a pretentious food blogger. But brown the butter anyway. So I’m not going to repost the recipe here, I hardly made any changes and wouldn’t if (when) I make them again (except to remember perhaps, the weight of things like butter in grams). They’re iced with cream cheese frosting, the recipe for which you can find here. So instead, I leave you with a pumpkin spice cupcake photo essay.

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Mushroom Foraging

A few weeks ago I went mushroom foraging for the first time. A group of us met on University Park campus and together with a mushroom guide, we learnt about various mushrooms – ones good for eating, others that aren’t. Then we went wandering around campus, our eyes focused on the ground, to find some. It turns out there’s loads of mushrooms on campus, you just have to keep you eyes peeled. We found a variety of different ones, all largely identified by our guide. Lots of fairy-story names like ‘elf caps’ and ‘fairy batons’ which I just love.

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