She who dares bakes...Chocolate Eclairs

Well, better late than never. I actually made these yummy eclairs last weekend, but in a moment of ditziness I forgot to post this before leaving for a weekend in Norfolk with Mr AB's parents. Ah well.

I was really excited when I saw Meeta and Tony had challenged us to make chocolate eclairs. I'd been having cream-cake cravings in the days before the recipe was released and no amount of filthy supermarket eclairs or cream-filled doughnuts (you know the ones with the zig-zag of jam) were going to hit the spot.

I know that choux pastry has a tricky reputation, but it's actually one of the recipes that I mastered early. Before you dismiss me as a precocious pastry making child, wielding my wooden spoon with an authority beyond my years, let me explain. My mum is very hard to please and it's rare to present her with anything without receiving a little 'constructive' criticism first (sorry mum, it's true). I don't know why, but profiteroles are one of the only things I have ever made which have been accepted without comment. Realising the power of pastries, I learnt how to perfect them. In fact, at the height of my profiterole making prowess I even supplied them to our local pub. I think I stopped when I realised I was making about 5p profit per bag. Alan Sugar I am not.

I have never, however, made chocolate eclairs. Knowing that my profiteroles were a sure thing, there was no need to take the risk of a change in shape. Not to mention that the additional washing up created by piping-bag usage would surely have resulted in the dreaded comments. There's also the fact that it only seems socially acceptable to eat one eclair per sitting whereas you can usually polish off a fair few profiteroles in a bowl without being judged.

This month's recipe departs from the usual cream filling and uses a chocolate ganache instead. Perfection. Topped with a chocolate glaze, the choux fingers become the vehicle for an indulgent chocoholic fix. The pastry recipe is slightly different to the one I usually use, but I was still pleased with the result. A crisp shell with a softer, slightly doughier inside, if only I wasn't so cack-handed with the piping bag.

I had thought of filling the eclairs with a toffee flavoured cream or keeping the chocolate filling but adding a caramel glaze, inspired by Cadbury's version of this French classic. Unfortunately I didn't have time to experiment so I kept it simple with half chocolate filled and half cream filled. The only problem was the glaze. I don't know where I went wrong, but I ended up with an oily mess. Seriously, if Barack Obama wants to stop American dependence on Middle Eastern oil, he might want to come and visit me. I'm sure you could run a few cars on this:
In the end, I kept the chocolate filled eclairs without a glaze and we ate the cream filled puffs with a simple hot chocolate sauce. Delicious. I'm only sorry there weren't any left to post up to mum.Check out the beautiful creations from the other Daring Bakers here and if you fancy a try yourself, the recipe is available here.

We're jammin, jammin and I hope you like jammin, too

I'm sure all those fruit pickers who spend their summer slaving away in fruit fields must wonder why right minded people choose to do it for fun. It makes sense. On the occasions when I've had to go back into the office at the weekend I haven't been my usual sunny self. But maybe that's because I can only help myself to pencils and post-it notes rather than free berries.

No, nothing says summer to me like going to Spilman's farm in Sessay and eating, I mean collecting, a few punnets of fruit. This year I gathered enough to make jam. I carried the fruit back to London on the train (getting a few raised eyebrows at the sight of the giant tupperware container bulging with berries) and spent a happy afternoon producing homemade strawberry jam.

There's a wealth of posh jams on the market at the moment but if you are a jam fan, nothing beats homemade. True, you're denied the excitement of finding the lone berry in the whole jar of gloop (berry to gloop ratio being much, much higher when you make it yourself) but this is a small price to pay.

The recipe below is very, very simple and can be used with all sorts of soft fruit whether strawberries, raspberries or the blackberries I've noticed starting to appear on the sides of the road. Grab your tupperware and go collecting...

The original recipe calls for 1kg of sugar but I found this to be too sweet, so went down to as low as 750g. Feel free to play around to suit your tastes.

Sessay Strawberry Jam
1kg fresh strawberries, washed, drained and hulled
1kg jam sugar (the jam sugar has added pectin to help it set)
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
Knob of butter
Heat the strawberries and the lemon juice/zest in a large pan to soften the fruit and let all the juices leak out.
Stir the sugar into the fruit until it dissolves and bring the mixture to a rapid boil until setting point is reached. You can use a sugar thermometer to test this (105 degrees Celsius). Alternatively you can use the 'cold saucer' test.

If the mixture looks like it will over boil before setting point has been reached, you can add a knob of butter to calm it down.

Once the jam is ready, pour it into sterilized jars and cover with waxed circles. Make sure you leave a jar or two open to enjoy on toast.


Every time I think of Barcelona I can't help but sing that song by Freddie Mercury from the 1992 Olympics: "Barcelonnnnnna! It was the first time that we met..." You've got to love a rousing Olympic song, I haven't heard one for this year yet though. Anyway, since my long weekend to Spain with my friend H, when I think of Barcelona I now think of Freddie and food.

One of the things that I love about H is that she is someone who enjoys food as much as me. Breakfast is spent discussing where to go for lunch, lunch is spent discussing where to go for dinner and dinner is spent discussing all of the food enjoyed that day. Perfect. Bless her, she didn't even judge me when, despite being full from dinner, I ordered a 'four-baller' from the ice-cream stand, confessing that the only reason she wasn't joining me was because she has a wedding dress to fit into in three months. I'd say go empire-line and scoops away, but maybe that's just me.

Anyway, this was my first time in Spain and I wasn't disappointed. To be honest, how could you be disappointed in a country where, instead of serving dodgy peanuts on the bar (together with the 52 types of urine), they serve tapas, or should I say, tapath. Tapas is, however, as dangerous as the urine soaked peanuts in its own way. Laid out on the counter in all its glory, you would have to have a will of steel not to keep asking for more. Especially when it's as good looking as this:

We also enjoyed black pans full of paella which, according to the locals, should be eaten on a Thursday evening. My favourite bit of this meal was scraping up the nutty toasted grains of rice which had charred in the juices in the bottom of the pan. Yum.

Our guidebook led us to believe that breakfast isn't a big deal in Spain, but after finding a cafe full of baked goods I beg to differ:

Perfect. Especially when dunked in the spectacularly good Spanish hot chocolate. Seriously, this stuff was like chocolate custard.

Like other European cities I've visited, there seemed to be a great importance placed on the quality of the ingredients. The markets were full of people (not just tourists like me taking photos) and full of ingredients that just made you wish your hotel room had a kitchen.

I don't know whether it's just because I'm in holiday mode and out of the hamster wheel of my everyday life, but I always feel a bit cheated when I come back to London after visiting Europe. The food, the attitude to life, the free jazz in the park - how do other cities manage to get it so much more right?

Unfortunately I missed July's Daring Bakers' challenge while I was away, but I have had a peek at August's challenge and I will not be missing this one.