Announcement: Astypalaia Field School

12 Jan

Greetings gentle readers! It’s announcement time here on The Baking Archaeologist for all you fans and students of archaeology (especially human bioarchaeology). The yearly field school on the beautiful Greek island of Astypalaia is now accepting applications for placements for the 2011 summer season. All the details can be found on the main website, but if you’re interested in doing a field school this summer, this is definitely the one to go with. The course runs for 5 weeks on the gorgeous and sunny Astypalaia, a small island in the Dodecanese archipelago, and is a field school unlike any other. Here students are able to recover and study human foetal remains dating to the classical period in Greece, all of which were excavated from the largest ever found children’s cemetery – adjacent to the town of Chora.

I myself participated in this field school four years ago and here are a few of my personal photos of the island.

The town of Chora.

Beautiful sunrise from the lab.

A sunset view of the port.

Sorry, the last one is a bit on the fuzzy side, but typical of me on vacation, I broke my camera while on this trip. Anyway, I would heartily recommend this field school to all interested parties. But if you do want to go – get your application in ASAP. The number of places is very limited. If you have any questions, please pop them in the comments section and I can contact the director of the project for you.

That’s it for this post everyone! We’ll be back next week with more baked goods – and more archaeology!

500 days of cookies

28 Sep

Greetings gentle readers. Welcome back to a fresh instalment of the Baking Archaeologist. As the new school year is upon us here in the UK, needy research students are in ever more desperate need of sugar-based baked goods, to sooth their frayed nerves as the undergraduate hordes descend upon us once again. To those of us who have resided within our cramped, dark research rooms for the duration of the summer, becoming vaguely Gollum-like in our shunning of natural light, the cacophony that accompanies the start of term is nothing short of apocalyptic, what with the undergrads thronging through the department, filling the lifts and eating all of the sandwiches. And so, naturally, we must turn to sugar and caffeine to sustain our fragile, fragile minds…

Anyway, so last week was the most nightmarish of times – yet another birthday for yours truly. While it’s not quite the big 3-0 yet, it’s creeping up on me with steadfast determination. Regardless of the waking terrors this has caused me, I did manage to acquire some sweet-ass gifts, including a new cookbook – 500 Cookies. After salivating my way through the pages of said tome, I decided to start this new term with a double whammy of cookie awesomeness. And here, for your gazing pleasure, are the two cookies I chose to start off with: Chewy Chocolate Cookies and White Chocolate Chunk Cookies.

Behold the chewy chocolate cookies – practically perfect in every way! Gorgeous gooey wonderfulness. I am somewhat obsessed with finding the perfect cookie – crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside. These little babies come pretty damn close. The first batch through the oven are a bit on the fudgey side, taken out at 8 minutes; the batch left in for ten minutes were more to my liking – crunchy and chewy. Bliss! If you want a cookies that’s pretty much just a brownie in disguise, these are the cookies for you. Oh, but seriously, don’t eat too many – they are chocolatey enough to kill.

Possibly even better than the chewy goodness above, here be the desperately moorish White Chocolate Chunk cookies. Just try to eat only one – go on, I dare you. It’s physically impossible – believe me. Again, these bad boys are a lovely cross between soft, chewy insides and firm, slightly crunchy outsides. Like the chocolate cookies, I would recommend cooking these guys a bit on the long side, as the slightly burnt ones had the best texture ever.

So I think that I’m going to keep on working my way through my 500 cookies for the next few weeks ( as I still have 498 more to go). Tempted to try the amaretti cookies next (my favourite ever), but I could be persuaded to make the giant cookie pizza instead… As always, if you want the recipes, just drop me a line and I’ll try to send them your way!

Until next week…

Sticky Ginger Cake

27 Jun

Hello again gentle bakers! Apologies for the lack of deliciousness last week – I made some lovely brownies last Sunday, but as they were reasonably straight forward to make, I figured you all might not be all that fascinated by it. Anyway, this week it’s another fiendishly fabulous cake from River Cottage Everyday – Sticky Jamaican Style Ginger cake, and, Mr. B describes, is quite darkly delicious. Calling for black treacle, golden syrup, dark muscovado sugar (yes, it really did this time), crystalized ginger and a mighty splash of rum (of the Puerto Rican variety), this cake is remarkably spicy and sweet, with a texture that’s soft and delicate, save for the occasional chewy gingery bite. I wasn’t quite sure how it would turn out – I’m slightly wary of cooking with alcohol – but the rum comes through just at the end, giving the cake more of kick than it otherwise would have had. Personally, I think that I would prefer a rum-free cake, but I’m unsure what you could use as a substitute. Any thoughts?

Also, the only other issue I had with this cake was getting it to cook through all the way. I did end up burning the top ever so slightly, but the problem was that by the time the middle of the cake was cooked properly, the outer edges had become a bit dry. I noticed this the last time I made a loaf cake and I’m not sure if it’s the pan I’m using or it’s my wonky fan oven. Suggestions?

I definitely recommend this recipe – except for the practically perfect victoria sponge, I do believe this is my favourite sweet from this cookbook so far. If anyone is interested in the recipe, shoot me a note in the comments and I’ll send it your way.

Now for the pics!!

Orange Sponge Cake

14 Jun

Good Monday morning everyone! So this week, I kept plugging my way through River Cottage Everyday, this time making the ‘Lemon Trickle Cake’  – however, due to my seemingly constant use of lemon in all things bakeable, I decided to mix this recipe up a bit and use oranges rather than lemon. And all I can say is that this is possible the best thing ever. I know I say that kinda crap a lot, but seriously guys, try this recipe and you will not be disappointed. The recipe itself is a variation on a Victorian Sponge cake, but rather than making two rounds and filling them with cream and jam, here, only a simple loaf is made and then covered with ‘lashings’ of sweet citrusy icing. So all I did was replace the lemon with orange – probably making the whole thing about a million time sweeter than it’s supposed to be. The end bits are so covered and full of orangey icing they make my teeth ache – but it’s so worth it. I am absolutely in love with this sponge cake. I may make it every week. :)

So no idea what I may make next week. There is a honey whole meal cake that I’ve been itching to try since I got the cookbook…. Or maybe I’ll give the fudge another try – yes, I tried to make fudge and ended up with hard toffee. Burned hard toffee. That’s what you get for trying to make candy without a sugar thermometer. See, I thought John Lewis had everything. How wrong I was…

Swirly Muffins

8 Jun

Greetings fellow bakers and/or consumers of delicious baked goods!

Okay, so after the DISASTER of last week’s baking – damn you whoopie pies, damn you – this week, it’s back to basics. From my new favourite cookbook ever, River Cottage Everyday by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, I decided to make the Lemon Curd Swirl Muffins (probably not the recipe title as in the book, but I don’t have it in front of me at the mo, so that’s close enough). Hugh offers 3 alternative variations based on the standard mix, so I also did a batch of Nutella Swirl muffins as well. I have to say, these are AWESOME. Seriously guys. Awesome. The batter is not too sweet and the lemon curd is fantastic in muffin form.  I really like the fact that he gives tips on how to adjust the recipe depending on your taste – nutella + muffin is a stroke of genius. (There’s also jammy muffins and fruity muffins.) A brief word of warning though – really , really be careful not to over mix the batter when you add in the lemon curd/jam/nutella – the whole point of this recipe is to get gooey globs of the stuff intermixed with the fluffy muffin batter. If you over mix, you just get either lemon flavoured muffins or chocolate muffins.

Pics!!

The lemon curd muffins get this wonderfully sticky, shiny glaze all over them. Lovely.

Aren’t they adorable?  I think so.

So far it’s three for three for Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipes – two of which from River Cottage Everyday. There’s lots more delicious recipes that I have to try – I’m seriously tempted next week to make the Honey Wholemeal cake, but we’ll see.

If anyone is interested in the recipe for this week, just drop me a comment and I’ll try and get it to ya!

Oh, and btw, if anyone’s interested, you can now purchase perfectly formed Whoopie Pies at M&S. May I never have to make them again…

Are Whoopie Pies pure evil?

1 Jun

Yes, I do believe they are – right down to their chewy marshmallow-y centres.

Alright boys and girls, we’re going to start today’s post with some pictures, just so you all can truly understand the hell I went through to makes these demonically evil Whoopie pies.

Exhibit A: The Ideal Whoopie pie, courtesy of Sainsbury’s Magazine, June issue

Notice his beautiful shape – virtually spherical. He sits perfectly flat, and the marshmallow cream is just gently snuggled between the two delicate, soft biscuits, all of which is covered in a smooth blanket of chocolate icing. Bliss, right? According to Sainsbury’s Magazine, these delightful little sweets were an invention of the Amish, as a way to use up leftover batter. hmm… right. Anyway, looks simple enough, right?

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Let me present Exhibit B: My attempt

Looks just like the picture from the magazine, right? RIGHT??? *weeps silently*

A few words of warning for those of you who might like to attempt these delightfully evil treats:

1) Marshmallows are sticky. You will be covered. *Recipe alteration: Since the whole marshmallow cream thing pretty much went down the crapper (butter, marshmallow, milk – waaaay too soft), I just used melted marshmallows for the filling. Honestly, I think it just works better.*

2) Never, ever use Muscovado sugar unless it is explicitly called for in the recipe – one of these days I’ll learn… The whole point of these cookies is to be soft and relatively flat – by using the muscovado sugar (like a dumb ass), which I believe has a higher melting point, the cookies don’t quite smoosh and spread like the ought to.

3) Chill your ‘pies’ after haphazardly filling them with marshmallow filling. Note: Don’t over-fill them – the marshmallow oozes out the sides and the little evil beasties stick together. Damn you marshmallow. Damn you.

4) Wtf is up with British marshmallows? Why is half the pack strawberry flavoured? I mean, come on.

5) The chocolate frosting this recipe calls for is the BEST EVER. Seriously guys – get this: it’s just 200g icing sugar, 50g cocoa powder and 4 tbsp cold water. PERFECTION. (It makes quite a stiff frosting though, so if you want is a bit more runny, add just a smidge more water.)

After hours of agony, the final result:

Next week it’s back to something a bit more ‘normal’ – like nutella swirl cupcakes! Awesome.

Btw, here’s the whoopie pie recipe if anyone wants it – if you’d like the directions for the chocolate whoopie, leave me a note in the comments. Word.

Blah Banana Bread

24 May

What a disappointment. As many of you know, I was super excited last week at the prospect of  making banana chocolate bread, especially as banana and chocolate is my favourite ice cream and milkshake flavour of all time. So I gave this recipe out of the June issue of Sainsbury’s monthly magazine a try (sorry, the recipe is not available online). I’ve had some good results with quite a few of their recipes (especially that sticky ginger cake from last year), so I was seriously excited about it – the picture looked beautiful and the recipe itself was relatively straight-forward. But something went horribly wrong. I’m not sure how I managed it, but it turned out really dull. I’m actually eating a piece at the moment and wondering where the bananas are. The chocolate overpowers the banana flavour and the cake texture is just a bit too chewy and glutenous. I think I’ve figured out most of my mistakes, so if anyone is attempting to give this recipe a go, keep these tips in mind: 1)careful which chocolate you choose – I used 70% green and blacks dark chocolate, smashed to bits with a rolling pin. some of the pieces ended up quite large and if you get a slice with a huge chunk in it, that’s pretty much all you can taste; 2) make sure the bananas are seriously ripe- i mean totally and completely black and gooey. this intensifies the banana flavour and i suspect had the bananas been a bit more ripe the taste of them might have been more powerful; 3) don’t cook in a hot kitchen. it was surface of the sun hot here in the UK this weekend and I’m pretty sure that prevented my mixture from combining properly, hence the over mixing, hence the chewy texture; 4) add some spices!! I mean, come on – it’s not banana bread without some cinnamon.

Anyway. Here’s the end result:

If you guys want a seriously good banana bread recipe, check this one out: Perfect Banana Muffins. I’ve tried this recipe both as muffins and as a loaf and it works fine either way. Next time, I may just try adding a bit of chocolate (maybe milk chocolate instead of dark) to the mix and see what happens.

Not sure what I’m up to next weekend – it’s either going to be Whoopie Pies (actually cookies with a marshmallow filling) or lemon swirl cupcakes. Decisions decisions….

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