Everything you need to know about winter bakes

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    Food stylist Shannon Peare gives us the low down on how to get the warmth in your bakes…

    We are now approaching chillier months. The kettle boils more frequently, the cosy socks are out and the heating is finally on! It’s time to say farewell to fresh berry and stone fruit desserts, and hello to spiced fruit bakes. I’m here to get you in the mood for autumn, so cosy up…

    Spice up your life!

    Spiced bakes are very much a ‘love them or hate them’ situation. Personally, I love a well-balanced spiced bake, whether it’s a pie, a bread or a cake. Show me the cinnamon! Spices are a great way to add a warmth to any bake, but it’s all about balance. If you are a lover of cinnamon, like myself, the more the merrier; however, some spices can come across as being almost soapy if not used sparingly. Here are some commonly used spices and what they are best for:

    Star anise has a sweet aniseed flavour. This is great for infusing syrups and stocks. If you are a fan of liquorice, then this is the spice for you.

    Cinnamon has a warm, sweet, spicy flavour. Best used in puddings and stewed fruits. Apple and cinnamon is a true classic flavour. It comes as in stick form and ground. Ground is always best for baking, whereas cinnamon sticks are perfect for infusing syrups.

    Caraway has quite a pungent flavour. Caraway comes in seed form and is best used ground.This spice works well in cakes, breads, biscuits etc. Orange is a delicious accompaniment to caraway.

    Ginger has a fragrant flavour that is slightly spicy. Ginger comes fresh or ground. It is used in cakes, biscuits and puddings, and pairs well with other “Christmassy” spices such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and cardamom.

    Cardamom is a delicious aromatic flavour, and can almost taste a little like ginger. It comes in pod form and you can sometimes find it ground.This flavour works well in sweet bakes and syrups. Coffee and cardamom is a classic combination, and is delicious in a mousse or cake.

    Nutmeg is a versatile seed that has a sweet, spicy flavour, perfect for warm autumnal bakes. It has the best flavour when freshly grated, but can be purchased as a ground spice.

    Cloves are very much an acquired taste. Their fruity but spicy flavour is best blended with other spices and flavours. It comes whole and ground. Whole cloves are often used to stud hams at Christmas and work well pushed into citrus fruit for hot whiskeys.

    Getting fruity

    Now entering the colder months, we are welcoming autumnal fruits such as apples, pears and oranges.The combination
    of spices and fruit can make gorgeous warming baked goods.These fruits work well in almost any bake; whether you’re making pies, cakes or zesty biscuits, they’ll add a delicious hit of sweetness.

    Stewing is a great way to use up any older fruit you may have sitting in your fruit bowl — delicious with your morning porridge, with yoghurt or even with a little ice cream for dessert.

    If you find you can’t say goodbye to your summer fruits, they can be purchased all year round, but the flavour won’t be the same. However, you can buy frozen mixed berries, which are cheaper and much sharper in flavour. Keep your fresh summer berries for pavlovas or your morning yogurt. Frozen berries are perfect for baking and will add a nice tartness.

    Aw nuts!

    Baking with nuts is a great way to add flavour and texture, and they are readily available all year round. Nuts can work well in cakes, biscuits, brittles, scones, brownies etc. Walnuts and pecans work well with toffee or chocolate. Nuts in brownies are very much a matter of preference, but I feel they give a gooey bake a welcome added layer of texture, and their natural oil can add to the moistness.To give a richer depth of flavour to any kind of nut, try lightly toasting them before adding to the bake.

    Not only can nuts add to the texture, they can add a slight savoury element. Adding nuts to something with salted caramel can give it that nutty saltiness — perfect for those of you who are fans of the sweet and salty combo.

    Almonds are the unsung heroes of the nut world, the foundation of frangipane, macaroons, marzipan and Bakewells. When I speak about almonds, I am talking about the real deal and NOT almond essence! This is the first time I’ve publicly admitted this, but I have an intense dislike of almond essence. Almond is a beautifully delicate flavour, so let it shine on its own.This is an essence-free zone!

    Pistachios are very versatile when it comes to baking.They can be used whole, chopped, ground into flour, blended to form a butter etc.They have a mild flavour and can be a little sweet. Used as flour in a sponge, they can give a lovely moistness to the cake, and adding some extra chopped pistachios to the final cake can give that bit of little texture.

    I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for these cosy months — especially when there’s cinnamon rolls and tea involved. The best advice I can give is to stay in and get baking!