Maths & Baking – Part One

I’ve been thinking about this blog for a while.  It all started when I did the Geek Calendar cookies last October.  Here’s some of my maths cookies from that night, ably modelled by Matt Parker & Alex Bellos.

above photo courtesy of Ben Thompson and Geek Calendar

By the way, please, please do go and read Alex’s book “Alex’s Adventures In Numberland“. Now.  It’s utterly absorbing.

Now, I want to start by admitting that maths was about as far from my favourite subject as was possible when I was at school.  In fact I always thought that I was pretty rubbish at maths.  Six hours of possible brain injury testing after the accident proved otherwise, but that’s a whole other story.  The point is, I THOUGHT I couldn’t do maths.

It’s only with the passing of time, (well that and listening to Matt Parker talk about the beauty of a Möbius Loop), that I’ve realised that I really like maths.  I’m relatively good at it too: cue competitive “discussion” with Mr Quirky as to who’s best at navigating & packing the freezer (although I have to admit, that time he navigated through London using only the sun was awesome!).

The reality is I use maths all of the time in my work. From simple multiplying and dividing ingredient quantities, through working out percentage profits to the more complicated geometry for some of the sculpted cakes.  Whilst leafing through Hannah’s GCSE Higher Maths book, I even came across an example of using maths to ensure the right number of trays of eggs is ordered, a “Real-Life problem” I calculate every Monday! Although Ed-Excel, I have to point out that a tray of eggs is 30 not 24!

So in honour of this being Pi Approximation Day, here’s  some fun maths cookies and cakes.

Quirky Junior’s fantastic maths teacher Mrs Boyd is leaving us for the USA, and to mark this sad day  Hannah made some fabulous maths based cookies this week.

They reminded me of some I helped her make 3 years ago, before I set up Quirky Cookies & Cakes.

You can see how her piping has improved from age 11 to now.

I’d been thinking about a Möbius loop cookie for quite some time, so Mrs Boyd’s departure seemed the obvious time to have a go.  My normal cookie recipe didn’t stand up to the cooking process so I decided to try a fortune cookie mix.  I’d never made them before but I just about managed to get it to work. Next time I’ll know to make the strips of fortune cookie at least 30cm long, as most of the ones I made simply weren’t long enough to fold back on themselves.

I’ve had some helpful suggestions as to possible improvements from BakeMe.Com and my good friend Jules of  Butcher, Baker I’ll be returning to that one as soon as I’ve got the energy!

I couldn’t let today go by without making at least one pi cake.  Having compared methods with @standupmaths following his pi cupcakes earlier this year I thought it should be possible to use the marbling method to make a cake which, when cut, showed the pi symbol.

Well, it clearly needs more work, and if I hadn’t been spending most of the day finishing these and a plethora of other things, I’d have made another one.

One final thought…we were honoured to welcome Matt Parker to Quirky Towers earlier this week when he was working in Derby.  Whilst we happily chatted about maths and baking, I suddenly had the idea of a Venn Diagram pie.  I’m working on it now…so watch this space for more maths baking fun soon.

Love is in the Kitchen!

It’s been a fun Valentines Day here at Quirky Towers.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been baking lots of these.

So this morning, I had a lovely surprise when I came downstairs to the kitchen to see that Mr Quirky (WID to our twitter friends) had been there before me.

Now, much as hubs loves my cookies, I decided that this year I wanted to make something different for him, so this afternoon, I’ve been relaxing in the kitchen making chocolate bars and hearts with Emily. 

Hmmm……..chocolate……..!

It was lovely to get a break from baking cookies for everyone else and to make something fabulous for my hubs, and as Emily says, because “I love you Daddy”.

Whatever you get from your special person today, I hope you have a lovely time.

Fresh from the Oven March Challenge

March’s Fresh From the Oven http://www.freshoven.blogspot.com/ challenge came thanks to  Jo of  http://joskitchen.wordpress.com/ and the Hairy Bikers “Mum Knows Best”.  I’d been meaning to buy their book for a while now, and so took this as an omen! 

Having read the recipes I was initially confused, as the link to the Fresh From the Oven Blog stated 600 – 700g flour, whereas the recipe in the Hairy Bikers’ book stated 400g.  Well, I could hardly do anything else but bake both could I?  The 400g dough was a little sticky, and the 600g very dry after the first stage, and after proving the 400g dough certainly looked better (on the left hand side).

The 600g dough was very hard to roll out and fell apart very easily when I was plaiting it.  The 400g dough, although very sticky when it was made, was lovely to roll out.  Having had the problems with the 600g dough first I decided to roll out the 400g dough to half a cm thick instead of the recommended 1 cm.  This made life much, much easier, and I would stick to this depth next time I make it.

I decided to leave the dough for an extra 20 minutes or so second proving as the Kringel looked quite squashed after the plaiting stage.  You can in the picture below that the 600g dough was already starting to unravel.

In the oven, the Kringel cooked much, much faster than the 25 minutes at 200°C stated, to the extent that it was burning after only 15 minutes.  There was also a great deal of butter which oozed out of the dough.  Next time, I shall fold half of the butter into the dough, puff pastry style before spreading the rest and adding the raisins and sugar and cook at 170°C.  Hopefully this will help to avoid this problem. I’ll let you know if it works.

Once out of the oven the Kringel took about half an hour to cool down before I poured over the chocolate icing.  The picture in the Hairy Bikers book suggests the quantity given should provide a moderate covering, but I found there was plenty, perhaps 3/4 quantity would be enough?

I would echo Claire’s idea http://thingswemake.wordpress.com/  to adapt the recipe by adding cinnamon to the sugar and replacing the chocolate topping with fondant icing to make a raisin Danish type version. 

Of course after making the Kringel you’ll have 2 egg whites left over, and whilst your first thought might be to make some meringue, why not try homemade marshmallow instead?  It’s not as scary as you might think. (See recipe below.)

Those of you who follow us on twitter will know that March was pretty disastrous as we’ve all been ill and at one point I was fairly sure I wouldn’t be able to take part this month.  I’m so glad I managed to make the Kringel, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time I do.

Estonian Kringel – The Hairy Bikers, Mum Knows Best

DOUGH

40g fresh yeast (or two sachets dried)

1 tbs sugar

250ml milk, lukewarm

2 egg yolks

400g plain flour

50g butter, melted

FILLING

100g butter

3 handfuls of raisins

10 tsp sugar

TOPPING

150g dark chocolate (at least 50% cocoa solids)

75g butter

Method

Mix the yeast and sugar in a bowl.  Add the lukewarm milk and egg yolks, then mix in the flour and melted butter and knead well.  Shape into a ball, cover and leave to rise for 30 minutes.  Pre heat the oven to 200°C.  Knock back the dough and roll out to a rectangle to a thickness of 1cm.  Spread the soft butter evenly over the dough and sprinkle with the raisins and then the sugar.  Roll up the dough like a swiss roll, and cut in half lengthways.  Plait the dough, lifting each half over the other in turn.  Finally shape into a B shape and transfer to a buttered baking tray.  Bake for about 25 minutes until golden.

Whilst the dough is baking, melt the chocolate and butter together.  Once the Kringel is out of the oven and cool drizzle over the chocolate sauce.

Marshmallow (adapted from James Martin, Desserts)

450g granulated sugar

1 tbs liquid glucose

17 sheets supercook gelatin (I specify not by brand but by that size!)

2 large egg whites

1 tsp vanilla extract (if you want bright white marshmallow leave this out)

icing sugar and cornflour, mixed 50:50 for dusting (about 1oz each)

a lamington tin or similar baking dish, approximately 20 x 30 x 5cm

Method

Put the granulated sugar, glucose and 200ml cold water into a large, heavy based saucepan.  Don’t worry about being too accurate with the glucose, I usually squirt it straight into the pan from the tube rather than worrying about using measuring spoons and getting glucose all over me!  Gradually bring to the boil (making sure that the sugar is completely dissolved) then, using a sugar thermometer bring up to 127°C. 

Separate both the eggs and beat the egg white until stiff.  The KitchenAid once again comes into its own for this. 

Whilst the sugar is coming to the correct temperature, soak the gelatine in 140ml cold water. I use a lamington tin for this, and turn the sheets over after about 5 minutes to make sure that the gelatine is completely soaked.   

Once the sugar has reached 127°C add the gelatine and the remaining soaking water.  BE CAREFUL here, as the mixture will spit, and sugar burns are severe.  I wear oven gloves here as a precaution, and suggest you do the same.  Sit the mixture with a wooden spoon to make sure that the gelatine is thoroughly combined.  If you want pink marshmallow, add a couple of drops of pink / red liquid food colouring at this point.  You could transfer the sugar and gelatine mixture into a metal jug to help with the next stage, but I’ve found it’s just as easy pouring straight from the saucepan.

You need to move quickly now, pour the hot sugar mixture in a steady stream into the beaten egg whites, with the KitchenAid on medium speed. It’s important to do this as quickly as possible to retain the heat from the sugar, as this is what cooks the egg white.  Add the vanilla extract and continue to whisk until the mixture holds its shape, which will take somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes.  If you listen carefully, you’ll notice a change in the sound of the mixer when it’s nearly ready.

Whilst the marshmallow is mixing, prepare your tin.  My non-stick lamington tin works really well but for any tin you’re not completely confident about the non-stick make sure you oil it now.  Mix together about and ounce each of the icing sugar and cornflour, and using a small sieve, thoroughly dust the sides and base of your tin.

As soon as the marshmallow is ready, pour quickly into the tin, and smooth with a spatula / palette knife.  Set in the fridge for about an hour, or if you’ve no room in the fridge it will set happily at room temperature, it just takes a little longer.

Once the marshmallow is set, turn out onto a board dusted with the icing sugar and cornflour mix.  Make sure you’ve a bowl handy with the rest of the mix.  Turn out the marshmallow onto the board, and cut into strips.  Dip the edges of the strips into the dusting mixture, and then cut again into squares, dipping once again to make sure the pieces remain separate.

The marshmallow will keep in an airtight box for at least a week (we’ve never managed longer).