Thursday, March 28, 2013

Welsh cakes for hanami in Tokyo (recipe!)

This post would perhaps best have been made on March 1st to celebrate St. David’s day, the patron saint of Wales. Welsh cakes are delicious any time of year, but they come to mind when the daffodils, a symbol of Wales, are blooming in March along with the cherry blossoms.

Welsh cakes (picau ar y maen in Welsh) are a type of scone, flavoured with dried fruit and mixed spice, rolled out a little more thinly than regular scones and cooked on both sides on a traditional bakestone or a hotplate or just in a frying pan instead of being baked in the oven. When they are done they should be a reddish-brown on both sides and cooked all the way through. You sprinkle them with a little sugar while they are still warm, and it sticks to the surface in a shimmery layer.

The 'correct way' to make Welsh cakes is fiercely contested, with many families swearing by their Grandmother's particular method, adding candied peel, using baking powder and extra bicarbonate of soda, with or without eggs. See here for a highly amusing challenge to the authenticity of the wife of last year's US presidential candiate Ann Romney's Welsh cakes.

In the UK, Welsh cakes are often made with half of the fat being butter and half being lard, and they are traditionally cooked using a little lard to grease the plate. Since lard isn’t all that easy to come by in Tokyo, this recipe is for all-butter Welsh cakes. If you have access to lard you might want to try it as it will give a lighter, flakier result.

Welsh cakes. Adapted from the original Delia Smith recipe here for those of us without self-raising flour.

  • 220g plain all-purpose flour
  • 2 level-teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 level-teaspoon mixed spice
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 110g butter
  • 110g raisins (or mix of raisins, currants, candied peel)
  • 1 egg
  • a little milk
  • extra butter for cooking

  1. Sieve the flour, baking powder, salt and mixed spice together in a large bowl. Distribute the baking powder evenly through the flour by giving it a quick stir with a metal whisk or a fork.
  2. Add the butter in small cubes and rub it into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs - a few bigger bits of butter here and there are fine.
  3. Stir in the caster sugar and the dried fruit.
  4. Beat the egg lightly and cut it into the mixture with a round-bladed knife.
  5. If the dough doesn't start to come together after cutting and mixing with the knife, add a small splash of milk or two and mix until it does. The dough shouldn't be too wet or sticky.
  6. Turn out of the bowl and knead very briefly until it has come together. 
  7. Press the dough ball slightly flat on a lightly floured surface and roll out until it's between 1/2 - 1cm thick. They puff up slightly when they cook.
  8. Use an upturned glass or round cookie cutter about 6cm wide to cut out discs of dough.
  9. Add a little butter to your pan and heat to medium-hot.
  10. Transfer the cakes to the pan and cook until browned but not burned on the under-side. Use a spatula to gently lift an edge of one after a minute or so to check they aren't browning too quickly. 
  11. When they are ready to turn over the tops will still be doughy but the base will be firm enough to give you purchase to slide under and flip them over. Use a knife and a spatula to make it easier to maneuver.
  12. They should take 2-3 minutes on each side and you can then transfer them to a rack to cool and sprinkle over a little extra sugar on each side as they do so.

Perhaps because there is a higher surface-to-crumb ratio (imagine, it’s like having two bases of a regular scone, in one scone!), or because cooking in direct contact with the griddle creates a more emphatic maillard reaction, or it could be the use of mixed spice and the sugary coating... but these are delicious. Pretty, easy to make, and not fiddly at all to eat (at hanami!) just as they are, or with a little butter and/or jam. Yep, I think you might just have to make some too.

And of course this is another awesome Tokyo apartment-friendly recipe, like steamed sticky toffee pudding, not requiring an oven at all! Get in!

They keep for a couple of days in an airtight container, but since they are a baking powder-leavened quick-bread you’ll have best results if you wrap them in plastic and freeze them if you make more than will be consumed in one sitting.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Make your own self raising flour

Make your own self raising flour - (metric grams and U.S. cup versions):
  • Sift together 1.5 teaspoons of baking powder and a quarter of a teaspoon of salt per cup of flour in your recipe
  • which if you prefer is 5-7 grams of baking powder (about a teaspoon), and 1 gram (a small pinch) of salt for every 100g of flour.
Source for the baking powder ratio: Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen.

Self raising flour, or self-rising flour as it's sometimes less gracefully called is plain, all purpose white flour with the raising agents already included, along with salt. The raising agents used in self raising flour vary depending on the brand but all include a dry acid component along with an alkaline base, that react to produce carbon dioxide bubbles that leaven the batter - Odlums self raising flour uses sodium bicarbonate, monocalcium phosphate and sodium acid pyrophospate for example, and Tesco's self-raising flour uses calcium phosphate and sodium bicarbonate.

If you look at the label of the baking powder you'll use to create your self raising flour you'll see a similar mix of ingredients - an acid such as calcium acid phosphate, an alkaline base usually sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), and you'll also see a filler such as corn starch to keep the mixture from getting moist and to make it easier to measure out. Which, incidentally, is the difference between baking powder and baking soda - baking powder often contains baking soda as the alkaline base to react with the dry acidic component, where baking soda is just the dry alkali. Many American recipes for things like muffins use baking soda only because the other ingredients such as yoghurt or buttermilk provide the acid for the reaction.

All commercially available baking powders are double-acting, meaning that you get some of the carbon dioxide gas produced when the baking powder gets wet during mixing, and the remainder is released when a specific temperature is reached during baking. The amount of gas released at each stage varies depending on the leavening chemicals used, with aluminium-based leaveners seeming to reserve most of the gas production for the temperature-induced phase.

Some people prefer to avoid the use of aluminium-based baking powders such as Clabber Girl, Calumet and the Japanese brand 'Home Made Cake' due to the stronger taste or health concerns, and opt for an aluminium-free baking powder such as Rumford or Aikoku. Although Rumford is a double-acting powder, the only acid used is monocalcium phosphate (calcium acid phosphate) which releases 2/3 of the carbon dioxide within 2 minutes of coming into contact with water - so best not to let your batters hand around too long!

While we're at it, here is some fun chemistry Japanese to help you figure out what your baking powder is made of (I should note here that though this information is correct in my understanding, I'm not a chemist):
  • 炭酸水素ナトリウム / たんさんすいそナトリウム: sodium hydrogen carbonate (baking soda)
  • 重炭酸ナトリウム / じゅうたんさんナトリウム: sodium bicarbonate (also baking soda)
  • 重曹 / じゅうそう: also baking soda (abbreviated for of above)
  • 第一リン酸カルシウム / だいいちりんさんカルシウム: monocalcium phosphate
  • 酒石酸水素カリウム / しゅせきさんすいそカリウム: potassium bitartrate, also called potassium hydrogen tartrate (cream of tartar)
  • (焼き)ミョウバン / やきミョウバン: potassium aluminium sulfate (burnt alum, potash)
  • 硫酸カリウムアルミニウム / りゅうさんカリウムアルミニウム: also potassium aluminium sulfate
  • 硫酸ナトリウムアルミニウム / りゅうさんナトリウムアルミニウム: sodium aluminium sulfate
  • ピロリン酸カルシウム / ピロリンさんカルシウム: calcium pyrophosphate
  • 酸性ピロりん酸ナトリウム /さんせいピロリンさんナトリウム: sodium acid pyrophosphate or disodium pyrophosphate
  • クエン酸 / クエンさん: citric acid
  • フマル酸 / フマルさん: fumaric acid
  • グルコノデルタラクトン: glucono delta-lactone
If you read Japanese, there is also an excellent investigation into a whole set of aluminium-free baking powders commonly available in Japan and their chemical components here.

Thanks to Nick-chan for sparking the idea for this post!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Make your own 'mixed spice' for British baking

Many British winter baking recipes (Yorkshire parkin, mince pies, Christmas cake, bread and butter pudding..), and a few spring ones (Welsh cakes, some hot cross bun recipes..) call for a mysteriously imprecise ingredient named 'mixed spice'. This is a particularly British mix, which is different to 'allspice' and different again to '5 spice'. How confusing. It has a warm, exotic fragrance, redolent of Christmas and mulled wine. It seems that no Japanese supermarkets sell the particular British blend. Why would they?

Cinnamon, coriander, allspice, ginger, nutmeg and cloves.

What is a Brit away from home, hankering for sticky toffee pudding recipe that calls for mixed spice to do? Well, you could do worse than buying a jar of American pumpkin pie spice, more readily available in Japan - the 4 ingredients found in most pumpkin pie spice blends are also the base of the British mixed spice - cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves.

Or you can make your own! This also has the benefit of you being able to alter the amounts of the spices in the mix to suit your personal preferences, and will make your dishes a bit more uniquely yours.

For about 4 teaspoons worth of mixed spice, enough for just a couple of bakes:
  • 1 tsp cinnamon powder
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • About 3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ginger powder
  • 1/2 tsp allspice powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
You could also add some ground caraway seeds, a little powdered mace, a ground cardamon pod, ground fenugreek, maybe a little white pepper. Cloves and mace are quite strong and can dominate the mix if you use too much, if you're increasing the amount of either of these go slowly and add a bit at a time.

Mixed spice mountains

Make as much or as little as you like using a baker's percentage-like calculation where instead of flour, the cinnamon is used as the 100% base to calculate the amounts of the other ingredients:
  • 100% cinnamon powder
  • 100% ground coriander
  • 80% ground nutmeg
  • 50% ginger powder
  • 50% allspice powder
  • 25% ground cloves

Which, for about 40g of mixed spice (8-16 bakes) would be:
  • 10g cinnamon powder
  • 10g ground coriander
  • 8g ground nutmeg
  • 5g ginger powder
  • 5g allspice powder
  • 2.5g ground cloves

The resulting mix might be a little milder than the version you can buy ready-mixed at supermarkets in the UK, so see how it goes in your baking and use a little more than your recipes suggest if you find it is too delicate.

Ground spices don't keep potent for very long either - make sure your newly mixed spice is kept in a cool dark place and stored in an air-tight container like a clean old jam jar. Store for about 6 months and make a new batch after that.

That's clove powder masquerading as a jar olives on the left

If you want to buy your spices in bulk for less than they'd cost you at an international supermarket, try Spice Home behind Roppongi Hills, near Cafe 8, there is also Jasmine mini market near the tennis courts in Moto Azabu, or make a trip to Hyakunincho, just outside Shin Okubo station, which is becoming a veritable Little India of spice shops.

The next level of dedication to British baking might have you grating whole nutmeg nuts and grinding your own coriander seeds etc. For now though, this should be a quick enough fix to solve your hot cross bun craving.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Traditional English hot cross buns (+ cross experiments)

March already and Tokyo weather is behaving a bit more like spring. It's just the right time of year to make hot cross buns. Hot cross buns are a traditional English enriched, spiced, yeast-based bun usually containing currants and eaten during Easter, particularly on Good Friday. When I was growing up in the UK, they would appear in the shops from around about the end of February until the end of March, though I believe you can get now them from supermarkets at any time of year. They are similar to Chelsea buns in ingredients, or to British teacakes (of the split and toasted, spread with butter variety rather than these), which you can certainly get year-round, the difference being that the seasonal 'hot cross bun' is marked with a cross.

"One-a-penny, two-a-penny, hot cross buns!"

I knew the nursery rhyme (erm, you might not want to click that link..), but I guess I had never really given much thought before to the cross. When I started looking into the history of hot cross buns I was delighted to find a whole raft of superstition and folksy provenance dating back possibly to before the association was made with the Friday crucifixion of the Christian Easter holidays, starting perhaps with small cakes eaten during the Spring festivals of ancient Greece.

These are *magic* buns, hurrah! Share them with a friend and for that year "Half for you and half for me, Between us two shall goodwill be" They were banned, outside of specific religious holidays in 1592, and they were kept, stale, to be grated and used as medicine of dubious efficacy, and they were nailed or hooked up in the kitchen to ensure successful bakes throughout the year (that's one I'm going to have to try ;) ). What unexpected fun!

When I made pan di ramerino around this time last year I was wondering if it might be an Italian sister of the hot cross bun, due to the seasonality and the marking with a cross(es). As in Italy today, historically the spiced buns eaten around Easter in the UK used to be marked with a cross simply by slashing the loaves in this way. At some point this was replaced by a pastry cross pressed onto the dough, and now it's usually a white cross made with plain flour and water paste. Recipes tell you variously to slash a cross and then pipe the paste, just pipe the paste onto proofed balls, or to prepare a slightly thicker paste that you can roll thinly and cut in to strips to make the cross.

Ever the experimenter I tried all three, and personally prefer the look of the simply piped line of paste, with no slashing. (In the pics below, the first is the piped cross, the second image the slashed and piped, and the third is the neat strips of rolled dough, affixed with water.)

The winner - I preferred the piped crosses

Since my recent yeast-related baking activities have all been with wild yeast in the form of sourdough, these little fruit-studded buns seemed so fast and simple to make by comparison. With no feeding of a starter the day before or overnight proofings of imprecise duration, it's more or less a case of getting your baker's yeast ready in the usual way, putting all the dry ingredients in a bowl, dumping the yeast and liquids in and kneading for 5 mins.

The cross is just a paste of flour and water which you pipe on once the balls are almost ready to bake, Bob's your uncle! (There is no reason why these can't also be made using sourdough instead of baker's yeast, they might be a little crustier but you could experiment with adding more milk or butter to keep them soft.. Aha, future project.)

Here is the full recipe I used for mine, adapted from Delia's original recipe here.

Hot cross buns, ingredients:
  • 50g sugar, plus 1 level teaspoon
  • 1 level tablespoon dried yeast (about 9g)
  • 150ml warm water (ideally not too much over 40°C, over 50°C and you could start to kill off some of the yeast)
  • 450g plain flour (bread flour not required)
  • 1 level teaspoon salt (about 5g)
  • 1 rounded teaspoon mixed spice (see here for how to make your own mixed spice)
  • 75g currants or raisins
  • 50g cut mixed peel (Nissin supermarket has both lemon and orange, or make your own)
  • 40-55ml milk
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 50g butter, melted
For the cross:
  • 75g plain flour
  • About 5 tablespoons of water
To glaze: (optional)
  • Either 2 tablespoons of sugar and a splash of hot water or a couple of tablespoons of warmed apricot jam

  1. Stir the teaspoon of sugar into the warm water, sprinkle the yeast in and leave for a few minutes to develop froth.
  2. Melt the butter and cool slightly, beat the egg with 40ml of the milk.
  3. Weigh the flour, sugar, salt, currants, mixed peel into a large bowl.
  4. Tip the yeasty water, eggy milk and melted butter into the dry ingredients and mix together. You want a kneadable consistency and so add any of the remaining milk if necessary (I didn't need it). Tip onto a lightly floured (if necessary) surface and knead until elastic and springy (about 5 minutes).
  5. Return dough to the bowl and cover with cling film. Leave for about an hour until roughly doubled in size.
  6. Tip the risen dough out and knead briefly to knock the air out of it and redestribute the nutrients for the yeast to continue their work.
  7. Divide the dough into 12 - each ball weighed about 78g for me, and form into little round rolls by cupping them one by one against the work surface and moving your hand in a circular motion (video) which should quickly pull the skin of the dough into the center underneath the ball.
  8. Set these on trays or baking parchment and cover with floured or oiled clingfilm to rise again - about 30 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C.
  9. Mix 75g of plain flour with about 5 tablespoons of water to make a thick paste and load it into a small piping bag. When the rolls are proofed, snip the tip of the piping bag and draw the paste across the buns to form the crosses. You could do this one at a time, or having lined your buns up neatly pipe the lines a while row at a time. Be careful of pushing too hard on 100-yen shop piping bags, this is a thick paste and can strain the bag at the seams.. go nice and slow.
  10. Bake for about 25 minutes, draping foil over them part way through cooking if they start to brown too quickly.
  11. When they come out of the oven, if you want them to be shiny you can brush them with sugar syrup made with a splash of hot water and 2 tablespoons of sugar (as in these photos), or if you want them shinier and sticky then brush them instead with warmed apricot jam.

The taste of the candied peel is lovely in these, I imagine that fresh zest would also be quite nice. The flavour is a bit like a lighter and moister version of a stollen, without marzipan.

They are best on the day they are made, but I'm still eating mine 2 days later toasted with butter. If you make more than you can eat or give away then they freeze quite well too if done on the day they are made - wrap in cling-film and foil. Leave to thaw at room temperature for about an hour.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Set-up costs for small one-man café in Tokyo

In a previous post I detailed the set-up costs involved for 3 small-medium sized cafes, that were listed in Japanese café industry magazine Café Sweets (they sell this magazine at Tsutaya by the way, I got mine from the Roppongi Hills branch.) A recent edition of the magazine had a few more of these examples, and I was particularly interested to read how a few people are managing finances and schedules to run food businesses alone – as this is how I’m imagining I’ll be starting my business.

Here are the details:
  • 10-seater cafe and sweet shop in Osaka. Single owner/staff, open 10am-8pm. Took 4,000,000 JPY in start-up costs (about $49,000/£32,000). 1-milion of which was to secure the property, 2-mil was used for kitchen equipment, 50,000 each for refurbishment and equipment. Estimated monthly sales goal of 600,000 JPY ($7,400/£4,700), with current sales between 250,000-500,000 JPY ($3,000/£1,900 - $6,000/£3,900) per month.
  • 14-seater cafe, Kita Kyushu. Single owner/staff, open 11:30am-5/7pm. 2,500,000 JPY in start-up costs (about $31,000/£20,000). Of which 400,000 JPY was to secure the property, 1.9-mil was used for refurbishment and 200,000 JPY spent on equipment. Estimated monthly sales goal of 380,000 JPY ($4,700/£3,000), with current estimated sales at 230,000 JPY ($2,800/£1,800).
  • 10-seater cafe, Osaka. Single owner/staff, open 11:30am-7pm. 2,500,000 JPY in start-up costs (about $31,000/£20,000). Of which 1-mil JPY was to secure the property, 1-mil was used for refurbishment and 500,000 JPY spent on equipment. Monthly sales goal of 500,000 JPY ($6,000/£4,000), with current estimated sales at 300,000 JPY ($3,700/£2,400).
  • 22-seater cafe, Tokyo. 2 staff, open 11:00am-7pm. 3,500,000 JPY in start-up costs (about $43,000/£28,000). Of which 700,000 JPY was to secure the property, 1.3-mil was used for refurbishment and 1.5 spent on equipment. Monthly sales goal of 800,000 JPY ($9,800/£6,300), with current estimated sales at 750,000 JPY ($9,200/£6,000).

It was interesting to see examples of smaller scale business models, the previous article covered start-up costs that ranged from 8-15 million, which is quite a lot more than I'm looking to use! I note that 3 out of the 4 examples are not in Tokyo, and so rent might be cheaper for them and this would have a dramatic impact on the start-up calculation, since deposits and real estate agent fees and so on are usually in multiples of the monthly rent.

Something else that was interesting about this feature was looking at what part of the setting up took most of the funds for these people - the Kita Kyushu cafe used 1.9-million yen on refurbishment, where the Osaka cafe/sweet shop got by spending just 500,000 JPY on doing up the space. This sweet shop instead invested the bulk of the start-up money in kitchen equipment. It goes to show that there is certainly more than one way to do it! (I'm sure there is a coding/baking joke I can make here with bicarbonate of soda.. nope, it's not coming to me.)

Thinking about running a business alone to start with has given me a lot to consider to feel I'm as informed as I can be before taking the plunge. Aside from needing to work on all parts of the business yourself, quite a commitment is required to be able to deliver a consistent and reliable service. When you are employed by a company you are often working with a team who can cover when you are away, occasional sick-days don't feel as though they will impact your company's finances, and arrangements can be made for things like maternity and paternity leave. What does the sole-proprietor of a café do when their child is off school with a fever, when they want to take a holiday or when they have a fever themselves - in the food industry you're obliged to take time off for certain illnesses and to not handle food for a further incubation period after you recover as hygiene best practice to avoid occurrences like this one at Noma.

If you plan to run your business alone indefinitely then I guess your business model will need to be robust enough to allow for times when illness and unforeseen circumstances leading to a lack of income at some point can be managed overall, and your communications to your clients or customers will need to effectively explain and reassure them of your ability to deliver in order to retain them. I imagine that in order to make that lifestyle sustainable for yourself you also need to plan time in your schedule away from the business.

The article about the Osaka cafe/sweet shop in the example above described how the lady opened the business precisely because she felt that would be an occupation that would fit with her life with a young family. Similarly, at least 3 small business owners I know actually close their businesses for a couple of weeks at a time in the year in order to vacation or do further training/business development etc.

Though I plan to start up alone, I do envisage a time where I will hopefully be lucky enough to work with a small team. But even when it's just you or a very small team to start with, it's worth considering designing your company and all the roles within it as if it were already the ideal size, in order to be able to scale to that size and to have a workable model for when you arrive - I read about this in the well known start-up book The E-Myth Revisited.

The premise of the book is that most people who start small businesses are usually enthusiastic technicians or producers rather than business managers, and that their businesses often fail because they end up concentrating too much on the product or service (the thing they love doing) rather than working on the business as a whole.

The idea of the exercise is that while you're alone you do as many of those jobs as is practical and necessary for that stage of your business - the book even suggests you write out the job descriptions for all those roles and sign them yourself - so it forces you to be aware of their necessity and to plan time in your week to do them, and then as you expand you employ team members to take on those roles - the web designer, customer service staff, production staff, marketing team, etc. as appropriate.