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Sunday 5 August 2012

Mini Toad in the Hole

Considering how regularly I pig out on Iceland's £1 wonder, their 'Meal for One' Toad in the Hole, it's quite amazing that I've never tried to make it myself.

Let's face it, you just take a bunch of sausages, mix up some flour, egg and milk, then chuck it all together in a deep baking tray for about 25 minutes, and you're all set for a satisfying evening meal. The Iceland version - sausages frozen in batter in a foil tray, that literally just needs to be chucked into the oven - is my go-to product for something quick and filling after a hard day, when I can't be bothered to do anything requiring effort. I have noticed, however, that their sausages became substantially smaller some months ago. That's generally the point at which I'll start thinking "time to make my own!"

And it is ridiculously easy, according to any of the recipes you might find online. The batter is essentially the same as you'd use for Yorkshire Puddings and, believe it or not, pancakes. Proportions of ingredients may vary, but the principle is the same. Of course, being me, I wasn't about to put my toads in the plain and basic hole, so I chucked in some parsley and chopped onion - because both happened to be lying around - and then, for fun, wrapped some of my sausages in bacon.

You are aware, are you not, that it's been scientifically proven that bacon makes everything better?

And then, rather than make one large thing, I decided to make more use of my new muffin tray and make six small toads in holes.

So, here's how it goes:

  • 100g Plain Flour
  • 1 Egg
  • Approx 200-300ml Milk (depending how thick you want your batter, and how many/much you're intending to make)
  • Chopped Parsley (I used Waitrose Cooks' Ingredients 'Organic A Generous Pinch of Flat Leaf Parsley')
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Half a Small Onion, chopped
  • Bacon of Choice (I used Waitrose Unsmoked Wiltshire Cure Back Bacon)
  • Sausages of Choice (I used Richmond Skinless)
  • Cooking Oil
  • Dijon Mustard
Preparation Time: About 40 minutes total

Tools Required:
  • Small Mixing Bowl
  • Whisk
  • Small, Sharp Kitchen Knife
  • Muffin Tray
The Process:
While I said this was ridiculously easy - and it really is - the instructions I found online were rather deceptive... or just plain wrong. Or maybe my technique was wrong. Whatever it was, my first attempt at the batter was hopeless. The method is generally given as sifting the flour into a bowl, making a well in the middle, cracking an egg into the well, then beating it together and gradually adding the milk (occasionally a milk/water mixture).

The first time I followed these instructions, the end result was a lump of flour-encrusted egg which stuck to the whisk and didn't want to become part of the batter. While the remainder of the flour mixed in to the milk quite nicely, it left me with a very thin not-quite-batter with large clumps of useless gunk swimming around.

After a brief consultation with my mother on the subject of batter (in which I learned of the amazing multi-purpose nature of this batter, as mentioned above) I tried it again, this time whisking the egg a little before pouring it into the flour, and adding some milk before starting the beat it all together.

Another interesting point that came out in that conversation was about standing the batter. Some recipes recommend letting it stand, others say refrigerate, still others say there's absolutely no advantage to letting it stand... but here's the thing: for Yorkshire Puddings (and Toad in the Hole), you want the mixture to be fluffy and full of air, because that's how you get the right texture once it's cooked. For pancakes, however, bubbles in the mixture will make for holes in the pancakes, and standing will allow most of the air to escape. So now you know.

But anyway...

Once the batter was ready, I sprinkled in some of the parsley and ground in some pepper. Salt can be added as well, but I tend not to bother. The other embellishment I added was some chopped onion. I have a whole bunch of small onions stuck in my fridge, and am basically just trying not to waste them, so I'll stick them in almost anything I can think of. This recipe didn't have room for a whole onion, though, so half of a small one did end up going to waste.

Preheating the oven to 200C, I made a start on my sausages. Since I planned to make small, muffin-sized Toads in the Holes, my full-size sausages had to be cut in half. The bacon was likewise cut, so it could be easily wrapped around the sausages without too much excess but, just to keep it all together, a dab of Dijon mustard was applied to the sausage and the end of the bacon, acting as a sort of glue.

Being lazy, I ended up only doing two sausages this way. Since I only had four sausages anyway, I was going to be left with two Yorkshire Puds without any sausage, so I convinced myself there was a logical reason for this: 2 wrapped sausages, 2 plain and 2 holes without toads.

A small amount of cooking oil was poured into the bottom of each pit in the muffin tray, and the sausages placed within. They were cooked for about ten minutes before the batter was added in, then they were stuck back into the oven for another 25 minutes to cook thoroughly.

See? Easy.

Well, if there's one thing I know about Yorkshire Puddings and most Toad in the Hole, it's that they're made largely of empty space - they puff up with a small number of large bubbles, rather than fluffing up like a cake or a loaf of bread. These were no different. From the outside, they looked brilliant - though I may try a lower temperature next time. At first glance, I was honestly very pleasantly surprised.

Something else I know about Toad in the Hole is that the sausages actively interfere with the batter's ability to fluff up at all - frequently it peels away from the sausages entirely. That didn't happen as much as I was expecting with the plain sausages, but with the bacon-wrapped sausages, the batter barely rose. Not entirely sure of the mechanics of this, but I suspect either the fat or the salt (or both) were the cause of the problem, because the two onion-y Yorkshire Puds looked great.

Of course, the proof of even a Yorkshire Pudding is in the eating...

All three kinds were as full of air as I'd expect, but the plain sausage ones turned out the best over all - golden brown and reasonably fluffy. The two Yorkshire Puds, while similarly golden brown, seemed extremely undercooked on the insides, and yet were basically giant bubbles. The two with the bacon-wrapped sausages looked like a complete disaster, however. The batter had almost entirely retreated from the meat, and they weren't so much golden brown as slightly burnt.

The bacon cooked very well, but the sausages in both types didn't fare quite so well - they were fully cooked, just not to the degree that I'd normally do them and obviously not as burnt on the outsides.

Gotta say, though, all of 'em tasted great.

Mmmmm... Nom nom nom...