Monday, 28 December 2009

Much Christmas Baking was Done



There's nothing quite like having a purpose and a plan, and Christmas provided ample opportunity for both. The lists I've made, the recipes I've collated and the baking that my kitchen has seen have filled many an hour.

Mary Berry's Christmas Cakes were handed out amongst friends and family


Work colleagues were treated to the large Christmas cake which I sliced small and topped with icing stars along with a Ginger and Chocolate Bundt Cake from Martha from my new festive tin



There were also tins of Swiss Cinnamon Stars to nibble on with morning coffee



An evening of gin was had at mine where I served the mince pies with the gin mincemeat (the leftovers of which have also been making an appearance in my morning porridge)



Along with Panfote all'Inglese made with gluten free flour and an additional hint of cloves and orange zest



And some spiced, candied nuts, from the ever reliable Smitten Kitchen, to nibble on - these will be making an appearance as gifts next year, the mix and the nuts presented in a festive jar (top tip to be included along with the mix; use baking parchment rather than foil to line the pan)



The day itself was a lovely one, the timings of roasts scare me but a plan was drawn up



The timings adhered to, even through the warm glow of a festive G&T and the end result, on the table at 2pm sharp


I hope everyone had a lovely break, whatever they did, whatever they ate and whoever they shared it with.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Gin in the AM (and another bundt)


Not hair of the dog but an ingredient in the mincemeat I made this morning in preparation for mince pies.

Another Sunday, another 4am start and another few hours spent in the kitchen. The idea for gin and the base recipe I used came from a friend who kindly gave me a taste of her batch earlier in the week. I am a little scared of mince pies as pastry is my baking nemesis. Last year, full of good intentions, with family coming to visit, my Christmas Eve baking session ended up in the bin. Luckily I had some shop bought ones in the cupboard and when people arrived the house at least smelled of fresh, home-baked mince pies (and no, I didn't try and pass them off as my own!).

There was something very therapeutic about chopping the apples whilst listening to yet more torrential rain. The high point of the morning was adding a little of the cooling (pre-gin) mixture to my porridge. The finished product is sat, in jars, maturing and waiting for me to be brave enough to attempt the pastry.

This weekend I also put my Christmas decorations up, fed the Christmas cakes again and had a little slice of the test cake - delicious. I love this time of year.

As the mincemeat didn't call for me to use the kitchenAid I of course had to bake something else too. I went with Dorie Greenspan's 'All-in-One Holiday Bundt' crammed full of cranberries, pumpkin, apple, nuts and spices, it's just delicious.

Mincemeat

Makes about 1 1/2 large kilner jars
200g muscavado sugar
175g butter
Juice and Zest of 3 oranges (approx 200ml)
Zest of 1 lemon
Heaped tsp mixed spice
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg

750g Bramley Apples finely diced (approx 4)
340g currants
340g raisins
200g dried cranberries

Put butter, sugar, orange juice and spices in a pan, heat slowly until smooth, add apple, zests, dried fruits and bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer for 10 - 15 mins or until the apples are soft. Allow to cool then add the gin .... and a bit more ... and go on just a bit more. I added a lot of gin ... I will let you know how it turns out in a few days!



All-in-One Holiday Bundt Cake
from Dorie Greespan's 'Baking, From my Home to Yours'

300g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2tsp bicarb
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tps freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
135g unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar (I reduced to 3/4's)
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar (I used reduced this too, to about 1/3 cup, not packed)
2 large eggs at room temp
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups pumpkin puree
1 large apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
1 cup cranberries, halved
1 cup pecans roughly chopped (I used walnuts).

Butter and flour your bundt tin and preheat the oven to 175C
Mix flour, spices and raisin agents in bowl
Mix butter and sugars until light and fluffy (approx 5 mins) at medium speed
Add eggs one at a time, beating for 1 min after each addition
Add vanilla
Reduce speed and add pumpkin and apple - Dorie points out at this point not to worry if your mixture looks curdled - mine did!
On low speed add the dry ingredients but do not over mix
using a spatula stir in cranberries and nuts - spoon into pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 60 - 70 mins, leave to cool in tin for 5 mins before turning out onto a wire rack.






Thursday, 3 December 2009

Still Loving the Soup


As I mentioned previously, my trip to Scotland reignited my love for soup and I've made plenty since, adapting the original recipe from the River Cafe quite a bit over the weeks. Then I saw the invitation on What's for Lunch Honey to take part in the 38th Monthly Mingle - Warming Soups for the Happy Soul. Well, I don't really believe in the concept of the soul as such, however if there's something that lifts and warms my heart it's chopping and stirring, creating over a low simmer and then enjoying the fruits of my labour, and this soup has warmed me, both literally and figuratively quite a bit over the past few weeks.


Firstly, the tinned cannelini beans were a bit hit or miss, too often dry and grainy. Textures are always important in food, whether complimentary or contrasting, and I make this soup with plenty of very chunky vegetables in order to provide some bite, the greens added at different times to give variation. The beans are by no means the main ingredient, but there's nothing worse than glancing at the next mouthful on the spoon, spying a bean and feeling a sense of trepidation. I bought some Cerrato 'Organic Minestrone with Kamut' bean mix containing various beans and lentils from Waitrose on a whim, the pre-soaking is a bit of a pain, but worth it as they're just delicious.

I've added a decent amount of tomato puree for some extra depth and a sprinkling of chilli flakes too. I've also, thanks to an excess in a colleagues veg box and their generosity, discovered calvo nero and can't seem to get enough at the moment. I don't know how many the following recipe would feed as it keeps me going for nearly a week, the flavours developing all the time. The great thing is it's infinately adaptable - take out or add as your taste or the seasons dictate.

200g beans pre-soaked for 12 hours
Olive oil
1 large leek
1 large carrot
1 head of celery
Tin of chopped tomatoes
Bunch of parsley
Tomato puree
1/4 tsp chili flakes
large bunch of Calvo Nero or cabbage/greens of your choice, roughly chopped

  • Cover the beans with water, cover, bring to the boil and then simmer for 40 minutes.
  • Chop the carrots, leeks and celery roughly, I like my veg to still have a bite at the end so keep the pieces quite big.
  • Put a dash of olive oil in a large pan, when hot add the chopped veg and cook slowly over a medium heat for 20 mins, stirrring all the time to prevent them browning or sticking.
  • Add tomato puree, chopped parsley, chili flakes to your taste and coat the vegetables before adding the tin of tomatoes, simmer for 10 minutes or until the tomatoes are reduced.
  • Add the greens - if using a more delicate green reserve half for adding at a later point
  • Add the drained beans and pour boiling water over to cover the contents of the pan and simmer for 20 - 30 mins.
  • If you've reserved some greens add them 5 mins before the end.
  • Serve with some parmesan and fresh bread should you wish.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Shiny New Thing

I've not had a good week. Well, some bits have been fantastic; my birthday was spent with friends, I felt loved and I had lots of fun - along with a fair amount of gin. I've been to the cinema several times; seen good films, bad films, barely watched one film at all because it was too scary and had rather a lot of damn fine popcorn. I have all but finished my Christmas shopping, eaten and baked cakes, drunk good wine and tasted Marmite Truffles for the first (but not the last) time. When I write it out like that it seems wrong to sum up the past seven days as poor, but the things that have gone wrong, whilst not taking away from all the lovely things I've done and shared, still make for a sum total of a pretty bad week.

So I shopped.

And I bought a shiny, new, lovely thing that I have been resisting for so long.

Todays inaugural baking session took place pre-dawn once again and I just can't imagine how I've managed without (a bit like when I finally capitulated and ordered Sky+). I'm not one for the personification of inanimate objects but this may need to have a name as I can see a meaningful relationship developing (not the type to feature on a Channel Five documentary you understand).


To pair with the most American of kitchen equipment I went with the most American of cakes and baked a Pumpkin Spice Bundt Cake with Buttermilk Icing from Epicurious, found via the recent Bundt Fest over at the Food Librarian. She did a recent round up of all the Bundts baked on National Bundt Day and my contribution features. I reduced the sugar slightly, 1 1/4 cups of caster sugar equals about 280g but I used 250g, I read somewhere recently that a lot of US recipes can cope with less sugar so I'll be giving it a try. This also had a sugar and buttermilk glaze which added an great sweet and sour element.

I really enjoyed the finished cake, quite simple in terms of taste but unusual to a palate not raised on the taste of pumpkin. There is a comment section on the Epicurious site and there are plenty of hints and tips about adjusting the spices and ways to get a better glaze. The initial glaze on mine went translucent, but I added more once the cake was cold.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Citrus Cakes for Birthdays

The past week has seen the creation of two citrus themed birthday cakes. The first followed a request for a lemon birthday cake and I went with another Mary Berry Recipe. Her Crunchy Top Lemon Cake is a lemon infused sponge with a sugar and lemon glaze pasted onto the piping hot cake, as usual I substituted the milk in the recipe with buttermilk, I really need to start making comparison cakes to see exactly what difference this makes.

The second was for my 35th Birthday and I recently bookmarked a recipe for a lemon cake with gin drizzle from Madalane of The British Larder (not sure if I was searching for cake or gin at the time - either is likely). I think because this cake was going to be for me I felt able to be more adventurous and decided to play around a little more than I usually do. Having made a fair few lemon cakes over the year I didn't really want one for my birthday but the gin was fitting. My mother had a recipe for a Gin and Grapefruit Sorbet that was part of every Christmas celebration I can remember and one of my favourite party dishes. It's a wonderfully sharp and refreshing way to cut through the richness of any feast, whilst ensuring that your alcohol levels remain topped up - and no feast is complete without gin in my opinion. Deb from Smitten Kitchen has a recipe for a Grapefruit Yoghurt cake so I went about combining the two. I baked it for about 35 mins and this was a little too long, the edges had started to brown so I will check earlier next time. The 'drizzle' is just that, however the original recipe had more icing sugar (100g) and less gin (10ml) so was more of a glaze, it was poured over the cakes after they'd been turned out of their tins (after 5 mins, so while still warm), I may try this next time as the photos of the originals look so pretty.

Gin and Grapefruit Cake
120g butter
170g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
170g caster sugar
2 large eggs
60mk buttermilk
Zest of 2 grapefruit
Juice of half a grapefruit
1/4tsp of salt

Grease and flour a loaf tin and preheat the oven to 180C
Mix butter and sugar until light and creamy, combine buttermilk and eggs in a jug then add to batter in stages.
Add zest and juice then sift in flour, baking powder and salt and combine without over mixing.
Bake for 30 - 35 mins

The Drizzle
Juice of one grapefruit
70g of icing sugar
15ml (ahem) gin, I used Tanqueray of course

Keeps well for a couple of days wrapped in greaseproof paper and stored in an airtight container.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

It Must Be Sunday

I know I named this blog Spatulas at Dawn because of my early starts and love of filling the small hours with the smell of baking, but I really think that a 4 am start in November is taking things a little too far. Dawn was still several hours away when sat with coffee and recipe books I tried to decide which cake to bake in honour of National Bundt Day which is celebrated on the 15th November in the US.

I love my Bundt cake tin (and I'm hoping that Father Christmas might be able to fit another in my stocking this year - are you reading this Ces?) and rarely need an excuse to use it. As I mentioned the other day Mary, The Food Librarian, set herself the challenge of baking a bundt cake every day for the month leading up to National Bundt Day and I had a tin of pumpkin puree (thank you Waitrose) set aside for the day itself. After all, what could be a more fitting ingredient for this most American of bakeware than pumpkin? I already had my eye on a recipe for a Pumpkin and Chocolate bundt from the list on The Food Librarian's site and my newest of books Cake Keeper Cakes (as recommended by Nicole at Baking Bites) had an almost identical one for a loaf cake. The average 9" by 5" loaf tin recipe can be doubled to fill a bundt so that's what I did - see below. The original recipe called for milk but I used buttermilk and I also reduced the sugar slightly. Apologies for the mixture of measurments in US cups and metric, with some ingredients it's easier to measure out in the original cups so I didn't bother weighing to get the equivalent measure, sorry if that's irritating, but it was early!

The resulting cake is so moist from the pumpkin and moorish with the differing textures I'm not sure how to do it justice here and hope that you give it a try soon.


Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake
adapted from Cake Keeper Cakes by Lauren Chatman

  • 300g plain flour
  • 2 tsp bicarb
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • generous pinch of nutmeg
  • 225g unsalted butter
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 6 large eggs
  • one 15oz can of unsweetened pumpkin puree
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup buttermilk
  • 2 cups chocolate chips (I used a mixture of milk chocolate chips and chopped 70% Green and Blacks)
  • 2 cups of chopped walnuts

  • Preheat oven to 180C, grease your bundt tin and dust with flour
  • Mix flour, spices, bicarb, baking powder and salt
  • Beat sugar and butter until fluffy then add eggs one at a time, scraping the side of the bowl as needed
  • Stir in pumpkin and vanilla then the buttermilk
  • Add the flour in three batches, scraping the side of the bowl and then finally stir in the chocolate and walnuts
  • Pour batter into the bundt tin of your choice and bake for 55 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean, cool in tin for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wore rack. Allow to cool completely before attempting to cut
Should your bundt be reluctant to release itself from the tin (as mine was today as I forgot the all important 'dust with flour' step) pop the tin back into the oven for a few minutes to help release it (you may also require the help of several implements to aid the process, I used a knife, a rolling pin, a plastic spatula and a bit of brute force)

Monday, 9 November 2009

A Win and a Fail



Another gathering for a night of ladyboy poker provided another baking opportunity. In a search for inspiration a brief email poll of participants returned the single word 'chocolate'.

I had recently bookmarked a recipe for Chocolate, Coffee and Cardamon Cake with a view to a dinner party/poker dessert (rather than a bake and take to work kind of cake). I had fresh pods in the cupboard from the gingerbread earlier in the week and the pictures on Spice and More's blog screamed dense richness, just what you need with a good bottle of red to induce a lucky hand. I followed the recipe on the site, using the reduced amount of sugar suggested, with 70% chocolate (I had Green and Blacks in the cupboard). I have a Gaggia coffee machine (possibly my most prized possession) so brewed a double espresso then strained the crushed cardamon pods and seeds which I'd simmered in water into the coffee before adding all the liquid at the point stated. The type of tin wasn't specified but you'll need a deep springform for this one. I didn't bother with a ganache (and this wasn't because of previous disasters, I believe I now have a foolproof recipe) I just didn't think it looked like it needed it, the top of the cake looked so moist and was slightly cracked and I worried about masking the cardamon with more chocolate. When it came to serving, additional chocolate definitely wasn't needed, it was so tasty on it's own.

Along with the cake I also offered to cook the main. I have the Leon book and love it so much that I gave it to several people as Christmas presents last year, my sister is currently spreading the Leon love by giving copies as gifts. I needed a one pot veggie dish and the Egyptian Tamarind stew looked appealing, filled as it is with roasted aubergines, peppers, tomatoes and chickpeas (or fava beans if you can find them). I Googled it for additional hints and tips and discovered that it had been part of the Guardian's cookalong series with the added bonus of a pilaf recipe to accompany it. You can get the transcript and recipes here. I used agave nectar rather than honey, partly to just use it and partly because I'm not a fan of honey and wasn't sure how strong the taste of it would be. I think the agave worked, I added a little more tamarind than suggested and I think that I would split the chillies to get a little bit more of a kick. The smell of the pilaf was amazing as the heat hit the spices and everyone enjoyed it.

So, two wins on the food front were joined by two poker wins - yes I won both games! Unheard of. Only that day I'd been moaning that I was feeling a little despondent as I rarely won a hand never mind games or cold hard cash and was pretty much only going along for the company and baking opportunity. But win I did, and it felt good.


There was a baking fail though, perhaps fail is too strong a word as colleagues at work seemed to enjoy it, but I can't say I was taken with the Cardamon Vanilla Bundt featured on the Food Librarian's 'I Like Big Bundts' series (in the lead up to National Bundt day on November 15th). It was heavier than I expected and whilst it smelt divine whilst baking, the end result didn't have enough vanilla or cardamom for me. Do check out the series though, there are some fantastic looking cakes on there.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Gingerbread for an Autumnal Afternoon

I have just spent a lovely weekend with my brother, his family and their amazing new kitchen. I am still suffering from severe kitchen envy, the whole space was a thing of beauty, from the fridge that I'm sure I could fit inside to the cutlery drawer that would placate the most obsessive compulsive urges. Luckily he has yet to purchase a Kitchen Aid mixer or I may not have coped at all. After a long walk in the beech woods around Box he prepared a the most divine beef bourguignon and I, with help from my niece, nephew (and a perfect G&T or several) made the Apple and Date Cake from a few months ago this time with a handful of chopped pecans - a good addition should you wish to add a little crunch.

Anyway, an early shift at work today meant a few hours free this afternoon and I need to spread a little love and reconnect with my small, yet (almost) perfectly formed kitchen. I know Parkin is the order of the week, it being Bonfire Night on Thursday, but once again a tub of buttermilk dictated the recipe somewhat and I had bookmarked this Gingerbread recipe from Shauna at Bay Area Bites. I don't remember how or when I came across it, but the range of spices she uses appeals and led to it being put to one side for autumn and here we are. As I type it's cooling in the pan, I followed the recipe below with a few very minor changes which are in italics. Other than the grinding of the cardamon seeds (anyone know where to get ground cardamon? I can't seem to find it anywhere) this came together in no time and was baked in 40 minutes.


SHUNA'S FAMOUS GINGERBREAD


18 ounces All Purpose Flour (I used half wholemeal)
6 ounces Sugar (
golden granulated but I wonder what a soft brown would be like)
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher Salt
1 Tablespoon Baking Soda
3 Tablespoons + Ground Ginger
1/2 teaspoon Ground Cloves
1 1/2 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1 Tablespoon Ground Cardamon (
I only had pods of which I ground a generous teaspoons worth of the seeds as I wasn't sure if the ground seeds would be stronger than the pre-ground stuff)
1 teaspoon + Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1 teaspoon *optional: Ground Coriander* (
I didn't use)

8 ounces Unsalted Butter
3 1/2 ounces Blackstrap Molasses
6 ounces Simple Syrup **recipe in instructions** you may substitute Lyle's golden syrup or light corn syrup (
I used golden syrup)

3 each Large Egg Yolks
2 each Large Eggs
8 ounces buttermilk you may substitute sour cream or use a mixture of them both to create the eight ounces


**To make simple syrup place equal parts sugar and cold water in saucepan and bring to a boil until mixture is clear. For a thicker syrup boil for at least 10 minutes or increase the amount of sugar. For this recipe 1/2 cup sugar to 1/2 cup water will be sufficient.**


1. Preheat oven to 350F (180C)
2. Butter desired baking vessels. {Sometimes I coat with raw or white sugar inside as you would flour for a cake.}
3. Sift all dry ingredients except salt and pepper into a large bowl
4. Whisk in salt and pepper until mixture is uniform and create a "well" in center
5. In a medium non-reactive saucepan bring butter, molasses and simple syrup to a boil slowly {this mixture is feisty and will boil over if the heat is on too high or your saucepan is crowding it}
6. In another bowl whisk together egg yolks, eggs and dairy
7. When mixture on stove comes to a boil, shut off heat and let rest for a moment
8. Pour this hot mixture all at once into the center of your bowl of dry ingredients
9. Using a whisk, mix dry ingredients into liquid, from center out, carefully
10. When batter begins to seize, pour in second bowl of wet ingredients
11. Whisk batter until smooth and uniform. Batter is loose
12. Pour batter a little over halfway into buttered baking tins
13. I set my first timer for about 15 minutes, {unless you are making muffin-size or smaller}, so that I can turn the pan around for a more even bake (
I used a Bundt tin and it was done at 40 mins)
14. Gingerbread is done when sides pull away from the pan, middle bounces back to the touch and/or a cake-tester inserted in the center comes out clean
15. Cool at least until warm before slicing.


Monday, 26 October 2009

Project Christmas Cake

The evenings are drawing in, leaves are collecting in the gutters and the magpies are doing a splendid, if noisy, job of clearing them; plus the first Christmas advert is on TV (Argos in case you hadn't noticed) so it must be time to buy currants. Lots of things I bake over the year call for sultanas, raisins or other dried fruit, but none, other than Christmas cake, need currants.


I decided this year to go with Mary Berry's recipe. Simply because I bought her latest book awhile ago and it was at the forefront of my mind. I have a wonderful rich fruit cake recipe that I use to take into work as it doesn't contain nuts or need booze, but the alcohol content of this one (or my liberal interpretation of the recipe) means it can be made in advance. The downside is the forward planning needed in order to soak the fruit overnight, but Sunday mornings usually start early for me so a couple of Saturdays ago I checked the drinks cabinet for brandy, popped off to Waitrose to buy currants and got out the kitchen scales. Mary's recipe has a great section where she scales the recipe to accommodate various tin sizes. I wanted to make an 8" square and also some smaller ones as gifts. Good old Lakeland sell bakers moulds which are great if you're making cakes to give as gifts so I doubled the recipe for the 8" square tin and managed to make five of the medium sized moulds. The moulds took just over two two hours to cook through (with three in one oven and two in another) but the large one took over five! Good job I woke early and had no plans for the day.


This last Saturday I repeated the whole exercise all over again for another five small cakes. There's not enough time to make more before Christmas but I plan to make the rich fruit cake nearer the time to take into work. I have no photos at the moment due to ongoing laptop issues, but hope to add some soon.


Other than the pre-soaking of the fruit the recipe comes together really quickly. I left out the candied peel (nasty stuff) and just increased each of the other dried fruits. I've also decided not to ice the cakes* so have put nuts and cherries on the top and will glaze them nearer the time, they do need some kind of adornment as these are not pretty cakes when plain. However the smell as they're baking is just divine. There really is no other smell like it, better even than fresh bread I think and with the aroma of Christmas in the air I could even forgive Argos for starting their campaign in October.

Mary Berry's Classic Rich Christmas Cake

Ingredients for 23 cm (9") round or 23 (8") square tin
  • Glace Cherries 150g
  • Ready to eat dried apricots 150g
  • Currents 400g
  • Sultanas 225g
  • Raisins 225g
  • Candied Peel 65g (I added extra of each of the other dried fruits)
  • Brandy 4 tbsp (and then some!)
  • Plain Flour 275g
  • Grated Nutmeg scant 1/2 tsp
  • Ground mixed spice 3/4 tsp
  • Softened butter 275g
  • Dark muscavado sugar 275g
  • Large eggs 5
  • Chopped almonds (I used flaked) 65g
  • Black treacle 1tbsp
  • Rind lemon 1 1/2
  • Rind orange 1 1/2
  • Baking times (aprox) 4 3/4 hrs
140C (Fan) 120 Gas Mark 1

  • The night before you want to make the cake, rinse the cherries in water, drain, dry and cut into quaters. Cut/chop apricots and put all fruits in large bowl, add brandy, cover and leave.

  • Preheat oven, grease and double line tin.
  • Measure flour, spices, butter, sugar, eggs, almonds, treacle and rinds into large bowl, beat well (good workout for the upper arms) and then fold in the fruits.
  • Spoon in to tin and spread out evenly with back of spoon (if decorating with whole blanched almonds or brazil nuts and cherries now is the time to add them). Cover loosely with a double layer of baking parchment.
  • Bake until firm and skewer comes out clean. Leave cake to cool in tin.
  • When cool, pierce at intervals with a fine skewer and feed with a little brandy. Wrap completely cold cake in double layer of parchment and then again with foil.
  • If you're icing etc do so a week before serving (like you won't have enough to do on the 18th December)



*I really don't like marzipan or icing so even though these are for others I decided not to bother, plus I'm a little bit scared of the process, plus I really couldn't be bothered!

Friday, 23 October 2009

Bring on the Soups

So, the clocks go back this weekend, the evenings are drawing in and if the Today programme are debating us Brits (or perhaps just the English and Welsh, depending on where in the argument you fall) joining European time once again, then it must be time for soup.

I've had a nasty bout of gastric flu which is lingering as I'm unable to stop eating and stick to clear fluids (gin doesn't count, I checked). Today I was a bit better and also bored, so following a bowl of the most amazing minestrone soup at the Glebe Cairn Cafe at the Kilmartin House Museum on my recent trip to Scotland I felt now was the time to try and move into soup season. A search through my recipes and a brief Google led me to this version from the River Cafe. I substituted the onion with a leek, left out the garlic (not a fan) added runner beans and used up a pointed cabbage (in two stages) instead of the chard and cavolo nero. Whatever recipe I found I would leave out any pasta, but this had none. Next time I make it (and there will be a next time) I will add more beans, and maybe some tomato puree to add a little more depth. It also needed more stock than was called for, but I liked it stew-like. I can't wait until tomorrow to see if the comments are right about it being better on the second day.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Have Courgettes - Will Bake (and make breakfast)

I'm not a fan of courgettes, they were a staple of my student years, added to every stir fry, pasta sauce or bake that a limited student budget could conceive. There was also a scrumptuous courgette cake, sweet and moist from sultanas, filled with tart lemon curd and topped with cream cheese this was oft requested for special occaisions, but I'd stopped making it years ago.

A trip to the monthly Moseley Farmer's Market in late summer coincided with lots of inspiration from other blogs and I bought lots. Unfortunately having them in my fridge exerted some kind of pressure on my psyche and I couldn't bring myself to bake that weekend. However, I did discover a recipe for Zucchini Bread Oatmeal from Diet Dessert and Dogs and gave that a try the next morning - what a revelation! I have porridge every morning, I make up my own mix using Rude Health fruity date porridge as a base and adding my own mix of seeds, a bit of extra oat bran and germ , a little more cinnamon with a mixture of water and semi-skimmed milk. I didn't think some grated courgettes would add much to the flavour, but it really is delicious - go on, try it.


The addition of a bit of grated courgette in my breakfast wasn't going to make much of a dent in the enormous specimens occupying the drawer at the bottom of my fridge so I went through the recipes I'd flagged and came up with two that I thought would put them to good use.

The Chocolate Zucchini cake from Simply Recipes is one Elise adapted from the appropriately named Chocolate and Zucchini and I toggled between the two recipes and mine is an amalgam of the two. It's not the prettiest and is predominately a chocolate cake but with a lovely moistness that comes from all that veg. No one at work believed that there were courgettes in there, but all enjoyed it.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake
Adapted from Simply Recipes and Chocolate and Zucchini
Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 cups of plain flour
  • 1 cup wholemeal flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa
  • 2 1/2 Tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 Tsp bicarbinate of soda
  • 1 Tsp salt
  • 1 Tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup soft butter
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 1 cup soft brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 Tsp vanilla extract
  • Grated zest of one orange
  • 2 cups coarsely grated courgettes
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 100g chocolate chips (I used dark chocolate)
I didn't bother with a glaze but there's one should you wish to add it.

Method
  • Heat Oven to 350F
  • Mix the flours, cocoa, baking powder, bicarb, salt and cinnamon
  • Beat the butter and sugars until smooth
  • Add eggs to butter and sugar beating well
  • Stir in vanilla, orange zest and courgettes
  • Add the flour mixture and the buttermilk in three batches
  • Spoon into a greased and flour coated bundt pan and bake for 45 minutes until a skewer comes out clean - if you don't have a bundt tin, firstly get one because they are great, secondly this mixture should make two loaf tins, check after 30 mins.
  • Cool for about 15 mins in the tin before turning out to cool completely on a rack


To contrast the safe, hidden (but delicious) use of the courgettes in chocolate cake recipe enough I also made Special Zucchini Bread from 101 Cookbooks. I adored this, the combination of spices, citrus, nuts and ginger was just delicious, the texture too was so moreish, a little something different in each mouthful. I used soft brown sugar I left out the poppy seeds as I didn't have any but I did have a jar of Raz el Hanout so used that, as suggested, in place of the curry powder. The smells from the oven while this was baking were amazing, and whilst it was cooling I spent a fair amount of time picking off bits of toasted walnut to eat - just to check you inderstand. Pop over to the site for the recipe - you won't regret it.


Victoria Sandwich Challenge


I am a bad blogger, I have such a backlog of posts and recipes to post on here, I'm going through the jottings in my notebook and pictures on my laptop to try and match them up - this should have been posted months ago.

On one of my recent cake distributions at work I was asked by a colleague if I had any tips for Victoria Sandwiches as he was due to enter a competition at a local horticultural society show and had, after six years of entries, yet to place. I had to confess that I'd never attempted one and after a brief conversation about the merits of double sifting flour and the use of margarine over butter he jotted down the required recipe (6oz each of SR flour, butter and sugar and 3 eggs to be baked in two 7" or 8" tins) and off I went to bake. I made several cakes over the following weeks (thanks/apologies to neighbours and colleagues for consuming them all).

The trouble with a Victoria Sandwich is there's nowhere to hide. The competition rules are clear - only jam inside, SR flour and no additional raising agents - it really all is about the lightness of the crumb.

I experimented with butter (best for taste), margarine, which did give a better rise but resulted in a greasy, paler cake and I also tried a 'spreadable' butter which apparently gives the rise of marg with the superior butter taste, but I still felt was greasy. In the end I decided to be a purist and went with butter in a 7" tin to get a deeper sponge.

There was no rosette for me this year, (you can see my entry, and the competition here) but I'll share a few tips I picked up along the way:
  • Double sifting flour - it really does make a difference and enables you to reduce the amount you have to work the batter to incorporate the flour, which will help with lightness.
  • Beating the eggs before adding - this also helps if you decide to weigh the eggs and measure the other ingredients this way i.e. if 3 eggs out of their shells weigh 174g then you should add that amount of flour, fat and sugar *
  • If the mixture starts to curdle when adding the eggs add a tbsp of the flour to bring it back together
  • Turn your tins - depending on your oven of course but I found that rotating the cakes with about 7 minutes to go resulted in an even even colour on top.
  • Raspberry jam is easier to spread than strawberry and means a neater finish at the edges (I used Bon Maman).
  • A dusting of caster sugar is supposedly acceptable for the competition.
Finally, a week after the competition it was Miss M's 14th birthday and of all the cakes she could have requested she went with a VS. So, after weeks of sticking to various rules and regulations I really went for it, behold The Scooby Doo Cake



*sometime after the competition, said colleague reported that beating the egg whites separately might add even more lightness, after swearing off these cakes for at least a year I had to go straight home and give it a go ... no difference that I could see.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Sunday Bakathon



On the same Sunday morning that saw me conquer the lemon drizzle disaster I also needed to use up a carton of buttermilk. Most of the buttermilk recipes I've collected are bundt cake ones which I adore. I never tire of looking at (and picking at)the cracked top as it cools in the tin before turning it out and marvelling at the smooth underside. Plus they're dream cakes for slicing and sharing.

A mixture of fresh and frozen blueberries along with just enough lemons left from the nemesis cake and I was good to go with this recipe from Bonappetit. This cake is delicious and was a hit with everyone. Don't forget to coat the blueberries in flour to distribute them evenly throughout the batter.

And, because I can never bake just one cake I also attempted these apple muffins from Smitten Kitchen (there was also a Victoria Sandwich, but more on that another time).



I'm not won over by these muffins. I think the memory of the apple and date cake is still too wondrously fresh for another apple based recipe. I didn't help by not chopping the apple into small enough pieces - again my lack of forward thinking meant I didn't fully consider the end muffin sized product. However, the crumb was lovely and light and the smell alone whilst they were baking was wonderful

The Cake That Nearly Beat Me


I couple of months ago I bought the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook and one of the first cakes I made (due to a fruit bowl full of lemons and a shiny new loaf tin - thank you Lakeland) was the Lemon Loaf. The recipe calls for whole milk which I didn't have so I substituted with buttermilk - that's allowed isn't it?

The cake was an unmitigated disaster.

I can't remember how long it actually took to bake but I know I had to reset the timer in five, then ten minute intervals several times before the skewer had any hope of testing clean. The cake was so heavy that a section of the top sheared off straight from the oven revealing a centre so stodgy that I just stood staring in disbelief.

After cooling it was obvious this was not fit to be dished up, but I couldn't bring myself to throw it away. I donated it to a colleague under the guise of a potential trifle ingredient, but accept that it probably ended up in her bin rather than mine.

I really didn't think that making such a minor substitution would've had such a disastrous effect, but in the end it was my novice baking status, rather than instinct, that let me down. There's an error in the original recipe; 560g of flour should actually read 350g. I imagine this error would be a glaring one to someone with more experience but it passed me by, it was only a chance visit to their website and a click on the innocuous sounding link for 'further tips and revisions' (ahem!) lead me to a PDF document with a page of tips and revisions to three of their recipes. A proof reader is in trouble somewhere I fear.

So, a Sunday waking of 4am meant several hours of baking time and the Lemon Drizzle was in my sights.

I was tempted to try again with the buttermilk substitution just to see exactly where the blame for the original failing lay, but decided that the frustration of another cake fail would be too much to bare, especially at that ungodly hour.

The baking time is 1hour 15 minutes, which is a little on the long side for a loaf tin and should've made me think ahead a bit, but I'm not that good at seeing the bigger picture and so placed the tin into the oven, set the timer, and popped off to clean the bathroom, as you do. I came back downstairs about 40 minutes into baking to a concerning hint of 'burnt' in the air. The cake had risen way above the top of the tin and was touching the element at the top of the oven. A few minutes of panic later and I'd extracted the cake with only minor damage to it and myself (and it's never a proper baking session without an injury of some sort). After picking the smoking debris off the element and repositioning the shelf the cake was returned to finish cooking. I couldn't believe this bloody recipe had nearly beaten me again.

The end result was a little on the ugly side because of the damage to the top, luckily it was destined to be sliced and distributed at work rather than presented whole - good job too.

An additional tip - should you want to bake this for yourself - is that I remembered from disaster no 1 that pouring the syrup over the cake resulted in a lot of the syrup being lost of pooling around the sides, so I made good use of a skewer and spent a long time drizzling slowly in intervals to ensure as much of the syrup as possible got into the cake.

Was the whole thing worth it? Well, I can't see beyond the second near miss, and I feel that the authors couldn't been more detailed in their instructions (error aside) but the resulting cake was moist and tart and seemed to go down well. It keeps, wrapped, for a coupled of days and would no doubt make an excellent base for a trifle!