Tag Archive | cooking

Cherry Bakewell Traybake

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The last few weeks have flowed like syrup. Dark, sticky and heavy with the promise of thunder. Thoughts move slowly, my body even more so as I do my best “Edwardian lady” impression – floating around the house in diaphanous gowns and drinking endless cups of tea.

edwardian lady

Any proper afternoon tea should come with a cake of some sort. No delicate little fancies for me however, what I require is a cake that matches the weather: dense, moist and almost (but not quite) a little too sweet.

In my head, Cherry Bakewells mean Mr Kipling. I experienced no other as a child and I can’t say I cared for them all that much. I found them too dry, too small and not nearly almond-y enough for my palette. This is a shame really as I consider cherry and almond to be a flavour combination made in heaven, and one that is perfect for summer. This recipe is not like Mr Kipling’s Cherry Bakewells. Nor is it like an authentic Bakewell tart, which is an entirely different entity. It is a sort of hybrid: a were-bake: a Franken-well… but one that tastes very nice.

Recipe Notes

  • This is not necessary a quick recipe. The various stages are simple enough but it does take time. For people with limited “spoons” like me this can be problematic. I’ve found I can reduce the time by completing each stage in the order given below and/or actually making the pastry in advance and freezing it. (It freezes perfectly well for several months) I also love my food processor. It saves me so much time and effort, and I can even put it in the dishwasher. I know they’re expensive (mine was a gift from my Dad) but if you cook a lot it might be worth the investment. The good news is, simple ones work just as well for day-to-day cooking as fancy ones with all the attachments. It’s also possible to find old 70s/80s food processors at flea markets and car boot sales being sold for next to nothing. My Mum has had her food processor for around 30 years and it’s still going strong.
food-processor

My Mum’s is not this exact brand but it looks like this.

  • So far, I have made this recipe using eggs and have also made it completely vegan, using chia seed goo instead. Personally, I prefer the fully vegan version as it is much denser and stickier. But, if you are not vegan and prefer a lighter, more risen sponge layer then the eggs are for you. See my recipe here for how to make the chia seed egg replacement. It’s really easy and only takes a few minutes.

 

  • Similarly, if you are using gluten free flour for the pastry then I’ve found that an egg or chia seed substitute helps to bind it all together a little better. But if you are not using gluten free flour then this is not necessary at all.

 

  • If you don’t use polenta or ground almonds very much and don’t want a situation where you have half a packet lurking in the back of the cupboard forever more, you can replace them in the pastry with the equivalent amount of flour. They’re not vital ingredients at all, they just make the pastry taste that bit nicer.

 

  • I nearly always use golden caster sugar in my baking because I like the slight caramel taste but you don’t have to – normal caster sugar works just fine.

 

  • The amount of water used in the icing seems tiny but go with it. For years I made icing too runny by adding more water than I should because it seemed right at the time. It wasn’t until I discovered this ratio that I finally achieved the perfect consistency of “firm enough not to run all down the sides but runny enough to not be fondant”. I promise you, it works.

 

Ingredients

Pastry

  • 6oz gf plain flour
  • 1.5oz polenta
  • ½ oz ground almonds
  • 1 heaped tsp xanthan gum
  • 5oz (vegan) butter
  • 2oz golden caster sugar
  • EITHER 1 egg OR equivalent vegan egg replacer (1/4 tablespoon chia seeds + 1 tbs water)
  • A little water

Filling

  • 4oz gf self raising flour
  • 4oz ground almonds
  • 8oz (vegan) butter
  • 8oz golden caster sugar
  • 1tsp almond essence
  • EITHER 4 medium eggs, beaten OR equivalent vegan egg replacer (4 tbs chia seeds + 16 tbs water)
  • About half a jar of jam – strawberry, raspberry or cherry works nicely

Icing

  • 300g icing sugar
  • 3tbs water
  • 25g flaked almonds (toasted)
  • 20 glace cherries

Method

Pastry

First make the pastry (this can always be done in advance to save time).

The method is pretty much the same as with any pastry, and if you have a food processor you can skip the faff, pop all of the ingredients in together and watch the magic happen. If not, do the following…

1.  Mix the flour, polenta, ground almonds and xanthan gum together in a large bowl.

2.  Cut the butter into small chunks and add to the dry mix. “Rub it in” using the tips of your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

3.  Mix in the sugar.

4.  Add the chia seed egg replacer/egg yolk and mix in well.

5.  Add a tiny bit of water at a time, mixing with a spoon and then your hands until the mixture comes together to form a solid ball. The amount of water you will need depends on the individual mix so go slowly. If you are using a particularly large egg you may not need any water at all.

6.  Ideally, wrap the pastry in clingfim and chill in the fridge for half an hour (if you are pushed for time you can skip this step).

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7.  Grease the inside of a large roasting tin with oil and dust with flour to coat the surface.

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8.  Roll out your pastry to fit the tin. Rather than attempt a complicated transfer process with fragile, crumbly gluten free pastry, I find it easier to simply roll it out part way, and then squish it out the rest of the way into the corners of the tin with my fingers.

9.  Prick the pastry all over with a fork. (This helps the pastry to stay flat and crisp)

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10.  Spread a generous layer of jam all over.

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Filling

While the pastry is chilling, make the filling… (That rhymes!)

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/fan180°C/gas 6.

2.  In a large bowl, cream (mix really hard) the butter and sugar until pale in colour.

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3.  Add the “eggs” a little at a time, stirring after each addition.

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4.  Add the almond essence and ground almonds.

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5.  Sieve in the flour and fold it in, in a “figure of 8” pattern.

6.  Spoon the mixture over the jam-covered pastry and bake for 40 minutes until golden-brown.

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Icing

While the filling is cooking, make the icing… (That doesn’t rhyme. How disappointing)

  1. Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl to remove any lumps.
  2. Stir in the water.

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Put it all together!

  1. Once the filling is reasonably cool, spread the icing over it (leave it in the tin at this stage) and sprinkle with the flaked almonds.

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2. Place 20 glace cherries evenly over the surface.

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3. Cut into 20 squares with a sharp knife.

4. Leave in a cool place for the icing to set a little more and lift the squares out of the tin.

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Simple Courgette Pasta for Dinosaurs

dinosaur courgette

This is the giga-courgette. The latest in a series of giant courgettes to have grown apparently overnight in my garden. The picture includes an actual, genuine, totally-real-life dinosaur for size reference. (I found him grazing on my herbaceous border last week) I would call it a marrow except it’s not quite there yet. I have been very impressed with this year’s variety of plant that seems to let courgettes grow to mammoth size before they develop the texture and seeds of marrows. I would buy it again next year except I can’t remember for the life of me what it was called.

Excellent though all this is, it does leave me with a bit of a surplus. Which is ironic given that the inhabitants of this city are still reeling from “that month when Sainsburys didn’t have courgettes.” How we all survived that apocalyptic event I can’t fathom…

I’m pleased to say (not a little smugly) that my home-grown courgettes do taste nicer than the supermarket one, especially this yellow variety which is much sweeter. This means that I really want to enjoy them in simple recipes without a lot of flavour competition. The recipe below is really simple and great for summer. You can make this with any courgettes of course and it will still taste good, but if you do have access to a farmers’ market, organic store or a kindly friend with a courgette problem then I would urge you to try it with the nicest courgettes you can get your hands on. Even if that means wresting a dinosaur for them.

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Two normal sized courgettes from my plants last week

Recipe notes

I prefer using spelt pasta these days because it doesn’t stick together in the pan like lots of the gluten free ones do, however it’s not suitable for people with a serious gluten intolerance. Spelt pasta comes in white and brown, and the white version tastes just like normal pasta to me. Having said that, I actually prefer the brown as it is more flavoursome and filling. You can actually use any shape of pasta for these recipes but I find spaghetti works best.

I have taken to peeling courgettes instead of chopping them – you basically peel them like a carrot and keep going until there’s nothing left (mind your fingers!). They cook much quicker that way and I prefer the texture. If you have one of those fancy spiralizers you could also use that.

Since I am a fearsome carnivorous velociraptor I use bacon in this recipe when eating alone. If my herbivorous brachiosaur mate is joining me however, we substitute it with Quorn hot dogs. The flavour seems to work better than Quorn bacon for some reason. They come in frozen and non-frozen packets and as far as I can tell they’re exactly the same thing; we just use the frozen ones because they’re cheaper. They are not vegan however.

If you are using standard out of season courgettes for this and want to add a little extra flavour, a little green “FreeFrom” brand pesto works brilliantly to perk it up.

Ingredients (serves 2 hungry dinosaurs)

  • 1 giga-courgette or 2 smaller ones
  • 3 spring onions
  • 3 pieces of streaky bacon OR 5 Quorn hot dogs
  • Seeds – I use a pre-mixed packet of pumpkin, linseed, sunflower and sesame seeds.
  • Cashew nut pieces
  • Cold-pressed olive oil
  • Vegetable oil
  • Approx 200g pasta – gluten free or spelt

 

Method

(Vegetarian instructions in green)

  1. Cook the pasta, following the times given on the packet. If using gluten free, heating it up in cold water (as opposed to using boiling water from the kettle) may help it to stick less. Remember to stir often throughout the cooking process.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, peel and/or chop the vegetables. Courgette pasta 2.jpg
  3. If using bacon, cut into little squares and fry for a couple of minutes.
  4. Cook the hot dogs as per the instructions on the packet (for the frozen ones this involves removing them from the packet and microwaving for 2mins).
  5. Add the vegetables to the frying pan and cook for about 5mins until they soften. Courgette pasta 3.jpg
  6. Chop the hot dogs into pieces and add them to the pan about halfway through cooking the veg.
  7. Toss in a handful of chopped nuts and seeds. Fry for 1 minute.
  8. Add the pasta and stir it all up until it is thoroughly mixed and warmed through. Courgette pasta 4.jpg
  9. Plate up and drizzle over a little olive oil.  Courgette pasta 5.jpg
  10. Roar victoriously.

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Cranberry and Cinnamon Granola Bars

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Wheat free/lactose free/can be made vegan & gluten free

I never want to see another flapjack again.

Allow me to elaborate…

The gods of medicine have seen fit to impose upon me a fun list of strange dietary requirements. While I can get around this easily enough at meal times, finding vaguely healthy and edible snack foods can be a real headache. Added to the fact that I cannot digest many things, my place of work has a strict no-nuts policy. A little while ago I settled on homemade fruit flapjacks as a suitable solution. Trouble is, after a year of eating them nearly every weekday I need a break.

Dietary requirements aside, I’ve found it surprisingly difficult to find recipes for simple, healthy(ish) snack bars. All a general googling turns up are flapjacks and granola bars. Everything else out there seems to involve vast amounts of either chocolate, sugar, biscuit or nuts. While I have nothing against vast amounts of the above (preferably all together, with some butter and marshmallows…mmm…) it’s not exactly something I should be eating every day.

I have held out against making granola bars for a long time. Mainly because of the haunting spectre of this trope looking over my shoulder. After seriously having had my fill of flapjacks though, I gave in and tried granola bars.

I tried literally the first recipe I found, which was this one from the BBC’s Good Food site. I didn’t have any suitable oats in the house at the time so used up some old spelt flakes I had hanging around at the back of the cupboard instead. It turns out the result is pretty much the same. While this recipe does contain an awful lot more sugar than my usual flapjack recipe, I have to admit it is pretty delicious and provides a welcome respite.

Recipe notes

All of the recipes for granola bars that I’ve found start with the step of toasting your grains and seeds first. I’ve tried this and have been very confused because even after toasting for double than the amount of recommended time, my grains and seeds look almost exactly the same. I’ve still been doing it because it’s in all the recipes and I figure, what do I know? It must be doing something.

 

 

The original recipe on the Good Food website includes walnuts. I have tried cooking this both with and without the walnuts now and frankly, I can’t taste the difference. I have change the types of seed though so maybe that’s why.

As I mentioned, I have used spelt flakes instead of oats in this recipe, purely because that was what I had lurking in the cupboard. They taste lovely but aren’t gluten free.

Ingredients

  • 100g butter (or vegan substitute)
  • 200g whole rolled spelt flakes
  • 200g mixed seeds (I used pumpkin, sunflower & linseed)
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 100g light muscovado sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 100g dried cranberries

Method

  1. Grease a roasting tin with butter or line it with greaseproof paper (my preferred solution as it make it easier to get things out). Mix the spelt flakes and seeds in the tin, then toast in the oven for 5-10 mins at 150°C.
  2. While that does whatever invisible thing it’s supposed to be doing, warm the butter, honey and sugar in a pan and stir until melted.granola bars 3.jpggranola bars 4.jpg
  3. Add the spelt/seed mix, cinnamon and dried fruit, then mix it all up until everything is coated in sugary, sugary goodness.granola bars 6.jpg
  4. Tip into the tin, press down lightly, then bake at 150°C for 30 mins.granola bars 7.jpg
  5. After it’s cooked, some molten sugar may seep out of the sides if it doesn’t quite fill the tin (my roasting tin is pretty big). Just smoosh it back in with a spoon. Do not try to eat the molten sugar while hot. I speak from experience. granola bars 8.jpg
  6. Cool in tin, then cut into 12 bars. Do not try to cut it while warm as it just falls apart and sticks to the knife and your hand. And then you have to eat loads of it off your hand. And then you notice that it has fallen all over the floor. And then the cat tries to eat the floor because it’s now apparently made of warm butter. And then you try to pick up the cat. And then you realise that you are all sticky and you have now just stuck to the cat. And then the cat tries to eat you. Be warned.

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Confessions of a Fluffcake

Cake 007 (2)

Yes, I did make these. I was trying to be Nigella Lawson.

Below is something I actually wrote back in February but then didn’t post for fear of seeming silly for whining to the internet about my first world problems. But then I figured, why not? It’s just sitting here in my documents folder cluttering up my hard drive, I might as well post it anyway. It’s not really about cooking as such but it does shed a little light on my thought processes these past few months and why I’ve not been writing so much.

When I was reading a Branson Sanderson book the other day the female warrior character describes a silly young noblewoman as a “courtly fluffcake”. Given my love of baking and my mad obsession with all things soft and fluffy, this phrase made me laugh out loud and point out the passage to my husband. We had a good laugh and moved on, and now whenever I wear something particularly pink and frilly my husband calls me a fluffcake.

I have always thought of myself as someone who is interested in clothes but not in fashion. My tastes are eclectic and I mostly choose clothes based on whether or not they make me smile and don’t itch rather than whether they fit into a particular style bracket. I suppose you could call my current style vintage-steampunk-forest-nerd-princess but mostly I just wear whatever I please.

Which, more often that not, is something a little like this nice lady here.

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I also enjoy cooking, sewing, flowers, kittens, glitter, scatter cushions and re-arranging the objects in my home into pleasing mise-en-scenès.

In addition to these interests I happen to be a highly-reserved individual who dislikes conflict and values manners. I worry about what others think of me, driving new places often makes me anxious and I have a tendency to giggle when I’m nervous.

Oh dear.

Despite adages about not judging a book by its cover, we all do, all of the time. Like the rest of the human race I actually have diverse outfits, interests and personality traits that do not conform to gendered stereotypes, however somehow these get lost amongst the pom poms. I cannot count the number of times an acquaintance has expressed their surprise to me upon discovering that I have a rounded personality rather than interests that fit nicely into a pretty pink feminine box (with a ribbon on it). In a society that frequently associates femininity with weakness or vapidity this is not good news.

In fact, very little does seem to be good news at the moment (apart from this GIN NEWS that genuinely is excellent). Overall, it seems a scary time to be a woman. I have caught myself wondering what right I have to blog about food in the current political climate. Shouldn’t I simply be grateful that I have food when so many don’t and direct my energies towards something useful? Something like writing to my MP for instance rather than perpetuating the myth that the only thing a woman has to say is about cooking? I have even found myself dressing differently. Pulling out my sensible navy t-shirts and putting away the skirt with the ruffles. I worry now that I no longer have the leisure to be a fluffcake. I wonder if I should no longer conform to traditional expectations of women by wearing pink and writing about casseroles.

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Certainly, it would make my life easier. My everyday interactions are the kind that the average five-year-old would probably relate to. I have been ignored, belittled, interrupted, told I am wrong and told my opinions do not matter. Over the years, I have been on the receiving end of more “mansplaining” than I care to recall. I am routinely patted on the head, smiled at patronisingly and spoken to in the kind of voice I use to address my cat.

Most often these experiences are with men but not always. From women, I have also been the subject of derision, exasperation, hurtful comments and frank bafflement at my choices in life.

I suppose you could say that I should start speaking up for myself and stop dressing like a child if I don’t want to be treated like one but I wish it were that simple. These attitudes prevail regardless of my sartorial choices and even so much as the colour of my hair seems sometimes enough to relegate me to the role of “silly blonde”.

clueless

The experiences of women the world over confirm that I am not alone in having my intelligence (or even, it sometimes seems, sentience) underestimated because of my feminine persona.

You see, at the end of the day, it is that neat little box that is the problem. We do so love to put people in them. That’s only human I suppose but it’s the source of so much hurt and misunderstanding in this world that we really ought to try to do better.

And this is why I have come to the conclusion that I have the right to be a fluffcake if that’s what I want to be. Why should I let what I wear be dictated by the opinion of strangers? Why obsess over “fixing” core aspects of my personality in order to earn the approval of others rather than simply accepting who I am? Since when did baking become synonymous with drooling idiocy anyway? I believe passionately that feminism is about inclusivity and that as a feminist I have a duty to continue to challenge those easy assumptions we make about people based upon initial impressions. Now more so than ever.

And the fluffcake in the book? It turned out that it was all an act to put people off their guard as she was actually a spy for the opposing army. She was a warrior after all.

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