Almost There

It has been a long hard slog.

Nearly 6 months in fact.

But we’re nearly there.

Ladies and Gentlemen (drum roll please)

TAAAA daaaa

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Life is almost back to normal.

Just the small matter of a walls worth of books to rehouse still.

Ahem.

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The Scent of Summer

I think it could be official.
We’ve had four, four, days on the trot when the sun has made an appearance for at least part of the day.

Yay, summer is here!

And with summer comes

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Strawberries.

I did the annual trip to our local Pick Your Own, The Malt Kiln Farm Shop, with youngest child and her friend.

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The sun shone, the bees buzzed, all was right with the world.

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And we came away with about 3 kg of strawberries.

So we may have got a leeetttle bit carried away.

I’m not counting the several kilograms of strawberries we ate whilst we were filling the baskets.

Until you’ve tasted a freshly picked strawberry, warm from the summer sun, you have not really tasted a strawberry my friend!

Once we got home (the mini doing wheelies due to the weight of strawberries in the boot) it was time to try and do something useful with the fruit.

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And what better than strawberry jam?

It’s the easiest thing in the world to make.

Wipe, or wash, your strawberries and de-hull them.

Weigh your fruit.

Chop the berries into smaller chunks and place in a large saucepan or jam pan.

Heat for 10 minutes or so to release the juices and then mash with a potato masher or wooden spoon.

Heat for a further 5 or 10 mins until the fruit has really cooked down into a pulpy mash.

Add the same weight of jam sugar as you have of fruit, plus the juice of a lemon as strawberries have little pectin.

Bring to a rolling boil

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When the jam has reached the setting point (either pop a saucer in the freezer for a few minutes then remove and drop a splodge of jam on it, pushing to see if skin forms on the surface, or see if the jam forms globular droplets that cling to the back of a spoon when it is lifted out of the mixture) take off the boil and decant into clean, sterilised jars.

Now make yourself a quick batch of scones and enjoy warm homemade, intensely strawberry jam on warm, homemade, melt in the mouth scones

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It really is the taste of summer. Mmmmm.

Why?

This morning I got up early to go running with oldest child. We managed 2/3 of a mile around the park.

As I was running, with all the grace of a balletic hippo, I thought “why?”

Why do people do this to themselves?

It’s not fun.

But then, as I lay on the Tarmac, gasping for air like a cod on the quayside, I realised why.

It feels so darned good when you stop.

Raspberry and White Chocolate Scones

These came about as a result of a chat I had with Averil (Hi Averil) on Thursday.

Mention was made of a bakers oop north who make amazing raspberry and white chocolate scones.

I just couldn’t get those scones out of my head (Na Na Na, naa Na naa naa Na, Na Na Na,naa naa Na naa naa)

And so, here’s the first attempt at making a southern softy version

You will need

225g self raising flour
Pinch salt
50g butter
25g sugar
75g raspberries
75g white chocolate
1 egg, beaten mixed with milk to make 150ml liquid

Heat the oven to 220C/Gas 7
Grease a baking tray
Mix flour and salt.
Rub in butter until it is like fine breadcrumbs.
Stir in sugar and fruit. Chop the chocolate and add. Stir well but try not to mush the raspberries.

Add the egg/milk mixture and mix together to form a stiff dough.

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Place on a floured board. Flatten slightly. You can try cutting out shapes with a cutter but this is quite a wet mixture so I found just hacking with a knife was more effective.

Place on the baking tray

Brush the tops of the scones with the dregs of the egg/milk mixture.

Bake for about 12 minutes.

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Now I know they look a bit, um, rustic, but they taste good. The sharpness of the raspberries contrasts really well with the sweet white chocolate.

And at least they don’t look like cow pats 🙂

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Turmoil

Back when I was a student, when I actually had time for such things, I used to read a cutting edge, satirical magazine. Unfortunately I forget (a sign of advancing dotage) which magazine it was. Punch? Private Eye?

Viz?

🙂

Anyway, whatever magazine it was, it used to feature a cartoon. Each issue would have a single image and the caption was always the same.

Inner Turmoil.

Well my friends, forget the inner turmoil, we are currently living in complete and utter outer turmoil.

Nay, chaos.

Pandemonium even.

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But look, did you see it? On the corner of the table in the last picture?

A little slice of normality?

A teeny, tiny corner of civilisation, holding the fort against the onslaught of mayhem and misrule?

Honey scones.

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From Lorraine Pascal’s Lighter Baking book.

Apparently they’re really good for you then.

Practically medicinal.

In more ways than one 🙂

Hey Macaron-a

Sorry.

There is a fab French cafe in Leamington.

It’s called Comme Ci Comme Ca

The kids are rapidly becoming addicted to their macarons.

Which is not necessarily a Bad Thing, giving, as it does, the impression that they appreciate fine food and French culture.

As opposed to their normal state of being which involves being glued to Minecraft and greeting every meal with a “urgh, what IS it?”

However, as the Macarons, the “two bites and they’re gone” Macarons, come in at a pound a shot, this is turning into a bit of a costly addiction.

How hard can it be to make your own?

Erm, well, they are quite tricky as it turns out.

Our first batch, a couple of weeks ago, was firmly in cow pat territory.

Again.

But today…

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Oh my god, these are absolutely amazing.

I have no idea if they are authentic or not. We’ve only ever eaten Macarons in Comme Ci Comme Ca, and these are certainly quite different to those.

But they are delicious.

You will need

200g of icing sugar and 100g of ground almonds. Put them in a food processor and blitz them together.

Take 125g of egg whites (about 3 large eggs) and in a very clean and dry mixing bowl whisk, adding a pinch of salt, until they form stiff peaks.

Not just soft peaks mind, or you too will be heading into cow pat territory. Stiff peaks.

Take 3 tablespoons of caster sugar and add it to the whites a little at a time, mixing well all the while. The mixture should be very thick, white and glossy, like a thick paste.

Add any food colouring if you want to mimic the scary jewel tones of commercially available Macarons

Now fold in the sugar/almond mixture.

Fill an icing bag with mixture and pipe into evenly sized rounds. If you want to be anal about this then use a 5cm round biscuit cutter and draw circles on grease proof paper first to act as templates.

Or just go free form like we did. It all tastes good.

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Tap the tray once, sharply, on the kitchen surface to get rid of any large air bubbles.

I don’t know how well that works but it is very satisfying.

If you want to add sprinkly things now is the time to do it.

Leave the Macarons alone for 15-60 minutes to form a skin.

Preheat the oven to gas 3.

Place the Macarons on the middle shelf and bake for 10 mins.

Leave to cool on the baking sheet.

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Once cool sandwich together with the filling of your choice. We went for strawberry jam

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With a creme anglaise layer

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Make sure you check that the custard is up to scratch

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Squidge it all together and then pop it into your mouth. Preferably whole 🙂

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Yum.

Shoo fly

This weekend saw the start of the great deconstruction.

This my friends is where a dividing wall and a reassuringly large bookcase used to be

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At some point in the not too distant future it will be a lovely open plan kitchen/diner with island unit and range cooker, butler sink and new, French style, painted cupboards.

That’s the plan, anyway.

So this weekend we had a welcome visit from the in-laws to help with the deconstructing.

And extended family came for Sunday lunch. Because obviously that was a good idea when I suggested it several weeks ago, not quite appreciating how, um, challenging it can be trying to cook a traditional Sunday lunch when there are bits of plaster and wood flying everywhere and half of your kitchen has disappeared.

So of course I thought a good thing to do would be to try baking a pie for pudding.

A pie that involves my arch nemesis, pastry (gasp, horror).

A pie, moreover that I have never attempted before and chose simply because I liked the name.

And it happened to be one of the few recipes that I actually had all the ingredients for.

No pressure then…

Shoo Fly Pie

This is a recipe that has it’s roots in the Pennsylvanian Dutch community. Of course to most Brits, the mention of fly in conjunction with pie would bring to mind Garibaldi aka “squashed fly” biscuits and the liberal use of currants and raisins. I am happy to report that not a single dried fruit is harmed in the making of this recipe.

Much to the family’s delight.

I was working from this little American book that I found on Amazon, but as it works in cups, and includes ingredients that aren’t so easy to find in the UK I did a little tweaking.

tweaking that is, by the way. Nothing Miley Cyrus related here. Dear me no.

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For the pie crust you will need:

110g cold butter, cubed rubbed into 110g plain flour to resemble breadcrumbs.

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Add 80g caster sugar and mix well.Stir in 1large egg and mix to form a dough. Do not over mix. Put in the fridge to rest for 30 mins. After the dough has rested, roll it out and line your chosen pie dish with it. Rest in the fridge for another 20 mins. Feel free to knock down a few bits of wall whilst waiting if the urge so takes you.

Preheat the oven to Gas 3. Line the crust with baking parchment and fill the dish with baking beans. Bake blind for 10 mins then remove the beans and parchment and bake for another 20 mins till lightly golden.

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Yes it does look a little homely, I know. But believe me, for someone who is pastryly challenged, this is a pie crust of triumph.

Now get on with the crumbs.
Mix 30g of butter with 150g plain flour. Stir in 110g brown sugar, 1/4 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp ginger and a pinch of salt. Combine all to resemble breadcrumbs.

For the filling you will need
3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda which you mix with 190ml of boiling water. If you can get it, the American recipe calls for 1/2cup of molasses, I have never owned such a thing in the past and as, for some reason, the sound of it brings back memories of a malt and cod liver oil health supplement I was fed as a child, I suspect I will never own such a thing in the future either. Anyway, I used a mixture of golden syrup and black treacle, making the combined weight up to 200g. Mix this in with the bicarbonate and water and then add 1 large egg and 1tsp of vanilla extract. Mix well.

Add most of the crumbs to the liquid and mix well.

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Pour into the, now slightly cooled, pie shell. Sprinkle the remaining crumbs on top of the mixture. Bake for 40-45 mins.

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Serve to rousing chorus of “Shoo fly, don’t bother me”

Or perhaps not. 🙂

It is something akin to a treacle tart, but not so tooth-curlingly sweet. A mix between that and gingerbread perhaps? Whatever. It is yummy. Add cream or custard as desired. Or just hack off a slice and chomp. Whatever works for you 🙂

Cake

I remember when birthdays meant creating cakes in the shape of woodland scenes, with pixies and rabbits and cute things.

Now

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Sob.

This weekend six hyped-up 12 (or soon to be 12) year old boys will be rampaging, sorry, quietly and considerately mooching, around our house as oldest child celebrates his birthday. There’ll be a trip to the cinema, a sleepover, and Minecraft.

Lots and lots of Minecraft.

I don’t get it myself.

But then I’m his Mum so I’m really not supposed to.

I just get to roll with it.

And bake the cake.

This is a really nice chocolate cake recipe. Chocolatey, a little drier than I would normally go for, but that works well when you have several layers of icing doo-dahs to perch on top.

For the cake
3tbsp cocoa powder
200g self raising flour
200g butter (softened)
200g caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
3 eggs (large)

Heat oven to Gas 4

Cream butter and sugar
Mix the cocoa powder with approx 4 tbsp boiling water and mix together. Stir into the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, sift the flour and baking powder in. Mix well.
Grease and line 2 cake tins and divide the mixture between the two. Bake for approx 25 mins.

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I usually use a chocolate buttercream filling for this cake.
Dissolve 1tsp of instant coffee powder/granules and 1tsp cocoa powder in 2 tbsp boiling water.
Put in a small heatproof bowl and add 60g good quality plain chocolate (broken into small pieces). Melt, either in a microwave or over a pan of simmering water. Let cool
In a fresh bowl cream 250g softened butter with 75g sifted icing sugar. Add the chocolate/coffee mix and stir well. Beat until the mix is pale and fluffy.

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Smother the top of one of your cakes with the buttercream

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Add the top layer of cake and then whatever icing creation good taste, or small children, demand.

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I drew a line at Mooshrooms.

Handmade Holidays (Pt 4)

Having nearly broken my teeth on a biscotti I bought in Cafe Nero once, for many years I really couldn’t see the attraction of biscotti. They seemed to go from granite to sludge in the bottom of the coffee cup in a matter of, ooh, hours.

Why bother, when a perfectly nice chocolate hobnob would do the job with minimum fuss and maximum pleasure?

But I am now a convert. I have discovered that homemade biscotti are infinitely superior to the fossilised shop bought ones.

And they’re brill to give as gifts at this time of year.

My annual venture into biscotti land usually involves these beauties

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Triple chocolate almond pistachio biscotti.

These are so nice.

There may not be enough left to hand out as presents.

You will need
200g plain flour
60g cocoa powder
150g caster sugar
60g good quality plain dark chocolate
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, beaten
1tsp vanilla
100g blanched almonds
50g pistachios
50g white chocolate
50g milk chocolate

Heat the oven to Gas 4.

First lightly toast the nuts by dry frying over a low heat for a few minutes until lightly browned.

Put flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder, salt and the dark chocolate ( broken into chunks) into a blender and blitz in pulses until all the chocolate is broken up into the safe size and texture as the flour and mixed in. Add the eggs and the vanilla and mix in pulses until you get a dough. This will be very sticky.
Dust a counter with flour and tip the dough out.

Knead in the now cooled nuts. You can either mix both nuts in together, or split the dough and have one half with pistachio, the other with almond.

You may need to add a little more flour if the dough is too sticky.

Divide the dough into four and roll out into long sausage shapes about 2.5 cm wide and slightly flatten the sausage

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Yes I know this looks anything but appetising at this point. Trust me.

Pop the sausages onto a tray lined with baking parchment or grease proof paper and pop in the oven for approx 25 mins.

Allow them to cool.

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With a serrated knife cut the baked dough into 1.5 cm pieces and pop them back into the oven for 15 minutes.

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Allow them to cool.

Melt the milk chocolate either in a microwave or over a bowl of boiling water and then drizzle the biscotti with the melted chocolate.

Or just splodge the chocolate on in big dollops if you are 7 years old and want to maximise the chocolate content

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Allow this to set a little then drizzle with melted white chocolate

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Enjoy with a cup of coffee secure in the knowledge your teeth should remain undamaged from the encounter.

Just remember to brush and floss afterwards 🙂

Windfall

We don’t have an apple tree in our garden. But we know someone who does 🙂

So I am now the proud owner of a large carrier bag full of Bramley apples.

I love apple crumble, and I love apple pie, but I was in the mood for trying something a bit different.
I wanted … cookies

Why is it that you can find just about every flavour cookie under the sun but you rarely see apple featuring?

Mmmm, moist chewy apple cookie with a hint of cinnamon spice.

‘Scuse me whilst I drool a while.

I combined sugar and butter with peeled, cored, chopped and cooked Bramley.

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Added flour, bicarbonate of soda, and baking powder

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Dolloped it onto a greased baking tray

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Baked at gas 5 for 15 mins and got

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Cow pats.

Again.

And not even nice tasting cow pats (did I really just write that?)

You know those pan scourers with sponge an one side and tough matted fibrous stuff on the other? Imagine a cold, damp, flattened one of those and you come close to the experience of eating these cookies.

On the plus side I may have just invented the first dessert to also scale and polish your teeth.

And now I know why you rarely get apple cookies.

Sticky Yorkshire Gingerbread

I wish you could smell our house right now.

No really.

I’ve just baked the first of the season’s gingerbread and the house now smells of cake and spice and general yumminess.

Proper sticky, Yorkshire gingerbread this is. A dark, flavourful, almost chewy cake.

Roll on scratch ‘n’ sniff blogs 🙂

I can’t remember where I got the recipe from. I’d love to say it’s an old family recipe but as my mum once served sweet mince pies with gravy for Sunday lunch I can honestly say a love of baking is not something that previously ran in my family. And as I wrote it down probably about 20 years ago, I can’t even say it comes from Aunty Nigella.

Whatever. It’s very very good. It’s very very easy. It’s Christmas in a cake tin.

Preheat your oven to Gas 3/160C/325F.
Grease and line a 19cm square cake tin.
Beat together 125g softened butter, 125g dark muscovado sugar, 225g plain flour, 200g golden syrup, 4tsp ground ginger, 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda, 150ml milk and 1 large beaten egg. The batter should be well combined but still quite liquid.

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Finely chop 100g preserved ginger or 200g crystallised ginger and add to the mix.

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(Preserved ginger -I’d love to come over all poetic about its amber hues but I’m afraid the term “calf nuts” springs more readily to mind! (Anyone else read Pioneer Woman?))

Stir well.
Pour into the prepared tin and bake for about 1hr 10mins until a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Let the cake cool for a little while then turn out of the tin and peel off the grease proof paper. Use the skewer to poke some small holes in the cake and then drizzle some golden syrup over the top. If you used preserved ginger then the syrup from the jar is a nice alternative to the golden syrup for drizzling.

Eat a large chunk of the cake, just to check the quality, and then wrap the rest in foil and leave to mature for a few days. The warmth of the ginger will really come through if it’s left to mature in this way, and the cake will get stickier and stickier and even more delicious.

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