Thursday 30 July 2009

Lavender shortbread biscuits

Lavender isn't a scent I particularly associate with baking, but I've seen a few recipes using it and my interest was piqued. What would lavender be like as a flavour rather than a scent? I kept an eye out for lavender in the shops because although it would be really lovely, and ideal to use dried homegrown flowers there's not a chance of me being able to do that. I really do love living in England, and in the North of it too.... most of the time. It's just that on the West side our summers are cool and damp - no sign of the barbecue summer forecast by the Met Office here (yes, I know they've now taken this back and said that their original prediction was only a 65% chance of good weather - seems like fairly rubbish odds to me, only just over 50% chance of good weather, but never mind!). Anyway, my garden is particularly wet and after heavy rain there's often standing water. Lavender bushes like to be dry, so like I say, no chance of homegrown lavender here. However, undeterred, I managed to source dried lavender flowers and set about making this recipe. I'd originally thought of cupcakes, but decided biscuits would be a good start to my lavender adventure.

I chose a fairly basic shortbread recipe, based on one I found in a little book called '200 cakes and bakes' that I've recently acquired. I think it was a little treat to myself recently to celebrate pay-day or some other non-celebration (i.e. I just wanted a new cook book!!!). Anyway it's already bristling with post-it notes marking the pages of recipes I want to make soon so I think it was £4.99 well spent!

Lavender shortbread biscuits
150g plain flour
25g semolina
125g butter, diced
50g caster sugar plus about 2tsp extra for sprinkling
1 scant tbsp dried lavender flowers

- Place flour and semolina in a roomy bowl. Add butter and rub in until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs.
- Stir in sugar and lavender and then squeeze the crumbs together to form a ball of dough. I found it easier to make two smaller balls. It looks as if the mixture will never come together, but it does - just keep squeezing. I think it must partly be the warmth of your hands that helps bring it together.
- Form into a log, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

- Preheat the oven to 160C/Gas 3 and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Remove the dough from the fridge and roll out on a lightly floured surface. I found the dough broke up a lot, but perservere. It was easier to work the dough if I worked it and warmed it up in my hands slightly before rolling.
- Cut out biscuits to your desired size. Mine were 2 inches (5cm) and I got about 35 biscuits 1/2 cm/ 1/4 inch thick, roughly. Place on baking sheets as you cut, and keep re-rolling the dough to get the last few out. Sprinkle with a little extra caster sugar for a lovely crunch when baked.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly golden (although mine definitely took longer than this to become light gold, probably up to 20 minutes).
- All to cool on the baking sheet (although I'm not sure why the recipe said this!).

Perfect for a little pick me up, the lavender flavour wasn't overpowering at all, as I had worried it might be. It was subtle and pleasant, and I'll be baking with lavender again, and not just because I've now got a little pot of it to use up! I'll be using the biscuit recipe again, they were light and buttery and flaky and crunchy - everything I was looking for in them!

Slightly mixed reviews at work. All but one loved them. That one couldn't bring herself to try them because lavender reminded her of the hot-water bottle that she used when she was in pain. Everyone else had no such qualms, and pronounced them a success, as did J when she visited recently!

Wednesday 22 July 2009

Fresh Cherry Crumble Cake

It's cherry time, and inspired by the Caked Crusader and also by having a punnet of cherries in the fridge surplus to requirements and having found a rather yummy looking recipe whilst flicking through some old mini magazines given away free with Good Food and Olive magazines(in fact, looking more closely, this is the same cake as the Caked Crusader made, which I didn't realise when I found the recipe!!!), I decided to make this cake. I seem to have accumulated quite a lot of these mini magazines, and sometimes read them on the bus on the way to work, trying to decide what to have for dinner or what to bake next!

Sometimes, the thought of having to make a crumble as well as a cake mixture would have put me off (oh, the extra effort....) but luckily I have in my freezer some little bags of crumble mixture ready made up, waiting for an opportunity such as this, or for me to want a fruit crumble. Serendipity! I can't remember exactly how I made up my crumble mix, but seem to think it had both caster and light brown soft sugar in it, so wouldn't be exactly the same as that given in the recipe, but almost. Anyway, I weighed one of my portions of mix and it was just the weight the recipe called for.

I think this is an attractive looking cake. Not neat or perfect, but inviting and homely.

The original recipe can be found on the BBC GoodFood website, here. I omitted the cinnamon, because although it's often paired with cherries it seems an almost winter-y spice to me and I wanted a fresh, summery cake.

Fresh cherry cake
140g self raising flour
50g golden caster sugar
1 egg
4 tbsp milk
85g butter, melted
350g juicy, ripe cherries - destoned
For the topping
25g plain flour
25g golden caster sugar
25g butter

- Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Grease and base line a 20cm/8" round cake tin.
- To make the topping, tip the ingredients into a bowl, then work the mixture until it comes together into pea sized pieces. Because I used crumble mixture it wasn't as cohesive as this. Set aside.
- Sift flour and sugar into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the beaten egg, milk and melted butter and then beat well to a thick, smooth mix. Spoon into the tin and spread evenly.
- Scatter the stoned cherries (whole is nice, but I don't have a cherry stoner so had to cut mine in half to remove the stones) over the cake evenly, then scatter the crumble mixture over the top.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes until a skewer pushed into the centre comes out clean. I think I gave mine a couple of minutes longer, but not much.
- Leave in the tin until cool enough to handle then carefully turn out and cool on a wire rack.
Perfect for dessert, served with some more fresh cherries. I guess it would also be good warm with icecream or cold with cream. The cake was lovely and light and the cherries made a nice juicy contrast to the soft cake and sweet crumble topping. I can imagine that this cake would be really good made with all kinds of fruit in season - I'm thinking perhaps of tart gooseberries, juicy plums or even pear or apple come autumn/winter time. I think that a fruit with a little tartness is needed. My cherries weren't particulary tart, but I can imagine the tartness of fruit working very well against the sweet crunchy crumble.

Colleagues loved this one, and it didn't last long at all!

Sunday 19 July 2009


Firstly, sorry about the quality of the photos here, I took them after it was dark and didn't really think about pale brown scones not being set their best against a pale brown chopping board - oops! Never mind, doesn't affect the taste at all!!

I absolutely love scones, but usually make them with raisins in, my preferred method of serving being a raisin scone warmed slightly in the microwave with butter sliced onto it, and then placed back in the microwave briefly to melt the butter - mmmm, delicious light, warm scone with little rivulets of butter running onto your fingers as you eat. Anyway, since I left home a couple of years ago I don't have a microwave, so have been denied this pleasure. But scones seem to have been popping up all over the place and left me craving my old favourite. Alas, I still don't have a microwave so I decided to try something slightly different. I know that I've recently seen vanilla scones on someone's blog (comment if it's you and I'll link!!!) and thought it sounded like a really good idea so I used my usual recipe and added a little vanilla.

I now tend to think in grams when I bake, but when I first started I definitely thought in lb and oz so this is how my scone recipe is embedded in my memory. I only made a half batch here though, because my freezer is (understatement of the year) slightly full at the moment, and scones need to be eaten fresh, or frozen on the day of making to be at their best. Warm from the oven is even better!
I usually use normal milk for scones (and it tended to be full fat as that was what we kept in at home) but this time, I had some buttermilk left from another recipe so I used that up and let it down with a little semi-skimmed milk.

Scones with vanilla
225g/8oz self raising flour
55g/2oz butter, cubed
25g/1oz caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
142ml/1/4 pint buttermilk (I had just under this, so added a little milk to make it up)

- Preheat the oven to gas 7/210C. Line a baking tray with parchment paper
- Place (or sift if you're not as lazy as me) your flour in a large bowl. Rub in the cold cubed butter until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs without any lumps of butter.
- Stir in the caster sugar.
- Add the buttermilk and vanilla and mix, cutting through with a knife, to combine. Try not to over-mix.
- When just combined (with no spare bits of flour - if it seems very dry and won't pick up the last bits of flour, add a splash more milk, but not much) tip onto a floured surface and pat to about 2cm/1inch thickness. Don't make them too thin, otherwise they'll look mean. Scones don't rise as much as you might think.
- Stamp out rounds with a cookie/biscuit cutter. Mine is 6.5cm/2.5in in diameter.
- Re-roll the trimmings to get the last couple out. I got 6 large scones and a baby from the final trimmings.
- Place on the tray, dust with a little flour and bake for 16-18 minutes until golden brown on the top and bottom. (If your oven tends to run hot, check after 14 minutes or so).
- Remove and cool on a wire rack.
- Serve as you see fit - melted butter, jam, clotted cream - all are great options!
My preferred serving - plenty of butter and some jam, blackcurrant here.

I can't say that I could taste the vanilla, but they were light and flaky and really, really delicious. I'm just sorry that I've had such a long break from scone eating! Needless to say, none of these went to work with me, some things are mine and mine alone ...... mmmmmm, scones.

Wednesday 15 July 2009

Apricot and Peach Jam

It's the season for jamming now. I love making jam - the bubbling pot on the hob, the delicious smells permeating the house, reminding me of making jam with my mum when I was younger (although not that young - boiling sugar and small children definitely don't mix!). I loved the whole process of visiting the pick-your-own farm to get the luscious, abundant fruit - gooseberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, strawberries and if we were lucky, raspberries. I adore raspberries but they didn't seem to grow particularly well at our local PYO, and they're much more work to pick than strawberries, hiding under their leaves and taunting you....

And of course, once you've made the jam, you get to eat it - spread on crusty white bread toast with a generous amount of butter has to be the favourite here! Preserving the bounty of summer for later in the year is just fabulous.

However, this jam had rather less childhood nostalgia feelgood factor - I had overbought the soft fruit during my weekly shop and thought that preserving it would be rather better than binning it. And so I set to jamming, at about 8am on Sunday morning. I wonder what this says about me, but perhaps I shouldn't dwell on it too much!

A rolling boil

Obviously, I just used up what I had in the fridge to make this jam - the quantities are not strict.

Apricot and Peach Jam
900g ripe apricots and peaches (although on closer inspection a few of the apricots were off, so it was probably 850g!)
800g preserving sugar (the one with added pectin)
100g caster sugar (becuase I ran out of preserving sugar)

And that's it!!!

You will need some sterilised jars for potting the jam later on. I use Delia's method of sterilising them, given here.

- Place a small saucer in the freezer. I used a small espresso saucer - you don't need a massive plate, just something cold!

- Place the fruit and sugar in a very large saucepan (you'll see the reason for this in a later picture - the jam bubbles a lot!) and add about 100ml water, to help the sugar dissolve. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. You can tell when it has dissolved because it will no longer feel 'gritty' when you are stirring it, and when you lift up the wooden spoon you will not be able to see grains of sugar on the back of it.

- Bring to a rolling boil, and boil for 10 minutes. While it is boiling, I like to stir occasionally to prevent it sticking. The jam bubbles more fiercely when you stir it, so I use an oven glove to protect my hand from searing hot splashes. See picture above.

Testing the jam for setting point on a cold saucer

- To test if the jam is set, take a little and put it on the cold saucer. Push the jam with your finger, as shown and if it wrinkles as in the picture above, it's ready to be potted up. If not, return to a rolling boil for a further five minutes (and return the saucer to the freezer) and then retest.

The jam after it has reached set point. You can see the 'tide mark' where the jam bubbled up during the rolling boil - this is why it's so important to have a very large pan.

- Skim off the scum that's accumulated on the surface. (I always think the scum looks really good - I've never actually taste tested it, but it always looks so attractive. OK, I'll be quiet now then.....)

- Jam without scum - doesn't that just look beautiful. Transfer the jam carefully to the hot jars, filling them as much as possible. Add a waxed paper disc (available from Lakeland, among other places) and then wipe the rim if you've spilled jam onto it during potting up (pretty inevitable really, unless you've used a jam funnel). Then screw on the lids (but remember to hold the *hot* jars with an oven glove).

- Allow to cool before labelling, because otherwise the label tends to fall off....

- Enjoy as you wish, on hot buttered toast for preference!!!

Saturday 11 July 2009

Chocolate raspberry and blackcurrant cake

This one is my take on Nigella Lawson's Storecupboard Chocolate Orange Cake (which sadly isn't on her website yet) from How to be a Domestic Goddess. I've made this cake many times in its original format - that is, with bitter marmalade and in an 8" round cake tin and it truly is delicious. However, the last time I made it, I decided that delicious though it was, I wanted to try something a little less bitter. She suggests variations at the end of the recipe, including replacing the marmalade with raspberry jam, which sounded perfect. However, as is the way of things, I had insufficient raspberry jam, but had just opened a jar of blackcurrant (see also, Jaffa Cakes!!!) so I decided on a mix of the two. This was a good plan and worked well!!!

Lovely sticky top and bursts of blackcurrant flavour make this an absolute winner!

Chocolate raspberry and blackcurrant cake
125g butter
100g dark chocolate, broken into pieces (I used Lindt 70%)
150g good raspberry jam
100g good blackcurrant jam
125g caster sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
150g self raising flour

- Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Line a tin. I used a 7" square tin this time, but the recipe specifies an 8" round.
- Melt the butter in a large saucepan (the saucepan is your mixing bowl and will have to take all the other ingredients).
- When it is melted, add the chopped chocolate and leave until starting to melt. Stir the chocolate until completely melted. Add the jams and sugar and stir well until smooth and amalgamated. Add the eggs and stir again to combine.
- Add the flour and beat in until smooth.
- Pour into the prepared tin and bake for about 50 minutes, although mine always takes about an hour. It's a good idea to cover the cake with foil for the last 20-30 minutes or so (i.e. cover after about 30 mins of cooking) as I find the top gets very dark and erm... caramelised. OK then, burnt. It never really tastes burnt though, just slightly bitter, and as this cake has a bitter tang when made with marmalade anyway, it never seems to matter.

- Remove cake from oven and allow to cool on a wire baking rack.

I don't bother with any decoration - this is a cake that doesn't seem to need fancy-ing up at all. Just enjoy it how it is.

The other thing I love about this cake is just how easy it is to make - just melt some butter and chocolate and stir the rest of the ingredients into it. The most time consuming bit is probably lining the tin!

I loved this cake, as did my colleagues, but because I loved it so much, they got rather less of it than they might have done! One of the things I like most about it is that it's almost brownie-like in texture - really dense and sticky and chewy (I suppose that's down to the quantity of sugar in the recipe) and the contrast between the sticky top and the dense cake is divine. I also loved the way that you could tast the raspberries and blackcurrants against the chocolate, and the little bursts of blackcurrant from the jam. The bitter chocolate (70%) perfectly offset the sweetness from the jam and sugar. I will be making this again (can you tell I'm really keen on it?!?), but next time I might use all blackcurrant jam.

It all disappeared pretty quickly at work, with even those on diets succumbing to a piece before the day was over!

Sunday 5 July 2009

Jaffa(ish) cakes

These are the result of another of those occasions where you think 'I must make these, and I must make them soon.' And so it happens! I had been watching Something for the Weekend on BBC iPlayer on catchup, and saw Simon Rimmer (who provides the interesting cooking parts of the programme - though actually, I do enjoy the rest of it too!) making homemade Jaffa cakes. I was intruiged, partly because although I quite like Jaffa cakes I never really buy them and partly because I hadn't really given much thought to the type of recipe required for the cakey-base part of them. Turns out it's a light fatless whisked sponge. Makes sense I suppose!

The original recipe can be found here, but this is certainly an occasion that I'm glad I watched the programme too and didn't just follow the recipe. The recipe says it makes 12 and I halved the recipe (after seeing how much mixture there was on the tv show) and still made 14!!! For me, Jaffa cakes must have the correct ratio of spongy layer to jammy jelly stuff to chocolate. If you follow his recipe your cake layer will be much thicker than mine, and I think it would have been disproportionate. I was pleased with the way my cakes turned out and thought they were the perfect thickness for jaffa cakes.

I did decide to cheat a little though - I didn't have time to make the proper jelly filling to make them more authentic, so decided to just go with marmalade on its own. I then decided to try blackcurrant jam too, rebel that I am!

Homemade Jaffa Cakes
For the cake base:
2 large eggs
50g caster sugar
50g plain flour, sieved
butter, for greasing

For topping:
Jam/marmalade of your choice (I think I probably used about 4 tbsp for all 14, but depends how much you like, of course)
100g plain chocolate (I used Lindt 70%), melted

- Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Grease your tins well - I did, and my cakes still stuck slightly! I used a 12 hole non-stick muffin tin, plus two silicone muffin moulds, because I had too much mixture.
- Suspend a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water (although I used just boiled and allowed it to cool as I was working - my hob is too far from a plug socket to do anything else!) without allowing it to touch the water. Add the sugar and eggs to the bowl and beat continuously for 4-5 minutes until the mixture is pale, fluffy and well combined.
- Add the flour, beating continuously, until a thick smooth batter forms.
- Pour into the greased muffin tin until they reach the height of base you want - I don't think the mixture puffs up very much in the oven.
- Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until pale golden-brown and cooked through (a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean). Mine took longer than this.
- Remove from the oven and set aside, still in the tins until cool. When cool, loosen and remove. I needed to carefully run a knife around the edges of the cakes to release them.

I found that my cakes had created a natural dip on their lower sides, so I just filled this with jam/marmalade. I did half of mine orange marmalade and half blackcurrant jam. Carefully pour over the melted chocolate to cover the jam and allow to set. I stored mine in the fridge (hence the condensation on the pictures) because I made them a couple of weeks ago when it was really hot. This had the advantage of a lovely crispy chocolate layer contrasting with the soft cakey layer. Mmmmm.

I would recommend using silicone bakeware if you have it - the two 'overflow' cakes baked in the silicone muffin moulds turned out perfectly without sticking at all, whereas the others did stick to the tin slightly, but not enough to prevent them being released.

You can see from the picture below that using jam rather than jelly leads to a little jam weeping into the sponge, but this didn't spoil the taste at all.

I think these were a resounding success! The blackcurrant was a more subtle flavour than the marmalade, but still very nice indeed. The marmalade jaffa cakes were lovely - bitter chocolate, soft cake and a lovely bitter sweet marmalade filling too.

As one colleague put it - the sponge isn't stale, the orange flavour is stronger and there's more, better tasting chocolate on them. So a success on all fronts I'd say! Do try them, they really are very good and not too much hassle for the flavour! Thanks Simon!!!


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