Sunday, 27 June 2010

Soda Bread and Elderflower and Blueberry Jelly

I'm rapidly becoming bored with summer. Oppressive heat, being unable to sleep at night, people who thinks it's ok to play loud music until 5am and my vitriolic hatred of feet and the sight of them in so many awful sandals all combine to make me grumpy, and consequently sound like some moany old person. Another downside of the heat is that the bread in my breadbin goes mouldy incredibly quickly, as I discovered this morning when I went to make my breakfast. So I decided to make my own. However, I was in no mood to be kneading and proving for 3 hours, so I decided to make some soda bread. This is yeast free, the raising agent being bicarbonate of soda instead and there's no kneading or proving involved and it's therefore difficult to mess up. You don't even need bread flour!
Brown Soda Bread
225g wholemeal flour
225g plain flour
1tsp salt
50g mixed seeds (optional)
25g butter (optional)
1 egg
375-400ml buttermilk/sour milk

-Preheat the oven to 220 degrees
-Sift together both flours, the salt and the bicarb in a large bowl and add the seeds. Rub in the butter (if using) until it resembles breadcrumbs. In another bowl, whisk the egg and buttermilk together.
-Make a well in the centre of the bowl of flour and pour most of the liquid in. Using one hand, bring the flour and liquid together, adding more buttermilk if needed. The should be soft and not too sticky.

-Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and gently shape it into a round about 4cm deep and cut a cross into the top.

-Place on a baking tray and bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 200 degrees and bake for a further 30 minutes. When cooked, tap the base and a hollow sound means it's done. Slice whilst warm for true deliciousness.

I saw a recipe a while ago for elderflower jelly and whilst I love jelly, it requires forethought that I often lack and jelly requires a small amount of planning at least so it has time to set. It was the sight of a handful of blueberries in the bottom of my fridge that were beginning to look a bit wrinkly that reminded me of this recipe. It's cool, delicate sweetness was perfect for pudding today, and I finally got to use some of the leaf gelatine that seems to have been in my cupboard for an age. It's made using elderflower cordial, so you could use any cordial you have to hand.

Elderflower Jelly with Blueberries

7 leaves of gelatine, soaked in a little cold water and then dissolved in 125ml of hot water

10 tbsp of elderflower cordial diluted with 500ml of cold water

Handful or so of blueberries (or any fruit you fancy really)

-Stir the dissolved gelatine into the diluted cordial, pour into a mould, drop the blueberries in, chill until set and then enjoy!

It looks almost unearthly...

Friday, 25 June 2010

Carrot and Orange Muffins for a Sunny Day

It's been rather glorious weather here in Norwich and even when it's hot, I feel like baking. There's something so incredibly relaxing about whipping up some easy with the kitchen door flung open, the scent of the roses in the garden breezing through the house and Billie Holiday on the stereo. It makes life slow down a little (anyone else astonished that the longest day has already been and gone??). However, I never want to bake anything too difficult when it's hot; that just sucks the fun out of it and when it's hot I can't bear anything too sweet, which is why the idea of carrot and orange muffins appealed.

Muffins are a baker's dream of ease. Throw the dry ingredients in the bowl, add the wet and then you don't even have to make sure it's mixed properly as muffins are much better when the batter is lumpy. These carrot and orange muffins look and smell like a little bit of summer in a paper case. Eat warm straight from the oven and once they go cold, gently break in half and dab a little bit of butter on each half - heaven.
Carrot and Orange Muffins

Makes 12

75g butter, melted
Juice and zest of 2 oranges
1 egg
100g carrots, peeled and grated
300g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
100g caster sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Heat the oven to 190C/fan 170C/gas 5. Line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper muffin cases. Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl with a pinch of salt. Whisk together the wet ingredients with the carrots then stir this into the dry ingredients, but don't overmix.

Spoon into the paper cases and then bake for 20-25 minutes until risen and golden.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Gingerbread for Father's Day

Sadly Mrs Tarts dad lives in a care home due to being paralysed down one side of his body (consequence of a stroke), and while most fathers are difficult to buy for, it's even harder to buy for a man who wants for little in terms of material gifts. Even buying cards can be a trial, as the typical images of footballs, golf, fishing, cars, trains and all the other things that seem, strangely enough, to be associated with fatherhood are far from fitting. Anyways, I know my dad has limited storage and can buy (and has bought) most music to his taste, so long story short, I decided to bake something instead. My favourite shop bought cake when I was a child was this:

That soft, sticky cake that was always moist with a slightly liquid gooey centre combined with its warm spice was a slice of shop bought heaven to me, and whilst I never buy cake anymore, ginger cake is a food dear to my heart, and I know my dad was fond of it too. I'm also aware that my dad needs to watch his diet carefully, so I wanted a cake that either keeps well, or gets better being kept for a few days, and gingerbread, along with parkin falls into both catagories. It's also easy to eat, no fork needed.

I'm sure I own a lot of recipes for gingerbread, but the first one I found in the bookcase was the recipe from Nigella Lawson's 'How to be a Domestic Goddess', and like most of Lawson's baking recipes, it was very indulgent, with alot of treacle and golden syrup. The way to cope with this is to cut the final cake into more portions than recommended. The recipe used fresh ginger as a twist, but as I was baking this late at night after work (so I had time to ice the cake in the morning and post it off in time for saturday delivery) and I didn't have any fresh ginger in the fridge, I used some preserved stem ginger from a jar. The recipe also included lemon icing, but I wasn't really interested in that, so I made my own ginger icing by using a little of the preserving syrup from the jar of ginger and some icing sugar.
Gingerbread with Ginger icing - makes 20 squares

For the gingerbread:

150g unsalted butter
125g dark muscovado sugar
200g golden syrup
200g black treacle
2 tsp grated stem (or fresh) ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
250ml milk
2 large eggs beaten
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda, dissolved in 2 tbsp warm water
300g plain flour

For the icing-
Use a small amount of the gingery syrup from the jar of stem ginger, and enough icing sugar to make a thick but still drizz-able icing.

Preheat the oven to 170 degree and grease and line a brownie pan at least 5cm deep (or a cake tin if you want wedges)
In a saucepan, melt the butter and add the sugar, golden syrup, treacle, grated ginger and cinnamon. Take off the heat and then add the milk, beaten eggs and bicarbonate of soda in its water.
Place the flour in a bowl and pour in the the liquid from the saucepan. Beat well with a whisk until well mixed. The batter is very liquid, but don't be alarmed.

Carefully pour into the tin and bake from 45min-1 hour, but keep an eye on it towards the end so you don't overcook it, otherwise you'll lose the stickiness, and keep in mind it will carry on cooking as it cools.

For the icing mix a little of the syrup with icing sugar until you have a thickish but drizzly icing and either using a spoon or a piping bag, drizzle over the top of the cake. Leave to set and then slice.

I kept a slice to try it and it was amazingly yummy. Sweet, spicy and very comforting.

As it turned out, my dad thought he shouldn't have all of it, and I can understand why, it is very sweet, so he had the cook cut it up into 31 portions and he shared it with all of elderly people in the care home and it went down a treat apparently. So I'm pleased it brought a little bit of happy to a lot of people. 31 is the most people I've baked for!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Lime Bars

I think I've restrained my need to bake for too long as this week has been a flurry of baking activity, especially considering I haven't baked anything notable for months. Indeed I don't think I've baked more than twice in one week since Christmas. My living room is once again littered with many of my recipe books, which last year was a permanent fixture; a soothing sight for eyes that feel sore from looking at food labels, calorie counts and woefully staring down at a glass of protein shake.

Anyways, for reasons unknown, I had several limes stuck in the back of one of the vegetable drawers of the fridge so I decided to make lime bars. This is a buttery, melting biscuit base, not unlike shortbread, topped with a squidgy, but set, sharp and citrus-y curd. If you search for 'lime bars', you're likely to get recipes for key lime pie, and even then they'll be in american measures. I've always found it curious that for a nation of limeys, the lime seems to be largely the culinary property of the U.S, at least when it comes to cakes etc. Anyways, the point of this is, I just found a recipe for lemon bars from The Humming Bird Bakery Cookbook and switched the lemon for lime.
Lime Bars

For the base:
290g plain flour
70g icing sugar
pinch of salt
230g unsalted butter
2 tsp grated lime (or lemon) zest
For the lemon/lime curd top:
210g caster sugar
3 eggs
100ml lime/lemon juice
3 tsp grated lime/lemon zest
Preheat the over and line a brownie pan (that's at least 5 cm deep) with greaseproof paper
To make the base-
Put the all of the ingredients for the base in a processor/mixer (or do it the old fashioned way if you skipped the gym in the morning) and mix until it resembles breadcrumbs. Press the dough together in your hands and then press into the lined tin. (If you're lucky the unpressed mix will have a random cat head shape, such as below)

Once pressed, you'll have this:

Bake the base for 20 minutes or so until lightly golden and then remove from the oven (leave the oven on) and allow to cool slightly.

Put all of the ingredients in a bowl and mix well with a balloon whisk. Pour this mix over the biscuit base and then (carefully) return to the oven for another 20 minutes, until the topping has set.

Once baked, remove, allow to cool in the tin and then place in the fridge overnight so it sets completely (will make slicing easier). Dust with icing sugar if the whim takes you.

I haven't baked this for me, but I couldn't send an untested pan of zesty yum to any of my acquaintances in good conscience, which is why an end of this is missing.

Quality control approved.

I forgot to tap the pan on the countertop before I put it in the oven, which is why I think there are bubble marks on the surface. Still doesn't distract from the taste and nothing that a little icing sugar won't distract from.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Monday 'Morning' Baking

I use the term 'morning' loosely as I didn't wake up until 1pm. Sometimes you really have to love working part time; ok you're poor, no one will give you a credit card and weekends are largely meaningless, but I love being woken at 8am by my neighbours' doors slamming and cars starting up, just to roll over an go to sleep for another 5 hours.

And if you don't have to spend your monday morning tapping mindlessly away on a computer for your £18K-£20k a year, what better way to spend it than lazily baking some granola?

I've recently been given Miss Dahl's Voluptuous Delights (thank you, H) and it has swiftly and gracefully moved to the top spot on my list of favourite cookbooks. Usually when I receive a cookbook, I flick straight through to the cakes and desserts and go through the rest later, but this drew me in immediately. I even bothered to read the narrative between the recipes, virtually unheard of for me. It is a wonderful book, beautifully written and I've already cooked 5 recipes out of it, two of which are below. The premise is one of healthy food that isn't immediately obvious as healthy/diet like, which couldn't have come at a more perfect time for myself as my commitment to my diet and it's rather bland offering in terms of foods has waned dramatically. I must say that I've been following the recipes for a week or so and have already lost 2lbs. Anyway, enough of singing my praises for this book.


I love granola. I'm not overly fond of cereal, mainly because I hate cereal that's even vaguely soggy and I don't particularly enjoy bolting down a bowl of cornflakes in 30 seconds flat because after that it's too soft for my taste. For the same reason, I don't enjoy granola with milk, but crunchy, sweet granola with a bowl of sharp, creamy greek yoghurt is an edible pleasure rarely matched.

In comparison to other granolas I've made, the ingredient list is relatively short, which is no bad thing. As it baked the house was, as promised in the recipe, filled with the homely scent of cinnamon and nutmeg and when I stuck my face into the bowl, if I hadn't known better I'd be certain I was mixing up christmas pudding.

Tawny Granola

Makes enough to nearly fill a large airtight jar (or serves 4-6 people)

You'll need:

Oil for greasing
200g rolled oats
70g pumpkin seeds
50g flaked almonds
50g dessicated coconut
2 tsp vanilla extract
160g agave syrup/honey
2 tbsp apple juice
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
100g dried apricots, chopped

-Preheat the oven to 180C and lightly oil a large baking tray/cookie sheet

-In one bowl combine all of the dry ingredients (except the apricots) and the spices and in another the wet ingredients, then mix the wet into the dry.
Spread the mixture out on the baking sheet and use a spatula to smooth it down. Bake for around 40 minutes, turning the mix over halfway through cooking, until golden brown.

When baked, allow to cool and then mix in the chopped apricots and store in an airtight container.

By the time this was baked I'd already eaten breakfast (also a recipe from the book- portobello mushroom with a slice of goat's cheese and a poached egg on top) so I can't wait until tomorrow morning.

Edit: Here's the finished granola in all it's morning glory:

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