Sunday, 24 November 2013

Recipe: Squash and garlic soup with a kick

This week's bounty from The Village Wholefood Store was three crown prince squashes and a couple of lovely heads of organic garlic. I've never used this squash before, with its grey green skin, but cutting it open revealed the familiar sweet orange flesh which compliments so many herbs and spices.

Winter is here and a mild kick of chilli and ginger makes me feel energised and warm and full of life. You may, of course, add more if you have hotter tastes and aren't cooking for my cafe.

Soup of the week at the cafe!

Three crown prince squashes
2-3 heads garlic
Olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
Fresh ginger according to taste, grated
Dried chilli flakes, according to taste
2 vegetable stock pots or cubes in about a litre of stock

First chop the squash into quarters and scoop out the seeds. Lay out onto two baking trays along with the cloves of garlic. No need to peel them, once roasted they will just squeeze out. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt, pepper and chili flakes. Roast at 160 degrees for 40-50 minutes. Scoop out the flesh and put aside with the garlic.

Finely chop the onions and grate the ginger. Fry them on a medium heat in a large pot until soft then add the squash, garlic and stock. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Taste after a few minutes and add chilli and seasoning as needed.

Liquidise the soup until smooth. If it's too thick, add a little water or stock. Serve with a swirl of chilli oil or a sprinkle of chilli if you want to heat it up, a dollop of natural yoghurt if you want to cool it down, and the bread of your choice.

Seasonal, local and sweet with a warming kick, this soup is all kinds of good.

Fish fingers and custard for non-cooks

This is a timey wimey blog, coming to you from the past, when it would have been useful, and brought to you exactly 48 hours too late.

Yesterday at my little cafe we celebrated Doctor Who Day. As part of that I made fish fingers and custard, the only snack the newly-regenerated 11th doctor wanted after eschewing apples and even - in a controversial move - bacon.

I thought I would share the "recipe" here so next time there's a day when everyone goes a bit mad over Doctor Who, and goes to the cinema at 7.30am in Australia, and screams in public at the sight of Peter Capaldi and even Ron Burgundy is involved... then you can make them.

This is a completely store-bought, no cook process which basically involves cutting things up and sticking them together. Like on Blue Peter.

"Fish fingers" and custard
Makes 12-16 depending on size of cake used.

Photo: Clare Leybourne

1 pre-made Madeira cake - I used this because it's firm and won't crumble but you can use any cake.
1/2 jar lemon curd
1/2 packet digestive biscuits

Crumble the biscuits in a food processor or blender or place in a plastic bag and bash repeatedly with a rolling pin until finely crumbed.

Cut the Madeira cakes into fish finger-shaped slabs. Cover in the lemon curd with a knife then dip into the biscuit crumbs. Gently press the crumbs onto the cakes, dip again and shake off the excess. Put on a baking tray to dry off.

Serve with custard. Job done. With the Madeira cake and lemon curd they actually taste wonderful and we're still munching on them today.

My friend took some home and made them beautiful, so I used her picture.

A proper, grown up recipe will be here shortly!

Friday, 15 November 2013

Tomato soup the good way

Well hello again, it's been ages. How have you been? You look great.

A few weeks ago I unexpectedly opened a cafe. I'm busier that I've ever been in my life, which has meant that recreational baking has gone out of the window for a while, as has blogging.

What I have to share today isn't baking at all, it's soup.

When I can I get my vegetables from a lovely little whole food store local to my cafe. Because much of their veg is grown right next door in Forty Hall Farm, you never now what you might get. And because of that, each week's soup is a seasonal surprise.This week's haul was a glut of cherry tomatoes, very ripe and calling out to be roasted.

The following soup, for which I looked at several recipes before more or less making it up, is what happened.

Roasted cherry tomato and red onion soup with basil.

Approx 1.25kg cherry tomatoes
3 large red onions
3 cloves garlic
tsp red wine vinegar (I used red wine instead)
tsp brown sugar
Olive oil
250ml vegetable stock
Fresh basil

Slice two of the red onions thinly and put in a roasting tray with the tomatoes and garlic. Drizzle with olive oil and roast at around 200 degrees for half an hour.

Heat up a couple of teaspoons of olive oil in a large pan. Add onions and cook over a medium heat for around five minutes, until the onion is soft. Stir in the sugar and wine/vinegar and cook for another minute or so, stirring constantly. Add the stock to the pan and stir in well.

Meanwhile, liquidize the tomatoes, onions and garlic along with all the juices. Add this to the pan along with some chopped fresh basil and reheat. Season to taste.

This tastes great with a handful of chopped fresh basil on the top. Alternatively parmesan goes very well. Like all soups, you can basically do what you like with this recipe. If you don't like the bits of onion, puree it up with the tomatoes. Add any other veg you have around. Or coriander instead of basil. Leave the stock out and use it as a pasta sauce. The world is your bouillabaisse.

Next week will be slightly more seasonal as I've been promised some squash. Watch this space

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

The real Scandi tower

Who saw The Great British Bake-Off last night? Other than the tragedy of me not having any biscuits in the house (and after a day of baking I wasn't about to turn the oven on again), it surprised me by being my favourite episode ever.

Quite apart from the Dalek biscuit tower - I love Doctor Who bakes - someone made a kransekage! Well, sort of. Glenn's Macaron helter-skelter was made in the pans and kind of the right shape. Which gives me the perfect opportunity to talk about what they should be like.

I cannot find a picture of Glenn's cake, despite putting writing on hold for an hour to search for one, so here's a picture of Glenn. Look at his face. I love Glenn.


So, back to the subject: kransekage.

Kransekage is what the Danes call them, the Norwegians say Kransekake. The Swedes, for reasons unknown, don't eat them at all. They are not macarons, despite being almond based. While macarons are very light and delicate, kransekage are more solid, with a thicker "shell". More almonds, less egg white. And no flavouring: the almonds stand out for themselves. And they're far easier to stack; Glenn is either a genius or a madman, but I wouldn't try and stack macarons ever. It worked though, hats off to the man.

You can make kransekage with ground almonds, and many Scandies do, but the best way I've found is to use a base of proper Danish marzipan. I favour either Anton Berg or Odense, both of which are 60% almond. To put this into context, the marzipan we get here and use to cover cakes is around 25%. The difference is important: You couldn't make a kransekage with British marzipan, it would taste of nothing; and covering a Christmas cake in Danish marzipan doesn't work at all, it just doesn't seal the cake.

I instagrammed the ingredients because they're so pretty!

The stacked kransekage are celebration cakes: New Year, weddings, anniversaries, special birthdays. It's a testament to how much they are loved that the ex-pat Twitter community got very excited when Glenn produced those tins. We love them. You can have finger bites which taste just as good, but there's something about those stacked beauties that just makes people happy. I baked them for my son's naming day and my Mum's 60th, they were my wedding cake and my parents' Ruby anniversary cake. Every Dane I know had them at their weddings.

Despite baking them all the time, kransekage are still one of my favourite cakes. In Denmark I seek them out in all their forms and I never get bored with them. Why? Well apart from the fact that they are always a treat, they are just amazing. Soft on the inside with a not-quite-crispy crust, rich but still light, satisfying in every way. And this is what they should look like:

See? SEE? They're so TALL. And golden. Inviting you to break off a piece, bite through the crunchy icing and savour the light almonds inside.

And if that's not enough, they also come dipped in chocolate!

For a more reasoned description, I'd recommend you read my friends at Scandinavian Kitchen's blog.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Recipe time! Gluten-free brownies

Photo: Oli Sandler 

Some recipes I spend ages adapting and improving, or just making up from scratch. A finished product can take five or six test bakes, pages of notes and lots of tastings by friends and family until I'm happy with the result. Even recipes I've made for years sometimes get changed too - a little less ginger, a little more salt, a darker chocolate.

And some recipes come at me fully formed straight from the internet, perfect at first bake. This is one such recipe.

It's here for two reasons: firstly because I get asked for recipes a lot. When I make something that people come back for, that I feel is unique to me, I'm reluctant to give up the recipe. After all, this is my business, and giving away my best work for people to make themselves might be a little too generous. So occasionally I like to share the recipes I use and love but for which I cannot claim credit.

Secondly, I did a craft fair last week with lots of helpful and enthusiastic brownies (the girl kind, not the cake kind) and one of them, Paige, asked me for the recipe. I hope this gets passed on to her with an apology that I didn't get a chance to write it down for her there.

This recipe comes from Doves Farm and it is a great first-time gluten-free bake. The relatively small amount of flour in a brownie means there's no crumbling and no need for Xanthan gum. It both keeps and freezes well, although I'd advise not cutting it up until you're about to eat it. I love many different brownies but this is my last-minute go-to recipe.

Gluten-free brownies

100 g Butter
150 g Dark Chocolate
100 g Gluten Free Plain Flour
100 g Chopped Hazelnuts or Walnuts(optional)
200 g Sugar
3 Eggs
1 tsp Baking Powder

Gently melt together the butter and chocolate.
In a separate bowl mix together the flour, baking powder and sugar.
Beat in the eggs followed by the melted butter and chocolate mixture.
Stir in the nuts if used.
Pour into 150 x 200mm/6"x8" oiled and lined baking dish.
Bake in a pre-heated oven for 35/40 minutes..
Cut into slices before serving.

See? Considerably easier than pie. Happy brownie making!

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Calling gluten-free cake lovers

One of the things I like to make for cake stalls is gluten-free brownies. Simple and tasty, and a favourite at these events. These week I've also made GF courgette muffins ("Health by stealth", someone told me today).

This morning I talked to a food buyer from a small chain of coffee shops and we discussed gluten-free baking. He cannot by law accept any GF products made in a kitchen that uses regular flours and call them gluten-free.

There are three levels of gluten content in law:

1. Gluten-free - is covered by the law and applies only to food which has 20 parts per million (ppm) or less of gluten

2. Very low gluten - is covered by the law and is for foods which have between 21 and 100 ppm, but we are not yet aware of anyone using this term and because of the rules around its use, you won't see this in restaurants

3. No gluten-containing ingredients - this is not covered by the law and is for foods that are made with ingredients that don’t contain gluten and where cross contamination controls are in place. These foods will have very low levels of gluten but have not been tested to the same extent as those labelled gluten-free or very low gluten

(Taken from

I of course clean thoroughly before baking GF cakes but that I use regular flour in my kitchen would mean my food would be in category 3: No gluten-containing ingredients.

In this respect, it is the same as nuts. I use nuts in lots of baking, and always scrub well afterwards but the well-known packaging phrase "Cannot guarantee nut-free" always applies.

I know there are many levels of gluten-free, from coeliac to intolerance. Coeliacs have to be very careful about what they buy, those who have given up gluten for nutritional benefits less so. I only know one person who is gluten free, which is a small representative sample, so I need you!

How careful are you about buying GF products? Are you happy to buy GF baking that has been made in a non GF kitchen? Do you buy from bakers an cake stalls, and do you question the baker about what you are buying?

I will never be a gluten-free kitchen but don't feel anyone should miss out on cake. I would appreciate your input.

Now if you don't mind, I have a no-gluten-containing courgette muffin to eat.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

It's Easter...

Well, almost. So let's talk about Simnel cake.

Simnel cake, for those who might not know, is a spicy, pale fruit cake with a layer of marzipan baked into the middle and a layer on top, which is then grilled or gone over with a blowtorch. There are traditionally eleven marzipan balls on top, said to represent Jesus' disciples minus Judas. Being godless and geeky, I like to think it's one to represent each Doctor.

A Simnel cake looks like this (comedy chick in clothes optional):

Doing some research I found out a couple of things that surprised me. Simnel cake, while now associated with Easter, used to be eaten halfway through Lent - on Mother's Day, in fact, also called Refreshment Sunday. Perhaps a little break in the middle of Lent, more likely named after the point when Lent was not so much for fasting as for simply giving one thing up.

As with most traditions, the explanations vary but we do know that Simnel cake has been known of since Mediaeval times, and that the 11 marzipan balls were introduced, like so many traditions, by the Victorians.Whatever its history, though, Simnel cake is tasty. Rich and sweet, it deserves to be eaten when you're really hungry. Perfect with an afternoon cuppa, it's a lovely cake to put on the table when family and friends gather.

You can buy Simnel cakes in most independent bakeries (and please use independent bakeries when you can - the quality is always better) or, of course from Karen's Kitchen.

But it's also a rewarding cake to make. Tip everything in, give it a stir, cut out your marzipan and you're ready to go. If you fancy giving it a go, this is the recipe I favour, from the wonderful Mary Berry (and I don't wash the glace cherries!)

Here's my simplified version:

100g glacĂ© cherries
225g butter, softened
225g light muscovado suga
4 large eggs
225g self-raising flour
375g mixed dried fruit
lemons, grated zest only
2 tsp ground mixed spice

450g/1lb marzipan
1-2 tbsp apricot jam, warmed

1. Preheat the oven to 150C/280F/Gas 2. Grease and line a 20cm/8in cake tin.

2. Cut the cherries into quarters and place in a bowl with all the other ingredients except the marzipan and jam. Beat well until thoroughly mixed. Pour half the mixture into the prepared tin.
3. Take one-third of the marzipan and roll it out to a circle the size of the tin and then place on top of the cake mixture. Spoon the remaining cake mixture on top and level the surface.
4. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 2½ hours, or until well risen, evenly brown and firm to the touch. Cover with aluminium foil after one hour if the top is browning too quickly. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out, peel off the parchment and finish cooling on a wire rack.
5. When the cake is cool, brush the top with a little warmed apricot jam and roll out half the remaining marzipan to fit the top. Press firmly on the top. Form the remaining marzipan into 11 balls.
6. Brush the marzipan with beaten egg and arrange the marzipan balls around the edge of the cake. Brush the tops of the balls with beaten egg and then carefully place the cake under a hot grill until the top is lightly toasted.

Give it a go, impress your loved ones. I promise you won't be disappointed.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

I should Cacao

A friend of mine recently started stocking Hasslacher's 100% cacao drinking chocolate blocks in her shop so I had to get my hands on some. And I did.

To be honest, I have no idea what to do with it. When I make hot chocolate for myself I use unsweetened cocoa powder and add sugar to taste. If I want a real treat I melt down 80% chocolate and use that instead. Sometimes I add a sticky liqueur too - Kahlua is best, Tia Maria works well too. So I knew I could use the cacao for hot chocolate. But what I wanted was a way to make it work in baking.

This is the product:

It's made to appeal to people like me. Wrapped in wax paper, lovely graphics, produced in Colombia by the growers themselves. A happy package of feelgood chocolate.

The first thing I wanted to find out was how it differs from cocoa. I came across an excellent, non conclusive, argument here. After quite an extensive search, I still haven't come up with an answer. Is the cocoa powder I use at home (Bournville as a rule, Green & Black's if it's on offer) the same? The only conclusion I could draw is that it's basically the same. 

I gave it a go in butter icing, a simple experiment. I usually use sifted cocoa powder but sometimes use melted 80% chocolate instead. I had convinced myself that the chocolate gives a richer taste than the cocoa in both icing and cakes but I think it's the added fat of the chocolate rather than the taste that makes it so. The cacao, I thought would add the richness without the extra sweetness. It did, but I could find no difference to cocoa powder.

So cheer myself up, I melted two squares, added milk and two teaspoons of demerara sugar, stirred it up, gave it a whizz with the aerolatte and had the most amazing cup of hot chocolate ever. This IS different to cocoa power and to 80% chocolate. It's bitter like coffee. Enjoyably sweet to to drink but with that satisfying backnote that coffee provides. 

For that reason alone I love this and will buy more when I'm out. As for baking, I'm not giving up. Next time I have an excuse to make cakes I'll do two separate ones and take the taste test. I'm also going to try a ganache and a much richer chocolate icing. A baking friend is going to try using chunks in cookies, and another makes it into hot chocolate with coconut milk. 

I'll keep you posted. Now, where did I put the mini marshmallows?

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