Monday, 20 March 2017

Pina Colada

It's Cake Slice Bakers time again already, when I join in with other bloggers on the 20th of each month to bake from World Class Cakes by Roger Pizey. This month our choices were a rather lovely sounding banana loaf (tempting), an extravagant multi layered coffee chocolate cake (maybe just a bit too much work involved), a mandarin, polenta and macademia cake (also tempting) and a Greek coconut cake, that for various reasons I decided to make.

My eldest son's girlfriend is Greek and a keen baker/cook and has shared some lovely Greek recipes with me so I thought it would be fun to try this... although I was then disappointed to read this traditional cake is usually made with semolina but not so in this recipe! Also, consistant with my past experience of this book, the oven temperature and timings seemed way off the mark, which I think could really throw an inexperienced baker. Which is a shame as there are some fabulous looking cakes... but I digress.

The amount of mixture specified in the recipe was vast. There were vat loads of batter so I actually made it in two 23 cm (9") cake tins rather than just the one and I added the coconut toffee topping to just one of them as I had plans for this cake!

As it happens last week I attended another Clandestine Cake Club meeting in Cambridge and the theme for the evening was beverages. For some reason when I saw this coconut cake I immediately thought about Pina Colada. I've always thought coconut and pineapple make a lovely combination of flavours in a cake... although absolutely vile in a cocktail!

So I took my two relatively plain coconut cakes, soaked them in a rum syrup (rather than the specified lemon syrup), then sandwiched them together with a layer of pineapple conserve (made very easily from a tin of pineapple in juice) and some coconut buttercream. I finished the whole lot off with some piped buttercream and dried pineapple flowers.

I don't think I have ever made such an enormous cake!

It did look so pretty when I photographed it at home...

But after driving it into Cambridge and then walking with it from the car park, I took the lid off the box to reveal a bit of a disaster... the entire top had slid off and the pineapple and buttercream had oozed everywhere. The photo below is after I had attempted a rescue. I guess I should be grateful that at least the whole lot hadn't slid onto the floor like last month!

Fortunately everyone seemed to agree that it tasted really good even if it looked a mess. And I managed to bring what remained into my class the following day where it was also well received.

I think it might have said something about our Clandestine Cake Club that the majority of offerings for our beverage theme were alcoholic. There was a delicious limoncello cake and a strawberry Pimms sponge sandwich.

A chocolate Guinness cake and a peach, blueberry and amaretto sponge (yummy!) also made an appearance, along side a coffee chocolate cake and a tea loaf

Despite appearances I can definitely recommend the coconut cake and this is my version of the recipe:

Greek Coconut Cake (adapted from World Class Cakes)
You will need two 9" (23cm) cake tins, greased and lined. Preheat the oven to 170 deg C (150 fan)
  • 9 large eggs, beaten
  • 455g caster sugar
  • 315g self raising flour, sifted
  • 225g butter
  • 300g dessicated coconut
  • 50g caster sugar
  • juice of a lemon
  • 100ml white rum 
Toffee topping
  • 150 ml double cream
  • 80g soft brown sugar
  • 100g shredded coconut
  •  Cream the butter and the sugar together until light and fluffy
  • With a hand mixer, add the beaten eggs a little at a time, with a spoonful of flour with each addition, to prevent curdling
  • Fold in the remaining flour and the coconut until well mixed.
  • Divide between the two tins and bake for approximately 1 hour (the book says to bake one cake at 150 deg (130 fan) for an hour and a half to two hours)
  • While the cake is baking make the syrup by combining the caster sugar, the juice of a lemon and the white rum in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer to dissolve the sugar
  • When the cakes come out of the oven, brush the tops with the drizzle until it is all used up.
  • Cool in the tin for 15 minutes and then make the coconut topping.
  • For one cake combine the double cream and soft brown sugar in a small pan and heat until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the shredded coconut and then pour the mixture over one of the cakes. Turn up the oven temperature to 190 deg C (170 fan) and return the cake to the oven for ten minutes or so until the top has browned.
  • Allow to cool for ten minutes and then turn out of the tin. The cake is perfectly delicious as it is (and you can freeze one for later) or you can go the whole hog like me and sandwich together with the fillings of your choice, where you will have a cake that is impossible to cut, tastes amazing and is big enough to feed about thirty people!
You can see what the others have baked this month here:


Thursday, 16 March 2017

A Vintage Knit

It has been lovely to have had some warmer weather this week, but I've not been ready to ditch my sweaters just yet. Then I remembered this sleeveless top, perfect for warmer days, lurking in the back of my wardrobe that I knitted... thirty five years ago!

There have been many knits in the intervening years and not many have been worn as much as this one or lasted anything as long, but every time I think maybe I should get rid of it, I can't quite let it go.

I know it is thirty five years old because I knitted it when I was expecting my first son. I remember finishing teaching at the end of the summer term and going away on holiday to Switzerland, where being heavily pregnant I spent a lot of time sitting in the hotel garden in the shadow of the Jungfrau, knitting, knowing it would never fit me at the time because I had such a big bump! It's made from a fine, very soft Phildar yarn that has lovely blue flecks of silk and it took forever on 2.25 mm needles. I knitted lots of baby things in Phildar yarn at the time too, but I'm not sure it's available anymore. Do you have any old garments, homemade or otherwise, you can't bear to part with?

There's not been much knitting going on of late, although I did finish another pair of these Camp Out Mitts recently.

When I do eventually get to sit down in the evening I've been picking up my rag rug rather than knitting, enjoying watching the squares grow, but no doubt I'll change back to some knitting soon when the fancy takes me.

Which is just as well because I've got a cardigan to finish that has been on and off for far too long, and then another one ready to start. There are just not enough hours in the day!

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Walk the Walk

I keep mentioning walking and training so though it about time I told you what I'm walking and training for! Ever since Gill and I did our Starlight walk, over four years ago, I've had an idea that I would like to do the London Moonwalk... which has nothing to do with Michael Jackson but is an overnight marathon length walk around the streets of London.

And as this is my sixty x sixty year I thought it was now or never. So I am training to walk 26.2 miles, wearing only a decorated bra on my top half... although I'll be doing that during the actual walk, not while I'm training, lest I attract undue attention to myself. And besides it's too blimin' cold for such scanty dress at the moment! I'm hoping it will warm up by May.

The idea is to raise money for breast cancer charities and as I have had three friends battle with this disease it seems a worthy cause for which to raise a bit of cash. I promise I won't keep nagging but if anyone out there fancies parting with the odd pound or two I have an online fundraising page here:

It was all going so well until I stubbed my toe and now that seems okay I'm plagued with blisters. In all the years I used to run I never suffered with blisters but I'm currently sporting three! It's okay I won't subject you to photos of my feet again. Part of the problem is I've been wearing new shoes which are taking some breaking in... they were fine in the shop and around the house and fine the first couple of times I wore them out walking. Then having lured me into a false sense of security they rubbed like mad when I went out for a six mile walk on Saturday. But it will take more than a few blisters to stop me and I am quite determined that by May 13th/14th I'll have another achievement to add to my sixty x sixty list.

 And talking sixty x sixty... I added something else to the list on Saturday. I gave a short presentation about wine at a wining tasting event on Saturday evening. It was a fun, informal evening in the village hall to raise funds for the local church so nothing serious but I was still very nervous beforehand. And although it may look like my friend Peter would rather be somewhere else, (I'm kidding Peter!) mostly people laughed in the right places and seemed to be listening... and even if they were just being polite, at least I didn't go on for too long!

 And this was the wine I presented... a rather nice Italian Merlot from the Veneto region... which we are not downing from tumblers should you wonder, but from some rather lovely "stemless" wine glasses that we won in the raffle!

Friday, 10 March 2017

Since I was last here...

It was never my intention to be away from here all week but you know how life gets in the way...

I've been walking...

After four days of not being able to wear ordinary shoes, lying around on the sofa and icing and elevating, the swelling and bruising have reduced and it seems as though my toe may not be broken after all. Just badly bruised. It is still a little uncomfortable but at least I've been out walking again this week. I've just discovered the Map My Walk App with which I confess I'm a little obsessed!

I've been baking...

The first week back baking for the farm shop has gone quite well but I've also done some baking for us and I made a lemon cheesecake last weekend... which also meant making lemon curd. We didn't eat it all ourselves - the cheesecake was shared with friends. Both were good!

I've been teaching...

It might seem that all I do is bake but once a week I still go off to teach machine embroidery to a lovely group of ladies in Letchworth. The beautiful bangles were some some of a selection made using water soluble fabrics.

And the pebble fabrics were the result of our latest project based on a tutorial by Alex Waylett. The little purse was made by Sue who was completely new to machine embroidery at the beginning of September

As too were Carol and Michelle who made these beautiful fabrics.

Ann turned hers into a beautiful beaded bag.
My own mojo for creating machine embroidered projects seems to have totally disappeared though! I need to get back to my sketchbooks I think!

I've been eating well...

It's not just been cheesecake and other sweet treats this week, but we are still sticking to our healthy eating regime of fabulous home cooked meals with loads of fresh vegetables, keeping sugar and processed foods to a minimum. These Corn and Chickpea burgers were surprisingly good... especially with the sweet potato chips.
I'm constantly on the look out for new recipes to expand my repetoire so thought that I might join in with Penny's Cookery Calendar Challenge this month.

I've had this book, Sirocco by Sabrina Ghayour for about a year now and except for some rather wonderful date and cinnamon scones I've never used it. You'll need to come back at the beginning of April to see what I've cooked.

So that's my week really... how has your week been?

Friday, 3 March 2017

Not What I'd Planned!

Alas, my job in the cafe has been short lived and I have left, not without some regret that it wasn't for me, but definitely knowing I have made the right decision. I mastered the oven and was turning out up to 40 large cheese scones and 40 fruit scones each day I was working, filling the freezer for days when I wasn't there. I've made soups by the gallon (literally) and everything has been greeted with enthusiasm by customers... one or two have even asked to meet me to comment on the scones... the best they had tasted apparently. I didn't mind working hard, some days for up to six hours on my feet before I managed a break, without so much as a cuppa.  I didn't mind taking over the dishwashing when the cafe staff were too busy, nor did I mind spending time on my days off finding soup recipes and sending in shopping lists.

But up until now there has been no other cook in the kitchen when I wasn't working. I have been one half of a job share but with no-one else to share it with! Then last week the manager took me aside for a quiet word... outside the back door of the kitchen in the midst of storm Doris blowing a gale, me in just a tee shirt (it's hot in the kitchen)... to tell me that they had hired someone else but she wanted full time work so that's what they had offered her. So a few weeks time...  possibly... not that they didn't appreciate me of course... I wouldn't mind working just one or two days a week... or perhaps we could sort something out? At the time I said okay but overhearing snatched conversations from the manageress about how good it would be when the "proper" cook arrived and they could serve "proper" food made me rethink. There seems a fine line between being appreciated and being taken advantage of. There were other things too that got me thinking I was better off out and then it just so happened last weekend I got four big cake orders in one day and I decided that I'd rather be working flat out for myself than flat out for someone else.

So this week has seen a return to some baking for the farm shop, ordering in supplies for my business not someone elses, and planning some lovely cakes for the weeks to come. I've spent a happy afternoon boiling up citrus peel I had been collecting in the freezer to make my own candied peel. I actually loath the stuff you buy in the supermarkets and never put it in cakes or buns, but this homemade stuff is something else... it might be a long, laborious and somewhat sticky process but it was well worth it. It is amazing and I'm having to stop myself just eating it from the jar. Anyone about to mention "healthy eating plan" can stop now... they are oranges okay! And as a bonus I have a bottle of the most intensley flavoured orange syrup to use in cakes and bakes.

And just as I was feeling all energetic and enthusiastic about baking again... I went and kicked a chair. Not deliberately I might add. And this happened... (apologies for pictures of my feet in the same post as food)

One broken toe which is currently strapped up and elevated in the hope it will get better soon... because currently I can do little more than hobble around the house.

And I am supposed to be training for a long walk in ten weeks time. I won't be doing my four miles today that's for sure, and my five miles on Sunday is looking unlikely so it will be another quiet weekend for me at this rate. Best laid plans and all that...
I hope your weekend goes according to plan... have a good one!

Saturday, 25 February 2017

A Quiet Weekend

After the madness that was the past couple of weeks I've tried to take it a little easier this week... and typically have gone down with a virus. Nothing more than an annoying cough and feeling a little under the weather, but irritating nevertheless. And I'm still feeling exhausted after a couple of days of work. Being on my feet all day is really tiring, which I don't seem to notice when I'm busy working but it hits me when I stop. However, we've been back on track with our healthy eating.. same old common sense really, lots of healthy fruit and veg, meals cooked from scratch, not too much bread and pasta... and absolutely no guilt whatsoever when we decided to go out for a pizza and bottle of wine last night!

But I'm quite determined to have a restful weekend not doing very much other than potter about and catch up with some reading. No matter how busy I get I always find time to read a little each day... although I realise I haven't always found time to write about what I've read... not since December in fact!

We've had a couple of bookclub meetings since December and our book for January was "Sightlines" by Kathleen Jamie. This book really divided our bookclub like no other. It is a series of essays about fairly unrelated subjects (Gannets, Northern Lights, cancer cells, whalebones...). Described by some as nature writing, it has received critical acclaim and loads of accolades. In fact some of our book club members were totally bowled over by the beautiful prose (Jamie is a poet) but there were three of us, including yours truly who just didn't get it. I found it boring, rather indulgent and when she described various beautiful remote places the result was to totally put me off ever going there. The fictional Lewis trilogy made me want to visit the Outer Hebrides more than Kathleen Jamie! I though maybe I was being a bit dense and just didn't understand the beauty of the writing so it was a relief to find two others in the group who felt exactly like me!

Our February book was The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, an entertaining enough read, with likeable characters set in Victorian London and the Essex village of Aldwinter. It's a bit of a gothic tale of a mythical beast woven around an unlikely love story... several love stories actually. I felt it was a little unresolved but then maybe that is how good stories should be. I don't know what anyone else thought as the meeting coincided with our dress rehearsal.

Apart from bookclub reading I've got through two of my Christmas presents.  A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman is as you might imagine about the life of a man called Ove. At first I thought it was going to be really repetitive and tedious but as the kind character of Ove starts to come through and we learn more about his life and what makes him tick, I found myself totally engrossed in this tender tale that made me both laugh out loud and even shed a tear. 
Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain a debut novel by Barney Norris is five separate but intertwined stories centered around a road accident that occurs in Salisbury. Each of the five individuals concerned tell their own narrative. It is both clever and entertaining, if somewhat unbelievable at times, but I was disappointed by the last story and felt it rather weak, letting down the rest of the book.

Currently I'm dipping into and enjoying The Walker's Guide to Outdoor Clues and Signs by Tristan Gooley while I do some indoor planning of walks to come. But the book that is keeping me reading until late at night is The Muse by Jessie Burton. I'm about half way through and totally gripped!

And I've just got a few more to keep me going over the coming months! A diverse selection to say the least!

Now if you excuse me I'm feeling a little sleepy...

So I might just have to join this gorgeous little man. How can he be over two months old already!

I hope you have a quiet and restful weekend too!

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Not a Victoria Sponge

Blog posts from me are a bit like buses... nothing for over a week and then two on consecutive days! But being the 21st of the month it is time to join in with the Cake Slice Bakers again (I'm actually a day late) where we choose a bake from a choice of four from our current book World Class Cakes by Roger Pizey. This month we had a choice  of a Red Velvet Cake... it looks pretty but I just don't like the thought of such a huge amount of food colouring, a Chocolate Cheesecake which was tempting as a dessert for our after show party on Saturday... but I was already making Brownies and mini chocolate Pavlovas and thought it better not to have three chocolate desserts (I know, silly me!), a Classic Victoria Sponge... not really much of a challenge as I make a lot of sponge cakes, and finally an Almond Tart with Honey, which sounded like a lovely dessert for the party. Before I go any further... you might now be wondering why my almond tart looks suspiciously like a Victoria Sponge. It doesn't, but I thought you might like to see a nice picture of a cake I once made before you see the tart...

I  was doing all the food for the party, so having been at work all day Thursday and Friday it meant cooking the party food on Saturday... after I'd been shopping for it! I was tired before I even started. Fortunately the Brownies were made first thing, as were the Pavlovas. I then I did some savoury dishes and bread before starting on my almond tart. The sweet pastry turned out really well and the frangipane filling looked delicious and golden when it was baked. The almond and honey topping was then made from honey, sugar, almonds and cream, boiled up together and spread on the tart before sticking it under the grill to brown. It was all going so well... then in my tired fug, as I pulled the tart from the grill... this happened...

Yes, there were tears, tantrums and possibly a swear word or two... in fact I had a melt down and looked something a bit like my crumpled almond tart. But I soon saw the funny side, took a photo and realised that at the end of the day it didn't really matter. And as we are still eating the Brownies there was obviously plenty of dessert for the party. And the moral of this story is I am not some sort of superwoman as is occasionally suggested, I need to sleep as much as the rest of you, I don't have any extra hours in my day... and when I mess up I do it big time! And just in case you were wondering... this is what it should have looked like!

So I may not have made a successful cake this month but you can at least see what the others have made: