Friday 29 January 2016

Five things I've made.. On Friday!

Well I didn't actually make all five things on Friday but I'm sharing five things I have made over the past week or so, today, which happens to be Friday because I'm joining in with Five on Friday... shall I just get on with it...

1. A Cushion

You may recall I was making a sample of "Posh Pebble" fabric using Alex Waylett's excellent instructions in Stitch magazine. To be honest I wasn't very happy with it for many reasons but especially the colours. So I decided to have another go and this time I liked the sample so much I turned it into a cushion. A totally impractical cushion but pretty!

2. A Book Cover

Still the same technique but I was on a roll and as the cover to my diary was falling apart I made myself a new book jacket. I do rather like it!

3. Marmalade

I just can't resist the lure of Seville oranges at this time of year so ended up making several jars of rather beautiful marmalade... sunshine in a jar! I know none of you will be rude enough to mention the five jars left in the cupboard from last year... and possibly even some from several years ago. Of course this also required the annual ritual of marmalade cake... this year I varied it by making a marmalade drizzle cake... it was very good! (I've just realised that by telling you about the cake I've shared six things I've made but maybe no one will notice)

4. Aprons

It is my intention that I will create a link between my baking and my sewing by making baking related items and homewares for sale, an idea I have been toying with for ages, and so I have started to make more aprons. They might make it as far as my Etsy shop if I get organised. Don't hold your breath

5. A Birthday Cake

I was commissioned to make a birthday cake and apart from it having to be vanilla and small I could do what I liked. It was a vanilla sponge with vanilla buttercream and although only 15cm across it was about 15cm tall so not actually that small. But it meant I got to experiment with ombre effect icing. I kept it fairly subtle for my first attempt but I might be braver next time and use a darker colour at the bottom.
So that's my five for this week, joining in with Amy for Five on Friday.
I'm off to Missenden Abbey for a weekend of teaching but no doubt I will be back next week.

Wednesday 27 January 2016

Cranberry Jewels

When I did my post for the Cake Slice Bakers last week, I mentioned that I had wanted to make a Cranberry Upside Down Cake but couldn't find any fresh cranberries in any of the major supermarkets... apparently they are "only available in December as there isn't the demand". Why that might be when we can get out of season stuff like strawberries and asparagus in December I really don't understand (I feel I should add I never have the slightest desire to eat either of those in December, but I digress). Anyway, the very next day I was in our farm shop and lo and behold they had fresh cranberries sitting there in their chiller cabinet. So being very demanding, I bought them!

Except for cranberry sauce I've never really used fresh cranberries that much, possibly because they are not available for most of the year so I had no idea what this would turn out like. It was such a simple cake to put together, that I could see it being overlooked as something too plain to bother with but I can honestly say was one of the nicest cakes I've ever tasted and I would have no hesitation serving this on a special occasion. Slightly tart but not mouth wincingly so, with an almost equal combination of fruity topping and vanilla scented cake.

We had it for pudding last night, served at room temperature with a dollop of cold vanilla cream and it was exquisite. The boys both had second helpings but there is just enough for another slice each tonight... I can't wait! There were a couple of changes made to the original recipe. My bag of cranberries only yielded 3 cups not 4, I was short on milk so used half milk and half sour cream which I just happened to have... and I completely forgot to add the grated orange rind but it was hard to see how this cake could be any better so I'm not sure how important these little tweeks were. What follows is my version of the recipe. I did use a loose bottomed tin because I don't have any other sort of  9" (23cm) tin  but there was some leakage so I would suggest not using a loose bottomed tin if possible. You will also notice I have stuck to the original cup & imperial measurements because I made it in a hurry before I went to work yesterday so didn't have time to convert them. Now if you'll excuse me I'm off to buy any remaining bags of cranberries I can find to pop them in the freezer. And do make this cake... everyone neeeds a slice of this in their lives!

Cranberry Upside Down Cake

Ingredients (all at room temperature) :
  • 3-4 cups fresh cranberries
  • 5 oz unsalted butter (soft)
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons golden caster sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups sifted plain flour 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1/3 cup redcurrant jelly (I didn't have this so used some homemade apple and sloe jelly that was lurking in the fridge - I think any jelly would work)
  1. Preheat the oven to 180 deg C (160 fan), 350 deg F, Gas no. 4
  2. Wash the cranberries, discarding any stalks and lay to dry on a tea towel 
  3. Use 2 oz of the butter to lightly grease the sides of a 9" round cake tin, spreading the remaining butter in an even layer over the base of the tin (I used my fingers!)
  4. Sprinkle half a cup plus the 2 tablespoons of sugar over the butter and then add the cranberries on top of the sugar.
  5. Sift together the flour, remaining sugar, baking powder and salt.
  6. Using a hand mixer, beat the remaining butter until soft and gradually beat in the egg and vanilla. Then on a low speed add the flour in three batches alternating with the milk/sour cream.
  7. Pour the cake batter over the cranberries, smoothing the top.
  8. Bake for 1 hour (although mine was cooked after about 50 mins)
  9. Cool on a rack for 20 minutes, although after 10 minutes run a small sharp knife around the cake to release the sides.
  10. Meanwhile heat the jelly in a small pan until it melts and comes to the boil.
  11. After 20 minutes cover the cake tin with a large flat plate then holding them firmly together turn them over releasing the cake.
  12. Pour the melted jelly over the top of the cake, spreading it to the edge and leave it to cool completely.
  13. Serve at room temperature with either cold whipped cream (with a little sugar and vanilla added) or vanilla ice cream.
Adapted from Maida Heatter's Cakes

Friday 22 January 2016

Things Icelandic

Just to prove it's not cake, cake, cake all the time round these parts (well it is pretty much but humour me) a post about one or two other things going on...

I'm still fitting in time to read and this month I have already have finished a Peter May thriller (Runaway) which was okay but not so exciting that I feel particularly compelled to write about it. But then I read Burial Rites by Hannah Kent and thought it was brilliant! This is fiction but based on the true story of the last days of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last woman to be executed in Iceland. I found it vivid, powerful and totally captivating and a wonderful homage to the beauty and extremes of Iceland... where I might add, I have never been... although I would like to visit one day! In fact I have had a fascination for the place ever since I read Names for the Sea by Sarah Moss and especially the culture of knitting that exists. So when five days before his birthday in October, Jacob said he would like an Icelandic sweater I gamely offered to make one. I might add this was after I had done a bit of research and discovered the price of a genuine handknitted Icelandic sweater! The Lopi wool was ordered directly from Iceland and included a free pattern... which with shipping came to about £35, which I thought was excellent value. And what is more it even arrived before Jacob's birthday.

Needless to say I did not finish it in time for his birthday but the last stitch was knitted on Christmas Eve and he actually likes it. He even wears it! And it was surprisingly easy to knit once I had figured out how to follow the chart. I especially liked that it was all knitted in the round so no sewing up!

And while we are talking knitting... I finished a cowl thingy for me last week. After having a bit of a sort out through my vast stash of yarn I found an unidentified hank of rather gorgeous yarn that I have no recollection of buying. So I cast on a picot edging on circular needles and carried on knitting until I ran out... after three false starts where I managed to get the thing twisted every single time. (There may have been bad words uttered.) But once I started it only took three evenings to finish.

 Excuse the ridiculous face... I find it impossible to pose for selfies without pulling faces... it reminds me of all piling into in photo booths when we were teenagers and getting those strips of four photos with us all pulling silly faces... or was I the only one who did that? Okay, don't answer that one.

Fortunately you can't see the silly face I'm pulling here... only the scraggy neck... oh dear!

I'll be back with cake soon, I promise!

Wednesday 20 January 2016

The Best Damn Lemon Cake

I am very excited to be part of a new blogging group... well new to me anyway... or rather to be more specific, I am new to the group, which is actually long established! Shall I stop wittering on and tell you about it? Okay, this is going to be a long post, but there is a recipe at the end if you make it that far!

The Cake Slice Bakers are a group of cake loving bakers who each year chose a cake themed book to bake from. Up until October 2016 they will be baking from Maida Heatter’s Cakes. Each month the participating bakers are given 4 recipes to choose from, which vary in type and flavour. Then on the 20th of each month each baker reveals what they have chosen on their respective blogs.

The first thing I had to do was buy the book... what hardship to add another cake book to my collection! When it arrived I wasn't too sure if I was going to like it. It is an American book - nothing wrong with that per say- but it does mean all the measurements are in cups and imperial, which is not how I tend to bake. Being a teacher of mathematics in a former life my brain just works in metric. But I do have a set of baking cups so decided I would use the cup measures but convert it all to metric as I went along. Second problem... no photos, so no idea of what the finished results should look like. But hey, I'm a baker so that shouldn't be a problem, right!

As I read through the introduction though, I decided that I was probably going to like this book very much. The instructions are very clearly written and  precise and left me feeling there was still plenty to learn. The choices this month included a cheesecake which I will try one day when there are more of us here to share it, a rather fancy four layer frosted banana cake which I felt required a celebration as an excuse to make it, an upside down cranberry cake which I really wanted to make except now that Christmas is over there were no fresh cranberries to be found anywhere... which left a lemon cake. Now I already have an excellent and reliable lemon drizzle cake recipe but when a cake is called "The Best Damn Lemon Cake" that just sounds like a challenge to me. Also I thought it would be good to start with a plain cake for my first month with The Cake Slice Bakers.

The first thing that really stood out in this book is that rather than butter and flour her tins, or use a cake liner like me, Maida Heatter butters the pans and then dusts them with fine breadcrumbs. So my first task was to dry out several slices of crustless bread and then grind them up into crumbs. And while they were drying in a low oven I weighed out my ingredients. This is something I always do when I bake nowdays rather than the disorganised grabbing things from cupboards as I went along that I used to do, which invariably resulted in missing out a crucial ingredient.

Lots of lovely breadcrumbs ready to use... ground to a fine crumb but not a powder! While I think of it... a word about flour too. Maida Heatter suggests sifting the flour before measuring into cups for a recipe. As flour tends to settle in its packaging 1 cup of unsifted flour is likely to be several spoonfuls more than 1 cup of sifted flour so this is good advice. I measured out a cup from my flour canister, I sifted it and then remeasured before weighing... so if you follow my recipe, it doesn't matter if you sift before or after weighing.

From there, I pretty much followed the instructions to the letter.. just one or two adjustments. The first ingredient in the recipe list is blanched almonds which then need to be ground. As I had ready ground almonds in the cupboard I used the equivilent weight of these instead. And further down it requires a whole  1 ounce bottle of lemon extract... a whole bottle! I just couldn't bring myself to put in a whole bottle where I would usually use just a single teaspoon. I felt it would give a bitter flavour, so I used half a bottle or 2 tablespoons which was still a lot more than I felt comfortable using. I also reduced the salt slightly bacause I don't like the flavour of salt in cakes.

When the cake was done it was slowly brushed with lemon glaze and then... this was the hard part... when cool, it was wrapped in clingfilm and allowed to stand for 24 hours before eating. I had a hard time explaining that one to my family of cake testers!

It looked good, smelled good, had a lovely crust (the breadcrumbs really did work) and a lovely light, even crumb... and the important part... the taste?

Yes, it tasted good... very good

It was very tangy with a sharp hit of  lemon where the glaze had soaked through...

And it had a lovely texture and flavour. It wasn't at all bitter from the large quantity of lemon extract so maybe I should have been brave and used a whole bottle. (In truth I think I was just too mean!)

But would I agree it is the best damn lemon cake... probably not. It was very good but in my opinion it wasn't any better than the one I always make. I'm not sure what keeping it for 24 hours contributed to the resulting taste or texture either so I can't really comment on that.

But that said, it didn't last very long after the 24 hours! My version of the recipe follows at the end of this post, should you wish to try it for yourself. And meanwhile I'm already planning what I can make next month! And if you click on the link at the end of the post you can see what the other cake slice bakers have been making!

The Best Damn Lemon Cake Adapted from Maida Heatter's Cakes

  • 90g ground almonds
  • 200g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 115g unsalted butter, melted
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 130 ml whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) lemon extract
  • The grated rind of 2 large or 3 medium lemons
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 deg F/ 180 deg C or 160 deg for fan ovens/Gas 4. 
  2. Butter a loaf tin and dust it with dry breadcumbs (be sure to shake out the excess).
  3. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.
  4. In another bowl, use an electric mixer to combine the melted butter and sugar.
  5.  Add the eggs, one at a time and continue to mix at a low speed. Fold in the dry ingredients with a metal spoon in three additions, together with the milk. 
  6. Finally fold in the lemon extract, lemon rind and the ground almonds.
  7. Put the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 65 - 75 minutes. Mine only took a little over 60 minutes in the fan oven. 
  8. Test with a skewer- when it comes out clean the cake is done. It is normal for there to be a crack in the cake... a bit like a Madeira cake.

While the cake is baking prepare the glaze. Gently melt 100g granulated sugar with 75ml lemon juice (from the lemons used in the cake). Do not let the mixture boil. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to stand for 2-3 minutes. Then very slowly brush the hot glaze over the cake (this should take about 5 minutes). When the cake is almost cool, turn it out of the tin and allow to cool completely on a wire rack. When cold, wrap the cake in clingfilm or foil and allow to stand 12-24 hours before serving.

Other cake slice bakers:

Sunday 17 January 2016

My Last Rolo...

Although we didn't really exchange many Christmas presents this year I did have a couple of new cookbooks on my wish list... well, cake books to be specific. And as Santa didn't manage to get them all for me I treated myself to this...

Cakeology by Juliet Sear is a project based book which wouldn't normally be my first choice, but it also has excellent basic recipes for cakes and frostings, instructions on numerous techniques and really useful information on doubling up recipes and different tin sizes etc.

The "Love Heart" cookies that I made last week were adapted from an idea in the book and the basic vanilla cookie dough is one of the best I've tasted. After all, it is no good making cakes and biscuits that look pretty if the taste doesn't match up to expectations.

So when in my latest "Apricot & Fig" newsletter, I offered a Chocolate Brownie Rolo cake as one of my Valentine selections I wanted to make sure it was the best possible tasting Brownie cake ever. I made one of these a few years ago when I tested a recipe for "Baking Mad". It tasted good but the Rolos all sank to the bottom of the cake creating a gooey caramel layer which wasn't really the desired effect. I was pretty sure I could get round the problem by having a firmer basic mixture but didn't want to sacrifice that soft, almost undercooked texture of a good brownie.

So yesterday I tried the Belgian Chocolate Brownie Torte cake recipe from Cakeology with a packet of Rolos scattered on the top. And bingo... all the Rolos stayed scattered more or less where they were put...

Not only that, it slices beautifully, has a wonderful texture... and tastes fantastic with the occasional hit of a chewy caramel Rolo. Would I give someone my last Rolo... probably, but I wouldn't give them my last slice of this cake. In fact I'm reluctant to share any of it!

There will be more cakes later this week should you care to come back this way again!

Friday 15 January 2016

Five on Friday

It was my plan to do more regular blog posts... chatty, witty, entertaining (at least that is how they panned out in my head.) But life continues to be challenging, then out of the blue there was the David Bowie news... and now Alan Rickman. Well, I'm not sure I can be witty and entertaining! But I have managed to drag out five completely unrelated photos of my past week nevertheless...

1. Jam Tarts

I made jam tarts... not any old jam tarts but sophisticated jam bars. The recipe is Laura's which can be found here. I really couldn't be bothered with only using an egg yolk... so I doubled the recipe but used a whole egg, also I didn't have vanilla sugar so I used regular caster sugar ... but I did have lots of left over jars of damson and plum jam which I mixed up together. I'm not entirely sure why there were four half used jars of jam in the fridge... but there were. I took them (the jam bars not the half used jars of jam) to our Embroiderer's Guild meeting where they seemed to disappear rapidly. Which was just as well, as I brought the six left over bars home and no one else liked them very much. So I ate them all... I told you it was that sort of week!

2. A Dress

I finished the dress I started making at Backstitch. Which I wore the afore mentioned Embroiderer's Guild meeting. I think I like it although the neck gapes (hence the scarf). At least it is very roomy and comfortable to allow for eating of lots of jam tarts.

3. Love Hearts

From jam tarts to love hearts... a bit of recipe testing for the new business in advance of Valentine's Day. I was rather pleased with these over sized vanilla cookies but I'm not sure how popular they will be... not much response to them on my Facebook page. And I've eaten too many of these too!

4. Plush Pebbles

I was back teaching this week and finished off the Plush Pebble sampler to show my class. Nothing more to say about that really... except there are going to be some really nice examples from my ladies in the class. I promise to show you when they are finished.

5. Dinner

It seems a bit desperate when I start showing you photos of my dinner (well, not my dinner because they are meatballs and I don't eat meat so this was for the others). But I've got a bit of a food magazine addiction at the moment ( a business expense of course) and as there is a prize of some rather lovely crockery for posting a photo of the cover recipe from "Delicious" I decided there was nothing to lose. The family get a tasty dinner... Italian baked meatballs with garlic bread... and I might win some plates... got to be in it to win it!

So, that's my week... what have you been up to?
Joining in with Amy for Five on Friday

Monday 11 January 2016

Put on your red shoes...

And dance the blues. For it is a sad day

1947 - 2016

Thursday 7 January 2016

Thelma and Louise (aka Gina and Gill)

In an ideal world, we should not live with our adult children. But the world is not ideal and for the foreseeable future there are currently four people but three generations of adults living in our home... One of whom often doesn't seem to know what is going on but becomes quite bristly at any suggestion that might be the case. And another who is facing a serious battle with mental health issues and finding the presence of a grandparent rather difficult. Meanwhile my long suffering husband (whose foot is much better thank you... Sunday morning's panic over) is displaying extreme patience whilst he tries to build a new business and find work despite constant interruption. And me? I'm just playing piggy in the middle trying to keep everyone happy. Miss Piggy in the middle judging by the amount of left over Christmas cake consumed this week.

So when I got into Gill's car yesterday and announced it felt like Thelma and Louise, I wasn't kidding. Escape was the only thing on my mind! Except we didn't launch ourselves off a cliff but headed for a wonderful peaceful day of stitching at Backstitch.

After a cup of tea and a good old moan, we set to work. Well, Gill set to work and I fiddled about for far too long with scraps of fabric using a method by Alex Waylett that was in last month's Stitch magazine. I got as far as pinning them together before I got bored (it needs a awful lot more little cut out circles than you would imagine) so you'll have to wait and see what it turns into.

Meanwhile Gill was very busy, sewing up what is going to be a really fabulous poncho with a stunning fuchsia pink funnel neck. (if you are reading this Gill... for the first time ever, I spelt Fuchsia without the aid of a dictionary.)

And eventually I got around to starting another new dress... this is part of an effort to buy less but make more of my own clothes. It is nowhere near finished but I promise to show you when it's done. Especially as we are already booked into Backstitch's Social Sew again next month.

I returned home with my sanity restored ( well, as good as it ever is ), slept well for a change and have had a productive morning baking. I'm now about to have an equally productive afternoon carrying on with my stitching. That dress might be ready to show you sooner than I thought!

Sunday 3 January 2016

The year in books...

For December 2015! 
For the past two years I've religiously posted about books I've read during the previous month, joining in with Laura for The Year in Books at  Circle of Pine Trees. But last month despite the fact I kept reminding myself I really should get around to it... I never did! 

My November book was The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, the fictionalised story of the life of American abolitionist and suffragette Sarah Grimke. It was incredibly powerful and sad but an excellent story too. I'm ashamed to say I'd never even heard of Sarah Grimke, who was a brave and amazing woman. The book left me feeling in awe of the courage she displayed against the odds. I can definitely recommend it.

 For December I chose Flight Behaviour By Barbara Kingsolver, one of my favourite authors. Despite being busy all month I still found snatched moments to read and I loved this book too. It has a serious message about global warming told through the life of Dellarobia, a young woman, discontent with her poor life on a Appalachian farm, whose life is changed by a beautiful miracle of nature... the flight behaviour of the Monarch butterfly. As with her other books, the characters are so well written than you believe they are real. It was totally absorbing... the sort of book that makes you want to read rapidly to the end but at the same time not get to the end!

And I even had time to start another book during December A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler... which I finished this morning during a trip to A & E. Long story but the suspected cracked ankle that wouldn't support the mister's weight this morning turned out to be Tendonitis.

And this as it turned out was another great book with fabulously written characters. It is the story of the Whitshank family through three generations, telling of the threads that hold them together, their shared stories and secrets. Another book I didn't want to end!  I've missed the December link up and Laura is changing the way she is running The Year in Books during 2016 linking up on Twitter and Pinterest rather than her blog. As I am an intermittent user of both I won't be joining in this year but rest assured I resolve to keep reading at least one book a month and will no doubt report back now and then. Having read three excellent books in succession my biggest problem now is choosing my next one.

Lets hope I do better at the reading resolution than the "no alcohol in January" one (photo taken last night)... silly idea if you ask me!

Friday 1 January 2016

In With the New...

 On the first day of this brand new year, feeling somewhat jaded after only four hours of sleep and a glass or two more than was sensible last night, I decided that rather than look forward with resolutions, I would start with a bit of reflection on the past year. So what follows is totally self indulgent, somewhat photo heavy and you will be entirely forgiven for jumping to the end or skipping this post entirely!

There were definitely less blog posts in 2015, a year that started in January with me recognising that life was rather bonkers most of the time and so I decided that there needed to be less BONKERS and more ENJOY in my life. Not entirely sure I achieved that but hey ho... there is always this year.

Life continued at the usual crazy pace in February but I did learn a new skill - egg tempera painting. I was full of ideas of future paintings... did I do them? Did I heck... but like I say, there is always this year... or not as the case may be!

By March I was spending time in the garden and the sight of my pots planted up with spring flowers is rather heartening... after all March is only two months away!

In April I started walking with a passion, and although I never did realise my ambition to walk the coast to coast I have kept up my walking for most of the year, just letting it slip during the past month. Today however I did a four mile walk before lunch, so not a bad start to the year.

In May I had these pieces of work in the Prism exhibition in Hoxton, where I even sold one of the bigger pieces. They are currently on show at Art Van Go... after which no doubt they will be confined to the back of a cupboard somewhere.

June was eventful on many levels. My City and Guilds students finished their two year course and all passed with flying colours and that same weekend we celebrated the marriage of my stepson James and his lovely wife Elizabeth.

For me it was also the beginning of a period of reflection where many months of soul searching came to a head and I knew there needed to be changes in my life... actual changes, not just thinking about them!

July is always Open Studios month and in 2015 I included a new venture in the form of a pop up cafe. It looked very pretty even if it wasn't a runaway success!

In August we actually had our first proper holiday in several years when we spent a blissful week in Tuscany.

In September we had afternoon tea at The Ritz, we climbed over the top of the O2 and it was also the month when I took the decision to turn my passion for baking into a business... the change had begun!

October... and I returned to Amateur Dramatics with a role in 'Allo 'Allo as "Michelle of the Resistance"... a distraction whilst our kitchen was being refitted

Then in November, with the completion of our new kitchen the baking business "Apricot & Fig" was actually launched... and this Chocolate and Peanut butter cake was my first proper order (there had been a trial run the previous month!).

And so to December which was all about baking and very little else, leaving me tired but happy!

We spent the last night of the year at home... Stewart, Mum and me, joined by four friends. We had a long leisurely meal, played silly games, drank too much wine and watched fireworks on the telly to see in the new year.

 And if you are still with me after this self indulgent ramble may I wish you all very happy and healthy 2016 with time to do the things you love!

I'm not sure what the year may hold for us but there will definitely be books, blogging, walking, embroidery, family and friends... and plenty of cake!