Have not done much baking and cooking as of course I have been in Australia and since my return have not been able to get organised enough to cook and blog. However, this weekend we have had a get together to celebrate the arrival of Beatrice (we had a similar party for Florence) and though food was ordered in, family all cooked and prepared and donated something to the feast.
I was asked to make a Tiramisu which had gone down well at the Florence feast and was happy to do so. I gather from my cook book that Tiramisu means Pick me Up. There you go. The recipe I use is a fairly old one by Valentina Harris published about twenty years ago. Rest of the book has long vanished but I cut out this recipe before it was passed on and I always use it. This particular recipe feeds 8-10 so I only pull it out for parties.
500g (1lb 20z) mascarpone cheese; 8 eggs separated; 8 tablespoons caster sugar; I small cup approx 3 fl oz of very strong coffee (espresso if possible); 300ml (half pint weak coffee); 5 tablespoons brandy; about 30 boudoir biscuits (sponge fingers to you and me); ground coffee or chocolate powder for dusting.
Whisk cream cheese with a wooden spoon to make it soft and creamy. Beat the egg yolks in a separate bowl until fluffy and pale yellow. Add the sugar to the egg yolks a little at a time until you have a smooth texture, then add this to the cream cheese mixture. Stir in the strong coffee. Whisk egg whites separately until stiff then fold them into the cheese, egg and coffee mixture. Put to one side.
Pour the weak coffee and brandy into a bowl. Dip the boudoir biscuits into it one at a time to moisten them then arrange in a layer along the bottom of a shallow bowl. Coer with some of the cheese mixture then cover with more moistened biscuits. Continue to make layers i this way until you have used up all the ingredients ending with a layer of the cheese mixture. Sprinkle with the ground coffee or chocolate powder (think the choc powder is better) and chill for at least one hour.
Notes: I think it is better chilled overnight. I also find that I need two packets of boudoir biscuits for this recipe which is more than 30. You may have some over but that does not really matter.
Icing and decorating are not my strong points but am quite pleased with the way this turned out. I think next year, however, I will just rough up the icing so it looks like snow and will pop a Father Christmas in the middle. Quicker and easier but glad I took the trouble to do it this year as have not done it for ages.
The last time I made Royal Icing my children were at my knee and I had no grey hairs so that gives you an idea of how long ago it was. If I remember rightly I gave up on making this as I just felt Life was Too Short and I resorted to the ready to roll variety. Unfortunately, I found this to be far to sweet and yukky so then resorted to just bunging assorted crystallised fruit on top of the cake and glazing which worked well. But this year, in the spirit of the Great British Bake Off, I thought I would have a crack at it once more.
Well never again. Yes it is done and I should feel flushed with success and achievement but instead all I can think of is what a bloody faff it was and I may try ready made again next year - it is years since I tried it so perhaps it has improved. Anyway, dear readers here is what I did:
I lb 2oz, approx 500g of icing sugar - sifted. Cannot emphasise strongly enough that it must be sifted else it will be lumpy and grainy. Separate out three eggs and put the whites in a clean bowl. Gradually mix in the icing sugar with the whites a tablespoonful at a time (OK after a while got fed up with this and tipped it all in and didn't seem to matter much). It will drip off the edge of a spoon at this stage.
When all mixed in, get hold of your electric mixer and whisk it for about ten minutes. Yes ten minutes. Tedious I know but it must be done, unless you have one of those super duper Artisan mixer thingys which peg the washing out while you are cooking in which case you can leave it to merrily whirr away. Whisk until the mixture forms stiff peaks.
NOTE: I had a vague memory of this not happening with my previous attempts and the mixture being too runny so I decided to just use two egg whites for this amount of icing sugar and it worked well. You can always crack open another egg if you think you need it but I find if you use three egg whites it is difficult to get it to peak and you have to put in more icing sugar (sifted of course). I always feel it is easier to add liquid to a dry mixture than find you have put in too much initially as you are then totally buggered.
Once you have reached the peaks stage put in a teaspoonful of glycerine. Why? I do not know but dared not leave it out. I think it must be some kind of agent to balance out the egg white and help setting. I need Mary Berry here to tell me if that is so.
OK get out cake and use a little dollop of icing to affix to cake board if you are using. I am using a plate simply because I forgot to buy a cake board. Huge dollop of icing on top of cake and work backwards and forwards until covered. Do not worry if it is not smooth and immaculate - mine certainly wasn't. Using a spatula or a ruler smooth the icing as much as you can and trim off the edges, then start slapping the icing on all around the cake. If you have a turntable here now is the time to use it as once the icing is all the way round the sides of the cake you need to hold up a ruler (I have a stainless steel baking one which I bought years ago) and hold it against the cake and rotate the turntable so the icing smooths out. I don't have this so did the best I could.
Now remember - we are not trained cooks nor are we Mary Berry or Paul Hollywood so please don't worry if it is not smooth. If you are not happy with it then just rough it up with a knife and turn it into a snow scene and bung a Father Christmas in the middle. Nobody will mind.
Leave to dry out for 24 hours as the icing needs to set a bit more. Any left over icing will keep in a container in the fridge for decoration when you are ready. I will be piping a bit round the edges tomorrow, this will hide any imperfect bits as well, and I have made some leaves and berries to stick on when I get round to doing this. These were made out of fondant icing which I bought and cut up and mix in some colouring. Cut out the leaves with a leaf shaped cutter, roll the berries out and leave to dry overnight.
So that is it. Will show you the finished cake when it is done.
I am glad I had a go at making the icing but probably won't do it again. Ended up with a pile of dirty dishes and bowls, food colouring everywhere and feeling vaguely nauseous as I kept licking the bowl. I think it may be ready rolled next year.........
As Shirley Conran memorably said back in the 70s 'Life is too short to Stuff a Mushroom' well I now feel the same way about Royal Icing.
Took the cake out of its tin where it has been resting for a week or two and boy does it smell gorgeous. I am making this cake purely for me, though of course I will share it with friends and family, but just to have it in a tin so I can have a slice every now and then, will be lovely.
So to marzipan. I used to make my own marzipan in my young days when I would try daft things like that, but no more. Now I buy ready to roll and do so. Normally I slap the marzipan on any old how and patch it a bit, but after watching Brendan, one of the runners up on the Great British Bake Off, and the way he ruled and measured everything, I decided I needed to be a bit more careful this year.
First of all before rolling out the marzipan, dust the work surface with some sifted icing sugar, not flour. This will prevent sticking. I rolled my marzipan out into two strips which I measured and cut to fit round the cake and off I went. In order to make the marzipan adhere to the cake, it needs to be brushed with melted jam, or marmalade. I know some turn their nose up at marmalade and some purists insist on apricot jam, but I am not fussy and use whatever I have got. This year it was damson so popped it into the microwave for a few seconds to make it runny and usable and then painted the side of the cake and wrapped round the marzipan.
Then using the cake tin in which I baked my cake as a template I cut out a circle of marzipan to go on the top. Slightly larger than the cake as I went outside the tin, not inside, but I prefer to have a little overlap so I can smooth it down. More jam brushed on the top and on it went. Rubbed my hands with sieved icing sugar and then smoothed the marzipan and joined it up and tried to make sure no joins were showing, though if you have any, the icing will hide them.
Tomorrow, Random tries to make Royal Icing and as I have not done this for years, not sure how it will turn out. I may have to nip out and buy ready rolled, but I am really looking forward to trying this again.
Watch this space....
Well cake duly made and in tin maturing nicely, had no intention of making any puddings this year but daughter asked if I would bring one along on Christmas Day so this afternoon I set to.
When I used to make puddings, cakes and mincement to order (blogged about some time ago here), people would say 'Oh gosh aren't you clever! I couldn't possibly make a Christmas cake/pud' etc. I can't understand that at all, I find it far easier than trying to produce a Victoria sponge that isn't like a frisbee, all you do with a pudding or a cake is bung everything in a bowl, give it a stir and slosh some booze in before cooking. If a cake is easy a Christmas pudding is even easier, only thing you must do is to check the ingredients list and make sure you have everything you need, assemble them on your work surface, get a bowl and a spoon and you are off.
The pudding I make is from an old recipe that my mum used to swear by. It came from a cook book issued by Be-Ro flour, which you could only get up North once upon a time (my mum comes from Newcastle) but now available everywhere. You can see from the state of the book and the page in question how well used it is. I have it tucked away and will never part with it. As this was in post war years it contains grated carrot which I sometimes put in or not depending if I have one. A dearth of carrot today so that was left out but here is the recipe I used:
4oz Self raising flour; pinch of salt; half teaspoon grated nutmeg and allspice; 3oz shredded suet; 4oz raisins, sultanas and currants respectively; 4oz soft brown sugar; 2oz mixed peel; grated rind and juice of a lemon; two eggs, 2 tablespoons of brandy or other spirit or milk.
Put all dry ingredients in a bowl and mix, add brandy or whatever you are using, two eggs and mix well.
And that is it. Couldn't be simpler. I will admit to a slight variation or two on the recipe. I don't care much for currants, think they produce a dark pudding which I do not like so instead of 4oz currants I put an extra 2oz of sultanas in, and 2oz of candied orange and pineapple which I had about me left over from my Christmas cake. I also popped in an ounce of cherries left over. My eggs were medium so found I needed to put in three, if using large eggs two would probably suffice.
I had a miniature of whisky lurking in the back of the cupboard, heaven knows how long it has been there, but the good thing about whisky is that it doesn't go off (it was a single malt) so poured that in.
According to the recipe this is enough for a 2lb (1 litre) pudding but I divided it into two and made two smaller puddings. Grease the bowls well, I also put a little circle of greaseproof paper in the base so that when the pudding is turned out, half of it doesn't cling to the basin, grease foil and cover top and I always use string to tie it down. This recipe says that the pudding must be steamed for ten hours - as I am doing two smaller ones I have reduced this to seven but will check periodically and see how they are getting on.
One thing I dislike about steaming a Christmas pudding is, well, the steam. The entire kitchen gets soggy and humid even with the window open so I now use a bain-marie. Put the two puddings in a large roasting tin and surround with boiling water. Please ignore disgustingly awful roasting tin....
Then make a hood of foil and cover well, tucking the ends under the tin if poss. The water will evaporate, hit the foil, and run back down into the tin so that it does not burn dry. I check and top up the water after a few hours just to be on the safe side but I find it works well. In the days when I used to take orders and cook 2 dozen at a time this was the only method I used.
Now you have to admit that is easy peasy - let me know how you get on with your puddings and any variations - would love to hear.
I don't always make a Christmas cake - years of taking Christmas orders for others in my cooking days many moons ago have rather dulled my enjoyment of same, but this year, in the interest of my new found baking enthusiasm I decided to have a go.
I like Christmas cake but have never really fallen in love with the dark fruited ones that are the norm so when I discoverd a Light Christmas cake recipe by the Blessed Delia I decided to try it and have made it many times since as I enjoyed it so much. One of the reasons I enjoy making it is that the fruits, when cut up and left to soak overnight in brandy in a clear bowl, look like jewels and are such lovely colours.
The fruit needed is 4oz glace pineapple; 4oz glace apricots; 6oz glace cherries, rinsed and dried (mixed colour pack); 4oz candied peel; 2oz angelica; 8oz sultanas (I bought the golden variety); 2ozs crystallised ginger. All these fruits need to be chopped up into pieces the size of the sultanas and then, as I said, left to soak overnight. Also add 4oz finely chopped walnuts.
Note: tracking down these fruits can be difficult. Sainsbury had none of them save cherries, Waitrose not much better and I ended up in a small specialised grocer in Colchester, Guntons, which had a good selection and bought them all from there. You may need to check out a similar shop in your locale.
Next day, cream up 8oz unsalted butter with 8oz caster sugar till light and fluffy. Then whisk four medium sized eggs and gradually beat in. When all the beaten egg has been added lightly fold in 2oz ground almonds, the grated rinds of an orange and a lemon and their juice. At this stage Delia says bung in the brandy but I have already used it to soak the fruit which makes for a better cake in my humble. Then fold in 8oz plain flour sifted, add all the fruit and give a good stir until everything is incorporated.
This cooks in an 8" round tin, well greased and lined with greaseproof paper and placed in the middle of a preheated oven Gas Mark 3/325F/170C and cooked for an hour. After an hour cover the cake with a double layer of greaseproof paper so the top does not get too brown and leave to cook for another 2-2¼ hours but do check after 2 hours as sometimes, depending on how hot your oven is, it can be ready then.
When ready it will shrink away from the side of the tin and be springy in the middle when pressed lightly with a little finger. Leave in tin until cold then peel of papers and re-wrap in fresh greaseproof paper before storing in a tin until ready to be iced. It can also be drip fed with extra brandy every now and then should you so wish....
I shall be posting on my attempt this year to make, not buy, Royal Icing, and decorate the cake. This could be potentially disastrous as I have not done this for yonks either but we shall see.
At the moment the kitchen is full of that wonderful warm, fruity fragrant smell you get when baking a Christmas Cake and it always makes me feel happy and cosy.
No it wasn't me who said that. It was my daughter Helen just a week or so ago. We were discussing the amazing fact that Florence will soon be three and talking about birthday cakes and we started to reminisce about the cakes I used to bake for both her and Kathryn when they were small.
I have managed to track down photos of some of these cakes and scanned them but pretty poor quality I am afraid.
I used to do a house cake, standing on a square cake tray, covered in coconut which I had coloured green to represent a lawn. Cover the cake tray with melted jam and scatter coconut over so that it sticks. The house was a square sponge cut in half and assembled together to form the body of the house, roof ditto. Roof then covered in melted jam and covered with rows of chocolate buttons to form the tiles, the door was Matchmaker sticks or similar, the windows were piped on and I would stick cake decorations in the shape of flowers around the door to make it look like a country cottage. It was always popular.
Hedgehog cake - a breeze. Chocolate sponge cooked in pudding basin, cut in half an stuck together. Entire thing covered in chocolate butter cream icing, chocolate buttons again broken in half and used as spikes for body; cherry and currants for eyes and nose.
I remember one year Helen, who was learning the violin, asked for a violin cake. Panic and then I sat down and thought about it. Two seven inch sponges cut and shaped with the narrow bit in the middle and glued together with icing. Entire shape covered in chocolate fondant icing. Licquorice strings for the violin strings etc. Took me ages to put together and I was really quite proud of it. In comes my musician husband "looks more like a viola to me". I resisted the urge to smash said cake over his head, smiled and said sweetly that I did not think the average 8 year old would be able to tell the difference. He took one look at my smile, which must have been pretty fixed and ghastly as I was talking through gritted teeth and left the kitchen very quickly. As you all know, he is my ex husband now.....
Then there was the Winnie the Pooh cake, sitting upright - he looked a bit thin if I remember rightly and though Helen was pleased (she was the Winnie fan) I was slightly disappointed in the end result. I also produced Care Bear Cakes, a train, a butterfly, a clock (dead easy this one) and then my Piece de Resistance. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs cake from the Jane Asher cookbook. Snow White was conspicious by her absence if I recall but the seven dwarves were there alright (is it dwarfs or dwarves??)
Bed was square sponge; headboard ditto and then covered with fondant icing. The seven bodies of the dwarves in bed were seven fudge fingers; heads made out of marzipan and painted; hats on head fashioned out of fondant icing again (had to colour it but now you can get all sorts of shades); beards were glace icing piped on. At the foot of the bed were seven pairs of slippers, fondant icing again, and a sack of treasure they had mined today. This was a small mars bar wrapped round with chocolate fondant icing and the top studded with coloured edible dragees to look like jewels. Axe propped up was, if I remember rightly, another of those sweets called Matchmakers which were popular back then. When I produced this cake at the party there were cheers and applause - and that was from the mothers.
I think it is likely that Florence will want a more contemporary cake with characters she knows and loves so am already thinking of how I fashion an Iggle Piggle cake, complete with red blanket. I am going to have a go and see what I can come up with.
It was lovely talking to Helen about all these things she remembers from her childhood and realised that those kind of memories are always there and irreplaceable. She remembers this cake with particular fondness and said solemnly "Mum, truly, this was your finest hour"...
Lump in throat.
I had promised a Bakewell Tart for my friend Rosemary last week who was holding an Amnesty Tea Party. She does it every year and I always bake for her and so got out my trusty cook books to check the recipe. I found at least three different versions in three different books. They all used a pastry case but the filling differed; in one the sponge mixture used self raising flour and ground almonds; and another used self raising flour and almond flavouring (it was called a 'cheat's Bakewell) and the third one, which was the one I used in the end (though slightly adapted) had a filling which used ground almonds and breadcrumbs and NO flour.
I made short crust pasty, sweetened with a tablespoonful of icing sugar and mixed up with an egg. Did not do this by hand this time but whipped up in my food processor and then put in 'fridge for half an hour. Rolled out, put in baking tin, lined the case with foil and baking beans and baked blind in the oven for half an hour. While this was taking place I made the filling which was as follows:
6oz unsalted butter and 6 oz caster sugar beaten until soft and fluffy. Beat in strained juice of two lemons, grated zest of same lemons, then four beaten eggs (little at a time). then fold in 30z fresh white breadcrumbs and 2oz ground almonds. The mixture is quite soft.
The mixture is then poured into the pastry case and at this stage I put two tablespoonsfuls of strawberry jam and spread out over the pastry before the mixture then went on top. This particular recipe did not use jam at all but I decided to put it in. Baked in the oven at Gas 4/350F/180C for an hour until filling is firm and a rich golden brown.
Mem: I was a trifle worried that the pastry case, which had already cooked blind for half an hour would be too tough after an extra hour's baking and at first when taking it out of the oven I felt it was, but once cooled it was OK. However, it was a little too crispy for my taste so next time I make this I am going to cut the blind cooking to 15 minutes.
I then allowed the Tart to cool and covered with white glace icing. Piped chocolate icing in lines across the tart and using my cake tester pulled the lines in opposite directions to form a feathered pattern. All was well until the end when a great blob fell out of my icing bag and ruined the pattern!!
This recipe was absolutely delicious and the filling light and fluffy with a wonderful taste of almonds. the lemon juice took the edge of the sweetness and I think it is one of the nicest bakewells I have ever baked. I came across another recipe later in a book for Lancaster Tart, baked in a similar fashion but with lemon curd at the bottom instead of jam so may try that next time.
The recipe I used in the end came from a cook book I have had for years 'Michael Smith's Afternoon Tea'. Published in 1986, this lovely man was about as far away as you can get from the publicity mad chefs and cooks we have had to suffer over the last ten years. He is sadly no longer with us but was modest and self effacing and I remember him well - this book is pretty dog eared now and stained on certain pages, but will remain firmly in my collection. Used imperial measures so no grammes this time, only ounces!
The recipe calls this a St Clement's Cake because it uses lemon and orange juice but as I had run out of lemons it is just a Drizzle cake in my book.....
It is also a fatless sponge which I cannot recall ever baking. I have always used the basic sponge mixture with varying results. I hate to make excuses but since I have been cooking with electricity in my current flat, I have yet to have a successful sponge which rises properly. I know it is a poor workman who blames his tools so I have tested this by borrowing a friend's kitchen, making a sponge and using her cooker - gas. Rose like a dream. I have more or less given up on expecting a good result here at Chateau Random which is sad.
So had a go at this. Very simple recipe which I took from a magazine:
150g (5½ oz) caster sugar; three eggs (medium size); 150g (5½)oz self raising flour; ½ teaspoon baking powder; finely grated zest and juice of one lemon; finely grated zest and juice of one orange; 50g (½oz) icing sugar
Line a 8" square tin with baking parchment, set oven to Gas Mark 4/180C/fan 160c. Whisk eggs and sugar with electric whisk for 2-3 mins until thick and pale. Sift in flour and baking powder and add the lemon and orange zest. Fold in with spatula being very careful not to knock out the air you have just whisked in. Go gently. Put in tin and bake for 15-20 mins until golden or firm to the touch.
Leave in tin. Poke holes in the top of the cake (I used a knitting needle) and pour in a syrup made with 1 tablespoonful of caster sugar with the orange and some of the lemon juice. Leave to soak in the tin for at least 2 hours.
Sift icing sugar in bowl and stir in enough of remaining lemon juice to make a smooth icing. When the cake is ready to take out of the tin drizzle icing over cake and add decorations of choice.
As well as not having a lemon so just used orange and it worked just as well, I have to purchase a new square tin as my old ones were rusty and thrown out, so I baked this in a round 8" tin. The cake can then be sliced, if in a square tin then obviously it is easy to cut into squares. Makes nine slices/squares.
This will keep for up to 3 days in an airtight tin - after that it starts to go a bit mouldy as it lacks the fat which would keep it a bit longer. I found it rather a dry sponge in the areas where I missed pouring the orange syrup but the sections which I had soaked were lovely and moist. So this cake will really benefit from a good soak as per recipe.
It also came up rather nicely so next time I may double up on this mixture and make two 8" sponges and sandwich together with butter cream.
Something very comforting about soups and when the nights start to draw in and the leaves fall off the trees I always find my thoughts turn more to soup making than at any other time of year. Summer soups strike me as being weak and spineless, light and delicate whereas autumn and winter soups can be thick and chunky and creamy and, unless you are being very posh, should be slurped steaming hot our of a mug. That is what I have been doing in the last week or so though I will admit to putting them in nice bowls and tarting them up a bit for when they are having their picture taken....
First up - Roasted butternut squash soup
One butternut squash chopped up, be warned these can be a bugger to chop, roasted with herbs and a bit of olive oil, then blended with some good stock, ground pepper and salt and dished up with a scattering of grated cheese on the top. One squash priced 85p made two servings so it certainly is economical. It is the first time I have tried this vegetable and, while not totally overwhelmed with it, am going to have another go with a bit more flavouring - probably put some garlic and onion in with it next time. There is nothing as far as I am concerned that cannot be improved with these two ingredients.
My favourite soup - Leek and Potato. Heat up some olive oil in a casserole, slice up your leeks and chop your spuds (not too bothered about the ratio of leeks to spuds, I just bung in what I have though perhaps more leeks that potatoes), and sautee for a few minutes. Garlic, of course, and some good sea salt. This soup needs a healthy dose of salt I find but go easy on it while cooking as it can always be added when served. When the veg is cooked through and is soft blend and serve. A dash of cream never goes amiss here either. If you make a batch of this I would recommend freezing on the same day as it does not keep very well after 24 hours. It starts to ferment a bit and taste odd. Lost count of the number of times I have forgotten this and had to pour it down the sink.
This is what I call Bottom of Fridge soup or perhaps Remains of the Day. In other words, anything that is lurking in the veggy drawer of your fridge. I rummaged the other week and found some carrots, slightly aging, a leek or two, an onion and a potato. So in the pot they went with some herbs, some good chicken stock made the day before from the carcase of my chicken, simmered for about half an hour, blended and dished up with a swirl of yoghurt this time as I was lacking cream. It was delicious but the only drawback with this kind of soup is that you will never be able to replicate the recipe though knowing my veggy bit of the fridge it is more than likely I might.
I do not turn up my nose at commercially prepared soups. I have a weakness for Heinz tomato soup, I freely admit and don't mind oxtail either. I have made my own tomato soup and it was simply lovely but part of me yearned for the monosodiumglutinate taste of Heinz with its highly and, no doubt, toxic colour which leaves you with orange lips for hours afterwards. I also like the Duchy of Cornwall soups though I think they are expensive when you consider what actually goes into the them.
You can make soup out of almost anything. When catering years ago, I did a huge cauliflower cheese, it was a vegetarian restaurant, which normally vanished quickly. On that particular day it did not and there we were left with this. Well food chucked in the bin = profits in bin so I put it in my food processor (which, thirty years later I am still using) with some stock and cream and whizzed it up. Added a handful of stilton and next day dished it up as our Soup of the Day, Cauliflower and Stilton and sold every last drop of it. When I cooked a big roast for the family any left over veg was bunged in the processor, with left over gravy and anything else that remained - bit of Yorkshire pudding or a roast spud or two and blended. OK sometimes it all came out a murkey sludge colour but add a swirl of cream (my fail safe for making any soup look good) to take away the less than glam appearance and it always tasted wonderful.
Soup is so easy to make and so satisfying to eat. Today for lunch I had my leek and potato soup with a toasted ham sandwich. Simple food but gosh it was lovely.
So get blending....