Saturday, 21 March 2020

Is Baking a skill or Science?

I asked the question 'Is Baking a skill or Science' at the ‘Science on Your Doorstep’ event at Cusworth Hall Doncaster recently. We chatted about the usual ingredients for a cake and how each one has a key chemical role to play.
What do the ingredients do?
Butter or oil (diary free) makes a cake tender
Sugar binds a cake and adds sweetness
Eggs act like glue, prevent crumbling and give a tinge of colour (or diary free alternative such as oat milk, vinegar or cornflour)
Flour gives structure
(but don’t over mix otherwise it’s too heavy and dense)
Baking powder adds air bubbles
Milk or water add moisture
Mix, melt or rub in
Creaming’ incorporates air to make it light and fluffy
‘Melting’ butter releases water content to mix with flour and form gluten so biscuits are chewy
‘Rubbing in’ is good for pastry or scones
Add the heat
When the ‘leavening agent’, usually baking powder (self raising flour has it already), is heated, it releases carbon dioxide into the mixture. As the temperature rises, a vapour forms from the water in the butter and eggs. Gluten forms with the flour and holds everything together so the mixture can set and achieve a permanent shape and colour.

What can go wrong in baking cakes? S

Sunk in
the middle

– Mixture is too soft.
–  Oven temperature is too cool so mixture does not rise evenly.
– Oven temperature is too hot so mixture does not cook evenly.
– Oven temperature is too hot.
– Cake is placed too near hottest part of oven.
– Mixture is too stiff.
too close

– Too much liquid is added.
– Mixture curdles when eggs added (NB add 1 tablespoon of flour to each addition of egg to reduce the risk of curdling).
Fruit (dried) sunk to the bottom
– Dried fruit is too damp.
– GlacĂ© cherries are sticky (NB always wash and dry glacĂ© cherries before use).

It’s good to follow a recipe but traditional cooks would often tweak their recipes to get the best results. Time to get testing!

In the end, we all agreed that Baking was a bit of both. 
Happy baking!

Monday, 24 February 2020

Coconut Macaroons are the tops

Every time I make Coconut Macaroons for an event or a talk, they are often the first to be snaffled up. I never realised there were so many coconut lovers out there. This traditional recipe comes from Grandma’s youngest sister, Ivy who continued the family tradition in home baking. If you love coconut, they are a delight. They should be crisp and golden on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside.
 What you need ....
Whites of 2 eggs
4oz/110g coconut
2oz/50g sugar
1oz/25g ground almonds or
1 tbsp self raising flour

 How to bake ...
Preheat the oven to 350F, Mark 4, 180 C. Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Mix the other ingredients together. Fold in the dry ingredients into the egg whites. Place teaspoonfuls of the mixture on rice or greaseproof paper. Bake on a tray for 20 minutes. 

Coconut Macaroons ready for the oven
Meryl says : Make sure the egg whites are really stiff to ensure a sticky texture once cooked. Topped with a cherry or almond, they are perfect for those coconut aficionados. 

Why not try some of these other Coconut delights?

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Lemon Pound Cake for the 2020s

Dating back to the 1700s, a pound cake is named because it contained a pound each of butter, sugar, flour and eggs. It therefore has a denser texture and a more buttery taste than the lighter Victoria Sandwich cake created a century later. Since then smaller versions of the cake have evolved but the ratio of the main ingredients has tended to remain the same. Other variations include the addition of baking powder to lighten the density and different flavours such as Lemon and Orange.  I've made half the quantities of an original pound cake and it makes a good size cake 

What you need
2250g/8oz butter
225g/8oz sugar
4 eggs
225g/8oz self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
Zest & juice of 2 lemons
For the glaze
Icing sugar
Lemon juice to mix
How to bake …
Preheat the oven to 180C, 350F, Mark 4. Cream the butter, sugar and lemon zest. Gradually beat in the eggs. Mix in the flour and lemon juice to soften the mixture so it drops off the spoon. Grease a 1kg/2lb loaf tin or 8"/20cms shaped cake tin. Bake for 45 minutes until firm on top. Prepare the glaze by mixing icing sugar and lemon juice. Once the cake is out of the oven and cool, make a glaze by mixing icing sugar with lemon juice until runny. Then drizzle the glaze over the top of the cake.
Meryl says : I love this version of Lemon Pound Cake from a 1920s recipe when it was popular in all the best hotels and serve with fruit and cream. Feedback so far is looking good so I’m sure I’ll be making this cake in 2020 to celebrate its 100 years' anniversary! 

Thursday, 19 December 2019

Take a Christmas bite of Cranberry, Lemon and Pistachio Shortbread

Cranberry, Lemon and Pistachio Shortbread
Cranberries and pistachios are my favourite seasonal fruit and nuts and they make a great combination with the tangy taste of lemon to show off Christmas colours and flavours. 
What you need 
200g/7oz butter
50g/2oz icing sugar
300g/11oz plain flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
50g/2oz cranberries (dried)
50g/2oz pistachios
Zest and juice of 1 lemon

How to bake 
Line a 20cm/8 inch square tin with baking paper. Using a food processor or mixer, mix together the butter, sugar and flour until it comes together. Add the vanilla, cranberries, pistachios and lemon zest and mix slowly to distribute evenly. Add the lemon juice and mix briefly to combine all the ingredients. Press the mixture into the tin and chill for 30-40 minutes. Preheat the oven to 170C/150(Fan)/Mark 3 and bake for around 30-35 minutes until golden. Remove from the oven and cut into fingers whilst still in the tin. Then allow to cool.
Meryl says : These delicious shortbreads make an excellent homemade gift and are very easy to make. Enjoy a Christmas treat with friends and family!

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Memories of Doncaster Butterscotch

One of my favourite sweet tastes is Butterscotch and Doncaster is the place where it originates. Samuel Parkinson used local places such as the church and the racecourse to market this delicacy. Originally, it was described as ‘medicinal’ and acquired a ‘royal’ label after Queen Victoria visited the town in 1851 and tasted the ‘sweetmeat’ which was sold as ‘an emollient for the chest in the winter season’.
Food historians are divided over the name ‘scotched’ meaning ‘cut’ or ‘scored’ as Butterscotch needs to be cut into pieces before hardening. Others are divided over whether the buttery treacle ball is a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ crack as toffee. I was privileged to be shown a copy of the original recipe from Doncaster’s Archives and made the recipe as near to the original for a Georgian baking event at Cusworth Hall. It was a great success!
Meryl says : Here are some more recipes using Doncaster Butterscotch you might like to try. I’m not promising any medicinal cures but they are certainly tasty!

Friday, 11 October 2019

Wartime Beetroot cake … ‘I should cocoa’

Grandma lived through WW1 and 2 and I’ve often thought about how this affected her approach to food and baking. I’ve been doing talks about wartime baking and rationing and meeting some interesting people who have memories of the difficulties of preparing food in WW2 so it’s been fascinating to try out some of the recipes from that period.
I've been given a recipe for Beetroot cake. As with many ingredients in short supply or on the rationing list, alternatives had to be found and, in this case, beetroot replaced most of the cocoa powder. You might have used dried eggs, different fats and most certainly wholemeal flour.
Beetroot cake
150g/5oz butter
175g/6oz sugar
2 eggs (beaten)
250g/9oz beetroot (cooked)
2 tbsps white wine vinegar
160ml/5 fl oz milk
250g flour
2-3 tbsps cocoa powder
2 tsps baking powder

Preheat the oven to 180C (160C fan), mark 4. Line a 21cm/8 inch round or square cake tin. Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Then add the eggs. Blend the beetroot to a puree and add the vinegar and milk and add this to the mixture. Mix the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder and fold this in. Pour this mixture into the tin and bake for around 45 minutes.  
Meryl says : Another wartime recipe is Vinegar cake which has found some fans but suffers from its sour name. But Beetroot cake is now popular with modern cooks and has certainly reinvented itself. Whether you like beetroot or not, this cake must have been a real treat during those dark wartime days; I should cocoa. See what you think!

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Rhubarb & Ginger Chutney makes the grade

I was delighted to support a Doncaster Heritage Skills baking session earlier in the year and  demonstrate a few recipes. Grandma’s mantra was ‘Waste not want not’ and when there were gluts of produce, nothing ever went to waste.  This year has been a good one for Rhubarb, but there are only so many Rhubarb Crumbles to eat so I made this spicy Rhubarb and Ginger Chutney. It got thumbs up all round!
What you need …
1kg/2.2lbs rhubarb
300ml/½ pint white wine or cider vinegar
2 onions (chopped)
10g lump root ginger peeled and finely chopped
1 cinnamon stick
½ tsp salt
350g brown sugar

How to prepare …
Trim and wash the rhubarb, slice it into fairly fine chunks. Heat the chopped onions, vinegar, ginger, sugar and salt in a wide based non aluminium pan. Bring to a boil for about 5 minutes, then add the rhubarb. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until thickened. Put into sterilised jars and leave to cool.
Meryl says : It needs a bit more boiling than other chutneys but well worth the effort and especially if you like a milder chutney it will go well with cheese and meats throughout the year.
Try more Rhubarb recipes
Rhubarb Tutti-frutti Crumble

or Chutney Recipes 

Meryl says : Whatever you bake this month, enjoy it!

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Lincolnshire Plum Loaf looks to its past

Lincolnshire Plum Loaf
There’s some confusion about ‘plums’ and ‘plumbs’. A ‘Lincolnshire lass’ (as she proudly described herself) gave me this recipe a few months ago. She asked me to share her Gran’s ‘Plumb Loaf’ as it was a treasured family recipe. She wasn’t sure why she had written ‘Plumb’ so we laughed when I said ‘plumb’ usually referred to lead weight whereas ‘plum’ was a traditional term for any type of dried fruit. However, she may have the last laugh as I found Elizabeth Raffald's recipe for ‘Plumb Loaf’ and ‘White Plumb Loaf’ when researching this Doncaster born cook. 
Elizabeth Raffald's Plumb Cake 
The recipes are similar but the quantities are much greater especially when it comes to eggs! 

Here’s what you need ...
Lincolnshire Plumb Loaf
2 cups/8oz/225g self raising flour
½ cup/2oz/50g butter
1 cup/4oz/110g sugar
2 cups/8oz/225g mixed fruit
2oz/50g ground almonds
2oz/50g glace cherries
1 egg (beaten)
a little milk
How to bake it ….
Preheat the oven 180C/350F/Gas 4 to Rub the butter into the flour well, add the mixed fruit, ground almonds and cherries with the sugar. Then add the egg and milk. The mixture needs to be stiff so don’t add too much milk. Put into a lined loaf tin and bake for 45 minutes approximately.

Meryl says : When checking up on ‘plums’ and ‘plumbs’ I discovered that ‘plumming’ was a term used in Victorian times to describe dried fruit as it expands. That’s why the Victorians called Christmas pudding ‘Plum Pudding’. Why not try my Great Aunt Emma’s Plum Pudding recipe.

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Uncovering a Doncaster born Domestic Goddess

I enjoy doing research into Heritage baking and earlier this year, I was delighted that Doncaster Heritage Festival asked me to do some digging for a talk entitled ‘Uncovering Doncaster’s Food History’. There was a wealth of material to explore from the famous Doncaster Market  at the heart of the town since 1194 to the new Food Festival held in May. I discovered an amazing gem in the Central Library, where I poured over a copy of ‘The Experienced English Housekeeper’ by Elizabeth Raffald, originally published in 1769 and containing this tasty citrus biscuit. I've brought the recipe up to date for a modern oven.
Yorkshire Cracknels
What you need ….
8oz/225g flour
8oz/225g butter
3 eggs (yolks only)
5oz/150g sugar
2-3 tbsps water
1 lemon zest
Few drops orange extract
How to bake ….
Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas 3. Rub the butter into the flour. Then add the egg yolks and sugar. Mix in the water, lemon zest and a few drops of orange extract. Form a ball with the mixture and leave to chill in a cool place for 30 minutes. Then roll out as thinly as you can. Cut rounds as large as you wish. Bake for 20 minutes in a slow oven.
More about Elizabeth Raffald ....
Elizabeth Raffald was born in Doncaster in 1733 but spent most of her adult life in Cheshire and Manchester where she has a blue plaque in her honour. She died aged 47 in 1781 but by that time she had become a true entrepreneur. She was firstly employed as a cook housekeeper by the Warburton family at Arley Hall where she honed her skills and acquired the knowledge to write her book. Together with her husband, John she moved into Manchester and there she ran a confectionery shop, a cookery school, a catering business, the first employment agency for servants, the first trade directory and a coaching inn. She created the modern version of the Eccles cake with flaky pastry and is reputed to be the first cook to design a Bride’s cake with almond paste and royal icing. 
Meryl says : Cracknells are known today more as a biscuit made with popular breakfast cereals and chocolate but I love Elizabeth Raffald’s citrus version. They make a real Heritage biscuit and a tribute to this truly domestic goddess of her time. 

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Homemade Mango Chutney worth the wait

This tangy homemade Mango Chutney goes well with the usual Indian dishes but can spice up a variety of summer dishes, meats and even toasted sandwiches. I’ve made Mango & Apple Chutney before from one of Grandma Abson’s Chutney recipes but this one is an easy Chutney recipe. These ingredients make about 4-5 small jars.
Mango Chutney
250g/9oz light brown sugar
600m/1 ptl white wine vinegar
4-5 mangoes (stones removed, peeled and chopped)
2 onions (chopped)
2 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 red chilli
50g/2oz root ginger (grated)
2 tbsps lemon juice
½ tsp coriander seeds
½ tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp cardamom
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp salt
110g/4oz raisins (optional)

Boil the sugar in the vinegar in a large pan till dissolved. Chop the mangoes and onions and then add these together with the garlic, chilli and grated ginger to the pan. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat. Allow to simmer uncovered for about 45 minutes to an hour until the fruit is tender. Pound the seeds and cardamon in a pestle and mortar.  Add these spices, the turmeric and the lemon juice, mustard powder, and salt. Finally, add the raisins, if using. Continue to simmer for 5 to 10 more minutes until the chutney leaves a clear trail when a spoon is drawn across. Allow to cool and then spoon into clean, sterilised jars.

Meryl’s tip : This chutney will be best eaten after a few months, when the flavours have started to combine – that’s if you can wait!