Saturday 31 December 2011

Here's to another year of brilliant baking

I set up Grandma Abson's Traditional Baking blog a year ago so I’ve been looking back over the last year. It has definitely been a whirlwind, with plenty of tasty baking.  Here are my top Grandma Abson moments....

Putting the finishing touches to Grandma's book
I was quite nervous about getting the layout and design right but the patience and determination of Mark and colleagues at FCD brought me through the process to bring Grandma’s book to the market. The team also proved to be most discerning in tasting the recipes. Paradise Cake was a regular winner.

Launching Grandma's book
Grandma’s book launch in June was a splendid affair with the Catering students at Dearne Valley College proudly showing off their expertise in producing a wonderful array of Grandma’s treats and serving them in a most professional manner. And Bridlington Cake made a superb entrance to the scene.

Meeting people 
I’ve really appreciated seeing so many faces light up at baketastic book signings at lots of branches of Waterstones. The staff have been fabulous book ambassadors and always made me feel so welcome with mugs of tea to keep me going. They’ve certainly been fans of Grandma's baking! 
I’ve delivered talks to all sorts of groups and debated how to craft the perfect pastry, the tastiest biscuits and the most delectable cakes.  Chiswick Boot Camp all joined in my baking lesson and produced a fabulous Marmalade Spice Cake. 
With Grandma’s easy to follow instructions, it was great fun getting my friend and saxophone teacher, Maria started baking with her first ever gorgeous chocolate cake. 
Afternoon tea in London was a delightful affair and the sun came out too.  Who can resist those wondrous smells of homemade baking, straight out of the oven? 
I got dressed up as a cook in service to reenact Stir Up Sunday and make a Plum Pudding for the visitors to Cusworth Hall.

Grandma’s had lots of coverage in the media with recipes featuring on Saga and Deliciously Yorkshire's  websites and Living North’s Tasting Notes. Her fame travelled worldwide and my visit to San Francisco brought an international audience to Yorkshire baking.  My favourite review came from my son’s friend, Ana Cecilia  who rates Grandma’s book as 'her personal cooking bible’. She’s posted a mean Coffee Cake picture too.

Diamond Wedding Anniversary cake
We’ve fond family memories of Colin and Pat’s Diamond Wedding celebrations in April, made more poignant by our sad loss when Colin died later in the year. He loved the Diamond Wedding cake, and described the home made almond paste as an ‘exquisite delight’. Pat has the lily of the valley decoration in pride of place on her mantelpiece. 

Wedding of the Year 
Our wedding of the year was Katherine and Phil’s. I achieved the ultimate feat of making and decorating their amazing 3 tiered Wedding Cake for their magnificent wedding at Hodsock Priory on the hottest day of the year in October!

What will the next year bring? 
The passion I have for the delights of home baking and desire to pass on the skills I learnt with Grandma is as strong as ever. Her recipes are a beautiful combination of simple ingredients, classic cakes and puddings, biscuits, jams, chutneys and some quirky ones to try out. Her signature baking reminds us how quintessentially British it is that we put the kettle on for a cup of tea and a piece of cake to deal with all manner of life’s difficulties. I hope you like the way of listing recipes on the blog so they are easy to access. Have a very Happy New Year!

Saturday 24 December 2011

Something special for Boxing Day

Special Boxing Day Cake
I made some amazing discoveries amongst the treasure trove of Grandma's recipes. Here is her special cake for Boxing Day with dates, honey and a hint of almond, giving it a taste of North Africa. I’ve made Boxing Day Cake for people to try at book signings and events about Grandma Abson's Traditional Baking. It’s been fantastic to see the delight on their faces when they taste it. I've given the recipe out to listeners on Radio Sheffield too. 
So, what is Boxing Day? It's said that servants received a box with leftover foodstuffs for them to take to visit their families after the Christmas Day festivities. I’ve not been able to find out where Grandma got this recipe from, but since it has dates, this was a good way to use any dates left from Christmas Day feasting. It also has only a very small amount of sugar and I’ve made it without sugar and let the sweetness come through the dates and honey. The cake will keep a few days as it is fairly moist. Grandma adds milk before baking in the oven which gives the cake a lighter texture. It doesn’t take too long to mix and will certainly be a talking point for your family and friends.

Boxing Day Cake  
6 oz (175g) margarine or butter
1 dessertspoon sugar
3 tablespoons honey
3 eggs
4 oz (110g) dates
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
Few drops of almond extract
1 lb (450g) self raising flour (sifted)
Milk to mix 

Cream the fats, sugar and honey. Slowly beat in the eggs. Then add the dates (cut into quarters), nutmeg, salt and almond essence. Gradually, fold in the sifted flour. Beat well with a wooden spoon. Add the milk to give a soft consistency. Put into a greased and lined 8” (21cm) tin. Bake in a slow oven for about 1 hour. (300 F, Mark 2, 150 C).
Happy and blissful baking for Boxing Day!

P.S. I went to see the E. Nesbit’s The Railway Children at Waterloo Station in London. I’ve always loved the story since I first read it as a child in the 1950s. I thought the production was magnificent. I've been supporting the charity Railway Children this year.

Friday 16 December 2011

Short and not too sweet

Scrumptious Shortbread biscuits and more
Shortbread biscuits are always one of my favourite things to eat around Christmas. Grandma has a lovely recipe which is very quick and easy to make. Many people I’ve met recently say that they like things not too sweet, so these biscuits fit the bill as you just put in the amount of sugar you wish.  
I’ve also been showing people at book signings at Waterstones across the country how to make shortbread biscuits. I even met a shortbread connoisseur who commented very favourably on Grandma's recipe. This recipe is for individual biscuits with a glace cherry decoration. Will you eat the cherry first like I used to?
Shortbread Biscuits
10oz/275g butter
1lb/450g plain flour
6oz/175g caster sugar
1 pinch of salt
1 or 2 yolks of eggs
Glace cherries
“Rub the butter into the flour and add the sugar and the salt. Then add the egg and work into the flour as quickly as possible, making a dry dough. The mixture must be kept dry. Roll out  thinly and cut into rounds. Put a cherry in the centre. Bake for 25 minutes in a slow oven.” (300F, Mark 2, 150C)
You can find many more of these delights in Grandma Abson's Traditional Baking.  

All set for signing books at Waterstone’s in Doncaster

Friday 9 December 2011

Home made mince pies – it’s so easy

Enjoy a homemade mince pie. 
Make a wish if it's the first of the season.

Trays of traditional homemade mince pies always bring back fond memories of Christmases past. In fact, it wouldn’t be Christmas without making a batch of mince pies to have in the house when family and friends come to call. Mince pies made with homemade mincemeat taste so much more delicious.  I usually make mincemeat about 4 weeks before Christmas to allow it to mature.

Mincemeat is a mixture of dried fruits and apples. You can use vegetable suet or butter instead of meat based suet if you are vegetarian. The recipe is as easy as pie and you can adjust the sweetness by adding less sugar and let the natural flavours of the dried fruits come through together with the nutmeg and mixed spice. This mincemeat will keep for around 6 weeks. 

Grandma Abson’s Homemade Mincemeat 
1 lb apples peeled and chopped
Rind and juice of 1 lemon
Rind and juice of 1 orange
A little nutmeg
A little allspice or mixed spice
½ lb suet (I use vegetarian)
2 oz flaked almonds (optional)
12 oz demerara or soft brown sugar
1 lb stoned raisins
¾ lb currants
½ lb sultanas
¼ lb mixed peel
4-6 tbsps brandy (optional)

Mix all the ingredients except the brandy in a large bowl.     Cook in a cool oven on the lowest heat for a couple of hours 110-130C, Mark ¼ - ½ , 200-250F. Allow to cool and cover with a cloth. When cold, stir in the brandy and place in jars, cover with wax disc and label. Then it is ready for use.
My co blog writer, Patrick made homemade mincemeat this weekend : ‘It's Saturday night, yes, but I was totally in the mood to make this mincemeat from  Grandma Abson's Traditional Baking. This will become mince pies in a week or two. Can't wait, but just now, the scent of the fruit and nutmeg is beautiful....’
Meryl's tips for homemade mincemeat and mince pies:
1.    I make the pastry for mince pies to Grandma’s shortcrust recipe but you can substitute a little of the flour (approximately 2 oz or 50g) with ground almonds.
Shortcrust pastry
4 oz(110g) butter
8 oz (225g) plain flour
1 egg
A little water (or a little milk and water)

Rub the butter into the flour and salt. When the mixture is like breadcrumbs, make a well and add the egg. Add the water to make a dough. Let it stand for ½ hour in a cool place before rolling out.

2.    I like to decorate my mince pies with shapes –Stars, Christmas Trees and Bells. But it’s amazing to see how many people choose the ones with the traditional lid on top. Whatever you do, put plenty of mincemeat in the filling before you put the lid on. You can add a little brandy or any other spirit of your choice to the mincemeat for some real Christmas cheer.
3.    A final touch, if you do like a sweeter topping, sprinkle a little icing sugar over the top.
Mince pies ready for the oven 
Mince pies ready to enjoy!
I made mince pies and some of Grandma’s other delights for a book signing in Waterstones in Leeds.  There were lots of appreciative comments about the mouth watering pastry and the not too sweet mincemeat. For some people, it was their first one of the season, so a chance to make a Christmas wish!

Grandma Abson’s baking at Waterstones Leeds
For another mouthwatering recipe using mincemeat, try Tarte Noel.

Friday 2 December 2011

Hands on in Chiswick

Get set and ready to bake
It was hands on in Chiswick when Rose asked me to give a baking lesson for her friends and members of her Boot Camp group at her home. She has an amazing kitchen with an island station which Grandma would have loved. It was perfect for everyone to gather round and join in. I baked Marmalade Spice Cake as the tangy combination of marmalade and ginger is always very popular. Everyone wanted to have a go at weighing, stirring, mixing and tasting and get some baking tips before the cake went in the oven.
While it was cooking, I talked about the story of Grandma’s life and home baking and there were some samples of the recipes I’d made earlier from  Grandma Abson's Traditional Baking book.
I’d made all the recipes with less sugar. One of the guests commented :  ‘I came and tasted a gorgeous (not overly sweet) cake and have been reading the book and showing it to friends ever since. It’s a gold mine of fantastic recipes. You won't get this from any TV chefs and it’s a breath of fresh air. Thank you Meryl.’

Dream Cake is disappearing
Once the cakes came out of the oven, there was hardly time for them to cool before they had disappeared. Who can resist the smell and taste of home baking warm and aromatic and straight out of the oven? Having a baking lesson is fabulous idea for a party. Huge thanks to Rose for being the perfect host. Let’s get baking!
Boot Camp team photo -  traditional baking experts!

Friday 25 November 2011

Stir It Up for Christmas

Stir it up in the Great Kitchen at Cusworth Hall
Wishes were in the air at Cusworth Hall Doncaster last weekend. Stir Up Sunday (the last Sunday in the church year) is the day when everyone has a go at stirring the Christmas Pudding mixture and makes a wish. June, Hazel (alias Mary and Rose) and I put on freshly laundered aprons and caps worn by the former kitchen staff in the Hall and reenacted preparations for Stir Up Sunday in the kitchens at the Hall, just as in the 1900s.
Stir it up and make a wish   
We made the Plum Pudding recipe from Grandma Abson's Traditional Baking. The Victorians called raisins 'Plums' hence the traditional name for Christmas Pudding. Grandma generally made her own Christmas Puddings a few weeks before Christmas and tied them up with clean cloths such as muslin or cotton. The recipe comes from her elder sister, Emma. It makes 3 large puddings so I’ve cut it down here to make one for a 2 pint basin.

275g/10 oz currants
150g/5 0z sultanas
150g/5 0z stoned raisins
75g/3 oz mixed peel
150g/5 0z (vegetarian) suet
150g/5 0z breadcrumbs
150g/5 0z self raising flour
150g/5 0z  (soft brown) sugar
 25g/1 oz flaked almonds or chopped  nuts
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp cinnamon
Pinch  of salt
2 eggs (beaten)
1/3 small can stout
A little milk

Mix all the dry ingredients. Add the eggs, then the stout and milk. Mix all well. Cover with greaseproof paper. Steam or boil for 4 hours. Store in a cool place until Christmas Day. Then, steam for 2 hours prior to serving on the day.”
Steaming the Plum Pudding 
(see below to microwave it)
Meryl's tips for a perfect Plum Pudding
1.     If you don’t have a steamer, you can put the pudding basin in a large pan on an inverted saucer or small plate and pour water to about ¼ of the side of the basin.
2.    Keep topping the water up in the pan so it doesn’t boil dry.
3.    Always test with skewer – if the skewer comes out clean, then it’s fully cooked. If it still sticks to the skewer then cook for a minute or so longer.
4.    And just in case … You can do all this in a microwave and make a microwave Christmas Pudding. Cover the pudding in cling film and for the first stage, cook on medium power for around 20 minutes. Then leave to cool, recover with fresh cling film (or foil) and store in cool place as before. On Christmas Day, remove the foil and cover with cling film, reheat for 6-8 minutes on a moderate heat.
5.    Whatever the method for cooking, leave the pudding to stand  for a few minutes before serving and prepare Brandy Butter, Custard or cream – whatever you like best. We always have Rum Sauce.

Paul says : 'I’ll try a piece of cake too!

Friday 18 November 2011

Be enterprising and try something new

 Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco  
One of my favourite activities is as a volunteer Trustee and chair of the local Board for YoungEnterprise. This organisation is close to my heart as it’s all about promoting an entrepreneurial spirit amongst young people. I know Grandma would have approved of anyone rolling their sleeves up and getting involved.
Being a Yorkshire lass born and bred, ‘awesome’ is not a word which frequently forms part of my vocabulary but I would use it to describe the week I spent in San Francisco at the University of California, Berkeley Haas school of Business on behalf of Young Enterprise and as a guest of Intel. I was at the Global Entrepreneurship Leadership Symposium (GELS)    during Global Entrepreneurship week. The participants comprised over 60 academics and affiliates from all over the world. We visited Intel HQ at Santa Clara at the heart of the world’s exemplar cluster of innovation, the San Francisco Bay Area/Silicon Valley. Though coming from very different backgrounds and cultures, we all shared a common commitment to improving the world we live in by supporting and mentoring young budding entrepreneurs.
I didn't lose the chance to swap recipes too. This is from a Canadian Grandma who lives in Montreal. It's an awesome cake! 
 Honey Orange Cake
6oz  (175g) butter or margarine
6 level tbsps honey
2 tbsps castor sugar
Finely grated rind 2 oranges
3 eggs
8 oz (or 8 heaped tbsps) plain flour
3 level tsps baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp orange juice

Cream the butter, honey and sugar thoroughly together. Add the rind. Beat in the eggs one at a time, adding a little sieved flour with each egg. Fold in the remaining flour and orange juice. Put into a 6 inch (16cm) cake tin lined with greaseproof paper. Bake in a moderate oven Mark 3, 325F, 160-170C for 1 ¾ hours.

Don’t forget to send me any of your favourite baking recipes from far and wide. Be enterprising and try something new!

Friday 11 November 2011

Home on the Range

The Kitchen range at Cusworth Hall Doncaster
Grandma worked with coal, gas and electric ovens during her life. Her early years had been spent cooking on black-leaded Yorkshire ranges. Having a kitchen range was really a marvel for housewives from the nineteenth century when foundries began making good-quality cast iron. This followed on from the first design of kitchen ranges by Thomas Robinson in 1780. In Victorian times the Range was at the centre of family life, providing cooking facilities, hot water and heat to dry clothes.
As a young girl, Lizzie Cave (later Grandma Abson) lived in the small two up-two down terraced house which had a black leaded range. As second eldest in the family, she often said she had to knead half a stone of bread dough before she went to school. Later, working as Cook in charge in the kitchens at Oakleigh, a large imposing Victorian house in Wath on Dearne for her employer, Mrs Hick, gave her that mysterious knowledge of what was the “right temperature” for her baking.  As a result, she never was too explicit about cooking times and temperatures, with slow, moderate and quick as common descriptions. In Grandma Abson's Traditional Baking, I've included a cooking conversion table for different types of ovens and suggested times and oven temperatures.  Keep in mind that modern fan ovens should be at a cooler temperature than conventional ovens and may require slightly less cooking time.
Her reply to the question: “When will it be ready?”  was usually, “When it’s done”! She did, however, make regular use of a thin cake skewer or cake tester (rather like a thin knitting needle) to stick in the cake and check if the baking was thoroughly cooked. If it was cooked, there would be no trace of the mixture when the skewer was taken out, but if traces of the mixture remained on the skewer, then it needed further cooking time. I still have her skewer and use it for checking when baking cakes.
It’s great to see there are still ranges to admire around the country. There’s a range at Clifton Park Museum Rotherham, which was restored in 2005 to working order. You can go to visit and feel the warm glow of the range and reminisce about toasting teacakes by the fire. 
Many Yorkshire folk claim that Yorkshire Puddings can only be made properly in an old-fashioned kitchen range but don’t let that put you off making them in your oven at home. Just get the oven hot and the fat sizzling!