Tuesday 31 December 2013

“Heaven, I’m in heaven ....”

Ivy made our fabulous wedding cake
Christmas always has a tinge of sadness when there’s a well loved family member no longer around to celebrate the festive season. And so it was this year for us, when Grandma Abson’s niece, Ivy, passed away in early December 2013, aged 88.
Ivy followed in our great family tradition of baking. She would bake countless Christmas Cakes for family, friends and neighbours, all liberally laced with brandy, adopting the family method of letting her hand slip.  But her prowess extended well beyond producing tasty cakes, puddings, pastries and pies. She followed various cake decorating courses assiduously to develop her skills and became very proficient in sugar craft cake decorating and design, producing numerous wedding cakes with great artistry.
Ivy and Ron’s wedding 1950 
But as well as her culinary expertise, I’ll always remember Ivy for her great sense of fun in everything she did.  She loved dancing and was an ardent  'Strictly' fan, having spent her younger days travelling from her home in Manchester to enjoy the dancing spectacle at the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool. It hit just the right note when we heard Frank Sinatra singing ‘Dancing Cheek to Cheek'  as we remembered her with much affection at her funeral. So, I’m dedicating this post to Ivy and raising a toast of celebration (a glass of your favourite Chablis) and thanks for her long life. We’ll miss you! I bet you’re baking cakes up there in cake heaven.
Ivy celebrates Queen’s Diamond Jubilee 2012
And, just a final note to the end of the year, in the grand tradition of family baking, I’m delighted to say that Ivy has passed her skills down the generations onto granddaughter, Rachel, who now also excels in cake making and decorating. Long live home baking! 

Happy New Year. Let the baking continue!

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Make a special Christmas Gift

What a brilliant idea! That’s what the customers said when they saw the basket of homemade edible gifts I was demonstrating at Grandma Abson's  Christmas Bake-in at Cook N Dine baking emporium. 
 I started off with Grandma’s homemade Mincemeat and soon the scent of cinnamon, mixed spice and nutmeg were wafting through the store. Once potted up and decorated, the jars make very attractive gifts.
I moved onto to Cranberry & Apple Chutney. This tasty recipe is proving to be a real hit this year and it’s recipe of the Month at Tasty Flavours in Doncaster Market.
Next was Aunty Emma’s Christmas Plum Pudding and a chance to stir the mixture and make a wish for next year. I showed how to microwave it to cut out hours of steaming.
 Mouth-watering Shortbread biscuits, using Christmas shaped cutters – stars, angels, bells and Christmas trees were simply decorated and wrapped up in small gift bags proved a popular choice.
Any Almond paste or marzipan, left over from decorating the Christmas Cake can be turned into exquisite Chocolate Marzipan balls in a the twinkling of an eye. Dip the balls in melted chocolate and top with a simple edible Christmas decoration to make a very attractive gift.
 Finally, old fashioned Peppermint creams – so easy to make with icing sugar, peppermint extract and lemon juice (I just use lemon juice and a splash of water to bind them) .
It all goes to show that making a special homemade gift is easy and it’s a perfect Christmas gift!
Happy Christmas everyone
Enjoy baking with Grandma Abson

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Tis the season for Christmas Cranberry & Apple Chutney

 We've already got fresh Cranberries on the market so it's time to begin Christmas preparations with this easy Cranberry and Apple Chutney. It’s based on Grandma’s Apple Chutney recipe. The sumptuous red of the cranberries give it that real Christmas colour and the smells will get the Christmas season going. 
Cranberry & Apple Chutney
2 lb/approx 1 kg apples
1 lb/450g onions
250 ml white wine vinegar
¾ lb/350g cranberries
1 lb/450g demerera sugar
5 peppercorns or freshly ground pepper
2 tbsps ground ginger or 
1 piece fresh ginger sliced and finely chopped

Chop up the apples and onions finely. Place in a large pan with the white wine vinegar and bring to the boil. Then simmer for about 15-20 minutes until the apples and onions are soft. Add the other ingredients and mix together. Bring to the boil then simmer for about 1½ hours, stirring until the ingredients are tender. Allow to cool and remove the peppercorns. Spoon into clean jars and cover.
Grandma’s tips : To test if the chutney was ready, she would draw a wooden spoon across the bottom of the pan. If it’s ready, the chutney must not flow back into the gap left behind by the spoon. If not, then check every 5 minutes or so until the gap is clear.  She said that Chutney needs to cool slowly so the spices infuse and flavour the fruit. You can add more ginger and cinnamon to make it even spicier.
Meryl says : We love this recipe and serve it instead of Cranberry Sauce on Christmas Day. If you make a few jars and decorate them with ribbon, they'll make lovely edible Christmas gifts for friends and family. Let me know if you try it. 

Thursday 24 October 2013

Spice it up

Spicy Apple Chutney
With more of us interested in growing produce, there’s always the age old problem of what to do with gluts of fruit and vegetables. Grandma never had a problem with what to do. She often made chutneys and pickles to last through the winter as a perfect side dish with hot and cold dishes.

So, when I was given a bag of ‘fallen’ apples, I dug out Grandma’s Apple Chutney recipe. Grandma served this spicy chutney with pork pies and cold meats at Christmas.
Apple Chutney
2 lb/approx 1 kg apples
1 ½ lb/675g onions
1 lb/450g dried apricots
1 lb/450g sultanas
1 lb/450g demerera sugar
2 oz/50g garlic
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsps ground ginger
1 tsp mustard seed
1 quart/ 1150ml vinegar

Chop up the apples, onions and apricots. Add the other ingredients and mix together. Place in a large pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 1½ hours, stirring until the ingredients are tender. Allow to cool. Spoon into clean jars and cover.
Simmer the ingredients
Grandma’s tips : Chop the fruit and onions finely or put them through a mincer so the final consistency of the chutney is thick and smooth. To test if the chutney is ready, draw a wooden spoon across the bottom of the pan. If it’s ready, the chutney must not flow back into the gap left behind by the spoon. If not, then check every 5 minutes or so until the gap is clear. Chutney needs to cool slowly so the spices infuse and flavour the fruit. You can add more ginger and other spices such as mustard seed, coriander or cumin to make it even spicier.
 A gift of homemade Chutney
You could pot it up with decorative ribbon as a homemade present for friends and family!

Sunday 13 October 2013

Ma Bailey's Luscious Chocolate Brownies

Chocolate Brownies a la mere Bailey
Chocoholic Sara is one of my friends from our Leeds University days where we studied languages. From time to time, we meet and have fun reminiscing as if it were yesterday. We still feel 19 years old in our heads! 

Sara is a keen baker and regularly sends me recipes. She writes “I discovered this recipe - now called 'Ma Bailey's Brownies' - when my boys were at school. The tradition continued and I made them each time they set off for university and for each visit during the term. The chocolate chunks stay sort of gooey in the brownies. These brownies have also been to Ireland, Lapland and Iceland. I am trying to see how far round the world I can get them!"

Ma Bailey’s Chocolate Brownies
125g/5oz butter
200g dark chocolate
175g/7oz soft brown sugar
2 medium eggs, beaten
A few drops vanilla essence
50g/2oz plain flour
5ml (1 tsp) baking powder

Preheat oven to 180C, Gas mark 4. Line a baking tin 18cm /7" square with greaseproof paper. Melt the butter with 50g/2oz of the chocolate in a heat proof bowl over a pan of hot water. Put sugar, eggs and vanilla essence into a large bowl, then sift in flour and baking powder. Stir in the melted chocolate and mix well. Chop the remaining chocolate into rough chunks and stir into the brownie mixture. Spoon into the tin, spread evenly and bake for about 40 minutes until the cake begins to shrink from the sides and the centre is firm.

Sara’s baking tips :
"Melt choc in microwave then add butter and CAREFULLY finish melting them  together. Today's bake took an extra 10 minutes but has been known to be longer so don't panic! I cut the pieces in half again as it's rich and is for sharing! I still work in ozs but for the first time I just followed the metric today. These homemade brownies are really easy - the hardest part is waiting 40 minutes for it to come out of the oven!”

Thanks, Sara. We did and they are chocotastic! I hope they go round the world as you said!  It's Chocolate Week so check out all Grandma's Chocolate Recipes  from biscuits to cakes which one are you baking this week?

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Of Rice and Romans

 Being interested in all things Roman, I was delighted to chance upon an amazing archaeological site in the village of Vieux La Romaine in Normandy, France. Our visit coincided with ‘Les Journees du Patrimoine’  September Heritage weekend and a special ‘Salon de The’ was put on by the members of the ‘Comité de Jumelage de Vieux et Otterton’. A tempting array of savoury and sweet flans were on offer to visitors, all served up with a smile and a cheerful explanation of each dish.  
Most impressive was the famous local Norman speciality -  La Teurgoule – a rice pudding flavoured with cinnamon. It’s absolutely stunning to taste. The ladies explained that they make it in a large pot for special community festivities and the crusty topping is the best bit! Here’s the recipe for a smaller family celebration.
La Teurgoule
600ml/1 pint milk (whole not skimmed)
75g/3 oz pudding rice
2 tbsps sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
Knob of butter
Grease an ovenproof dish with butter. Mix the rice, sugar and cinnamon in the dish. Add the milk and stir around. Dot the top with butter. Place in a preheated oven (150C/Mark 2/300F) for about 3-3 ½ hours. Test with a knife to see if the mixture has thickened and is creamy. Allow to cool and serve ‘tiede’ i.e. warm

Meryl says : This recipe reminded me so much of Grandma Abson’s luscious rice pudding slowly cooked in the coal oven range. We loved scraping the crusty bits around the edge! 
If you have ever wanted to imagine life in the Roman Empire, then this place is a ‘must see’. The Head of Archaeology and her small team of experts and volunteers are doing a fantastic job. With 3 major excavation sites, as well as a well designed museum containing a huge amount of artefacts, this location deserves a must see place on the Roman archaeology trail.

Monday 30 September 2013

Be sweet without the sugar

Mixing a cake with less sugar
Grandma Abson lived though the hard grind of life in service in 1900s. Then she lived through the depression of the 1930s, when she became a widow with two teenagers, followed by rationing in World War 2. So she learnt to be very resourceful in times of shortage. 
Part of her baking philosophy was about turning out something tasty from limited resources. The weekly ration of sugar for an adult from 1940 was 8oz, the equivalent of 225 grams. This sounds quite a lot if, like me, you don’t have a sweet tooth. Sugar was rationed till 1953, so it’s not hard to see why many of Grandma’s recipes use less sugar. In 1953 when the coronation took place, sugar and butter rations were doubled for a short while so people could enjoy a Coronation bake. All food rationing ended in July 1954.
However, Grandma cut down the amount of sugar in her cake, pudding and biscuit recipes and used between one third and one half of the quantity of sugar you might see in modern recipes. She would flavour her baking with cinnamon, ginger, mixed spice and later used honey or golden syrup as an alternative.  
Ginger Cake
I'm following her example and don't overload my baking with sugar and enhance the flavour with spices and natural products. Stay healthy by reducing the sugar. Enjoy your baking and let me know what you’ve baked this week.

Wednesday 11 September 2013

A wedding cake with substance and style

A flurry of butterflies gave the final touches to Becca and Rob’s wedding cake on their special day. Most wedding cakes are traditional fruit cakes but the couple wanted a simple 3 tiered sponge wedding cake. There’s always the question of how to create a stunning masterpiece from sponge cakes and stack without an elaborate structures of dowels. ? Well, our secret’s out! I used ultra light polystyrene moulds for the top 2 tiers. These rested securely on the large bottom tier of chocolate cake. And, ready to serve for the guests, I made 3 more large cakes, decorated in the same way for the evening ‘celebration’.  They just had to remember to cut into the bottom tier for the photos!

Countdown to the Big Day
In the weeks before the wedding day, I made test cakes with various fillings for Becca and Rob to try. In the end, they chose :
Victoria Sandwich with Chocolate Butter Cream filling
Toffee Cake  with Butterscotch Cream filling
Chocolate Cake with Butter Cream filling

Wednesday (3 days to go)
I made the 4 large 10 inch/25cms cakes : Victoria Sandwich, Toffee ( x 2) and Chocolate Cakes. 
Meryl’s Tip : I used Grandma’s basic recipe for each one and baked them in 10 inch/25cm cake tins for each cake with the 3 eggs and their weight in sugar, butter and flour for each layer of individual cake so each cake was made with 6 eggs. I used soft brown sugar for the Toffee Cake and Toffee Butter Cream filling instead of caster sugar.

Thursday (2 days to go)
I made Butter Cream in the various flavours to go with the cakes. I covered each cake with Butter Cream to form a base for the Ready to roll Icing. I rolled out the Icing and iced the cakes.
Friday (1 day to go)
I delivered the cakes to the venue, tied the themed green ribbon round each cake, and stacked them. Becca placed the butterfly decorations as she wanted. Hey presto!
Cake cutting (the bottom tier!) and lots of fantastic feedback from the newlyweds and their guests about the stylish look and most importantly the taste of all the cakes! It all worked perfectly so it was both substance and style. It was fantastic to be part of such a wonderful day! Becca and Rob even took it in the car to the airport for their honeymoon - what a great start to their life together!

Thursday 5 September 2013

Plenty of Plums

It's the season for Plums. They are an amazingly versatile fruit packed with Vitamin C so what's to lose.
Plum and Almond Flan
Flan base  Shortcrust Pastry Use 8oz /225g flour
Meryl’s tip Use 7oz/200g flour and 1oz/25g of ground almonds and 4oz/110g butter
3oz/75g butter
3oz/75g sugar
½oz/10g  flour
2 eggs beaten
3 oz/75g ground almonds
1 lb/450g plums

Roll out the pastry to a 9 inch/23cm flan dish and allow it to ‘relax’ for around 30 minutes. Cream the butter and sugar. Then add the beaten eggs. Fold in the flour and ground almonds into the mixture. Pour the mixture into the pastry case. Cut the plums into halves and remove the stones. Arrange the plums on top of the almond filling. Bake in a preheated moderate oven 190C, 375F Mark 5 for about 25-30 minutes until the top has browned.
Glaze the top by boiling 2 tablespoons of any dark jam or jelly such as redcurrant, raspberry, bilberry or plum with 1 tbsp of hot water. Brush this on top of the flan. 
Try Clafoutis or the famous Yorkshire Drop
Make a Plum Crumble with the same mixture as Rhubarb Crumble.
Make the most while they are at their best! Have you a favourite recipe with Plums? 

Thursday 22 August 2013

Grandmas baked the best

Grandma's Doncaster Butterscotch  Cake
One of my favourite recipes  is Doncaster Butterscotch Cake - a sponge sandwich cake recipe based on Grandma's Victoria Sandwich Cake which I baked to celebrate one of Doncaster's famous products, Doncaster Royal Butterscotch.

Grandma  Abson’s Doncaster Butterscotch  Cake
3 eggs & their weight (= approx 6oz /175grams)in
6 oz /175g Butter 
6oz/175g soft brown sugar
60z/175g self raising flour(sieved)

Preheat the oven to 180°C, 350°F, Mark 4. Line the bases of 2 x 20cm/8 inch sandwich tins with non-stick baking paper. Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Beat the eggs and add a little at a time, adding a dessertspoonful of sieved flour with each egg. Fold in the remaining flour. Divide the mixture between the 2 cake tins and bake for about 20-25 minutes until the cakes start to shrink from the sides of the tins and a cake skewer inserted into the centres comes away clean. Place on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then turn the cakes out onto the rack and leave until cool.
Butterscotch Butter Cream Filling
3 oz (75g) butter
3 oz (75g) soft brown sugar
3 oz (75g) Icing sugar
Milk to mix
Butterscotch chips for decoration

Cream the butter and icing sugar. Add the milk. Cover one cake with the filling. Then place the  other cake on the top. Dust the top with icing sugar and sprinkle the butterscotch chips over the top.

Sunday 18 August 2013

The taste of Lavender is as good as the scent!

Visitors to Cusworth Hall were surprised to learn that Lavender was a popular ingredient in baking as they enjoyed sampling Grandma’s scrumptious Lavender biscuits. As well as being a beautiful plant, Lavender is one of the best kept secrets for baking. Lavender sugar can be used to bake a wide range of teatime favourites such as Scones by substituting the sugar with Lavender sugar in the recipe.
How to make Lavender sugar 

Place the caster sugar in a bowl. For every 4oz/110g sugar, you need a tablespoonful of lavender. Add the lavender to the sugar by pressing it through a sieve with your fingers or the back of a spoon. Put the sugar in a clean jar and add another tablespoon of lavender flowers to the jar. Cover the jar and shake well every couple of days. Leave for 3 to 5 days for the lavender to infuse into the sugar. Then it’s ready to use.
Lavender Biscuits  
150g/5oz butter
225g/8oz plain flour
75g/3oz lavender sugar
1 yolk of egg

Rub the butter into the flour and add the sugar and the salt. 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. Bake for 25 minutes in a slow oven. (300F, Mark 2, 150C)
Chris at Fragrant Lavender sent me a very simple and scrumptious recipe for Lavender Cakes which uses flower buds mixed with the flour. These are for small cakes which Grandma would call 'buns'. 
Lavender Cakes
4 oz/110g Margarine or butter 
4 oz/110g Caster Sugar
4 o/110g Self Raising Flour
2 Eggs
1 tsp Lavender flower buds 
(Chris says: 'I use fresh ones but you could use dried ones.')

Cream the margarine/butter and sugar until light and creamy in texture. Add the eggs a little at a time and beat well. Add the lavender flower buds to the flour then fold into the mixture. Half fill paper bun cases then bake at 180-190C, 350-375F, Gas mark 4-5 for about 20 minutes until firm to the touch.
If you haven’t got lavender in your garden, visit a Lavender farm and pick up a plant.