Wednesday 9 December 2015

Lightly does it with this Christmas bake

I’m often asked about alternatives to the traditional Christmas baking of rich fruit cakes, mince pies and plum pudding so I’ve adapted Grandma’s popular Orange Cake to make a cake with a lighter texture. Cranberries and pistachios are my favourite seasonal fruit and nuts and they make a great combination with oranges to show off Christmas colours. 
 Cranberry Orange & Pistachio Loaf
175g/6oz butter
150g/5oz caster sugar
3 eggs
175g/6oz self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
125g/4 ½oz  fresh cranberries
50g/2oz pistachio nuts (chopped)
1 orange zest & juice 
25g/1oz demerara sugar

Pre heat the oven to 180 (160C fan), Gas 4. Cream the butter, caster sugar and orange zest until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Fold in the flour and baking powder. Fold about ¾ of the cranberries and pistachio nuts and then add the orange juice. Place the mixture in a well greased or lined 1kg/2lb loaf tin. Scatter the remaining cranberries and pistachios on the top and then sprinkle the Demerara sugar over the fruit and nuts. Bake in the oven for around 35-40 minutes.

Meryl says : This is a very simple recipe which you can enjoy in the run up to Christmas. It freezes well. You can make it with dried cranberries if fresh ones aren’t available. I can guarantee there won’t be a piece left!

Thursday 19 November 2015

Savourez Tante Liliane’s Petits Fours biscuits

 Just like Grandma, I love coming across a traditional family recipe. Elisabeth, who  with her husband, Jean-Michel, runs La Tour de Giry, a comfortable Chambre d’Hote in Burgundy, not far from the Parc Regional du Morvan gave me a copy of her easy recipe for Petits Fours biscuits. She is a superb cook and loves to use local food in season which they often grow in their large garden. They also keep ducks and hens so have a constant supply of fresh eggs.
The Petits Fours biscuit recipe comes from family member, Tante Liliane who lives in the Auvergne region. Liliane is 82 years old and still bakes the biscuits today.  As you see, the recipe was handwritten in French, so I’ve translated it into English.
Petits Fours de Tante Liliane
 2 eggs
150g/5 oz caster sugar
125g/4½ oz melted butter
2 dsps cream ( I used crème fraiche)
1 sachet of baking powder
450g/1 lb plain flour

Beat the eggs with the sugar and add the cream, the melted butter and then the flour with the baking powder. Chill for 20 minutes. Roll out to 0.5cm thick and put into small rounds (Elisabeth suggested a small wineglass) and put onto baking trays. Bake for 10 minutes at 200C, Mark 6.
Meryl says : These biscuits are perfect at any time of year. The mixture freezes well uncooked so you can bake a smaller quantity.  It’s very versatile recipe too. I’ve baked them adding the zest and juice of a lemon, or 1 tsp cinnamon or 1 tsp cocoa to the mixture for a different set of flavours. There's plenty of scope for baking imagination! 

Tuesday 3 November 2015

Grandma Abson’s traditional Christmas Cake

Grandma Abson's Christmas Cake
Grandmas always know best about baking and this is Grandma's simple recipe which I bake every year. I can guarantee there’s never a piece left by Twelfth Night on 6 January.
What you need and how to bake
8oz /225g brown sugar
8oz /225g butter
1 tbsp black treacle (slightly warmed for 5 minutes in the oven)
1 tbsp golden syrup (slightly warmed for 5 minutes in the oven)
5 eggs (beaten)
9oz /250g self raising flour (sifted)
3-4oz / 75-100g glace cherries (washed and dried and cut into quarters)
4oz /100g mixed peel
10oz / 275g each of sultanas, raisins, currants
1 tsp each of cinnamon and mixed spice
2oz /50g chopped nuts +1oz /25g ground almonds or 
3oz /75g ground almonds
1/6 pint / 100ml stout 

Heat the oven 325F, Mark 3, 170C. Line an 8 inch/21cms cake tin (round or square) with baking paper or use a cake liner. Cream the butter and sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. You can do this in a food mixer.  Mix in the warmed treacle and golden syrup. Add the beaten eggs gradually and half of the flour and spices (cinnamon and mixed spice). Stir in the nuts/almonds and cherries, the rest of the flour, dried fruit, mixed peel and stout. Put the mixture into the cake tin and smooth over the top, making a slight indent in the middle. This stops the cake from rising too much in the middle and cracking. Bake for 3 to 3 ½ hours. Start with the oven fairly warm for 30 minutes and gradually reduce the oven temperature to finish in a slow oven at 250F, Mark ½, 130C.  
Grandma’s Tips :    
  • Wrap several layers of brown paper or newspaper around the cake tin and tie it with string before putting the cake into the oven to prevent it burning.
  • Use a thin cake tester to check if the cake is thoroughly baked. If it’s baked, there’ll be no trace of the mixture on the tester. If there are still traces of the mixture, then the cake needs further cooking time.
  • Once cooled, prick the cake all over the top and pour a tablespoonful of brandy over it. You can do this two or three times up to Christmas before decorating it.
The Final Touches
1. To make Almond Paste 
8oz/ 225g ground almonds
4oz/ 110g caster sugar
4oz/110g icing sugar
A few tablespoons of lemon juice or water
2-3 tbsps Apricot Jam

Mix the almonds and sugars together. Add sufficient lemon juice and/or water to make a stiff paste. Chill for 15 to 20 minutes. Spread a thin layer of Apricot Jam over the cake. Roll out the Almond Paste to 3/8 inch /1 cm thick and place on the top (and sides if you wish).
2. Choose your decoration
You can use Ready to Roll Icing to spread over the cake or make your own.
For Royal Icing you need
1 lb /450g icing sugar
2 whites of eggs
A little lemon juice
A tsp glycerine (optional)

Sieve the icing sugar and add the whites of the eggs and a little lemon juice. Beat until the mixture stands in stiff peaks. You can add glycerine to stop the icing drying out. Spread over the cake. Use a fork to make peaks in the icing to create a snow scene or for a smooth finish use a palette knife.
3. For a topping with Glazed Fruits
Fold dried fruit (e.g. raisins, sultanas, apricots, cranberries, cherries) and mixed nuts in a redcurrant jelly and apricot jam glaze and spread over the almond paste to make a jewel of a topping. 
And here’s the best thank you! 
Happy Christmas everyone! 

Monday 26 October 2015

Joke’s Spicy Asian Tomato Soup

 Les Sarilles
I love bringing back memories of wonderful holidays and a treasured recipe is a great reminder. Les Sarilles is just 10 minutes from Cluny and with amazing views over the rolling countryside of Southern Burgundy in France.

Our Dutch hosts, Jan and Yoke Boekhoven, are a very interesting couple who have travelled all over the world and collected some wonderful recipes. Joke kindly sent me her cherished recipe for Asian Tomato Soup. She suggests making the soup one day ahead to let the flavours infuse.
 For 4 servings:
1 kilo fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped
0.5 ltr water
2 parts of chicken stock
30g fresh ginger
30g sugar
2 onions
2 cloves of garlic
1 or two small tins of tomato puree
3 tbsps of ginger sirop (We used 3 pieces of preserved stem ginger and 2 tbsps of the syrup)
Cumin, paprika powder, cardamom, pepper and anise to your taste.  (We crushed cumin seed, cardamom pods, black peppercorns and half a piece of star anise in a pestle and mortar)

Peel the tomatoes by slightly heating them in water, but don’t boil them. Bring the water to the boil and simmer the tomatoes, onions and the chicken stock for 20 minutes. Add the garlic and fresh ginger in the last five minutes. Then add the tomato puree. Use a blender/liquidiser to mix all ingredients to a smooth soup. Add the sugar and spices to your taste. The following day, push the soup through a sieve and, if necessary, add extra spices, sugar and ginger sirop.

In any language this is a fantastic recipe so Selamat makan! Bon appétit! Enjoy! 

Tuesday 29 September 2015

Marmalade Flapjack is a real baking gem

Marmalade Flapjack is a real gem of a recipe and an easy recipe to bake with children. Use homemade Marmalade to make it even more special. 
Marmalade Flapjack
8oz/225g butter
4 oz/110g soft brown sugar
2 tbsps golden syrup
5oz/150g marmalade
Zest of 2 oranges
12oz/350g porridge oats
6 oz /175g raisins

Preheat the oven to 180C(160C Fan), 350F/Mark 4. Melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup slowly in a pan over a gentle heat. Remove from the heat and add the orange zest and marmalade. Stir in the porridge oats and raisins. Put the mixture into a lined tin (approx 10 inch/23 cms square). Press it down so it is level. Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until golden brown and firm at the edges. Remove from the oven and cut into bars while still warm.
Meryl says : I’ve made this recipe with chopped apricots instead of raisins. I've also tried  it with 1 tbsp black treacle and 1 tbsp golden syrup which gives it a slightly richer flavour. Just the thing for a mid morning break. Enjoy! 

Thursday 3 September 2015

Celebrating our rich tradition of British Baking

Richmond Maids of Honour
Our British baking tradition is rich in history and this English baked tartlet is said to date back to the time of Henry VIII. Apparently, he found Anne Boleyn and her Maids of Honour eating these little delicacies. It is rumoured that Henry liked them so much that he took the recipe and insisted that it was locked in a box at Richmond Palace in London. 
The Original Maids of Honour shop in Kew serves these little cakes today and is well worth a visit to sample their secret recipe
Whatever the story, Grandma had a version of the recipe and it's easy to make. 
Richmond Maids of Honour
8oz/225g Puff Pastry or Shortcrust Pastry
8oz/225g curd cheese
2 eggs
1oz /25g caster sugar
1 lemon grated zest and juice
1 oz ground almonds
1 tbsp currants
A little apricot jam

Preheat the oven to 400F, Mark 6, 200C. Roll out the pastry thinly and with a 3 ½ inch cutter cut out little circles and place in a tartlet tins. Chill for 15 minutes. Combine the curd cheese, caster sugar, lemon rind, ground almonds and currants in a bowl. Beat the egg and egg yolk together and add this to the mixture. Mix thoroughly until everything is well blended. Smooth a small amount of the jam into each pastry case and then fill each about 2/3rds full of the cheese mixture. Bake in the centre of the oven for about 25 minutes. The mixture should puff up and turn golden brown. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool. When cool, you can decorate with a light dusting of icing sugar. 
This recipe makes approximately 24 tartlets.
Meryl’s tip : You can get curd cheese in many of the large supermarkets as well as some local cheese shops. Enjoy a real traditional bake from the past with these Maids of Honour.

Thursday 20 August 2015

Afternoon Tea ..... at the Library!

It was time for Tea and Cakes on a summer’s afternoon at Armthorpe Community Library  when Volunteers and staff organised a special celebration of the Great British Tradition of Afternoon Tea.
The volunteers have been running the community library for over a year now with the support of local council staff. They’d prepared a wonderful scene of tables laid with the best china, pretty tablecloths and carefully folded napkins all set for the afternoon tea festivities.
I was delighted to do my talk on  'The History of Afternoon Tea' all about the characters in history who helped to make it popular, the key elements and the ‘rules’ involved with lots of questions to keep me on my toes.
And then fully briefed on the etiquette of this quintessential British ceremony, we started on tea and cakes, including Grandma’s traditional baking recipes. 
Family Fruit Loaf
Feedback from everyone was tremendous with pleas for more events like this one and suggestions to roll out the format in other localities. A huge thank you to DMBC staff Shirley and Helen for making this glorious event possible but, most of all, to the amazingly talented team of Volunteers who are really making this Library so highly valued and playing such a vital role in the community.  
Have you been involved in an Afternoon Tea event? Tell us more about it... what do you like best? 

Monday 3 August 2015

Uncovering the past with Coconut Haystacks

This recipe was a firm favourite with coconut fans at the Life on the Home Front Doncaster 1914-18 at Cusworth Hall Museum and Park where visitors were invited to explore what life was like in Doncaster in 1915. 
Lucy and I baked 6 recipes from the First World War era including this one for 'Cocoanut Haystacks' from The Best Way one of Grandma's old recipe books. Published in 1907, it was a prized book in Grandma’s collection of 850 practical and tried recipes and household hints for 6d.
 Coconut Haystacks
Two cupfuls of desiccated coconut
One cupful of sugar
Half a cupful of flour
2oz (50g) of butter
1 egg
N.B. 1 cup = approx 4oz/110g

Mix the coconut, sugar and flour together and rub in the butter well. Beat the egg and mix in with the other ingredients. Make into cones and bake in a hot oven (400F, Mark6, 200C) till they are slightly browned, which will be in about 10 minutes.
Meryl's tip : You can use an egg cup to make a really smooth cone.

Take a look at the other recipes I baked for the Life on the Home Front event.
and Yorkshire Parkin recipes

Which one is your favourite? 

Monday 27 July 2015

Uncovering the past with Trench Cake

Here’s another recipe from the World War 1 period which I baked at the Life on the Home Front Doncaster 1914-18 event at Cusworth Hall Museum and Park. We tried out traditional recipes sent to soldiers in the trenches during the First World War. Although its name doesn’t sound too appetizing, visitors were highly impressed when they tried a slice.
Trench Cake
8oz/225g plain flour
4oz/110g margarine or butter
3oz/75g brown sugar
3oz/75g cleaned currants
2 tsps cocoa
½ tsp baking soda/powder
1 tsp vinegar
¼ pint/150ml milk
½ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ginger
Grated zest of 1 lemon

Grease a 1lb/450g loaf tin. Rub the margarine or butter into the flour in a basin. Add the dry ingredients. Mix well. Add the soda dissolved in vinegar and milk. Beat well. Turn into the loaf tin. Bake in a moderate oven (350F, Mark 4,180C) for about 45 minutes.

This recipe is adapted from Francis Quinn’s Trench cake for the Department for Culture Media & Sport. I reduced the time of the baking to approximately 45 minutes to an hour as the 2 hours given in the recipe seemed to make the cake too dry and it had baked sufficiently in less time.

Although rationing in World War 1 didn’t start until 1917, some traditional cake ingredients were hard to come by. There were no eggs in this recipe; they were replaced with milk and margarine, lard or butter and vinegar was used to react with the baking soda to help the cake rise. It’s quite a dense cake but once packaged up, it would travel well and arrive at the front in reasonable condition.  
Here are more recipes I baked at Life on the Home Front

Many of the visitors to the Life on the Home Front Doncaster 1914-18  had someone in their family who went to the front line. Grandma’s Abson’s brother, Frederick Henry Cave sadly died alongside many others in the Somme battlefields in July 1916.