November 25, 2016

BARGAIN COOK BOOKS AND OTHER STUFF

I have written before about the cost of recipe books.  I don’t know how many people ever buy them at full price these days but there are bargains to be had if you look for them.

bargain books

These two came from a local charity shop in the UK, £2 for the Rachel Allen book and £3 for the Nigel Slater.  There is a slight watermark on the fabric cover of the book “eat” but other than that they both appear to be brand new with no signs of being used at all.  They are also both fairly recently published.

I am very happy to buy books from charity shops.  I tend to think of the cost as a donation to a good cause and if they turn out not to be very useful I give them back to the shop so they can sell them again.

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These two came from my local branch of “The Works”.  I have hung my nose over the book by Miranda Gore Brown for a while – she was a contestant in the Great British Bake Off a few years ago.  The book looks promising and at £4 I don’t feel guilty about buying it. 

The Olive Magazine book is excellent.  I gave one away in a raffle earlier this year and have been on the lookout for another copy to replace it.

As with the secondhand books, if I find I don’t use them I will take them to the charity shop and feel very virtuous.

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Compared to £4.20 for a magazine, all the books look like good value to me.  I hardly ever buy magazines nowadays, preferring to buy books instead.  I’m unlikely to save more than one or two recipes from a magazine and rarely pay much attention to the other content.

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Another charity shop bargain is this 20cm ceramic pie dish for £1. Perfect for a pie, crumble or clafoutis.  Same rules apply – if I don’t use it I take it back.

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Yet another recent bargain was this cake stand, 5€ (about £4) from a local French brocante.  (The two soap dishes came from the same place, 1€ each.)

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These small side plates were a real bargain and a perfect size for a slice of cake.  I got six of them for a total of €1.04 in a closing down sale at a branch of Casa.  Casa is a chain of shops in France which is similar in style to The Range or Dunelm Mill in the UK.  I just happened to visit the shop in the last hour of the last day of the sale and everything was reduced by at least 90%.  I already have a matching cake stand bought from the same shop in a previous sale so I was very happy to find the plates at a give away price.

I’m a bit choosy when bargain hunting, whether the items are new or second hand.  I don’t do chips or cracks when it comes to crockery and books have to be clean and not scruffy.  One likes to get a bargain but one does have standards!

November 17, 2016

BANANA, DATE AND HONEY DRIZZLE CAKE

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I have made a few different banana cakes over the years but this is one I keep coming back to.  The recipe is in a leaflet that came with a special offer that was in Sainsbury’s about six years ago.  A twin pack of Lurpak butter and a free loaf tin for £3.  I got two of them for myself and three more for colleagues at work.  The tins were of really good quality and understandably they soon sold out.

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It’s the honey in this cake that makes it so good I think.  There is some honey in the mixture and you drizzle some more over it when it comes out of the oven and is still warm, much like a lemon drizzle cake.

Mine was a clear honey but still quite thick so in order to make it easy to drizzle I put the spoonful required in a small ramekin and into the oven when the cake came out and the oven was turned off.  After about five minutes the cake was still very warm and the honey was runny enough for drizzling.

As I was in the mood for using up a few storecupboard bits and pieces I used half dates and half sultanas this time, which worked very well.  The walnuts were some of our foraged walnuts from this autumn but pecans would be just as good instead if you had those already.

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I have often pondered when a loaf is not a loaf but a cake.  To my mind a loaf is something you would spread butter on and a cake is something that doesn’t need any butter.  So although this cake is baked in a loaf tin and is described as a loaf, to me it is definitely a cake.  It’s lovely and moist and keeps really well for a few days.

The recipe used to be on the Lurpak website but it no longer is so I have given my version of it here.

Ingredients

2 medium ripe bananas, peeled

200g self raising flour

160g butter at room temperature, or spreadable butter 

80g caster sugar

2 tblsp clear honey

2 eggs

80g chopped dates (or half dates, half sultanas)

40g chopped walnuts (or pecans, possibly even brazil nuts)

1 tblsp extra honey for drizzling, warmed 

Method

Grease the tin and line it with greaseproof paper or baking parchment, or use a paper liner.

Preheat the oven to 160°C, 140°fan, Gas mark 3.

Put the bananas into a large bowl and mash them.  Add the other ingredients (except for the dates and nuts) and whisk together with an electric whisk until well combined.

Stir in the dates and nuts.  Pour or spoon the mixture into the tin and bake for 1 hour or until done (mine took 1 hour and 5 minutes).

When the cake is out of the oven, make a few holes in the top with the skewer and drizzle the warmed tablespoon of honey over the cake whilst it is still warm.  

Leave to cool in the tin before turning out.

Cuts into 10-12 slices.

November 12, 2016

OAT AND GINGER TRAYBAKE

ginger traybake

It was Nick’s birthday the other day and I was just dying to bake a cake.  Any excuse.  Unfortunately he’s a bit fussy when it comes to cake and has definite likes and dislikes, which can narrow my choice somewhat.  Ginger cake is one of his few favourites.

So I spent ages leafing through my embarrassingly huge collection of recipe books to find the perfect ginger cake but most recipes were either too fussy and complicated for a man that just likes a simple ginger cake, or they were of the gingerbread variety that should have been made days before to enable the stickiness and flavours to develop.

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With an enormous pile of books on the bedside table as I sipped my morning tea (retirement, I can recommend it heartily), I settled on a recipe in the gorgeous book, “Simply baking” by Sybil Kapoor.  This book is stuffed full of well tried and tested recipes from various kitchens of the National Trust and I really can’t understand why I hadn’t noticed this one before.

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It’s described as a fusion of gingerbread, parkin and flapjack and I would say that’s very accurate.  It had the treacly gingeryness of gingerbread, the oatyness of parkin and the chewyness of flapjack.  Truly a match made in heaven and an absolute hit with Nick who thought he’d died and gone to heaven. Highly praised and very highly recommended.

In fact, it beat the Bonfire Night Parkin that I made for a large gathering last weekend well into second place.  The recipe I used for that was traditional but the end result was nowhere near as nice as this.

You can see this recipe and photo as it is in the book on a website here.

Ingredients

150 ml milk (I used semi-skimmed as that’s what we have)

40g black treacle

80g salted butter

55g plain flour

1½ tsp ground ginger (Nick reports that this is plenty)

½ tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp bicarb

115g light muscovado sugar

40g dark muscovado sugar

100g porridge oats

Method

In a small saucepan, put the treacle, butter and milk and heat gently until the butter is melted, stirring every so often.  Set aside to cool slightly.

Grease and line a traybake tin that measures roughly 18 x 28 cm.  Preheat the oven to 150°fan / gas mk 2½.

Sift the flour, bicarb and spices into a large bowl.  Add the oats and sugar and mix well.  Add the treacle mixture and mix again to combine thoroughly.

Pour into the tin and bake for 45 minutes.  Cool in the tin.

Cuts into 8-12 slices, depending on how small or large you like your slices.

November 10, 2016

GLUTEN FREE PARTY CAKE

You may be forgiven for thinking that no baking has been going on in our house for the last two months but this is certainly not the case!  I can’t really explain why I’ve let the blog lapse as baking is very much a part of my life and indeed very good therapy in what is turning out to be my own personal “annus horribilis”.  For the most recent disaster to befall us read here.  Anyway, I feel the blog is rested for long enough and it’s time to catch up.  I hate it when blogs just end, as if the writer died or just evaporated.  I like to know if someone has decided to give up.  No such thing here!

gluten free house leaving cake

Friends of ours who lived over near Richelieu for several years have recently sold up, packed up and moved back to the UK.

In my experience there are only a small number of reasons why people do this, that is, after the huge effort of buying a house in France and settling there, then do it all in reverse and go back.  Those reasons are usually to do with family, health, finance, occasionally loneliness or some kind of inability to integrate and problems with learning the language.  Some also find that life here is not all it’s cracked up to be and decide that the UK is not so bad after all, in spite of the weather, the traffic and so on.

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It was family ties that took our friends back to the UK and we’re very sorry to see them go.  A leaving party was arranged once the vans were all packed and the legal formalities complete.  I offered to provide the cake, which needed to be gluten free.

I used an adaptation of a recipe that I’ve used several times before, which is basically a Victoria sponge recipe from Hannah Miles’ book , “the gluten free baker”. This time I baked it in a ring tin, which makes a cake which goes a long way in a crowd and cuts easily into small, manageable slices.  Most people don’t want a huge slab of cake after they’ve filled up on other party food, but everyone is usually pleased to have a little slice to go with the speeches and toasts.  This one worked well as the crumb was not too crumbly and the slices were easy to pass around and hold in the hand.

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Finding something to decorate it with proved too much of a challenge in France. I couldn’t find any appropriate cake decorations as such and house warming cards do not seem to exist here, so I used one I had in stock*, cut it up and glued the pictures onto wooden sticks to decorate the cake, after icing it with simple icing and dotting a few halves of glacé cherries and bits of chopped almond on the top.  The candle holder in the middle was a 1€ bargain from a vide grenier this summer and fits perfectly in the hole in the middle of the cake. 

With the appropriate decoration this large gluten free cake lends itself to any and every party or occasion.

Ingredients

185g softened butter

185g caster sugar

4 eggs

200g ground almonds

125g gluten free self raising flour

150ml crème fraîche

1 tsp almond essence

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°fan/gas mk 4.  Grease and flour a large ring or Bundt tin.

Put the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat or whisk until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time and beat well with each addition.

Add the other cake ingredients and fold in gently until evenly combined.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 40-50 minutes until the cake is firm and golden and passes the skewer test.  Remove from the oven, turn out and cool on a wire rack.

Make an icing using about 150g icing sugar, blended with lemon juice to the consistency of double cream.  Pour over the cake and allow to run down the sides.  Decorate as desired.

Serves 12-15 slices.

*Birthday cards and other greeting cards are incredibly expensive in France so I usually stock up on a random selection of all types of card in the UK and bring them with me.

August 24, 2016

PICNIC PIES

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With the bank holiday weekend coming up and hopefully some good weather I thought it was time that I posted about these lovely little pies.  I first saw the recipe in a blog called “Time to cook online” which comes from one of my favourite former Great British Bake Off contestants, a lady called Mary-Anne Boermans.  It’s a great blog and you can see the details of this recipe here.

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These are simple little pies, made with a shortcrust bottom, a puff pastry lid and a filling of egg and bacon.

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I have made them several times but I have to say that the first attempt was a complete disaster. 

Anne-Marie made hers in mini cake tins.  Having some very similar tins in my pantry and feeling confident I went ahead and made some pies to the recipe with the addition of a few cooked mushrooms in the filling.  They looked good but when I turned them out the bottoms were miserably undercooked and in fact they were actually raw.  The filling is pre-cooked but there is nothing at all pleasant about raw pastry.  Yuk.

Which just goes to show that, as we all knew, size does matter.  I think my tins were just that little bit deeper than the ones she used and therefore the bottoms were not cooked.

So undeterred and not to be defeated, I put my thinking cap on and remembered the brand new Yorkshire pudding tins that I bought to make mini pies and quiches last year.  Bingo!

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The pies were lovely.  Nice crisp pastry, a tasty filling, just the right size for one each, can be served on a plate or munched on in the hand without risk of them falling apart.  Perfect for a picnic or a smart lunch with a side salad and a glass of something nicely chilled.

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This is my adaptation but I urge you to refer to the original post and peruse the blog for other recipes.  You would not be disappointed.

Ingredients

1 pack of ready made, ready rolled puff pastry

1 pack of ready made, ready rolled shortcrust pastry

1 pack of lardons

4 large mushrooms, chopped

4 eggs

chopped fresh parsley

Method

Preheat the oven to 200° C / 180° fan / gas mk 6.  Grease a four hole Yorkshire pudding tin.

Fry the lardons and mushrooms until nicely browned, especially the mushrooms which should not be too watery.

Using a suitable sized jam jar, cut circles of the shortcrust pastry to line the tin and slightly smaller ones from the puff pastry for the lids.  Use the shortcrust circles to line the tin.

Arrange the cooked bacon and mushrooms on the pastry, making a well in the centre to take the egg.

Break one egg into a small cup and pour out some of the white.  There is unlikely to be enough room for all of the white in these shallow tins and this avoids overflowing and a bit of a mess.  Drop the egg into the well.  Add chopped parsley and season with salt and pepper.

Place a puff pastry circle on top and pinch the edges together to seal the lid to the bottom.  Brush with beaten egg.  Bake for 20 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.

Serves 4.

August 12, 2016

PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY CAKE

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I offered to make a cake for a friend’s birthday party and decided that it needed to be quite a large cake due to the number of people who might be coming to the do.  A Bundt cake was ideal.

It also needed to be a bloke’s cake, nothing too girly or frilly, and the idea of a peanut butter cake sprang to mind.  The absence of any topping that might melt or slide off in transit on a very warm summer’s afternoon in the Loire Valley was also a consideration, so a light dusting of icing sugar was perfect.

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A quick look on Google led me to this cake on the DollyBakes blog – peanut butter and jelly cake.  It was, as I expected from Rachel’s recipes, a great success. 

I forgot to take pictures of the cake when it was cut which would show how the inside looked and how perfectly the jelly was distributed but, if you look at the original blog post, it turned out exactly like that!  The crunchy peanut butter gave just the right amount of crunch and flavour and the jelly was a nice little surprise in every slice.

I followed the recipe precisely, using blackberry jelly as the jam and taking care to keep it away from the edges of the cake as suggested.  I have experienced before the amazing effect that jam has in gluing the cake to the tin if it gets too close to the edge!

My Bundt tin was just the right shape and size for the cake to accommodate a mansize candle in the middle too.  So we all wished Simon a Happy Birthday and after he’d blown out the candle the cake was cut easily into a huge number of generous slices.

Definitely a good one for a crowd.  To see the recipe, click here.

Cuts into at least 15 slices.

July 11, 2016

BLUEBERRY CHEESECAKE

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I don’t make cheesecake very often, once a year if that, but I can’t think why I don’t make more of them.  Except that of course they are not on our diet sheet.  I dread to think how many zillions of calories there are in a single slice.

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I recently went on a blueberry picking trip with some friends and came back with 4½ kilos of the most gorgeous, plump and tasty blueberries, most of which are now in the freezer.  With other friends coming round for a bbq I knew exactly what I should do with the ones I kept back.  Cheesecake.

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It was hardly any effort to make and delicious.  I used a recipe from the Delicious Magazine website that you can see here, except that as usual I adapted it to what I had in stock.  Here in France you can get digestive biscuits, called Sablés Anglais, but I have never seen gingernuts in the shops, and I didn’t have a vanilla pod but used vanilla paste which I brought back from the UK.

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I even made a blueberry compote to serve with it.  You can see the recipe for that here.  As I was making it, it didn’t seem to be thickening much and I wondered when to stop cooking so that I ended up with coulis not jam.  Jam it was.  But with a bit of a stir It still worked when dolloped onto a slice of the cake.

Definitely a recipe I will do again and easily adaptable for other fruits I think.

Ingredients

50g butter, melted

200g ginger biscuits, crushed (or digestives)

1 vanilla pod (or one teaspoon vanilla bean paste)

400g mascarpone

350g cream cheese

125g caster sugar

2 tbsp cornflour

3 large eggs

Grated zest of 1 small orange

300g blueberries

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Preheat oven to 280°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Grease a 24cm, deep springform tin.

Mix the biscuit crumbs with the melted butter and spoon into the tin. Pat down evenly and firmly and chill for 10 mins or while you prepare the filling.

Put the vanilla seeds (or vanilla bean paste) into a large bowl with the mascarpone, cream cheese, sugar, cornflour, eggs and orange zest. Beat with an electric whisk until well blended.

Put a handful of blueberries aside and stir the rest into the mixture. Pour into the tin. Place the tin on a baking sheet then scatter the remaining berries on top of the mixture, pushing them in slightly.

Bake for 45-60 mins until golden brown and almost set. (Mine was done after 45.)  Open the oven door and leave the cheesecake inside to cool.

Chill in the fridge for several hours or overnight, run a knife around the tin to release and dust with icing sugar before serving.

For the blueberry compote  (optional)

Put 250g blueberries into a pan with 100g caster sugar and cook until thickened.  Serve cool, spooned over each slice of cake.

Cuts into at least 12 servings.