Munchkin mail

Sunday, 26 September 2010

When sour becomes sweet: a tale of friendship and sugar

Approximately two aeons ago, my lovely friend Cie gave me a true proof of our friendship. 'Do not kill' said the accompanying note. 'Failure to look after this embodiment of our friendship will bring my wrath and everlasting disappointment upon you.' It didn't of course; Cie is far too nice for that, but when she had to gently rescue Herman the friendship cake sourdough starter she had just given me from suffocation before we'd even left the pub I felt the pressure start to mount.

You've heard of sourdough bread starters? Well Herman is a sourdough cake starter. He is one hungry boy, however, and he also had a very sweet tooth. He needed feeding a whole cup each of sugar, flour and milk every three days, and a good stir on the intervening days. Thankfully he started to grow and bubble quite soon, so I had some regular reassurance that Cie was not going to have to unfriend me on facebook. He is also quite adaptable - my Herman was fed soya milk and a variety of different flours as well. Never able to resist tasting raw cake dough I was initially put off by his sour taste, but as the days went on he got progressively sweeter until at last, a week later, Baking Day arrived.

Herman, after a week of eating a lot of sugar

Herman is a friendship cake because you only use a quarter of the starter to make your cake, and pass the other three on to other people. Herman comes with a recipe for the finished cake, but with plenty of room to play with optional add-ins. I added white chocolate and - you guessed it if you can remember back that far - fresh raspberries. The final touch is some melted butter poured over the top which I must admit made him smell absolutely heavenly.

I took our Herman and one of his Herman progeny to some old college friends the next day. Their children were excited at the idea of their own Herman but didn't like the smell of the baked version - I like to think their foodie noses were picking up on the sourdough yeast smell. We were too full to eat him after lunch, but he got some good feedback later on.

And so, the buck was passed, my friendship with Cie was approved, and a few more of those raspberries met their cakey maker.

The End.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Kiwi treats

Kiwi Family moved house a few weeks ago and when I went to visit I took a couple of treats with me to remind them of their many recent travels. The first was a reprise of a New Zealand biscuit I made for the first time when they were away - Afghans. This time I used a recipe a Kiwi friend recommended, from the charmingly-named website Ladies, a plate. They are darkly chocolatey biscuits which contain cornflakes - which the recipe description says was a way of using up last bits and pieces in the pantry. Well, I don't need to tell any readers who are still left after being so disgracefully neglected for the past few weeks, that this appealed to my 'eke eke' philosophy immediately. The biscuits had a rich chocolate topping as well which I found I had to thin a bit more to spread - but which was very popular with the Munchkin as well as his parents.

The second treat was particularly for Kiwi Bro, who had just started his new job the day I went to visit. I'd remembered that he said he liked millionaires shortbread, so I made a Kiwi favourite tray bake - Tan Slice. Tray bakes seem to be particularly popular in both Australia and New Zealand, often using coconut and condensed milk. I got this recipe from Kiwi blogger Tammy who has posted several enticing variants and favourites. She also has a chocolate version I'm keen to try - and her philosophy of a greater caramel to base ratio has surely got to win all tasters over. It turned out as I made the slice that it wasn't quite what I had assumed when thinking of something like our millionaire's shortbread. Instead it was slightly more like a cake mixture which formed the base and also the top layer. The base didn't need baking before adding the caramel either which surprised me, but makes it all even easier. I was expecting a good response just from the sheer level of sugary goodness in the slice, but it did even better. Kiwi Sis texted me after I'd left to say they were swooning over it, and they had to fend off their dinner guests with pointy sticks (actually I made up the pointy sticks but there was definitely some fending going on).

So thank you to Alexa and Tammy - definitely a pair of Kiwi keepers!

Afghan recipe here

Tan slice recipe here

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Urban foraging leads directly to tasty birthday cake

I made this cake twice this week, one for my birthday, and the other to take to visit our Vet Friends to see their new Vet Grub (he's three months old but we were all variously busy before now). Plus both Junior Sis and Junior Bro picked up a clutch of good grades in their AS-levels and GCSEs in the last week, so lots of reasons to make and eat this cake. It was borne from a foraging trip with Lauren last weekend, which resulted in lots of wild urban plums, some sloes (sitting in the freezer to be made into sloe gin later on), and some elderberries. I am always worried about mistaking edibles for something horribly poisonous, but Lauren used to want to be a herbologist (I didn't even know that existed outside Harry Potter and am very taken with it), so I felt safe in her hands.

I found the recipe for this cake while looking for alcoholic recipes that used plums. It had great reviews, and hit a happy nerve as my great-grandmother used to make a German plum cake which Munchkin Granny remembers from her youth. It was very easy and I doubled the quantities to make both cakes at the same time. It turned out to be a gloriously moist and fruity cake - not too sweet (there isn't too much sugar in it, and just an extra dusting with some cinnamon on the top). It wasn't the prettiest but it got good feedback in the pub on my birthday, and from Vet Dad the next day. Definitely a keeper.

Festival of Quilts booty - brown spotty fabric to make this dress (thanks, Roisin!); apple fabric to make a bag/apron; bags of felt to make the cute bright cushion cover kit - birthday present from Doc Eco Sis (thanks Doc Eco!); assorted fat quarters for unspecified quilting projects

On my actual birthday I went to the Festival of Quilts at the NEC with Vicki and Doc Eco Sis. We had a really good day, and I did come away with a bit of a stash of goodies. In the evening we went to the cake-welcoming pub with friends and had more good times :)

Giant crochet granny square and small granny square cushion cover (made in Vancouver), sitting with birthday present knitting books from Vet Friends (thank you!)

And on the goodies front, here are a couple of other craft projects I've been finishing off recently.

Appliqued apron - it used to be a pinafore dress I never wore - recognise the apple from the fabric stash above??

Granny star getting stamp of approval from a passing pook

Plum cake recipe here (and they have some good fruity alcohol recipes there too)

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Raspberry stress meets banana stress - and has a happy ending

I made this cake about a week after the huge all you can pick raspberry trip, and I don't mind admitting that they were beginning to weigh on my mind a bit. I even found myself thinking about what to do with raspberries when I woke up in the night, and over-exposure was even slowing my rate of snacking off them straight from the fridge. To make matters worse, there was a whole bunch of bananas beginning to go over-ripe in the fruit bowl. To avoid a complete head explosion, I searched for some recipes which could use both, and which could then be stashed out of sight in the freezer. This was the only one I photographed but the other one may yet get a feature when I can next face a raspberry muffin.

I found the recipe on, of all places, a mums forum, which isn't somewhere I usually hang out. I made a few tweaks to cut down on the refined sugar - subbing fruit sugar instead, and using coconut oil instead of butter. I also upped the ante with the berries - this was no time to start getting stingy. The original recipe was for muffins, but I made it as a loaf and it worked out really well. The banana flavour was nice and strong, and the berries nice and tart. It also defrosted well when I took it out a few days later for a visit from Kiwi Sis (and a lovely visit it was too :) ). After my double baking session I crammed all of the rest of the berries into the freezer on various cookie trays and then bagged them up (they stay separate rather than form a huge clump that way). I'm glad they won't be wasted, and this way I can get my berry mojo back and appreciate them properly again. In a few months time, maybe.

Banana and raspberry loaf (adapted from askamum)
120g plain white flour
80g plain wholemeal flour
2 tsp baking powder
5 Tbsp fruit sugar
150g raspberries
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
30g melted coconut oil
100ml soya milk
1 ripe banana, mashed

Preheat oven to 200C/400F. Line and grease a loaf tin.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and raspberries.

Beat together the egg, vanilla, coconut oil and milk. Stir into the dry ingredients with the mashed banana, and stir briefly, to combine. THe mixture will be quite lumpy, but there shouldn't be any unmixed flour. Spoon into the tin.

Bake for about 40 minutes, covering after 25 if the top is starting to darken too much. It should be risen and golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Happy Raspbirthday!

Kate made me laugh with a comment on my last post - that she has to read my blog at lunchtime to avoid drooling on the keyboard :) Well, I hope this one has the same effect as it concerns the biscuits I made her for her birthday last week. This took place during my raspberry glut, but it also gave me the opportunity to try out a recipe for some really pretty little pink treats I'd cut out from an old copy of Prima magazine. They're little butter biscuits sandwiched together with a creamy, white chocolatey, raspberry filling. I didn't manage to get too good a photo of them but they did look very dainty tied up in a little bag. I halved the recipe but made the whole batch of filling, since that's where the raspberries came in. I used some of the rest to ice some chocolate cupcakes - also birthday presents for a certain little Birthday Buddy and his brother, Almost Birthday Buddy, whom I saw in Cambridge last weekend. They were much appreciated. And I had a lovely day with my old friends Tracy and Julie, too :)

Raspberry creams (from Prima magazine)
[full quantity - makes 16]

75g butter, softened
125g icing sugar
1 medium egg, beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
200g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder

125g raspberries
1 tsp sugar
5 Tbsp double cream. whipped
150g white chocolate, melted and cooled

1. Cream together butter and sugar till pale and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla, then mix in flour, baking powder and pinch salt until smooth. Between two pieces of clear film, roll out to £1 coin thick. Chill for 1 hour [I chilled it in a ball and rolled it out afterwards].

2. Preheat oven to Gas 4/180C. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment. Cut chilled dough into rounds with a 4cm cookie cutter and place on baking tray 5cm apart [cookies don't spread much]. Bake for 6-8 minutes, until very pale gold Cool on baking sheet for 5 mins, then transfer to rack to cool.

3. Blend berries and sugar, then sieve to remove seeds. Whip cream and raspberry juice into white chocolate. Chill for 1 hour. Sandwich cooled biscuits together with berry filling [the filling in the magazine picture was *much* pinker than mine - either use more berries or add a few drops of pink food colouring if you want it really pink]

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

A very English flapjack

I interrupt raspberry transmission with another blog post for the Norse Goddess. It turned out when we were visiting in Vancouver that she hadn't come across a flapjack before - or not an English type one anyway. So in the spirit of sharing culture, I hastened to make some so I could share the recipe.

Yes, I am pretending I've made M&S flapjack bites. What of it?

I've made flapjacks several times recently but have never actually blogged about them. Plus I've never made the same recipe twice and so don't have a particular favourite. Even Marcus Wareing's (which I mentioned in passing as a gamers' treat) was felt to be 'as good as another flapjack but not outstanding' by my Scientist Connoisseur of All Things Butter and Syrupy. He's quite strict in his requirements for flapjack, which actually, are quite similar to his requirements for trifle: keep it simple. I found a good and simple recipe on the website of Lyle's Golden Syrup - (so many good words) - makers of sugar and syrup, and felt there was no better a place to start my search for the latest offering for the Gamers.

Flapjack, is essentially, melted butter, sugar and golden syrup with oats stirred into it, and baked. You can see why it's a favourite really, can't you? In America, however (as I learnt here) it is a sweet flatbread cooked on a griddle. Madness. It's no wonder the Norse Goddess was confused. The smell of all that lovely golden meltingness does smell pretty alluring even for someone like me who's not so fussed about eating the finished product. This recipe evidently got its proportions just right as the flapjacks were a hit and I am happy to make it my go-to fave. Of course you can add all sorts of extras - dried fruit, seeds, nuts, chocolate all work, and there are approximately a squillion other recipes on the web featuring other goodies. But not if you're eating it in this house, ok?

Lyle's Golden Syrup recipe here

Friday, 30 July 2010

Raspberry parade - jam(ish)

One of the first things I thought of making with my raspberries was jam, and I'd actually just copied down a recipe for raspberry and rose jam from Grandma S's latest copy of the BBC Good Food Magazine. I didn't really want to make too much as we don't get through it very quickly but I had so many berries that I ended up making enough to go with a 1kg bag of jam sugar - about 1.4kg or so. I made it when jam-making expert Cai came round for dinner last Sunday, and must have severely tested my hostessing credentials by hopping up and down at intervals through dinner with a chilled saucer for her to assess how close it was to setting. The trouble was that it started to get close and then it gave up completely and went really runny again. I don't know why this happened - did I heat it too quickly? too slowly? did I annoy it by not offering it dinner? Whatever the reason, I now have eight jars of very runny, and rather overly sweet jam. Cai and Lauren kindly took two jars away with them and I'm considering making it a compulsory leaving gift for anyone else who comes round.

One of the reasons I'd wanted to make this jam was because of the rose flavouring, but when I got my bottle out I remembered that I'd bought rose syrup not rose water. I didn't want to add too much more in the way of sugar, so I used less than the recipe called for, which is rather a shame as the flavour wasn't very noticeable. So, not the best use of the berries, but I'm hoping that I'll be able to strain off some of the liquid and use it in baking - in Cai's chocolate nutella cake, for instance, or a Bakewell slice. Perhaps it's not so bad after all :)

Raspberry and rose jam (from Good Food Magazine, August 2010)
This is the full quantity - I made two thirds
1.8 kg raspberries
1.5 kg jam sugar
2-3 Tbsp rose water

Night before: layer berries and sugar together in a very large bowl, then cover and leave at room temperature.
Next day: give it a stir and set aside until you're ready. Put a small saucer in the freezer
Tip berries, juices and any undissolved sugar into a large wide based pan, and stir in the rosewater. Start over a low heat until the sugar has all dissolved, then bring to the boil and simmer for five minutes. Turn off the heat and spoon a little on to the saucer. When it's cool, push with your finger. If it wrinkles it's at the setting points. If not, return to the heat and boil in 2-3 minute stages until it reaches the wrinkle stage.
Skim off any scum and leave for 15 minus, then pour into sterilised jars. Keeps in a cool dark place for at least 6 months. Refrigerate once opened

Makes 8 jars