Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Vanilla poached quince and apricot

Gosh darn it, I was just about to go out to the gym and it's started raining - and The Scientist has just left to play cricket (of course). So I'll write a blog post and hope it stops. The weather we're having at the moment it might last 4 seconds or it might last all evening.

Anyway, this is a dessert I made a couple of weeks ago after finally spying some quince in a local greengrocer. I've been intrigued by quince since reading Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess, where she features it in several recipes. It's a quintessentially English orchard type of fruit and yet I have never previously seen it in the shops, despite looking. I snapped up two and gleefully brought them home with no particular idea as to what to do with them. They are hard, yellow fruits that look a lot like apples (and are related to them) but I don't believe that you would want to try biting into a raw one - not if you didn't want to spend the rest of the evening with your lips puckered inside your mouth. They have a long and illustrious history, however, being a symbol of fertility (what isn't?), associated with Aphrodite, and possibly even the fruit that Eve ate in the Garden of Eden. David Lebowitz says that they smell so nice that he likes to leave them in his kitchen overnight just for the fragrance. When I read that I went and sniffed ours, but they didn't seem to have an especially noticeable smell.

A week or so later, kitchen still unfragranced, I decided I should do something with them. I wanted something light, so I settled on a simple poached recipe. David Lebowitz has a couple, one of which particularly appealed because it used a vanilla syrup - one of my favourite flavours. I read all his instructions on how to peel these rather hard and knobbly fruits and set to work prepared for a battle. Alas, I had left my quinces a bit too long, and they were quite soft and dark in places when I cut into them. I had to cut so much off that I was only left with a small pile for poaching. I didn't want to give up, so I remembered the gingery poached dried apricots I made a while ago, and so added some dried apricots to my quince.

I was glad I'd stuck with it, as it made a lovely dessert. The quince was nice and soft, but I particularly liked the contrast between it and the chewier apricots. The syrup was very sweet - you could easily cut back on the sugar if you didn't have too sweet a tooth, or were making it for a breakfast compote, but the vanilla flavour was divine. This will be on the list for the next time I stumble upon a quince - whenever that is. Funnily enough though, I also found another ingredient I've been searching for for years this week - samphire. My PhD supervisor's wife used to cook it for their summer parties, but I have never found it anywhere. I finally found it at Borough Market last weekend and brought some back. I just steamed it lightly and ate it atop a poached egg on an English muffin. It was salty and yummy. I wish I'd bought more.

Vanilla poached quince recipe here (and I can recommend adding a few dried apricots too)

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Sometimes you just need a chocolate muffin

Long week. Hard work. Guests for dinner. Needed chocolate-based dessert

That much was clear on Friday night, and the need was enough to make me cut to the chase. For once I didn't look through a million recipes and change my mind six times. Instead I searched for 'chocolate' in my geek-tastic document entitled 'Baking', where I paste all the delicious looking recipes I find on blogs and websites, and stopped when I got to Dan Lepard's Chocolate custard muffins. I don't mind admitting that it was the word 'custard' that got me in particular. Such a comforting word - the stuff of childhood and blissful ignorance of the world of deadlines and grant proposals (don't get me started). No matter that I don't remember eating custard even once as a child (angel delight was our dessert of choice); it has still entered my cultural memory and occupies a hallowed place there.

The recipe was unlike any other muffin I've made. I had imagined that it would be a chocolate cake with custard in the middle, but in fact the whole batter is a custard - starting with a cornflour/water/cocoa/sugar combo in a saucepan, and adding butter, flour, oil, eggs, etc, once it's melted and thick. I used arrowroot powder instead of cornflour, because I hadn't been able to find cornflour last time I was in the supermarket, and it was fine. Cornflour is, of course, NOT cornmeal, but a thickener. I did all the stirring and melting as I prepared dinner, and had the mixture waiting in its pan so that I could add the final ingredients, put it in the cupcake liners and in the oven as The Scientist came back from picking up our weekend guests (Eco Sis and Eco Bro, here to attend the Warwick Folk Festival with us and Munchkin Gramps et al). Dinner was a somewhat eclectic - one could even say random - stir fry with tofu on rice noodles, with shop-bought spring rolls - and potato croquettes, which had apparently leaped into The Scientist's basket with no sense of decorum or grace. They are part of his set of childhood foodie memories; to me they represent Rag Week at croquette-eating competitions at college, which does still show how popular they are amongst children and students alike. Luckily the Ecos are very open to the mix-and-match approach to cookery. We initially deferred the dessert but then got seduced by the baking smell, and tried them straight away. They were very chocolatey, so the main aim was achieved, and while we got distracted by artfully arranging them for their photo and so didn't discuss their custardyness, we did agree that they were nice and moist. I would definitely make them again, and would perhaps save some of the chocolate chips to stir in at the end so that they stayed whole. In fact I had meant to stir in some raspberries, but forgot (naturally). They could probably take all sorts of additions - banana would be very nice, I should think.

Eco Bro's elegant styling in rather poor light - I won't even mention how my efforts came out!

PS to Grandma S or Junior S if you're reading this: sorry I forgot to offer you any the next morning when you came round! I will make them again next time :)

Chocolate custard muffins, from Dan Lepard's Guardian column

50g cornflour [or arrowroot powder]
3 level Tbsp cocoa powder
100g dark soft brown sugar
225ml cold water
75g unsalted butter, broken small [I used vegan margarine]
75ml sunflower oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
125g caster sugar
125g plain flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder

First make the custard: put the cornflour, brown sugar and water into a saucepan and whisk together over a medium heat until boiling, very thick and smooth [this takes several minutes but you'll know when it happens - it suddenly goes *very* thick]. Remove from the heat, beat in the butter and chocolate until melted and absorbed, then add the oil, vanilla and one of the eggs and beat again until combined. Add the remaining egg and caster sugar, and beat again until smooth and thick.

Measure the flour and baking powder into a bowl, stir together, then sift directly on to the custard and beat through until combined. Spoon into a dozen paper muffin cases sitting in the pockets of a muffin tray [I got 14], and bake in a preheated oven to 180C [that's 250F if you're making these, Norse Goddess!]/Gas 4, and bake for 25 minutes. Briefly try to resist chocolatey baking smell, and then eat, happily.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Joyous tomato and cabbage pilaf

This simple dinner was inspired by a bag of cherry tomatoes I bought at Borough Market when we were in London last weekend. That and the fact that the tomato-hating Scientist was out playing cricket (or trying to - that boy is very unlucky with the micro climate around here. He came back having got soaked; it had showered for two minutes here, only 15 minutes' drive away).

I had initially planned to make a simple tomato sauce for a pasta dish, but as the day wore on I began to fancy something featuring the crunch of my favourite grain, bulgar wheat. In the end I decided to keep with the simple and made this lovely pilaf, throwing in some cabbage we had in the fridge as well. My favourite way of eating tomatoes (apart from straight from the bag, like sweeties) is to roast them with some balsamic vinegar. It concentrates all the flavour and gives them a nice chewy texture as well. I put them in the oven and then got on with the rest of the cooking after about 20 minutes. This extra stage really made the dish, but you could just cook them in the pan when the bulgar goes in if you prefer not to turn on the oven. My dinner merited a happy dinner wiggle as I ate it, with some plain yogurt on the top, and a bit of wholemeal pitta bread on the side.

Tomato and cabbage pilaf
The trouble with making up my own dishes is that I pay no attention at all to quantities, so this is a rough guide rather than a proper recipe. I was just cooking for one, though as usual I made too much.

Cut a handful of cherry tomatoes in half (I did loads so as to have lots left over for other dishes and general snacking). Put them in a roasting tin and drizzle over some balsamic vinegar, some shaosing wine, a grinding of salt and pepper, and some fresh basil (or whatever other herbs you prefer). You can also add oil but I let the other liquids do their thing in preference. Roast in a preheated oven at around 180C for about half an hour - but leaving them longer just makes them even nicer and more chewy.

After about 20 minutes of roasting, fry some onion in a pan with a little oil. When it softens add some garlic (I used half of a big clove and it was very garlicky!). After a few more minutes add some shredded cabbage and cook for another few minutes, stirring often. Add about 50g bulgar wheat, stir and then add stock, to cover. Put a lid on the pan, and leave to simmer gently for about 10-15 minutes, until the bulgar is cooked. Serve with the tomatoes on top, and some plain yogurt to hand for drizzling. Dinner wiggle is optional, but advised.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Beetroot and rhubarb soup

I love home grown produce, but I have to admit that my own record in this regard is a bit patchy. So far this year I have failed at least as much as I've succeeded, although I have been very proud of my potatoes (grown in sacks), blueberries and rocket. My little apple and pear trees are looking a bit mournful just now, though I have just moved them into bigger pots to try and appease them, my tomatoes are ok-ish, and the strawberry plants bore fruit very briefly. The butternut squash plants which I planted from seed, and which shot to adolescence under Vicki's careful tending and sun lounge when we were on holiday got munched to bits the instant I put them in the beds, as did the courgette and the sweetcorn I bought at Kenilworth farmer's market. Evil slugs. I was very unhappy. So I have the utmost respect for anyone who manages a better crop - The Scientist's sister, for example, who has courgettes growing aplenty, and our friends E and D, who have a whole plot of rhubarb, broad beans, courgette and gooseberries. We went to visit E and D a couple of weekends ago to meet their new baby, and D very generously sent me off laden with goodies. The gooseberries became a fool, the broad beans went in a soup, and a lot of the rhubarb was stewed and eaten with yogurt for breakfast. I had a bit of rhubarb left though, and fancied making something savoury with it. I was tempted and inspired by Johanna's rhubarb dipping sauce, and Jacqueline's rhubarb and balsamic dressing. In the end I took elements from both, and partnered my rhubarb with some beetroot in a soup. I did find a recipe for this combination which gave me the clever idea of cooking each in turn in the same water. I liked Jacqueline's balsamic, but modified it to red wine vinegar, which is an ingredient in my favourite borscht recipe. I ended up eating the soup warm as it was a changeable sort of day, but I think it would be very nice cold as well. It was rich from the beetroot, with a slight sharpness from the rhubarb, which I think was enhanced by the vinegar. I was quite pleased as I rarely come up with my own recipes - though I have a number of sources to thank for my inspiration!

Rhubarb and beetroot soup
Served 2

3 small beetroots
2 small sticks of rhubarb
red wine vinegar, to taste.
yogurt, to taste

Cut the tops of the beetroot and place in a small pan of water. Bring to the boil, and cook for about 20 minutes, or until soft. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon, and set aside to cool.

Chop the rhubarb into inch long chunks, discarding the ends, and cook in the same liquid until soft - about five minutes or so. Remove from heat and leave to cool, reserving cooking liquid.

When the beetroot is cool enough to handle, slip off the skins, and chop roughly. Place in a small blender with the rhubarb and enough of the cooking water to make the consistency you like (start with a little and add more). Stir in red wine vinegar to taste, and season. You can stir yogurt through at this stage, or do as I did, and serve it on the top.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Belgian buns and Science brownie points

You know how most people have a favourite bakery treat? A custard tart or a doughnut - or perhaps one of those decorated novelty gingerbread men? For me it was always a cheese turnover - a savoury pastry which my best friend and I used to use as fuel on long shopping trips to town to spend our clothes allowances. I don't know how we stayed fuelled on them all day as they were tiny, but we always used to have one each - until the day when we found that Ainsley's bakery in Leeds had a *mushroom turnover* special. Ah, that was a good day.

The Scientist's bakery treat has followed him into adulthood, although I only became aware of it when we moved to Sussex. This is because his favourite is a Belgian bun, and they are not apparently a standard bakery item (a bit like my cheese turnovers I suppose, which I have never seen outside Yorkshire, not that I've had any inclination to look in recent years). A Belgian bun is a bit like a Danish pastry, but with a different type of accent, and made of a sweet bread dough rather than pastry. Other than that it's very similar - a big spiral containing dried fruit and some sort of sweet filling (lemon curd is a favourite) and then coated with icing and a cherry on the top. I'm not certain enough of what the true Belgian bun looks like to risk buying him one from anywhere other than a Forfars Sussex bakery, but he makes sure to pop in and get one whenever we're back on the south coast.

Unbaked Belgian buns

A few months ago we were talking to his sister about childhood treats, and it turned out that she was also a fan of the Belgian bun, although they hadn't been a shared family tradition. A long conversation about the best place to buy them in the town where they grew up ensued, during which I hatched a plan to see if I could recreate this happy childhood memory. I did find a recipe on the internet, on the endearingly named site bun-recipes.co.uk, which looked as though it had the right sort of dough. We don't live very near to Scientist Sister (who is also busy with a young Scientist Nephew Sprog) so I thought I'd take the opportunity of a sup rise retirement party for the Scientist parentals last weekend to try it out.

The dough has the basic constituents of a sweet enriched bread - flour, yeast, sugar, milk and eggs. My recipe directed me not to knead the dough before its first rise, but instead just to leave it in its bowl in a warm place. The dough did rise nicely, and was a bit less sticky by the time it was ready for kneading. Then you roll it out to a rectangle and scatter it with melted butter, sugar and dried fruit, before rolling it back up again. Then slice it into rounds and leave again, before finally baking. I was really pleased with how they looked (though about half the size of the Forfars' model). I drizzled the cooled buns with some icing made from icing sugar and water, and would certainly have gone down the cherry topping route had we had any. Both The Scientist and Science Sister were delighted with their treats and pronounced them just like the originals. I've already had a request to try putting lemon curd in them next time. They were really fun to make, and nice to be bringing back a little of the delights of childhood. I'm sending these Belgian buns to Stefanie at Hefe und mehr (Yeast and more) who is hosting this month's sweet breads-themed Bread Baking Day.

On a slightly related topic: my treacle tart from our Alice in Wonderland party has been thoroughly usurped by this recipe, which Science Sister made at the surprise party last weekend. I'll definitely be trying it myself some time!

Belgian bun recipe here
And if you're after an enriched vegan bread dough you could try Hannah at Bittersweet's pain de mie

Monday, 13 July 2009

Ashes brownies

I think that this blog demonstrates that I have a tendency to indulge random moments of enthusiasm for specialist ingredients. This explains the Liquid Smoke, the nori flakes, the wheatberries, sumac and berbere all tucked into our cupboards. Some of them have become welcome additions to our regular dinners, but others are a little, well, specialist. Another flight of fancy led us a merry dance around every specialist food shop we could find in Australia a couple of summers ago because I had read a few nice recipes which used wattleseeds. No matter that they were all for ice cream, and we don't have an ice cream maker; I thought that being Down Under was enough of an excuse to *need* some of those seeds. I am happy to report that we did eventually find some, but somewhat abashed to admit that two years later the jar has yet to be opened.

Wattleseeds grow wild in Australia, and their seeds form part of traditional cooking. Since acquiring my seeds I have collected several interesting recipes - for wattleseed damper, for example, and Gundabluey Brownies. The quality that had attracted me to the seeds in the first place was their coffee/chocolate flavour, so I particularly liked the idea of adding them to brownies. Something made me pick up the jar the other day and I realised that it was getting perilously close to its use by date. This prompted me, at last, to do something with it.

Fortunately I had a good opportunity. Munchkin Gramps and The Scientist share a love of cricket, and they generally go together to watch an international fixture at Headingley. This year they missed out on Ashes tickets in the ballot, but they did manage to get some for the fourth day's play in the first Test at Cardiff. Grandma S always sends them off with a tasty picnic, but since they were setting off from our place this year, the honours came down to me. Given how heated the competition gets at Ashes matches I thought that I would do my bit for spreading cultural amity and make them some Aussie Ashes brownie bites. The first Aussie chef that came to mind was Bill Granger, and lo and behold, I found a recipe of his for brownies in his bill's Food. It was actually an unusual brownie recipe as it involved mixing the wet and dry ingredients separately and then combining, rather than the usual creaming method. I also Aussie'd them up by adding a tablespoon of wattleseeds. I halved the recipe and chose a pan which would make them come out quite shallow so as to make little bites to nibble on through the day.

Knowing that the wattleseeds were in there I thought that I could detect a slight coffee note to the batter. Neither The Scientist nor Munchkin Gramps noticed it, but they both came back extremely enthusiastic about how good they were. I liked them particularly because they actually cooked through in the time they were supposed to - always a bonus with a brownie recipe, but an unfortunately rare one! Since the day's play consisted of the Aussies knocking the ball all over the place and then us fluffing a few wickets before the rain fell I was glad that I'd provided some sort of pleasurable diversion. These are the new go-to brownies in our house, and I will definitely add the wattleseeds again. After all, I have a whole pot, and only a few weeks to use them up!

Wattleseed Ashes brownies (based on bill's food)

I halved this amount. I also froze what wasn't needed for the picnic, and stored what was in the fridge overnight, just to give them the best chance to firm up. It seemed to work.

370g (2 1/2 cups) caster sugar
80g (2/3 cup) cocoa powder
60g (1/2 cup) plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
4 eggs, beaten
250g unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp vanilla extract
200g chocolate chips (I used a cut up bar of dark chocolate)
1 Tbsp wattleseeds - or more

Preheat the oven to 160C/Gas 2-3

Stir the sugar, cocoa powder, flour and baking powder together in a bowl. Add the eggs, melted butter and vanilla and mix until combined. Mix in the chocolate chips and wattleseeds.

Pour into a lined tin (the full batch goes in a 9 inch/22 cm square one) and bake for 40 to 45 mins

Friday, 10 July 2009

Still testing those scones

Scones, family apple cake (which didn't photograph very well, though I'm hoping it will appear here at some stage), other assorted tea time goodies (the mustard was for the sandwiches; that is NOT an English teatime scone tradition)

I said a few weeks ago that I had found the definitive scone recipe. Then I thought I'd better check another one, just in case. Nope, Nigella still had it. Then Johanna suggested that I try her lemonade scones which I have to admit had attracted my attention already. She said that they were great - light, fluffy and inspired after someone brought them in to her work. What if they had something that Nigella just couldn't match (carbonation, for instance)? While Nigella swears by plain flour and lots of cream of tartar, Johanna's recipe uses lemonade as the raising agent. I've tried beer in bread - why not lemonade in a scone?

I made these for our Alice tea party which was a couple of weeks ago now, but I *think* I did it all exactly as the recipe stated. The only thing I wasn't quite sure about was whether my lemonade was cold enough. It had been in the fridge but only for a couple of hours. As Johanna herself said, these scones aren't quite as convenient to make as normal ones as they also use cream (which we don't have on standby, largely because The Scientist makes it his business to make sure it all gets used up straight away when we do have it). For that reason alone I wouldn't promote them to top of the list, but they were, again, very good. I quizzed our guests excessively but they were frankly too busy buttering, jamming and creaming to be terribly interested in finessing a review, and The Scientist, who is the only one who has tasted all of the scones, got confused about where the lemonade came in and assumed that we were back to Nigella. I don't think they quite hit the fluffiness of the Nigella ones, but they were definitely lovely and soft. I have to apologise for the photos - I had just got my new camera but not yet the new memory card, and so after using up all ten of my quota of pictures I was back to the Ecos' camera - which I never quite managed to work out properly. Not that I'm not grateful to them :)

My thanks to Neil for for crafting his scone so beautifully, and then waiting for ages while I tried to photograph it :)

I'm on scone duty again tomorrow for another event, and it will be back to the Nigellas for now. But I think there may still be room for further investigation. We had a lovely light scone while we were on holiday in the Lakes, for instance, which surprised us by being flavoured with blackberry and chocolate chips. Neither of us was a fan of the latter in a scone, but fresh seasonal fruit - now there's an idea.

Johanna's lemonade scones: recipe here

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Lashings of treacle tart

When the Norse Goddess nominated treacle as a theme for our tea party last weekend she was thinking of the Famous Five and their habitual picnics. I loved these books too, although neither of us could think of any specifically treacley treats in the lunches Aunt Fanny used to pack up to accompany their adventures. Fruit cake, yes, sandwiches, yes, hard boiled eggs, yes, ginger beer - naturally. But treacle is clearly a very traditional English ingredient and so we went with our fancy. Treacle sponge was our first thought, but it's not very tea-party-like. Then we considered gingerbread, but that didn't quite hit it either. Finally we settled on treacle tart, which also made a nice contrast with the cupcakes we were making.

We didn't eat traditional desserts when I was little. 'Fresh fruit in season' was our usual, with the occasional boil in the tin steamed pudding (which we didn't realise was traditional anyway). I didn't eat school dinners either, and so only have one memory of eating semolina for pudding and finding it completely weird (jam on dessert - what was that about?). The Scientist is a connoisseur of all of these sweet treats though, and so I've tried out various recipes during my time with him. I remember being very surprised when I realised what went into treacle tart the first time I made it. Firstly, there is no treacle, but instead golden syrup, and secondly the filling gets its substance from breadcrumbs. I wasn't expecting that. And yet somehow, it works, making a goopily set, incredibly sweet filling in a tart crust. The Norse Goddess was pretty surprised too when she saw me making it, and it wasn't actually her favourite offering at the tea party (but then there were very nicely decorated chocolate cupcakes on the table :) ). A bit of cream on the side though, and The Scientist was happy.

Treacle Tart (from Martha Day's Complete Baking)
Serves 4-6 (apparently - I rolled my pastry out to fit a larger tin than the author suggests, although this did make for a fairly thin layer of filling)

175ml golden syrup
86g fresh white breadcrumbs (I whizzed sliced bread up in a mini processor)
grated rind of one lemon
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

For the pastry
170g plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
85g cold butter, cut in pieces
45g cold margarine, cut into pieces
3-4 Tbsp iced water

1. For the pastry, combine the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the butter and margarine and cut in with a fork until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

2. With the fork, stir in just enough water to bind the pastry. Gather into a ball, wrap in plastic or greaseproof paper and rest in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.

3. On a lightly floured surface roll out the pastry to 3mm thickness. Transfer to a 20cm pie dish [I used a larger one] and trim off the overhang. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes, reserving the trimmings for the lattice top.

4. Preheat a baking sheet at the top of a 200C oven.

5. In a saucepan, warm the syrup until runny and thin. Remove from the heat and stir in the breadcrumbs and lemon rind. Let sit for 10 minutes so the bread can absorb the syrup. Add more breadcrumbs if the mixture is thin. Stir in the lemon juice and spread evenly in the pastry case.

6. Roll out the pastry trimmings and cut into 10-12 thin strips. Lay half the strips on the filling, then lay the remaining strips at a 90 degree angle over them to form a lattice.

7. Place on the hot sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Lower the heat to 190C. Bake until golden, about 15 minutes more. Serve warm or cold.

Monday, 6 July 2009

A healthy interlude: salad lettuce wraps

It's been dessert central round here recently and I fancied a change from bread and dips, and cakes for my lunch today. I was all alone for the first time in ages - the Norse deities have departed and The Scientist was working at his office today.

My lunch was inspired in an effort to use up some lettuce. We find it hard to get through a whole head of lettuce but I hate accidentally letting it go to waste. I was going to make gazpacho soup with some other salad ingredients, but then I thought I could wrap my salad up in lettuce leaves and make a fun and tasty little lunch with almost no effort.

I used a round lettuce with quite floppy leaves which made the rolling up easier. The salad was made of stuff I had in the fridge - raw broccoli, carrot ribbons, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, a bit of feta, some sweetcorn, with some pumpkin seeds scattered on the top. I bet adding a grain would be good too. I made up an easy dipping sauce of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and a tiny drizzle of agave nectar, though it turned out to be easier to take the sauce to the wrap rather than the other way round (my leaves weren't big enough to enclose the filling completely!)

It was colourful, crunchy and tasty, and a new perfect way to use up lettuce. While looking up ideas for the lettuce I found some great tips on making it keep longer at Pinch my Salt. Nicole swears by a salad spinner which we don't have, but it does apparently make a big difference. If only we had any spare space in our cupboards :( Next post, back to the desserts!

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Chocolate chilli cupcakes: unexpected star of English tea party

Chocolate chilli cupcakes, mystery treacle offering, jug of the Norse Goddess's sangria. The cupcakes are sitting on a cakestand I inherited from my Grandad.

We hosted a tea party yesterday, in honour of our visiting friends, the Norse God and Goddess. It was the fourth of July so it seemed like a fitting time to get some friends together - what with it being Alice in Wonderland Day and all :) This is a very well known English event, which I had been planning to celebrate for precisely two days, ever since I saw a poster advertising it in the Covered Market in Oxford. Oxford is, of course, the home of Alice, since C. S. Lewis was a don there, and as I mentioned in an earlier post, the site of the famous Treacle Well is near the city [interlude: Roger Federer has just won Wimbledon. During the course of the match I have moderated some essays, read a magazine, read the manual for my new camera, downloaded some pictures and made some bread. But winning Wimbledon sounds pretty good as well]. It was a coincidence that the (Canadian) Norse Goddess had come up with treacle as her first thought for an English tea party, but a happy one. She associated it with the Famous Five, so we were covering lots of children's literature bases.

The Norse Goddess gets creative (and personalised) with the cupcakes

I'll write more about how we turned the treacle theme into reality later, but this post is about the unexpected and not very English star of the tea party - the chocolate chilli cupcakes. This was inspired by the very first entry on my 2009 Cupcake Calendar, so I've been waiting a while to make it. My fellow dairy-reducing friend Vicki has shamed me into also reducing the amount of dairy products I use to bake for other people , so I didn't actually use the recipe from the calendar, but instead adapted the chocolate cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take over the World. The calendar recipe called for the addition of chipotle chilli powder to the batter; we didn't have that, so I used regular chilli powder, and some of the sauce from a jar of chipotle chillis in adobo in lieu of some of the vanilla extract. I did go with the orange frosting the calender suggested, just using vegan marge instead of butter.

The Norse Goddess's over-sized butterfly bun (verdict: nom nom - in a Canadian accent)

The cakes were a big hit. There was a good hit of chilli - everyone noticed it, but it wasn't enough to make your eyes water (I'd been a bit worried about this). Our poor friend Neil, who got ambushed by the salt on the margarita-ish cupcakes I made a few weeks ago was also surprised by the chilli, but it doesn't seem to have been enough to put him off my baking, fortunately. No one complained that they tasted of soya milk either, so thank you Vicki for inspiring me to ban the cow's milk and butter :) The Norse Goddess and I got creative with the icing, and when I realised that she'd never had a butterfly bun, I turned one of the extras into her own little English fusion treat.

Cupcake ready for nomming, modelled by Mike

Our Alice party was a lot of fun, and was only slighted marred by the odd raindrop, which just served to push us inside to watch the Wimbledon women's final. The Norse Goddess made us up some sangria, which I've just realised I was drinking without diluting with lemonade, and The Scientist repeated his sandwich-making triumph from the cricket tea. His egg mayonnaise got particular mention in dispatches. The Norse deities were able sandwich minions, and the Norse God made the decorative bunting (environmentally friendly - made from Sunday newspaper colour supplements). Everyone was happy apart from Bamber the dog, who was kept confined to the car to avoid cat spooking. He didn't get a cupcake (naturally - chocolate being very bad for dogs indeed), but he did get a walk once the tea had gone down a little.

Eco bunting (note Andy Murray on third flag from the right!)

Chocolate chilli cupcakes (adapted from Vegan Cupcakes...)
Made 12 fairy cakes and two big cupcakes with the leftovers

1 cup soya milk
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup caster sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp adobo sauce from a jar of chipotle chillis
1 cup plain white flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp chilli powder

1. Preheat oven to 175 C and line a muffin tin with paper liners
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the soya milk and vinegar and set aside for a few minutes to curdle. Add the sugar, oil, vanilla and adobo sauce, and beat. In another bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, bicarb and salt. Add in two batches to the wet ingredients and beat until there are no large lumps. Add the chilli powder and stir to combine well.
3. Pour into the cupcake liners, filling three quarters of the way (this will create quite flat tops for icing. If you want to make butterfly buns, put a bit more in to get a domed top). Baking 18-20 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Transfer to a rack and allow to cool before frosting.

Chocolate orange frosting (from the 2009 Cupcake Calendar)
1 cup icing sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
2 Tbsp Grand Marnier (or Tia Maria)
1/3 cup butter or vegan margarine

Blend all of the ingredients together in a processor. The instructions said to sift the sugar but I didn't bother. Pipe the frosting onto the cooled cupcakes. Or, slice the top of the domed cupcakes and halve the cut-off top. Frost the top of the cupcake and then balance the two halves on top so that they look like wings (see photo)

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Scones - just testing

Oy but it's hot here. I realise that it's not hot in the wider scheme of things, but as is well known, Brits are not very good at being hot or dealing with being hot. We have our beloved friend the Norse God staying with us at the moment, and his beloved consort, the Norse Goddess (now also beloved by us), but it's been too hot to do much with them. Luckily we all like flumping with books, games and good cheer (and/or good cheese, depending on our various preferences). We are about to brave the heat to show them Oxford, but while everyone else is finishing getting ready I'm going to post another scone recipe.

I said a few weeks ago that I was never going to make another scone - I had found scone perfection in Nigella's recipe, and that that was it forever. But I wanted to test it alongside a recipe by Nigel Slater, who is another food writer I like very much. I had cut out a recipe from Sainsbury's Magazine last year, and with a willing band of tasters presenting themselves I made a quick batch for The Scientist's latest gaming trip. I didn't have any eggs so I subbed 1 Tbsp plain yogurt. And I also added dried fruit which Nigel doesn't. The scones were perfectly lovely, and even caused The Scientist's gaming friends to run out for jam and cream. Nigella they were not, however. I am told that they lacked the same light fluffiness - though without the comparison they would have done very well. I hate to make it sound as though I am being critical of one of Nigel's recipes, after all.

So, do make these. They are very nice scones. However, if you want to wow your friends, relatives and partner's cricket team, make these.

Nigel Slater's scones (Sainsbury's magazine, October 2008)
Nigel says that these are the first scones he'd made without plain flour and baking powder - they use self raising flour instead.

Makes 6 or 7 small scones

250g self raising flour, plus extra for dusting
40g cold unsalted butter
25g golden unrefined caster sugar
1 large egg (or 1 Tbsp plain yogurt)
about 150ml buttermilk, or 120ml normal milk with 2 Tbsp natural yogurt
handful of dried fruit (optional and not part of Nigel's original!)
a little egg and milk for glaze (optional)

Preheat the oven to 220C/fan 200C, Gas 7.

Sift the flour into the bowl of a food processor with a pinch of salt [he 'genuinely recommends' sieving the flour here]. Add the butter, cut into small pieces, and then the sugar. Blitz for a few seconds, until you have what looks like breadcrumbs. Break the egg into a mixing jug, whisk lightly, then pour in enough buttermilk to make the quantity up to 150ml. Pour the liquid into the food processor bowl and blitz very briefly. Turn the mixture onto a floured surface and knead gently for a few seconds, just until you can pull the mixture together into a ball.

Pat the dough into a large round, about 2.5 cm thick. Cut out as many scones as you can using a 5-6cm cookie cutter or upturned glass. Bring the trimmings together and press gently back into shape, then cut out a couple more until you have used up all the mixture.

Place on a baking sheet, brush with the beaten egg and milk to glaze, if using. Bake for 12-15 minutes till pale and risen. Serve slightly warm with clotted cream and jam.