Monthly Archives: June 2013

Midsummer Cardamom Twists

If you’re in London right now or have visited recently, it may come as something of a shock to learn that it is midsummer. Sure, we’ve had a few warm days, but the skies are still leaden, with oppressive dark clouds threatening rain at the drop of a hat. However, the threat of bad weather on a summer’s day is never enough to stop us enjoying the Great British Summer – I’ve just spent the day at a garden party in Primrose Hill where we spend most of the day rushing between the house and the garden depending on whether the rain was falling or some rays of sunshine could be spotted.

Given the state of the weather, midsummer is not a huge event in Britain, but in honour of this point in the year, I’ve made cardamom twists as a nod to our Scandinavian cousins, for whom the middle of the summer season is a very big deal indeed. And when you have warm, sunny days by the sea with little (or no!) night like the do in Sweden, Norway and Finland, you can understand why.

This is a variation on my recipe for cardamom buns, but rather than rolling the dough into a sausage and slicing it, you cut it into strips, twist and form into a bun, then hope for the best as the yeast gets going and they expand into all manner of strange shapes. Not one for those obsessed with getting even-looking buns, but I think they’re pretty fun to make and eat.

twist2

twist3  twist1

To make cardamom twists (makes 12):

For the dough:

• 2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 50g sugar
• 60g butter
• 150ml milk, scalded and cooled
• 1 egg
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg or mace
• 325g strong white flour
• pearl sugar, to finish

For the filling:

• 60g butter, soft
• 60g caster sugar
• 2 teaspoons ground cardamom

1. Whisk the egg and divide in two. You need half for the dough, and half for the glaze.

2(a). If using a bread machine: put one portion of the egg and the rest of the ingredients into the mixing bowl. Run the “dough” cycle. Simples!

2(b). If making by hand: put the flour and butter into a bowl, and rub with your fingers until the butter has been incorporated. Fold in the salt, sugar, nutmeg/mace and yeast. In a separate bowl, combine the milk and one portion of the egg, then pour into the dry ingredients. Stir with a spoon, then work with your hands until you have a smooth, stretchy, silky dough (at least 5 minutes). Leave the dough a warm place for an hour until the dough has doubled in size. Knock back and knead again for 2-3 minutes.

3. Once the dough is ready, turn it onto a floured surface. Roll into a very large rectangle getting the dough as thin as you can. Make the filling by mixing all the ingredients until smooth, then spread across the dough. Fold the dough in half. Use a sharp knife to cut into 12 strips.

4. Take each strip and start twisting the edges in opposite directions until you have a spiral. Form into a coil, tucking the ends underneath, and place on a bun case. Cover with cling film or a damp tea cloth and leave to rise for at least an hour until doubled in size.

5. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Take the remaining egg (remember that?) and mix with a tablespoon of water. Brush the buns with the egg wash and sprinkle with pearl sugar. Bake the buns for about 10-12 minutes until golden.

6. When done, remove from the oven and cover with a clean tea-towel (this will catch the steam and keep the buns soft).

Worth making? These buns are amazing. It’s a very unusual flavour in terms of baked goods, so it’s nice to have something different. They’re buttery, zesty and fragrant. They also last for a few days if stored in a sealed container, so can see you through several breakfasts, mid-morning snacks and afternoon treats.

Advertisements

9 Comments

Filed under Recipe, Sweet Things

Rose Jam

Some challenges are just too tempting to resist.

At the back of my garden, I have a wall full of roses – three bushes which cover the space with large, dark red blooms with a lovely heady fragrance. As roses feature in a lot of Middle Eastern cuisine, this set me thinking: could I make something with them?

A few moments online suggested something very easy to try would be to make rose jam (or more precisely, rose jelly). The idea is pretty simple – just steep the roses in hot water to extract their colour and perfume, them mix the strained liquid with pectin-rich sugar and briefly boil. So rose jam it would be.

rose_jam

In working out how to make this jam, I found there were two approaches. One involved just using the rose petals and leaving it at that, while others suggest adding a few drops of rose extract at the end of the cooking process to enhance the flavour. Well, this second option seemed to me to be a little like cheating – the only reason to make rose jam in the first place is to capture their perfume, so if you’re getting that perfume from a bottle, then you might as well just boil up a sugar-pectin mixture, and throw in some flavour and not bother with the real thing. Needless to say, I opted for the “natural” approach and hoped for the best.

The first part of making rose jam is both interesting and alarming. You pop the petals into a large saucepan with hot water, then watch them wilt down and turn quite pale as their colour seeps into the water. At this point, the colour of the water can be quite surprising – either a murky brown colour is you use pale petals, while dark red petals turn the liquid almost blue. You have the scent of the roses, but the colour just is not what you would imagine. However, there is an all-natural trick which helps fix things. A simple dash of lemon juice does something to the murky rose water, and it changes, in my case from dark blue to a rich red, just like wine.

This recipe is easy, and while it is very sweet, it does have the colour and scent of roses. It’s not one to spread on fruitcake or gingerbread where the flavour would be lost. You want to serve alongside something simple, like scones with cream, so that the delicate taste is not overpowered by something else. That, or get more adventurous, and use it when making baklava, on yoghurt or in various desserts that might suggest warm evenings in Persian rose fields.

If you’re going to make this, just be sure to use natural flowers – ideally from the garden or somewhere wild, where you can be sure that they have not been sprayed with any chemical nasties. Sadly this means you will probably need to avoid the spectacular roses you can buy in your local florist. Just pop those into a vase and admire them!

To make rose jam (makes around 4 pots):

• 1 litre rose petals, lightly packed
• 1 litre boiling water
• 1 lemon, juice only
• 1 kg preserving sugar

1. Put the rose petals into a saucepan. Pour on the boiling water, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for around 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave to steep for another 20 minutes.

2. Add the lemon juice to the liquid, which should change the colour to pink or red. Filter the liquid into a large pot and add the sugar.

3. Put the pot onto a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil, then simmer until you reach the setting point.

4. Once the jam is ready to bottle, leave to cool slightly, then spoon into prepared, sterilised bottles.

Worth making? If your garden has only three roses, don’t bother, and just enjoy them in their natural form. However, this is a lovely way to use roses if you have dozens and dozens of them, and helps to make summer last just that little bit longer.

9 Comments

Filed under Recipe, Sweet Things

Cheese and Herb Scones

Yesterday I had some friends round for afternoon tea. Chocolate tartlets, coconut macaroons, jam tarts, tarte au citron, Victoria sandwich, currant scones and chocolate clusters all magicked up in the morning. While cakes and sweet treats are all well and good, I think it is essential to have some savoury items as well. Otherwise, well, all that sugar gets too much!

I made a selection of the famous cucumber sandwiches, but I also wanted to try my hand at something more substantial. The result was these scones – flavoured with strong cheddar, fresh chives and herbes de Provence, as well as a dash of nutmeg and mustard to complement the cheese.

cheese_scones_2

These scones are soft and fluffy, and perfect while still warm – split them, and all the cheese is still melted and delicious! They are also an absolute, utter breeze to make. All you have to do is rub some butter into the flour, stir in the cheese and spices, then all some milk, which really makes them ideal if you’ve got unexpected guests or you need something a little special for breakfast. Ten minutes to make, fifteen minutes to bake and a few seconds to devour!

cheese_scones_1

To make cheese and herb scones (makes 8):

• 225g plain flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 50g butter
• 75g strong cheddar
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
• 1 teaspoon dried herbs
• pinch of nutmeg
• 1/4 teaspoon mustard
• 150ml milk

1. Preheat the oven to 220°C (420°F).

2. Put the flour, baking powder and butter into a large bowl. Work with your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs and there are no lumps of butter. Add the grated cheddar, chives, herbs and nutmeg. Mix well with your hands.

3. In a bowl, mix the milk and mustard. Add to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined – the mixture should hold its shape but still be fairly wet.

4. Put lots of flour onto a kitchen worktop. Turn out the dough and roll lightly. Use a cutter to shape the scones – aim to get eight from the dough.

5. Bake for around 15 minutes until the scones are puffed and golden. Serve while still warm, and best eaten the same day.

Worth making? These scones are amazingly easy to make and taste spectacular. Highly recommended!

13 Comments

Filed under Afternoon Tea, Recipe, Savoury

Queen Victoria

Oh we Brits love a bit of royal history. Henry VIII and his six wives, the rivalry between the stoical English Elizabeth I and her rather more flirty Scottish cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, the scandalous relationship between King Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson (where rumour has it that her unsuitability was as much about being an American divorcée as being an American divorcée), the Madness of King George III, the tragedies of Princess Charlotte (the queen who never was) and Margaret, Maid of Norway (Queen of Scots for only four years and who died young before she could set foot in her kingdom), the Union of the Crowns, the English Civil War, the restoration of Charles II…it goes on! Even today, stick a picture of certain royals on the front of a magazine and you’re pretty much guaranteed an uptick in sales. And in about five weeks, I’m pretty confident that this country’s media will be going into overdrive…I’m sure you can guess why!

What is also clear is that the world of British food also has many links to royal history, with a range of dishes associated with various monarchs. It is probably a bit of a stretch to suggest that any of these were actually made by any of them, but such recipes would tend to be made either to commemorate a special occasion (such as the famous checked Battenberg cake created for a royal wedding) or, as is the case with the subject of today’s post, the Victoria Sponge, were a favourite of a king of queen. Here it is in all its jammy glory!

victoria3

This cake is part of a classic afternoon tea – it’s a fairly simple sponge cake, flavoured with vanilla if you like, then filled with jam and finished with a dusting of caster sugar. You could dust with icing sugar, but the caster sugar adds some sparkle and a little crunch on top.

Where there is some debate is what exactly the filling should be. I like raspberry jam and nothing else. However, it’s not uncommon to see whipped cream or even buttercream in the middle of this cake. I think that makes it all a bit too rich, but to each his own. If you were to add the cream, then I would just caution you and suggest it should be added at the last minute, so that the cream does not make the cake go soggy (or cheat – coat the top of the base and the bottom of the top cake with jam, which should stop the cream getting to the cake).

victoria4

There is also a bit of mythology about this cake. It was said to get its name as it was a favourite of Queen Victoria. It is also rumoured that the Victoria Sponge, while straightforward to make, is fickle to bake, and thus making it the perfect cake with which to test in new ovens. There must be an appliance manufacturer out there making a lot of cakes…

Victoria1

The method I’ve used here is essentially the all-in-one technique. You can do it the hard way (cream butter, beat in the sugar, mix in the eggs, fold in the flour…), but I’ve tried both approaches, and the all-in-one produces great results with minimal fuss. The secret to getting this cake as light as possible is to use self-raising flour, and then to boost it with some baking powder. I’m willing to guarantee that if you follow the recipe, perfect results can be yours!

If you’re not sold on the idea of keeping things simple, you can try different types of jam, or even use lemon or orange curd. Citrus zest or a handful or currants can be added to the batter too, but as for the topping – go with the simple sprinkling of sugar. Do that, and I’m sure Queen Victoria would approve.

victoria2

To make a Victoria sandwich:

• 225g white caster sugar
• 225g unsalted butter, softened
• 4 large eggs
• 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 225g self-raising flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• raspberry jam (around half a jar)
• caster sugar, to finish

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Butter two 20cm (8 inch) sandwich tins, coat with flour and line the base with greaseproof paper.

2. Cream the butter in a mixing bowl until soft and fluffy. Add the caster sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour and baking powder, and mix well until just combined (don’t over-beat). Divide the mixture between the two sandwich tins. Smooth the tops with a fork.

3. Bake the cakes for 25 minutes until risen and golden, and an inserted skewer comes out clear. Allow to cool in the tins for 10 minutes, then remove form the tins, place on a wire tray and allow to cool completely.

4. To assemble the cake, remove the greaseproof paper from the bottom cake. Trim any peak if necessary, then spread generously with jam. Remove the paper from the bottom of the second cake, and place on top. Sprinkle lightly with caster sugar. Voila!

Worth making? This is a simple, but always-popular cake, which is easy to make. Highly recommended with a cuppa!

8 Comments

Filed under Afternoon Tea, Recipe, Sweet Things

Pumpkin Seed Gnocchi

I realise that I don’t feature as many savoury dishes here as I probably could, or indeed should. This is not because I live off only sweet things, but I find that savoury food is rather trickier to take pictures of. I might make an amazing aubergine lasagne or killer stir-fry, but trying to get an appealing shot when it’s dark outside and you’re in a rush to eat after a hard day at work…well, it just doesn’t really work. Great food, not so great pictures.

To try and change this, I thought I would share a very simple recipe using pumpkin seed butter. I’ve been using this butter in a lot of dishes recently. This is similar to nut butters, but made from pumpkin seeds, their skins lending a lovely green colour.

pumpkingnocchi2

This really is simplicity itself – you cook the gnocchi, then reserve a couple of spoons of the salted cooking water, mix with pumpkin seed paste (plus a dash of salt to taste), add some pumpkin oil (or olive oil if you prefer), and that’s it. You magically end up with a bright green, creamy, nutty sauce with no dairy, and which takes about two minutes to make.

pumpkingnocchi

6 Comments

Filed under Recipe, Savoury

Sweet Beets

I think beetroot is one the most under-appreciated vegetables. It’s got a lot going for it – a sweet, earthy flavour and a colour that is literally shocking. But it has done rather badly thanks to the favoured British way of serving it. I mean, why would you want to use it in its lovely fresh state when you can pickle the thing in vinegar and turn it into something astringent and rather naff? I mean, why?

Well, time to change that. I love cooking with beetroot, and find that it is really versatile. It makes a great sauce for pasta or gnocchi (cooked up with cumin seeds, cream and fresh dill), sensational hot and cold soups and beetroot juice gives you vibrant, natural colours in savour and sweet dishes. When icing a cake, beetroot will give you one of the hottest pinks you could wish for. It can also be used in baking, making wonderful beetroot and chocolate cakes that are moist, chocolatey and nutritious. Convinced yet?

One of the easiest things to make is a Swedish-style beet and apple salad. Worth making for the stunning colour alone. My timing is also spot on – tomorrow is Sweden’s national day, so the country will be awash with flags, smörgåsbord and (probably) beetroot salad.

beet_salad_1

This salad is just apple and beetroot, finished off with a little onion, sour cream and seasoning. It is by turns fruity, savoury, creamy and fresh. It is also incredibly easy to make – just chop-chop, mix-mix, and you have a colourful and delicious summery salad, which is great with a light lunch or as part of a brunch spread. This is my take on the version served at London’s Scandinavian Kitchen – I was too shy to ask them for their recipe (which I would imagine is secret anyway) so I’ve tried to re-create this so I can get my fix in the meantime.

beet_salad_2

This makes a good lunch served alongside other Scandinavian delights like dill potato salad, crispbread and goodies like meat and fish.

To make Swedish beetroot and apple salad:

• 4 medium beetroot
• 4 crisp apples, peeled and cored
• salt, to taste
• pepper, to taste
• 1/2 small white onion, very finely chopped
• sour cream (use a 300ml pot)
• dill, to finish

1. Cook the beetroot – drop them whole into boiling water, cover and simmer until the beets are tender (around an hour). Drain and leave to cool (this is a good thing to do the day before).

2. Peel the cold beets – trim off and discard the top and bottom, and use the back of a knife to rub off the skin – it should just come off without the need to cut the beets. Once peeled, cut the beets into small chunks and put into a large bowl.

3. Peel and core the apples, cutting into small cubes. Add to the beets.

4. Add the onion, salt and pepper to the beets, plus as much sour cream as you like. You want the beets and apple to be well-coated, but not swimming in cream. Stir well until everything is shocking pink. Enjoy cold, and watch your tongue change colour!

Worth making? This is a straightforward summer recipe – easy, fresh and delicious. Recommended!

13 Comments

Filed under Recipe, Savoury

Queen Elizabeth Cake

Today is sixty years since the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Last year we had the festivities of the Diamond Jubilee, marking sixty years since her accession, but today marks the anniversary of the great celebration in Westminster Abbey which provided such memorable images to the world. And in comparison to the rather wet day we had last year, today London is basking in sunshine.

I was looking for a recipe in honour of this day, and I was rather surprised that there were not more cakes and bakes that were associated with great event. Perhaps everything else has been overshadowed by the famous Coronation Chicken? Undeterred, I kept searching and finally came across the curiously-named Queen Elizabeth Cake. This is a tray cake made with dates and nuts, finished off with a caramel glaze and topped with coconut. So far, so good.

Queen_Elizabeth_Cake_1

This is a cake with quite an interesting story. The tale goes that Her Majesty used to enjoy dabbling in home baking from time to time, and would make this recipe herself, in the Buckingham Palace kitchens, to be sold for charitable purposes. In fact, this was the only cake she would make. With this sort of regal endorsement, I just had to try this recipe. Incidentally, I’m sure the Queen would appreciate the Great British Bake-Off – but what would she make of this cake featuring as part of the technical challenge?

The technique was new to me – the cake has a lot of dates in it, but rather than just throwing them in and hoping for the best, they are soaked briefly in hot water with bicarbonate of soda. This soda, in addition to helping the cake to rise, gives the batter greater saltiness which combines with the sweet dates to enhance their flavour. The overall result is light, airy and delicious. With the caramel glaze, it probably makes you think of sticky toffee pudding.

When it came to assembling the cake, and with the utmost respect to Her Majesty, I departed from the original recipe. My cake did rise in the oven, but it was about 2 1/2 cm in depth. I wanted it higher, so I cut the cake into two slabs, and used half of the glaze as a filling, and so ended up with two layers. If you’ve got lots of people coming to tea, just go with one layer, but I think the double-layer approach looks quite nice. When it comes to the coconut, I would go for the white stuff rather than the golden toasted coconut. Nothing to do with flavour, but the white coconut looks great against the caramel.

Queen_Elizabeth_Cake_2

Now, time for a reality check. Is this cake really a secret from Buckingham Palace? Well, we do know that the Queen is very practical and hands-on when she is at her summer home, Balmoral Castle in Scotland, and from her days in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. I have no doubt she would be more than capable when it comes of baking. This also seems like a very traditional cake to me – the dates and walnuts give it an old-fashioned flavour, and I felt the air of post-war austerity over the ingredients, jazzed up with exotic coconut, all of which lends an air of plausibility to the story of this recipe coming from a newly-crowned Queen in the 1950s.

However, a few things make me cautious. This recipe does seem very close to the very British dessert of sticky toffee pudding, so perhaps it’s just that with a better story? Also, lots of the versions of this recipe featured online from yellowing scraps of paper found in attics from American sources, with references to terms like “frosting” and “pecans”. We don’t frost cakes in Britain, we ice them (and if you’ve had the pleasure of a British wedding cake, you might think we plaster them). Pecan nuts are traditionally less common than good old-fashioned walnuts over here. So on balance, if I were asked to come down in favour of a “yay” or “nay”, I would need to plump for “nay”, but even so, there is a nice story behind this cake, and if Her Majesty were to be coming round for afternoon tea, I don’t think she would refuse a slice. Congratulations Ma’am!

To make Queen Elizabeth Cake (makes 12 pieces):

For the cake:

• 175g soft dates, finely chopped
• 240ml boiling water
• 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
• 200g soft brown sugar
• 120g butter
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 egg
• 140g plain flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 60g walnuts, chopped

For the glaze:

• 75g soft brown sugar
• 75g double cream
• 25g butter
• pinch of salt
• 30g desiccated coconut

1. Preheat the oven to 175°C (300°F). Line a 23 x 31cm (9 x 12 inch) rectangular baking tray with greaseproof paper.

2. In a heatproof bowl, mix the dates, bicarbonate of soda and boiling water and set aside.

3. In another bowl, beat the butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add the egg and mix well, then fold in the flour and baking powder until just combined.

4. Add the nuts and the date mixture (the dates should have absorbed a lot of the water, but the mixture will still be very wet – it should be lukewarm, not hot). Stir with a light hand until smooth.

5. Pour the batter into the tray and bake for around 25-30 minutes until the top is a rich brown colour and an inserted skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool.

6. While the cake is baking, make the glaze – put the sugar, cream, butter and salt into a saucepan, and keep stirring until the mixture comes to the boil. Remove from the heat and put aside until cold.

7. To finish the cake, cut in two equal slabs. Spread half the glaze onto one piece, then place the other on top of it. Spread the remaining glaze on the cake and sprinkle with the coconut. Trim the edges for a neat finish and cut into pieces.

Worth making? An easy recipe, but gives a rich, moist cake which cuts easily. Perfect for coffee mornings or afternoon tea. Recommended, and with royal approval!

9 Comments

Filed under Recipe, Sweet Things