Tag Archives: baking soda

Scottish Food: Parlies (after a fashion…)

Hoots! Tonight is Burns Night, the official unofficial celebration of all things Scottish in general, and specifically the life and times of the national poet, Robert (Robbie) Burns. Up and down the land, people will enjoy traditional fare consisting of haggis, neeps and tatties (swede and potatoes). Simple stuff, but usually rounded off with a lot of whisky and followed with a poetry recital and some energetic Scottish folk dancing if you’ve managed to moderate the whisky intake.

I’ve been looking around for an interesting Scottish recipe, and from time to time I’ve seen a reference to biscuits called “parlies”. I must admit that parlies are not something that feature in my knowledge of Scottish baking, and it seems that I’m not alone. Most people think about shortbread and Ecclefechan tarts, perhaps with the occasional empire biscuit thrown in there, but parlies don’t feature much on blogs. So when it came to making these mysterious “parlies” I was pretty much guessing how they would turn out.

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Before I get to the baking, a little history lesson is helpful. The name parlies come from the word “parliament”, and they are also known as Scottish parliament cakes. The story goes that these ginger biscuits were purchased by the members of the original (pre-1707) Scottish Parliament from a tavern on Potterrow behind the University run by a Mrs Flockhart (who was also know as “Luckie Fykie”) , and were enjoyed with a tot of whisky. Parlies themselves were square in shape, and she also sold “snaps” which were round. In fact, you can read more about her in this extract from Traditions of Edinburgh written by Robert Chalmers in 1825. The title pages explain that it concerns itself with “conspicuous characters of the last century” and promises “the old-town ladies of quality”, which I can assume only refers to how they ran their hostelries. But remarkably, this book talks about her, the location of her tavern, and there is even a reference to parlies in there! However, I have not yet found a source that confirms whether these were enjoyed by any particular side of the house or they enjoyed cross-party appeal.

Armed with this knowledge, I knew that I was making some sort of ginger biscuit. I like ginger, so that was a plus. But what I quickly realised is that there is no one single way to make them. Given they seem to be at the very edges of the national baking consciousness, there is no single ideal to bake towards. Eeek! I knew what this meant – I might be facing baking failure, and I might end up in one of those kitchen frenzies when I’m trying recipe after recipe to get something that I deem acceptable. Yes, that happens sometimes!

All recipes I was able to track down used brown sugar, butter, flour, ginger and black treacle in varying quantities. Some used egg, others didn’t. There were also different ways to make them – some involved melting the butter, some involved the creaming method. While I am far from a baking expert, I knew this risked differing results. There was also a dearth of raising agents in the recipes I managed to find, which did make sense as the original parlies first popped up at a time when there was no baking powder, and other raising agents might have been hard to come by.

I bit the bullet and started with a recipe that involved mixing up the dry ingredients, then adding melted butter and an egg to make the dough, but with no raising agent. The dough looked good – it was fairly stiff, and once chilled it could be easily rolled into balls, then flattened and baked. I even added a criss-cross pattern with a fork, which provided a sort of portcullis look on the top of them. While they looked pretty good, and the flavour was decent, the lack of raising agent meant that they were thick and tough – these were not going to melt in the mouth, and I doubt that soaking them in tea or whisky would help soften them. Next!

My second attempt used the creaming method – whipping the butter and sugar, then mixing in the egg before adding the flour, ginger and treacle. This time the mixture seemed lighter and softer, and I assumed that the air I had beaten into it would mean that this batch would come out crisp and light. Well, nope. The spoonful of dough just baked into an unappealling lump of brown. I did try to rescue the dough with a spoonful of golden syrup and a teaspoon of baking soda, but the result looked horrible, and managed to taste worse than it looked. Next!

By my third attempt, I realised that since I had no clue what I was actually aiming for, I should go back to what I know about ginger biscuits. The mixture reminded me of gingernuts, but without any raising agent. I felt that the lack of anything to give them a lift might have been authentic, but it was also grim, and we live in a modern world where we don’t need to eat grim biscuits. I needed something for lift, and decided on baking soda. So my version of parlies are actually gingernuts, but with the sweet golden syrup replaced with the dark, spicy and tangy black treacle, and a bit of chopped cyrstallised ginger for extra spice.

This time, they worked like a dream – just mix all the dry ingredients, work in the butter, then add the treacle. The dough is easy to work and roll into balls, and in the oven, then collapse, take on an attractive random cracked appearance. Once cool, they are light and crisp. Perfect!

parlies1
So there you have it – my take on parlies! They might not be authentic, but I like to think that Mrs Flockhart might have approved (she did sell the round ones too, after all!). And I think they make a passable attempt and the black treacle is a definite nod to the original, and it adds an interesting flavour to them. If you’re not a fan of black treacle, you could use sweeter molasses, or if you like things very sugary, just use golden syrup and call them gingernuts. That still sounds rather Scottish, doesn’t it?

To make parlies (makes 20):

• 110g plain flour
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon ground ginger

• 40g soft brown sugar
• 50g butter
• 1 teaspoon candied ginger, finely chopped
• 2 tablespoons (50g) black treacle or molasses

1. Preheat the oven to 190°C and line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

2. Put the flour, baking soda and ground ginger in a bowl. Mix in the sugar, then rub in the butter until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Mix in the chopped ginger.

3. Add the treacle and mix to a stiff dough.

4. Divide into 20 pieces (roll into a sausage of 20cm, the cut into 1cm pieces). Roll each piece into a ball, then place on the baking sheet and flatten slightly. They will spread out, so leave plenty space between them. It is easier to bake them in batches.

5. Bake for 10-15 minutes until the cookies have spread out and have a cracked appearance. They will be soft when they come out of the oven, but will go hard once cooled.

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{1} Taai Taai

Hello and welcome to 2015’s edition of the 12 Bakes of Christmas!  Regular readers might have noticed a bit of a slowdown in posts in the last few months. I’ve not lost my love of cooking, but a recent arrival has been keeping us all rather busy, which has certainly also made Christmas this year a lot more special!

I’m kicking off a little later than usual this year, as my first bake Taai Taai (rhymes with bye-bye) originates from the Netherlands, where today – 5 December – is Sinterklaas (their Belgian neighbours confusingly celebrate it on 6 December, but as these cookies are Dutch, we’ll go with the earlier date). Sinterklaas is the day on which St Nicholas (or Sinterklaas, the origin of the name Santa Claus) is said to come from Turkey to distribute gifts and sweets to children by leaving them in clogs, or these days, more modern types of shoe. Alongside presents, it is traditional to get a chocoladeletter (your initial in chocolate!) as well as pepernoten and kruidnoten (spicy little biscuits – recipe here).

Taai Taai literally means “tough tough” in Dutch, and that name reveals their texture. Whereas the classic speculaas is often crisp and buttery, these are, well, tough and chewy.

taaitaai2

So what is the story behind these little tough guys?

Continue reading

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Gingerbread

When I moved house, I vowed that I would have the sort of garden that you might see in one of the glossy magazines. Nothing incredibly elaborate mind you, but with a nicely-kept lawn, and strategically planted bushes heavy with flowers (and hopefully fruit) amid herb plants and old-fashioned roses. The sort of place to laze on spring and summer days…

Fast forward eighteen months, and I can assure you that I’m certainly not a shoe-in to appear in Homes and Gardens or Elle Decor. Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from being the shame of the neighbourhood, but somewhere along the way I’ve kind of forgotten that a lovely garden tends to be the result of rather a lot of work. That has meant the last couple of weekends have necessitated rather a lot of work outside, removing weeds, trimming borders and fixing some of the damage that has occurred over winter (it seems the result of the polar vortex in the US was that a lot more storms were hitting the southern parts of Britain, and here we experienced a lot of windy weather).

I am telling you all this because when you’ve been working it the garden, it’s one of life’s great pleasures to take a break and enjoy a cup of tea and a slice of cake. When it is still rather fresh outside, as it has been here, I find the best option in my opinion is something that is sticky and spicy, and I am a massive fan of a good piece of gingerbread.

gingerbread

It is interesting how this recipe seems to pop up when you travel. Similar spiced loaves and cakes seem to exist everywhere, from Dutch ontbijtkoek to French pain d’épices. These are also often made with honey, and while I do enjoy the flavour that this can add, I have experimented with both honey and golden syrup, and for some curious reason, the result is better in my experience with golden syrup. The texture is lighter and more delicate. However, to make up for the fact that golden syrup is not as aromatic as honey, I also swap a few spoons of syrup for some black treacle, which gives the cake a darker colour and some extra flavour. For a bit of extra oomph I’ve also added some dark marmalade and fiery preserved ginger.

How you want to finish gingerbread is up to you. These sort of cakes are sufficiently robust in the flavour department to handle thick icing or creamy frosting, but I much prefer them either with simple water icing or a light glaze of marmalade or ginger syrup, with a few pieces of preserved ginger on top. However, if you do want to add icing, it is worth bearing in mind that while the cake will last for quite some time (indeed, becoming better with time) the icing will start to colour from the brown muscovado sugar in the cake, so if you are not serving this cake until  few days after baking, then ice it the evening before or the morning of serving. The flavour is not affected, but you want to make sure you have the dramatic contrast between the dark cake studded with sticky ginger and the brilliant white icing.

Right, that’s that…I can see the garden outside, beckoning me to go back and sort out the rose bushes…well, maybe at the weekend…

To make a gingerbread loaf:

• 50g muscovado sugar
• 75g butter
• 125g golden syrup
• 2 tablespoons marmalade
• pinch of salt
• 75ml milk
• 1 large egg, beaten
• 2 generous teaspoons chopped preserved ginger
• 150g plain flour
• 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
• 2 teaspoons ground ginger
• pinch ground cloves
• 2 tablespoons marmalade and 2 teaspoons chopped preserved ginger

1. Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F). Line a 1 kilo (2 pound) loaf tin with greaseproof paper.

2. Put the sugar, butter, golden syrup, marmalade and salt into a saucepan. Heat gently until everything has melted. Stir well and put to one side.

3. In another bowl, combine the milk, egg and preserved ginger. Check the syrup mixture is just warm, and add the egg mixture and mix well.

4. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients, and add to the wet ingredients. Whisk briefly to ensure everything is well-combined, and pour into the prepared loaf tin.

5. Bake for around 40 minutes. The loaf should be risen, springy to the touch and an inserted skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for 5 minutes, then brush with rest of the marmalade and sprinkle over the remaining chopped ginger.

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{3} Giant Ginger Cookies

For the third day of Christmas baking, we’re going to continue with the crinkle theme I featured earlier in the week, but instead leave the richness of chocolate for the warm spicy flavour of ginger. Unlike most of my festive posts, these are not some traditional recipe from another country. At a push, I would say they are like giant, chewy versions of British ginger nuts biscuits. Almost the flavour of Christmas in baked form!

gingercookie3

gingercookie2

Not that I want to sound big-headed, but I think that these are pretty much perfect ginger biscuits. Yes, they are pretty massive, but they are packed with spice and heat from lots of ground ginger as well as the candied stuff. If you make them, be prepared for that taste-tingling ginger flavour as you munch away on them.

I really loved how these looked, with a good series of random cracks on the surface. However, what makes them particularly special is how they have been finished off. I rolled them on demerara sugar (you can use any coarse-grained sugar) which makes them look rather sparkly, and adds some welcome crunch to offset the chewy biscuits themselves. These really are the perfect treat to enjoy with a mug of coffee when you’ve just come in from a long walk in the forest or park where the last of the leaves are falling. Yes, that’s what it’s like here in London at the moment, and there is a bit of a feeling in the air that we’re in for a cold, hard winter. So clearly time to big up the ginger!

gingercookie1

To make giant ginger and spice cookies (makes 16):

• 340g plain flour
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 2 teaspoons ground ginger
• 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

• 3/4 teaspoons ground cloves
• 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg or mace
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 180g dark brown sugar
• 60g butter, melted
• 120g treacle (or half treacle, half golden syrup)
• 1 egg, at room temperature
• 100g chopped candied ginger
• granulated demerara sugar, for rolling

1. In a large bowl, mix and sieve the flour, baking soda, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg/mace and salt. Set aside.

2. Put the brown sugar, melted butter and treacle in another bowl and beat until smooth. Add the egg and beat until smooth. Fold in the candied ginger, then add the flour and mix until you have a smooth dough. Cover the bowl and leave in the fridge to chill for an hour.

3. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

4. Divide the dough into 18 pieces (around 50g each). Roll each into a ball, then flatten slightly. Put the demerara sugar in a bowl, and press both sides and the edge into the sugar. Place on the baking tray, leaving sufficient space for the biscuits to spread (they expand a lot). Repeat until all the dough has been used. You may find it easier to bake them in two batches.

5. Bake the cookies for 12-14 minutes – they should have spread out, cracked and look browned, but the edges should not be too dark. Remove from the oven, allow to sit for a moment, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Worth making? Definitely! Easy to make, look impressive and the last well in a sealed biscuit tin.

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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!

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{3} Sirupsnipper

Today I’m going to go back to more “traditional” festive baking, and that involves looking north, to our neighbours in Norway.

As it turns out, Norway is home to some very unique and interesting recipes for Christmas. I’d always assumed they were very much like those of Sweden and Denmark, but they have their own personality. In addition, there is a festive tradition called Syv Sorter (“seven sorts”) whereby you bake – you guess it – seven different things in order to have a properly generous Christmas spread. Some suggest there is a fixed list of items to choose from, but there seem to be about twenty different traditional bakes. While the list of what people include varies rather a lot, today’s recipe – sirupsnipper – seems to feature in most people’s lists. If you want to see some of the other recipes in the list, see here.

How I have missed these biscuits is, frankly, beyond me. They include lots of spices (which I love), and the dough should be cut into a diamond shape using a fluted pastry cutter (which I did not own, and thus had to make a fruitful trip to the wonderful Divertimenti kitchenware store). In order to be authentic, they also require one of my favourite (and rather odd) baking ingredients, good old baker’s ammonia. It makes sure that the biscuits are properly light and crisp, even if it does cause your kitchen to smell of ammonia while baking (the resulting biscuits are perfectly safe to eat though). You can use baking powder if you don’t have baker’s ammonia, and the biscuits will still taste good.

sirupsnipper

The flavours in sirupsnipper are cinnamon, ginger, aniseed and white pepper, but the resulting taste is surprisingly subtle. None of the spices is too strong, and the overall flavour is a mild gingerbread with the rich flavour of syrup. I thought they tasted a little like Belgian speculoos biscuits – very crisp and lightly spicy, which are great with coffee.

The dough is made one day, and the baking happens the next day, so that the flavours can develop a little before baking. Rolling out the dough and cutting into shape was all very easy, and I ended up with some smart-looking biscuits before baking. While in the oven, however, the sharp edges got a little less sharp, and I wondered what I could do.

Finally, and out of curiosity, once I had a table groaning with cookies, I left the last batch of six to dry overnight. I reasoned that letting the cut biscuits sit, uncovered, might mean that they would hold their shape better when baked. Well, as it turned out, this had two effects. The shape did indeed stay sharper, but the crisp “snap” was gone in the baked biscuits. I have no idea why this happened, but the biscuits were far better when not left to sit overnight. So there you have it – a little test by me so that you’re not left wondering what if…

And with that, we’re one-quarter of the way through out Twelve Bakes of Christmas. However, if I were a Norwegian having a go at the Seven Sorts challenge, I’d be almost half-way there. Maybe next year!

To make Sirupsnipper (adapted from tine.no):

A word of caution – this recipe makes about 100 biscuits! It is easiest to make batches of these cookies, rather than trying to bake them all in one go.

• 150ml double cream
• 150g golden syrup
• 150g white sugar
• 100g butter
• 450g plain flour
• 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
• 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
• 1/4 teaspoon ground aniseed or star anise
• 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
• 3/4 teaspoon baker’s ammonia or baking powder
• 3/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
• flaked almonds, to decorate

1. Put the cream, syrup and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, then turn off the heat. Add the butter, stir until melted, then leave to cool until lukewarm.

2. In the meantime, mix the flour, spices, baker’s ammonia and bicarbonate of soda in a bowl until fully combined. Add to the syrup mixture and mix to smooth dough. Cover well and leave to sit overnight.

3. The next day, preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

4. Roll out portions of the dough (thickness of 3mm) and use a fluted pastry cutter to shape into diamonds (or just use a knife). Transfer to the baking sheet, then dab a little water in the middle of each biscuit and lay a piece of flaked almond in the middle.

5. Bake the cookies for around 5-6 minutes until golden (turn half way). Remove from the oven, cool for a moment, then transfer to a wire tray to cool.

Worth making?This is a great recipe, and I’m just confused I’ve never seen it before. Simple crisp, spicy cookies, and perfect if you need to bring a large box to feed colleagues.

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