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Kitchen Crush

November 14, 2011

As may be apparent from the previous post my current, primary kitchen crush is with Dan Lepard. An extra helping of his recipes courtesy of last week’s Saturday Guardian provided these spicy Bonfire Night Biscuits.

A quick and easy recipe to knock up even if you’re not lucky enough to have a bonfire in your back garden to provide the autumnal smell of wood smoke, the aroma of these baking in your kitchen will make the dullest November day sparkle. The recipe asks for glace ginger but I used stem ginger and the comments section suggest that crystalised would do just as well if you wanted. I also cut out into rounds and adjusted the baking time down a bit to compensate. The base biscuit recipe I imagine is adaptable by swapping the spices and additions – I’m planning a Christmas version. Watch this space.

My other current crush is on Mr Hugh Fearnly-Wittingstal. My summer holiday this year was spent in Dorset taking part in the Four Day  Cookery Course at Park Farm, the headquarters of River Cottage. They run day courses that cover everything from bread and baking to curing meat, even seashore foraging.

I’ve long wanted to do the four day course; which dedicates a day each to meat, fish, veg and bread and baking; and I’m so glad that I did. It’s not cheap, but I turned it into my summer holiday – with a few days spent exploring and walking the surrounding area – and I can honestly say that having done the course it was the best value for money of any holiday I have ever taken.

I’ve tried to blog about it, but I can’t find the words to do the week justice. I could write a list of the dishes cooked, decipher my notes into recipes to share with you, but this would not convey what I learnt or the fun that I had. The team at Park Farm go out of their way to ensure you have good fun and the hours whip by as their share their passion and knowledge and you share, with the others on the course, the fruits of your labour.

I made and ate things that I would not normally try and it has given me more confidence in the kitchen and with my palate and skills. Should I try to more accurately describe all that I learned, made and ate I would run out of adjectives by the first lunchtime. There are photo’s on my Flickr page which chronicle the dishes cooked and eaten over the four days and I hope they give an indication of the fun that was had.

On the course I bought a copy of  ‘River Cottage Veg Everyday!’ book – the latest from Hugh. It accompanies his current TV Programme where he extolls the virtues of a veg based diet by giving up meat and fish for the summer. The book accompanies his current TV show on C4 which follows the usual River Cottage format of HFW taking something he’s passionate about and making an entertaining and informative programme to share his passion. Whilst Hugh isn’t going to be a life long vegetarian he wants us to eat more veg and realise that veg-centric meals needn’t be dull.

The book is broken down into sections on salads and soups, raw things and bready things and mezze and tapas to name a few.

First off for me was the veggie biryani made for 12 – want to feed a crowd? Who could ask for more than succulent spicy veg with curried rice garnished with crunchy almonds? A breeze to prepare and cook, and if you can lift the casserole dish containing enough for 12 people and carry it to the table to reveal and serve, all the better (I needed help just getting it out of the oven – damn you Le Cruset with your sturdy based pans, wrist splints should be sold alongside them IMO).

For dips and salads, please make the roasted carrot hummous – this has replaced Peamole (it is what it sounds like) as the dip-tastic choice of the season and the raw beetroot and walnut and cumin salad add a fab crunchy side – try it with a smoked fish platter.

Above is a warming Sunday night dinner for friends, a puy lentil and spinach soup (made with the veg stock recipe from the same book) filling and warming, perfect  after a long walk in the crisp autumnal sunshine. Should you want a little meat in there, I added some pancetta as there were some in the fridge that needed using. I don’t think Hugh would mind.

What I enjoy about veggie cooking, and all the things I’ve made from this book so far, is the ease with which each dish is adaptable in terms of using up what’s in the fridge or buying what’s currently in season. I feel more able to play around without the meat – perhaps because the total cost of the dish is cheaper so the risk is less. Perhaps also just because I’m more comfortable with cooking veg and less fearful of over or under cooking and more confident of how the dish will fare as leftovers. I’ve made more than I’ve covered here, and yet more are flagged. This book is one that I will return to over and over again.


Project Chocolate Cake – The Finale!

October 6, 2011

Well, the day has been and gone.

My Dad has turned 80, friends, colleagues and relatives visited, good food was provided, eaten and taken home (the local co-op sold out of tupperware so good was the food and generous were the portions). Wine was drunk (more than was sensible by me) and stories and connections shared.

The day before the party two cakes were baked


More than a few eggs were used


The morning of the party they were decorated


A little chocolate and cream to make a ganache


Some Kit Kats were used


Decoration done


In the middle of the party, the candles were lit, a song was sung


The candles were blown out

Happy Birthday Dad



Project Chocolate Cake – Cake no 4 and The Cake-Off

October 6, 2011

Cake no 4 was chosen from Kiss My Bundt by Chrysta Wilson a book that I’ve had for a while, ordered during the missing mojo period in the hope that it might restore the my baking desire. It didn’t work at the time, no fault of the book which is filled with intriguing bundt recipes. Chrysta provides base recipes for simple bundts of all sizes and then a myriad of adaptations and suggested frostings. She covers everything from a Champagne Celebration Cake to Chocolate Bacon Cake (with bacon sprinkles) even a Vegan Red Velvet Cake.

The book joined the others on my shelves and has been, if I’m honest, forgotten. Project Chocolate Cake has given me a mission, a focus, and I’ve poured over my recipes to find suitable test candidates. As I was certain the final cake should be in bundt form then this book was a definite source to consult. I didn’t want to stray into adventurous avenues so I went for the Basic Chocolate Bundt, oil based it made a good contrast to the other butter based cakes and almost guaranteed a moist crumb. As I’ve had problems with a couple getting them out of the tin I hoped that using oil might aid the turning out too.

It didn’t disappoint – moist and so light in crumb, it was also lusciously dark. Once again my oven speeded up the baking time by about 5 minutes, it was evenly baked and turned out beautifully.

Basic Chocolate Cake 

Chrysta  Wilson – Kiss My Bundt

350g sugar

300g plain flour

90g cocoa

1 1/4 tsp baking powder

1 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of  soda

3/4 tsp salt

2 eggs

255g buttermilk (Chrysta suggests whole milk)

180g vegetable oil (I used sunflower)

2 tsp vanilla

220g boiling water


Preheat the oven to 180C

Grease your pan and dust with flour

Sift together the dry ingredients

Whisk the eggs, buttermilk, oil and vanilla for 1 minute

Still whisking slowly add the dry ingredients a little at a time

Once combined slowly add the boiling water – you will end up with a thin batter

Pour into your pan and bake for 40 – 45 mins.

Leave to cool in the pan for about 10 mins before turning out.

Many of the official tasters had Chrysta’s recipe as their no 1, but the vote wasn’t unanimous – only one thing for it … A Cake-Off.

There was a short hiatus whilst I went on my summer holiday but early one morning I re-baked cakes no 3 (with the quantities doubled to fill a standard bundt tin) and 4 this time in a different tin (thank you Ikea of all places) a spring-form bundt pan – genius. I’m sure that technically this isn’t a true bundt pan, but I decided to use it because of the (hopefully) eased releasing and also because the straight sides will make the planned decoration easier.

The day that I’d chosen to bake on was also the day of our regular pub quiz in the local, so off I trot, cakes in hand ready to share. Still no unanimous decision, so difficult to compare the two as they are really very different. I was also asking them to imagine the final cake with the extras that have to be added. When taste, decorating and slicing issues were all taken into consideration cake no 3  won out.

I think inundating the neighbours with various chocolate cakes has been less of a chore for them than the Victoria Sponge period a few years ago (although I did have to dust off that recipe recently too) and I’d like to thank them for putting up with the mountains of cake they have eaten recently. After the 4 different cakes, the 2 re-baked for the cake-off there was a test cake still to come. My decoration idea needed testing as did the ganache and I needed to make sure that it all went together well. It did – so much so that I had to post an emergency plea via Facebook to locals to come and eat the thing before I made myself ill


Project Chocolate Cake – Cake no 3

August 29, 2011

When I first started thinking about finding a suitable chocolate bunt recipe for my dad’s cake there was one source that I knew I would have to consult. Mary, the Food Librarian, is an accomplished and passionate baker and, like me, has a love of the bundt cake – so much so that every year in the month leading up to National Bundt Day in the States she bakes, and blogs, a bundt a day in the wonderfully titled ‘I Like Big Bundts‘ series of posts. Last year I was one of 86 people who joined her in baking a bundt on the final day and I can’t wait for this years series

I emailed Mary asking for her recommendations based on the many recipes she must have trialed over the years, she recommended a Chocolate Velvet Pound cake from The Art and Soul of Baking by Cindy Mushet (a book that is challenging my current self-imposed cookery book embargo) and the recipe has been reprinted here with permission from the author.

I could see from the recipe that if I wanted to use a large (12 cup) bundt pan then I would need to increase the quantities (Mary baked in mini bundt pans). I assume the original recipe is for a standard loaf tin, in which case a doubling of the quantities would be right. But the risk of using up 6 eggs and seemed a little excessive should my calculations not be correct, so I used the original stated quantities in my 12 cup pan.

Even whilst mixing the batter the high cocoa content was obvious and the obligatory pre-dawn licking of the bowl (what this must do to my sugar levels throughout the day I dread to think) certainly ranked this recipe at the top.

The batter nicely covered the bottom of the pan and although the result was a smaller than normal cake it baked evenly in 40 minutes and came out of the pan wonderfully cleanly.

During baking it smelled divine – really chcolatey and the feedback, whilst not unanimous in declaring this the winner, has been very positive. The best, and most accurate description from a tester is ‘like chocolate mousse in cake form’ how can that not be a winner?

I’m tempted to make it again immediately with the doubled recipe to see what that yields, but I will work my way through the other bookmarked recipes first – if only for the tester’s sakes – I can hardly stop after just three cakes can I?


Project Chocolate Cake – Cake no 2

August 22, 2011

Cake no 2 is the aptly named Black Chocolate Party Cake from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s ‘Rose’s Heavenly Cakes‘. A book I’ve had for some time but never actually baked from. The recipe can be viewed here  in an extract from the book via Rose’s site. As you can see she lays out her recipes in a particular way and her instructions are very detailed. I think this has put me off as my recipe reading tends to be of the scanning variety (a habit for which I’ve paid dearly in the past) and my baking sessions tend to be a little last minute and taking place first thing in the morning I’m not always in the best frame of mind to follow such detail. I think I found the layout it intimidating and have discounted the recipes as being too complicated.

This one wasn’t complicated, it was very clear and concise and the inclusion of weights if ingredients as well as the American standard cups helped greatly. I have two more of Rose’s recipes bookmarked to try so I will be making up for lost time with this book.

The batter was quite different to the previous cake, thicker, more like a pound cake in texture, containing toasted walnuts that have been ground to a fine powder which I think contributes to the final moist texture of the cake. Another difference to the cakes I’m used to baking is that she adds all the butter, along with some liquid to the flour and sugar and beats from there, rather than beating the butter and sugar first. This is the first time I’ve baked like this, I’ve just checked the other two recipes and they follow the same procedure.

It baked evenly and needed 55 minutes. The cake has a cocoa syrup that I used and the result smelled heavenly indeed. As an example of the detailed instructions Rose suggests placing the cake on clingfilm before brushing the syrup over the cake in order to catch the drips, which can then be absorbed from the bottom of the cake as it cools completely.

So where does this cake stand in the competition so far …. well, with only one cake to compare with it seems to have come in second with the taste testers. It sliced far more cleanly, being denser with the syrup. It was sticky though and may not have been the cleanest of cakes to eat by hand. The addition of a ganache or buttercream may also push the richness too far. I would make the cake again, served with creme fraiche or ice cream even it would make a lovely desert, but it’s not going to be the one for the party.


Sharing the Love

November 9, 2010

I’m under no illusion about the reasons behind my baking, there is absolutely nothing altruistic in my providing treats for those around me. It is a fair and equal exchange between me, the baker, and those that receive the finished goods (bakee?).  If I didn’t live near such lovely people, or work with those whose company I enjoyed, I would bake far, far less. Or weigh far, far more. But I’m lucky. I have good neighbours, friends and colleagues and they enable me to indulge in my hobby and I know that they are lovely people, whose company I enjoy through, my baking.

The rewards extend beyond the pleasure I get from the recipe books I hoard, the planning and baking and even beyond watching others enjoy what I have created; my relationships with neighbours especially, have developed in part because I needed people to offload the products of my kitchen onto, which in turn has led to some good friendships.  At work, the baking provides a framework for connections and small talk, leading what can be odd office dynamics to develop into something more genuine.

Last week a colleague shared with me more apples from her garden, these apples have been a real bonus and  have provided a wonderful autumnal theme to recent baking sessions. I won’t repost the recipes in full, but this weekend I took the latest batch of apples and made a stock of apple sauce as per Deb’s recipe on Smitten Kitchen. Most went into the freezer for future use, but one batch was saved for Sunday’s pre-dawn (I’m looking forward to spring already) baking session and her Spiced Applesauce Cake. I didn’t bother with the frosting and I really don’t think it needs it. It’s so easy to bake and only takes 35 minutes in the oven, there’s a tartness and moistness from the applesauce that I really enjoyed especially against the toasted nuts.

If you read here with any regularity you’ll know my affinity for courgettes and spotting Nigel Slater’s cake that combined the two was the highlight so far of his latest book.

This is a wonderfully easy cake to make, and the moistness from the courgettes and apples are offset by the crunch of the nuts. I used a mixture of walnuts and pecans and you could play around to your heart’s content with the nuts and dried fruit combinations. Having baked so much recently from American recipes the ‘pinch’ of cinnamon seemed overly cautious, and you could add nutmeg or mixed spice quite happily I think. I hint of citrus might not have gone amis either, the zest of an orange would do wonders to lift it slightly – perhaps judge on the tartness of your apples? I would avoid any juice as additional liquid content might cause problems with the water from the courgettes and apple (top tip only discovered after I’d made this, so I can’t vouch for its effectiveness is to put the apples and courgette in a salad spinner to remove the excess water – might have to make this cake again to try it out – let me know if you use this method).

So, whilst autumn makes its presence known with the reversion to GMT and leaf-blocked guttering, step into your kitchen and bake this to share with your family and friends. Or perhaps make new friends and connections by wrapping up to give to neighbours and colleagues.

A Cake of Apples and Courgettes

Nigel Slater; Tender Vol II

200g butter

200g caster sugar

2 large eggs

150g/2 small courgettes

1 small apple

200g plain flour

Pinch of salt

1/2 tsp baking powder

Pinch of cinnamon (be generous)

60g pecans, roughly chopped

60g sultanas

Preheat the oven to 180C and prepare a 20cm x 12cm x 9cm loaf tin (I doubled quantities and made several smaller loaves – all the better for sharing and also gave me chance to try out the tin liners from Lakeland)

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy – about 5 mins in a stand mixer

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl

Beat the eggs and add slowly to the butter and sugar mixture

Coarsely grate the apple and courgettes (I used a processor – far quicker and less messy, especially if you have juicy apples) and then squeeze in a clean tea towel to remove excess water

Fold the courgettes and apples into the mixture then slowly add the flour mixture until just combined

Add the nuts and sultanas, scrape the batter into the prepared tin and bake for oner hour or until it is golden and firm to the touch.

Allow to cool in the tin


Missing the Mojo

October 6, 2010

I lost my baking mojo. It up and went who knows where. We had an all to brief hot spell that certainly made the thought of cranking up the oven a little less than appealing. My first year of ‘growing my own’ meant early mornings were spent tending my precious crops rather than stood over my  Kitchen aid and then resulted in harvests that leant themselves to salads over bundts and even my courgettes – deliberately planted in the hope of a glut that could be transformed into quick breads and muffins – were lightly griddled or eaten raw with a touch of salt.

Sunday mornings – previously a guaranteed time for a bake-fest – have been spent walking the nearby Malvern Hills, with 5 am waking times seeing me in the car heading off to beat the heat with an early walk.

I have missed it though, and felt neglectful – of my colleagues and neighbours, of this blog, my Kitchen Aid, bundt tins and recipe books (especially as I now have lovely new, stong shelves to house them all).

I have baked a little over the summer months, but have struggled with using Blogspot which put me off blogging about what little baking I did. Then a good friend of mine started Pipe Dreams and Pickles over here at WordPress and so I have imported the lot over here, stocked up on buttermilk, checked my supplies of baking essentials and off I go again . . .