Monday, 20 January 2014

Eccles Cakes - my first attempts

Having watched the Great British Bake off for Sports Relief, I was inspired to make some eccles cakes.
I haven't made puff pastry since I was at Queen Margaret College which was years ago but I must have been taught well as the folding and resting procedure all came back to me - so I had no problem with the pastry,  however..... I made the fatal mistake of putting the nicely formed eccles cakes in the oven at 220, putting on the timer then leaving the kitchen!! I should know better.

Coming back 5 minutes too late, the butter had melted and run out into the oven and started to smoke. The eccles cakes were very overbaked (the 2 on the left handside of the picture)

Fortunately I had planned to bake the cakes in two batches so I turned my oven down very slightly, put in the second batch and stood and watched them - this is the result - not perfect and I'm not sure why the filling leaked out,  but a fair attempt.

 Like so many things baking improves with practice.

Have you made eccles cakes before? I would be interested to know how you got on.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Traditional Baking for a Funeral Tea

I was pleased to be given the chance to cater for a funeral tea the other day. The family had decided on a Green Burial in the beautiful Binning Wood and had invited their family and friends back to their house afterwards for afternoon tea- even though it was only 1pm (sandwiches, sausage rolls and cakes can be enjoyed at anytime of the day).

When I met beforehand with the husband and daughter of the lady who had passed away, it became clear that the lady had baked at home herself and her baking had left them with strong, happy memories. They asked for a Cherry Cake, Brandy Scrolls and home made Sausage Rolls among other things.

So that was my challenge - to produce an old fashioned cherry cake with the appearance and taste of a cake they remembered  - although I said straight away that I couldn't guarantee the cherries would not sink! - the ladies husband knew what I was talking about so I guess she had found it tricky as well.
At such a sad time it is gratifying to know that plain traditional baking, served on china tea plates with tea drunk from china cups, can evoke many happy memories and make a difficult day more bearable.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Baking Shortcrust Pastry Tartlet Cases

I hadn't made tartlet cases for a long time - so back to basics - the Atholl Crescent ( Edinburgh)Advanced Cookery book's recipe for shortcrust pastry or to give it its French name - pate a foncer!

8oz plain flour
6oz butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 egg yolk

Sieve the flour and salt into a basin  - this aerates the flour and mixes the salt through evenly

Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs  - butter has a much nicer flavour than other fats.

Most of the time the proportions used in making a basic shortcrust pastry are half fat to flour, however for a richer, shorter textured pastry such as this, the proportion of fat to flour is higher.

Add the sugar, then mix the egg yolk with a little water and add a little at a time to the mixture until it comes together to form a stiff paste.

 If you are making the pastry in an electric mixer, don't allow the mixture to come together to form a dough before you have added the egg yolk and water,  otherwise you end up with a dry dough that cracks easily and is difficult to handle (You want to avoid cracks in your pastry cases or the filling will run through them once they are cooked)

Knead lightly till smooth - Over handling the dough at this stage can result in pastry which is tough rather than the  crisp tartlet case you are aiming for.

Handling the dough lightly, roll out thinly and cut to size with a serrated biscuit cutter - I was taught to use a serrated edge cutter for sweet items and a smooth edged cutter for savoury - such as quiche.
As far as I am aware this is still the case when entering baking competitions.

Bake the pastry blind - you will often come across this in recipes.

I use my 12 portion Yorkshire pudding tray in which to bake the cases. The pastry needs to be slightly larger than the 'mould' . The small paper cases used for mini muffins are an ideal size to fit into the pastry case and fill with baking beans.

Bake in a preheated oven at 180degrees C for 10 minutes then remove from oven and take out the paper with the beans. Return the tray to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes to finish cooking the pastry - this is called 'baking blind'. 

The pastry should be a light brown colour. Keep watching your pastry at this stage because over browning can cause the end result to taste scorched due to the higher proportion of butter to flour.

Remove tin from the oven, allow to sit for 5 minutes then carefully place  the  pastry tartlets on a cooling tray.

One last tip - once the cases are cold, beat up an egg white with a fork and brush over the insides of the pastry case. Allow to dry completely. This helps to prevent the pastry becoming soggy when the case are filled with cream or confectioners custard .

Fill with fruit, custard or cream, glaze with redcurrant jelly, eat and enjoy! - one tartlet just won't be enough.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Promoting local produce

Promoting local produce is nothing new as I discovered when I was looking up a recipe in "The Farmers Wife Cook Book".
Printed in 1972 it is a collection of recipes gathered together from farmers wives throughout the British Isles with the forword written by Marguerite Patten.

 In it she says..."farm cooking in this country has always been exceptionally of the reasons being they have access to some of the best produce in the world - high quality milk, cream, eggs, poultry, bacon etc. The produce is natural and comes to us straight from the country; it is delivered direct to you by the milkman" ( - well maybe not that part anymore)

Another piece of advice - "Be brave and experiment with your cooking, but remember one simple rule: your meals can only be as good as the food that goes into them. So always use the freshest and best country produce it is possible to find."

The chapter on Cakes starts with a quote from Robert Burns  'Scotland - land o' cakes.' and 200 years later Scotland is still the land of cakes!

"Baking a cake is the test of any cook's skill. The most important ingredient in any recipe is time, you just can't afford to take shortcuts. then you'll need a good supply of fresh local produce; new laid eggs and creamy butter can do a lot to raise a cake from the mediocre to the superb."

Now for the healthy bit!! -

"There is one final word of warning - good cakes are addictive, and just occasionally they can be a little bit fattening. So whatever the temptations watch your weight! "

Monday, 15 April 2013

I am having to go back in time here as I haven't been able to blog over the past 2 weeks. Herman has now been and gone -much enjoyed.
So to backtrack -
Once 2 different lots of ingredients were added at intervals, the friendship cake mixture kept on growing, you could see the yeast bubbling away. After the second addition of flour, sugar etc. I had to divide the mixture into 4 portions, 3 of which I have given to friends to start their own cakes.

With the 4th portion I added apples, spices and various other ingredients, mixed it all together and baked it - Here is the result.....
A lovely moist and satisfying cake. So if a friend hands you a portion, don't turn it down it is worth baking.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Herman's progress

Friday 22nd March - This is 'Herman' today. We should have something worth eating by this time next week.

The Ginger Beer Plant

Following on from the blog about the German Friendship Cake, years ago we were given a Ginger Beer Plant. This was looked after as outlined below and you ended up with a slightly alcoholic ginger beer which tasted quite different from the ones we know today.

These are the instructions I was handed at the time but of course I don't have a starter ginger beer plant now,  to try it again.

Ginger Beer Plant
Feed jar daily for 7 days with 1 teaspoon ground ginger and 1 teaspoon sugar.
On 8th day - strain liquid through muslin. Dissolve 1 lb sugar in 1 pint boiling water, add another
4 1/2 pints cold water and add strained liquid.
Add juice of 2 lemons
Bottle in screw top bottles to within 2 " of the top
Leave at least 2 weeks before using.
Now scrape the residue fro the muslin into a jar. Add 3/4 pint of cold water and mix well.
Divide into 2 jars
Start feeding these the next day as before.
Plant must be halved each week or it will become too concentrated - Plant has to be divided

I can't remember whether it was the ginger beer or homemade wine that became too vigorous and exploded all over the ceiling!!

This Blog by the Guardian explains more about the ginger beer 'plant'

I never thought about it much at the time but I have discovered it wasn't actually a plant.