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.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Friendship cake

Herman the friendship cake

I was never a fan of chain letters especially those that asked you to send a favourite  recipe to 10 other people, the object being that you in turn would receive new recipes from them. It never happened and I certainly wouldn't take part in any chain which involved money as the only winner was the person who started the chain in the first place!

However what I would describe as the food version of the chain letter - Herman the Friendship Cake is  well followed and passed on for the right reasons and a lot more satisfactory.

The White-ish Glug.....beginnings of Herman...

A month or two ago a friend gave me a jar of white 'glug' - the beginnings of a German Friendship cake. I followed the instructions and made my cake which was enjoyed by the whole family then I passed the starter mixture on to 2 friends and froze some, this is the batch  I am starting off today.
I don't intend going into detail about the process in this blog but for those unfamiliar with 'Herman' there is a mass of information about it on Google follow the link below:

Follow my blog over the next few weeks and see the end 'Herman' once it has been baked.

Next week I will be talking about Ginger Beer Plants!!

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Afternoon Tea for Vegans

I hosted  a very successful Afternoon Tea in the stunning dining room at Lennoxlove, Haddington at the weekend but  for the first time High Societeas had to cater for a vegan.
Now coming from a farming background being brought up with sheep, cattle and poultry I can't imagine living any other way. However as a professional caterer my interest was stirred so I started with the Vegan Society website which says-

Vegans choose not to eat anything which is taken from animals, for example:
  • No meat, fish nor other substances that come directly from killing an animal, such as animal fats and gelatine
  • No dairy products such as cows milk, cheese and yogurt; nor goats milk
  • No eggs nor foods containing eggs such as Quorn
  • No honey
So that covers pretty much all of the main ingredients for baking!! -eggs- how will I make cakes rise and add bulk ? without dairy products what will I use to bind ingredients? What will replace butter and margarine?and of course, the burning question..... what will the overall flavour be like?

From years of baking I know exactly what I expect my baking to taste like, how I expect the texture to be and what it should look like, so I have found that I have to look at the end product differently. I can't expect everything to be exactly the same but my aim is to produce  baking for vegans, gluten-free and dairy-free to the same high standard using whatever ingredients are available to suit the dietary needs of my guests - and I enjoy a challenge!!

Sandwiches and Savouries? well thats a whole different issue!
My vegan sandwich for last weekend was...

White bread spread with Vitalite, avocado, humus and cashew nuts

It went down well but I have a lot more research and experimenting to do.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

New Rhubarb

When I was down the garden the yesterday, I looked under the upturned pail which I use to force the rhubarb - here is what I found- nice young rhubarb. Not much but enough to make a plate tart.

Straight from the garden into the kitchen to have it ready for tea.

Lovely tender, pink rhubarb but don't be fooled even my dessert rhubarb requires plenty sugar for my sweet tooth.

Just look at that wonderful sweet pink juice and short, crumbly pastry! This is the best time of the year to get that fresh flavour.

When we were children, we used to get a cold pudding which was sweet stewed rhubarb set with tapioca, sago( I think it must have been a throwback from the war years! ) I can't imagine young people eating that today.

Has anyone else heard of this? If so, please leave a comment on my Blog

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Tea to taste

When I started doing afternoon tea as a business my first thought was  the baking because that is where my experience and interest lie. However, thinking on - it of course stems from drinking tea, its customs, rituals and ceremonies.
The subject of Tea itself is massive and I have found a lot of useful information on the Tea Council website -

If like me, tea has always been a drink to have with a biscuit or meal,  made from teabags, drunk with milk and for many people, sugar, without giving it much thought other than 'is it too weak or strong' - then think again.

The first large Afternoon Tea Event I catered for was the RSABI charity and I wanted to give the guests an opportunity to open their minds about tea and try various leaf teas along with their food.( As well as the novelty of pouring their tea from a silver teapot through a tea strainer into their china cup!)

I went  to my local tea supplier in North Berwick and asked which loose teas he would recommend. My thoughts were maybe  an Indian breakfast tea, a Darjeeling and an Earl Grey. However straight away he said- no, no stick to the one category and try a variety of black teas, so this was the

Edinburgh Blend - an old fashioned blend of high quality Indian and China teas

Kenya Highland - a stronger, darker tea than the Edinburgh blend.

Howdah's tea bag - made  for Howdah's with their own special blend of teas, slightly heavier than a normal teabag proving that tea bags filled with the right blend of teas can be just as good.

Everyone had their preferences. Even for people who normally wouldn't drink tea, it is well worth infusing the tea leaves for the correct length of time and tasting the tea without milk or sugar. I am sure there will find one blend they enjoy.

Go on - give it a go!

Let me know which type of tea you enjoy most by commenting on this blog.



Friday, 15 February 2013

Friday evening - High Societeas first official pop-up tea. Each month I will be hosting a High Societeas  afternoon tea in an unusual, historic and beautiful venue. What better way to start than  in the Old Schoolroom at Humble Pie Cookery School, Kingston. Light, airy, modern with a roaring coal fire at one end the extra long kithen table can seat as many as 16 people.
My guests arrived to a glass of Kir royale and stood around the fire taking in their surroundings and chatting happily.
Fortunately they knew not to eat too much before they came as they soon filled up with the spread of food laid out before them.

My guests' first cup of tea - Kenya Highland- a polular breakfast tea unusual in that it is made up of loose Broken Orange Pekoe leaf tea from Kenya.
Triple decker sandwiches - a guessing game to decide what was in them, dainty square sandwiches of fresh farm eggs with tomato along with a traditional ham sandwich for the unadventurous - all with crusts removed!
Now onto the savoury quiche followed by the scones, guests helping themselves to any amounts of homemade strawberry jam and cream.
Some of my guests had all this devoured in next to no time - I am guessing they didn't have their tea before they came out! but glad they were enjoying the food so far.

Time for the second leaf tea, this time the High Societeas breakfast tea, giving everyone an opportunity to try and compare different teas with their food.
Bringing out the cake stands with battenberg cake, coconut cherry slice and empire biscuits I could hear some groans of delight from those wishing they had paced themselves a little better!! Dainty sandwiches and cakes along with tea can be surprisingly filling.

And finally the centrepiece of the table -cream meringues and fresh fruit.

Having a 'dairy free' diet to cater for  in this tea, I discovered ways of producing more or less the same food using alternative ingredients and the lady was delighted.

Only 2 more teas to try, one being Blue Lady another popular tea which is black tea with petals added, light and slightly scented.

Well thats it - more very happy pop-up customers all of whom hope to follow us and return for another Pop-Up tea but where will it be next month?
Follow my facebook page and look on the website to find out

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Pancake Day
With pancake day approaching many of us will be looking out the syrup as well as the sugar and lemon juice.
Maple syrup is delicious on pancakes but more expensive than golden syrup - do you know why?
Well, it takes 4 Kg of tree sap to make just 100g of maple syrup.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Talking about Tea

Some facts about tea for you to ponder:-

1.Tea is a natural source of fluoride and delivers approx.45%of your daily requirement, if you drink 3 or 4 cups a day.

2. Green Tea is anti-bacterial and helps combat bad breath.

3.A cup of black tea has about half the caffeine of a cup of coffee, green tea has even less.

4.Tea contains more caffeine per gram than coffee but you use much less in a cup.

5. There is more than twice the anti-oxidant power ina cup of tea than there is in one apple!

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Home-made Marmalade

Making marmalade is time-consuming  but ooh! the lovely fresh citrus smell as it cooks would brighten any winter's day. It is economical and the result in flavour and texture is well worth the effort.
January is the only time of the year that the really bitter oranges, marmalade is traditionally made from, are available in the shops- they are sold as 'marmalade oranges' (much too bitter to peel and eat)

I followed my Mum's recipe the first time I made marmalade. She was a Domestic Science teacher  in the early 1950's and she told me they made batch after batch of marmalade to sell to raise money for their department, so her recipe is very economical and makes quite a large quantity using every part of the orange. The minced fruit is soaked overnight in cold water presumably to reduce the cooking time.

Made in the same way as jams or jellies, the peel is an integral part of marmalade, extremely tough and requiring long, slow cooking. Pectin which is essential for a good set, exists in the pith and in the pips. Both should be tied in muslin and boiled with the chopped peel. An all-purpose thermometer can be used to guage setting point (220 degrees F) or pour a little onto a cold saucer and if a wrinkled sking forms within a few minutes, setting point has been reached.

There are many variations of marmalade using a variety of citrus fruits. Depending on the method used, marmalade can be chunky with large thick strips of peel or  clear jelly with fine strips of peel or thick and chunky where all the peel has been minced rather than cut into strips.  It just depends which you prefer.

But whichever you choose nothing  tastes quite like freshly made marmalade.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Looking for Baking Inspiration ?

Do you ever have days when you want to bake but don't knowwhat to bake ?

I do, from time to time and when I do I usually resort to my collection of recipe booklets which are made up of recipes donated by individuals, compiled into a book by groups who then sell them to raise funds for their organisation or charity.
e.g.I have one from the Ayrshire SWRI, North Yorkshire WI and several compiled by a friend of my Mum's from Brechin. This lady produced almost 6 little booklets, tried and tested every recipe-totally reliable.

Many recipes are the same or similar to the ones I already use but I always find some variations and something a little different. One such recipe I would like to share with you is homemade
Macaroon Bars and the magic ingredient.........MASHED POTATO! - sounds odd but it works - lovely and sweet.

Scottish Macaroon Bars (makes 12)

- 1½ heaped tablespoons of cold and thoroughly mashed boiled potatoes per bar
Icing sugar (have a packet ready – quantity depends on how stiff your mashed potato is)
2 tsp vanilla essence
8 oz Melted chocolate for coating
1 Cup Toasted desiccated coconut

Cook potatoes in boiling water for 20 minutes before mashing.
Toast desiccated coconut on tray at 350°F (180°C/Gas Mark 4) until golden brown.
Melt chocolate slowly in a warm pan; stirring constantly to prevent sticking.
Mix potatoes with icing sugar; add enough sugar to make the mixture firm.
Chill, then roll out to ¾ inch thick and cut into bars.

Coat the bars with melted chocolate and cover with the toasted desiccated coconut on all sides.

Allow the bars to cool before eating and enjoying.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Facts about Afternoon Tea

1.    Afternoon Tea is a tea-related ritual, introduced in Britain in the early 1840s.
2.    Reputedly begun by Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford to fill the gap between their two main meals of the day, breakfast, and dinner at around 8 o'clock in the evening. She began to invite her friends to join her for “tea and a walking the fields” Before long all of fashionable society was sipping tea and nibbling sandwiches in the middle of the afternoon.
3.    Afternoon Tea is a meal composed of sandwiches (usually cut delicately into 'fingers'), scones with clotted cream and jam, sweet pastries and cakes.
4.    Interestingly, scones were not a common feature of early Afternoon Tea and were only introduced in the twentieth century.
5.    The difference between High Tea and Afternoon Tea ?- Traditionally, the upper classes would serve a ‘low' or ‘afternoon' tea around four o'clock, just before the fashionable promenade in Hyde Park. The middle and lower classes would have a more substantial ‘high' tea later in the day, at five or six o'clock, in place of a late dinner.
6.    The names derive from the height of the tables on which the meals are served, high tea being served at the dinner table.