Aunties, Lemon Drizzle Cake & The Kinfolk Table

15 April 2014

If anything brings out a traditional English cake in me, it's a visit from the Aunties. I've written about their visits on the blog before, here and here. Today they made their Easter visit to us: the kid's were spoilt; we took a walk along the beach; we had sandwiches & cake and drank copious cups of tea. 

I returned home from our Milan trip at the weekend with two lemons. They were each double the size of the ones available here. I had placed them in the fruit bowl, enjoying their rustic imperfections with  a sketchy plan to use them in a recipe in which they could take centre stage. Their moment of glory came today in the form of a Lemon Drizzle Cake.

I've baked countless Lemon Drizzle cakes, but for this occasion I decided to follow a new recipe. It did my Milanese lemons proud - a zesty lemony cake that's best enjoyed in the company of aunties. You can find the said recipe in The Kinfolk Table. This book is my bible. It is so beautifully written with stunning photography - it's a book that I get totally absorbed and lost in and a book I re-read over and over again.

Written by author Nathan Williams, who also edits the equally beautiful Kinfolk Magazine, The Kinfolk Table is a collection of recipes that Williams has gathered from a wide-ranging circle of home cooks around the world who are both reinventing and rediscovering the joys of casual entertaining. Williams takes the reader into the home of each of the contributors - chefs, bakers, writers, bloggers, artisans and artists - capturing what makes them each remarkable, and drawing out the rituals and traditions that bring loved ones to share their table. 

To me, it beautifully sums up what cooking, eating and sharing food is all about: those everyday rituals and sometimes-occasions that are the backbone of life.

Custard Creams

4 April 2014

The biscuit tin has always been my downfall. Probably the biggest one. I don't feel the need to go all avant-garde with biscuits either. Don't get me wrong I'd enjoy a Cherry Bakewell Muesli biscuits or a Pistachio & Salted Caramel biscuit as much as the next person, but can all these really beat those all time classics. No, I don't think so. Digestives, Chocolate Digestives, Bourbons, Jammie Dodgers and Custard Creams, are to my mind unbeatable.

So it was with interest and much excitement that I tried my hand and reproducing the iconic Custard Cream. The result was good in as far as they didn't last long in the biscuit tin, but they weren't quite the same as the original rectangular ones with their intricately patterned biscuit and thin layer of filling. They weren't avant-garde either. Somewhere in the middle: homemade.

Custard Creams
makes enough to fill your biscuit tin

100g unsalted butter, softened
50g caster sugar
100g plain flour, plus extra for rolling out
25g custard powder
25g cornflour
For the custard-cream filling:
150g icing sugar
45g unsalted butter, softened
20g custard powder
3tsp full-fat milk

To make the biscuits, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy: this can be done either with an electric hand whisk or in a bowl with a wooden spoon. Sift the flour, custard powder and cornflour into the bowl and mix until thoroughly combined and smooth.
Wrap the dough in cling film and chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3.
Dust the work surface with flour and roll the dough out to a thickness of 3–4mm. Using a 6cm round or square cutter, stamp out biscuits and place them on the lined baking tray. Gather any dough off cuts into a ball, then re-roll and stamp out more biscuits.
Pop the baking tray into the fridge to chill for 10 minutes.
Bake on the middle shelf of the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes until the biscuits are pale golden and firm. Leave to cool on the baking tray for a couple of minutes then transfer the biscuits to a wire rack until cold.
To make the filling, mix all the ingredients together until smooth using a hand-held whisk or in the bowl of a free-standing mixer. Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a 1cm round nozzle and pipe the filling onto one half of the biscuits, then sandwich together with the remaining biscuits.

Chocolate Caramel Shortbread

2 April 2014

When I was a child my uncle and aunt ran a guest house in Margate. The family would convene there a couple of times a year: with thirteen bedrooms there was room for everyone. I have lots of memories; the (always) blustery wind, the great expanse of beach that we'd cross the road to be on, the polka-dot melamine beakers in by the washbasin in each room, the Spanish flamenco dolls on the dressing tables (it was the 1970's), the chaise lounge in the hallway and the smell of salty air. My cousin and I spend our time putting on plays for our families, using our younger siblings as stooges (the ugly sisters in Cinderella springs to mind) and there would be games of rounders on the beach (never my forte).

Through my child eyes it was a super colossal abode, but looking back I've no idea how my aunt prepared all those meals for her guests in what was a tiny kitchen in comparison to the rest of the house. But she of course managed. My one outstanding memory of what came out of that kitchen was a batch of Chocolate Caramel Shortbread. I'm not sure but it could have been the first time I had eaten them. These days it seems to be called Millionaires Shortbread: a name given to it for the rich ingredients I suspect rather than the decadence lifestyle of those who eat it. Though to my younger self I would have no doubt believed that this chocolatey, caramelly, buttery treat was the food of people who lived in 13 bedroomed houses.

It was to this recipe, which hails from an old cookbook of my mums, that I turned to recently when looking for indulgent treats to bake for Lily's birthday. It's an original recipe of its time - no updating with salted caramel - just a nostalgic sugary treat that has an air of opulence.

Chocolate Caramel Shortbread

Makes 16 squares

125g butter
50g sugar
175g plain flour, sifted
Caramel Filling:
125g butter
50g caster sugar
2 tbsp golden syrup
150ml condensed milk
Chocolate Topping:
125g plain chocolate
15g butter

Preheat the oven to 180℃ / 350℉, Gas Mark 4 and grease a shallow 20cm square tin, lining the base with baking paper.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the flour and stir until the mixture binds together. Knead until smooth. Roll out to a square and press evenly into the tin and prick well. Bake for 25 - 30 mins and cool in the tin.

Place the filling ingredients in a saucepan and stir until dissolved. Bring slowly to the boil, then cook stirring, for 5 to 7 minutes. Cool slightly, then spread over the biscuit mixture and leave to set.

For the topping, melt the chocolate with the butter in a bowl placed over a pan of simmering water. Spread over the caramel and leave to set before cutting into 16 squares with a sharp knife.

Party {Can} Bags

28 March 2014

Whenever I throw a party I always look for inspiration on the party blog Oh Happy Day. They never fail to set my creative juices flowing. Last year it was their crepe paper flower tiaras, but this year it was their 'birthday in a can'. 

I purchased a dozen tins of chopped tomatoes (decanting and freezing the contents) and made these party 'can' bags, which I filled with sweets. I'm glad I didn't have more than 12 to make, but they were a fun and unusual party bag. They would also work just as well as a ceative way to 'wrap' a birthday gift if it was small enough. You can see a step-by-step guide of how to make them over at Oh Happy Day.

Birthday No. 9 - The Cake

27 March 2014

This year Lily asked if she could have her birthday party at a 'venue'. To date, I had always held any birthday parties for her at home. It was great when she was younger, but now I'm not so sure how our home would weather 12 nine year old girls. 

I've always throughly enjoyed organising the kids parties: picking a theme, transforming the room, creating invitations, planning games, sourcing treats and preparing the food. So it was with the combination of a heavy heart and light relief that we booked up a Pizza Party for her and her friends. 

However, my only condition to allowing Lily her 'venue' party was that I made the cake and party bags. So for year No.9 I made a 4 layer Chocolate & Vanilla Marble Cake, filled and covered with a Chocolate Chip & Cream Cheese Frosting. I selected bright blooms for decoration along with the 'Lily Biba' cake topper that I made by painting wooden letters and sticking them onto wooden skewers. 

As the children made their pizzas with the restaurant chef, we sat on a table-for-two across the way watching on with a glass of wine, unperturbed by all the flour flying around. 

I think it's fair to say that I have been converted to the idea of 'venue' parties. 


24 March 2014

Nine years ago today my life changed forever when Lily was born. It only seems like yesterday, yet I can't recall life without her - it seems she has always been here. But no matter how the passing of time plays tricks with your mind, the fact she is nine is somehow hard to fathom. I am all to aware that those innocent years are now in short supply. Next year will be 'double figures' and before we know it she'll be a teenager. 

Nine. I've been trying of late to remember what it was like. For me that would have been 1981. It was the year of the royal wedding with street parties and union jacks. It was also the year that saw Bucks Fizz win the Eurovision Song Contest and their glossy poster was blue-tacked to the back of my bedroom door. My life was full of visits to grandparents, playing outdoors, hair ribbons, The Multicoloured Swap Shop and The Muppet Show, 10p mix bags from the corner shop and a pirouette clown obsession. Looking back now, 1981 also saw serious riots and hunger strikes, but that seemed to surpass the nine year old me. At nine life was still uncomplicated.

Much of Lily is still that little girl: she still looks sweet in her pretty hair bands, she still wants bedtime stories read to her and she'll still willingly hold my hand when walking down the street. But somehow nine is different: that little bit older. This year I signed off her birthday card with 'Mum & Dad', not 'Mummy & Daddy'. For a moment that saddened me.

So is it any different being a nine year old in 2014? Well, children today don't have the freedom we once had and computer games and 24 hour multi-channel TV weren't part of our everyday lives. We were recently explaining the concept of the Top 40 to Lily and how we would buy 7 inch singles in Woolworths and listen to the radio on a Sunday to catch who had made it to the number one spot, pressing 'play' and 'record' down on our radio/cassettes to capture our favourite tunes. Then come Thursday evening, if we were lucky, we might be able to stay up and watch Top of the Pops. Our enthusiastic musings must have sounded prehistoric to her young ears.

But swap the colourful hair ribbons for Weevz bracelets, Diana for Kate and Bucks Fizz for Olly Murs and I think that maybe being 9 hasn't changed all that much.

 Happy Birthday Lily - you make life sweet. xxxx

A Weekly Bake + English Apple & Cinnamon Cake

14 March 2014

I'm rather chuffed at the moment. I've been contacted by a new cafe that is to open in a local park here in Hove and they've asked me to make some cakes for them. Now, people often ask why I don't sell my cakes. The initial idea brings about all kinds of romantic notions, but having given it some realistic thought I'm not sure I would just want to produce sponges day in, day out - that could become dull. I love baking when I'm preparing something for my family or friends - that is something altogether different.

However, I went along and meet one of the cafe owners for a chat with an open mind, and I'm glad I did. Knowing my other commitments they have asked if maybe a couple of cakes a week would be manageable. Yes, I believe it would. But the best bit is that they have given me complete creative freedom to bake whatever cakes I like. I can bake my favourite tried and tested recipes as well as delving into my stockpile of new recipes I'm longing to try. Far to good an opportunity to turn down. What's more with regular baking comes regular blog posts. A win-win situation.

The cafe is due to open sometime in a few weeks time, but the owners are doing a promotional prelaunch pop-up this weekend. Due to the basic set up of the pop-up, my first couple of bakes had to be a cake with a bit of stability, the kind of thing you can eat holding in a napkin, rather than on a plate with a fork. You can't launch a cafe without a good chocolate cake so I made this Easy Chocolate Cake and as an alternative, this Apple & Cinnamon Cake.

English Apple & Cinnamon Cake (pictured with the pink rose decorations)

300g self-raising flour
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp salt
250g demerara sugar
125g butter, melted
2 large eggs, beaten
175ml milk
250g English apples, peeled, cored and chopped
icing sugar for dredging

Preheat the oven to 180℃ / 350℉ / Gas Mark 4

Grease and line the base of a 23cm circular cake tin. 

Sift the flour, cinnamon and salt into a bowl and stir in the sugar. Mix in the melted butter, eggs and milk, followed by the apple. Beat until smooth.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 40 mins, or until the cake springs back when lightly pressed and it is golden.

Place on a wire rack to cool, before removing the cake and dredging with icing sugar.