March 2014

March 2014

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Clandestine Cake Club in July

What could be better than a garden in high summer full of warm sunshine, flora, fauna, wine and friends – old and new - together with the sounds of laughter, animated chat, whoops of delight, and the chinking of glasses? What could raise the bar and make this evening outstanding? How about 20 or more large cakes to share and delight in!

Our local member, Vanessa Kimbell - together with her family - hosted the Northampton & District Clandestine Cake Club’s July event in the lovely garden of their Northamptonshire village house. Well over 30 guests attended and we were also treated to a wine-tasting given by Vanessa’s mother from close-by Fleur Fields vineyard.

Thank you member bakers for bringing the ‘stars of the show’ – cakes in all their summery guises. We had a wonderful variety of flavours and shapes, as you can see from the photographs. The aroma of summer berries - strawberries, cherries, blueberries and raspberries - pervaded the air, together with the scents of elderflower, rose, lemon and chocolate. The cake display looked and tasted like a complete celebration of this season in baking.
A longer report and further photographs can be viewed here:

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Open Farm Sunday

A few weeks ago I was listening to The Archers on Radio 4 and my ears pricked up  when one of the characters spoke about Open Farm Sunday organised by LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) on June 17th. Looking on the internet, I discovered that hundreds of farms throughout the country open their doors to everyone each year, to meet the farmers who grow our food and care for the countryside.
To my delight, when checking the farms in our area, I found that Bottom Farm, the home of Farrington Oils in Hargrave, Northamptonshire was indeed open and, as I very much like to buy local food whenever possible, I thought this would be my opportunity to see where rapeseed oil is grown and bottled.
I recently blogged a little about my use of rapeseed oil in my baking, and the excellent results I had been achieving when substituting this amber liquid in place of fat-rich butter. The flavour doesn’t seem to diminish with this swap and I have followed the tip on Farrington Oils website by including in my cake recipes a little less – say 80% - of the total weight of butter required and adding a little milk, if necessary, to obtain the right consistency.
Anyway, hubby and I donned our wellies - on yet another dull and sadly rainy day - and headed off to Bottom Farm, just 10 minutes down the road. During our visit, we walked the farm tracks and observed the fields of oilseed rape whilst enjoying the knowledgeable and informative talk given to us about the growing of rapeseed, including the use of high-tech computer generated charts showing each field and the areas that may require treatment or fertilizer, as well as the high environmental standards that the farm employs. We also visited the plant where the cold-pressing of the seeds takes place, as well as the bottling area. Finally, we found a display of Farrington’s Mellow Yellow product ranges – I had no idea that there is such a variety!
If you have the chance next year to make a visit on Open Farm Sunday, I would certainly recommend it. Meanwhile, I will continue to bake and cook with this healthy alternative – I’m so pleased that it’s almost grown on my doorstep!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Saturday crumpets

I wonder how many people actually make their own crumpets? These holey, yeasty, rounds have always been a favourite breakfast or tea-time treat in our household, toasted - double-toasted in my case as I like the edges to be crispy and crunchy - slathered with butter and a good dollop of marmalade or jam. Mmmmm....I am salivating at the thought of all that deliciousness.  Shop bought specimens can sometimes be disappointing and so, when our good friends rang and suggested a day of “crumpet experimentation”, I just couldn’t resist!
We followed a fairly simple Hairy Bikers recipe, which was easily found on the BBC website and we discovered that the majority of ingredients were store cupboard essentials – strong (bread) flour, plain flour, dried yeast, salt, sugar, milk, bicarbonate of soda and some water – oh yes, butter (or similar) for greasing the ‘rings’. Chefs' rings, or cooking rings, can be found in many high street or internet shops.

The strong flour, plain flour, dried yeast, salt, sugar and milk were mixed to a stiff batter and then left to rise in a cling-filmed bowl until doubled in size. Bicarbonate of soda and water were then added and the mixture again left for the bubbles to make their magic appearance. This wasn’t a fast process but the resulting gloopy, erupting, mass was now ready for the final stage.

Our rings were buttered and placed to warm in a frying pan and then, when ready, we spooned in the pulsating mixture. As crumpet-making-novices, none of us knew whether the alchemy would work but after browning on one side, the rings were removed, the crumpets turned over and, yes, a small miracle had occurred – they actually looked and tasted like the real thing!
After several batches were griddled, buttered, topped and eaten with relish, we all readily agreed that further “crumpet experimentation” would be required at some time in the future....I can’t wait.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Sweet potato

We lived on the Iberian mainland, near Gibraltar, for 7 years and came to appreciate the local Spanish cuisine. It did, however, take some time to get used to different meal times, different methods of cooking, different ingredients, etcetera but the freshness of staple items like seasonal fish, fruit and vegetables resulted in a simple, but healthy, Mediterranean diet. 
We could see the sea from our front door and we would often have lunch at a seafood restaurant overlooking the beach. It was on one of those occasions that we saw the table next to ours (a Spanish family) eating a strange-looking dessert. It smelled delicious and one of our friends – whose language skills were better than ours – asked what were they eating? “Try some” they said, and the plate was handed over to our table. The dish was actually chunks of orange-fleshed sweet potato (batatas in Spanish), charred at the edges, with crispy skin and smothered in honey. Why had it never occurred to us that it could be used as a pudding?
I think, in the colder countries of Europe, this vegetable has, in the main, been imported due to its need of higher temperatures to grow successfully and, I am advised, doesn’t tolerate frost. But I think it is only in recent years that it has become a common sight in supermarkets but only on the vegetable section, and certainly not classed as a sweet fruit.
It is far more common in Central and South America and perhaps that is how it was brought over and adopted into the Spanish culture. Sweet potatoes have certainly been an important part of the diet in the United States for most of its history. Candied sweet potatoes are prepared with brown sugar, marshmallows, maple syrup, molasses, orange juice, or other sweet ingredients – oh my goodness!
I recently made a cake, adapted from an American recipe, using sweet potato instead of butter and it turned out beautifully. Its moist, sweet texture made it a winner with friends and family and was a revelation. This is a vegetable that is just as delicious when used as its sweet name implies but equally satisfying when used in a savoury guise. How clever!