March 2014

March 2014

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Clandestine Cake Club - "Death by Chocolate"

Do you remember the pop song “I believe in miracles” by the group Hot Chocolate? Well, last Thursday evening, I thought that I had died and gone to heaven, with this song echoing in my head, when my talented and enthusiastic group of Northampton Clandestine Cake Club members met at Leopold’s Chocolates and Coffee House.
Each baker brought along a cake based on the theme ‘Death by Chocolate’ and it was amazing to see the variety of interpretations on our well-laden table. We had Chocolate and Orange, Cappucino, Malteser, Sachertorte, Mocha, Chocolate Orange Volcano, Chocolate Ginger, Bourbon Chocolate Bundt, Chocolate Surprise, Cherry Chocolate Muddle, Chocolate Mousse , as well as just plain Chocolate cakes. We even had a cake with a gravestone on it! They were all wonderful and all so mouth-watering.
Leopold’s owners, Mark and Kris, had opened their elegant town centre chocolates and coffee house in Abington Street especially for us and offered us a very special discount on their delicious Belgian Leonidas chocolates. Kris (who is Belgian by birth) gave us a little talk about the origins of the original chocolatier and Mark kept us all topped-up with hot and cold drinks.  A special ‘thank you’ must be extended to them for being such lovely hosts. miracle came true – an evening of chocolates, cake and good CCC friends and guests  (Laura H, Debra, Tiffany, Tina, Debbie, Laura (W), Nikki, Tess, Christine, Mary-Jane, Katie, Amanda, Heather, Marian and Vanessa). See you all soon!
Further photos of this event can be found on the Clandestine Cake Club website here:

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Scottish shortbread

Just lately I have started to be curious about my heritage – perhaps sparked by TV programmes such as ‘Who do you think you are?’ – and all those ‘way back’ predecessors with odd sounding names that I have never met. I have discovered, on my grandmother’s side, that the Clark family hailed from Scotland. In fact, I have an old black and white photo of me dressed in tartan for a family wedding, which I previously thought very strange attire for a 5 year old. Now, of course, I understand that the fabric was an integral part of a clan union.
Now, I wonder, do I have any Scottish traits that I haven’t been aware of or explored? I cannot dance the Highland fling, play the pipes, or toss a large tree in a field of play but, my grandmother’s legacy to me is, I believe, my love of cooking, especially baking. I don’t know why I have never attempted this recipe before but this weekend I fondly thought of her (preparing all those bowls club afternoon teas) and I resolved to make some north of the border shortbread.
These crumbly textured biscuits have very few ingredients, just butter, flour and sugar. In my recipe I used 4oz plain flour, 2oz rice flour (or you could use semolina or cornflour), 4 oz salted butter and 2 oz sugar. I creamed the butter and sugar together until it was light and fluffy, then incorporated the flour. Finally, I kneaded the dough very lightly to bring it together, then rolled it out between two sheets of baking parchment, before cutting into rounds. The oven was set at 180C and they were cooked and golden after 20 mins. When out of the oven and still warm, I dusted the shortbread with caster sugar, before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. They were delicious.
I wonder what other Scottish delicacies I can cook - maybe a Dundee cake the next time I hear my ancestors calling?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Days out in London

To celebrate our wedding anniversary, we recently spent a pre-Olympic long weekend in London. We soaked up the atmosphere. Every famous landmark thronged with crowds of all nations and I’m sure no one realised what a wealth of excitement was to follow. I had meant to write a few lines about our break before now but, much to our amazement, we have been enthralled by the games ever since the opening and have spent many a happy hour glued to the TV. How proud we are of our country and how proud we are of our sportsmen and women.
Before taking our trip, one of my friends posted on Facebook “Have a lovely day.....not too many cakes though” and with those words ringing in my ears I was determined not to succumb to my passion of all things baking ........but how wrong could I be!
On arrival, we found that our hotel near Victoria was almost next door to a wonderful patisserie whose windows displayed the most tempting of cakes and this proved to be my very first London photograph! Could I give in to my current healthy eating plan.....well, I succumbed a little and hubby and I shared a sandwich and a slice of chocolate gateaux - having only half portions appeased my guilty conscience just a little!
A full programme of ‘London things to do’ was planned by me prior to our visit and so, on arrival, we set off and walked to the National Gallery, where I stumbled and fell at the entrance - what a picture that would have made! For pre-theatre dinner I had booked a table in the National Portrait Gallery’s restaurant and we were not disappointed. The restaurant has a birds-eye view over the rear of Trafalgar Square and the majority of London’s iconic buildings. The service was great and the food good – a hidden gem and one which I would recommend. Finally, we enjoyed a performance of ‘Sweeney Todd’. Phew, what a day!
On our second day we walked from Victoria to Green Park to see the Bomber Command Memorial – my uncle Alec, a Flight Engineer, was killed in WWII whilst on a Lancaster bombing raid to Germany. The memorial is awesome and it was a very moving experience to read the numerous notes that relatives had left about loved ones lost.
Our next ticketed event was a tour of Kensington Palace and, since it was another mild sunny day, we decided to continue our walk – Green Park to Kensington High Street. I haven’t visited this part of London for years and I was surprised to find that the department store Barkers had changed to a Whole Food Market. It’s a huge store, covering several floors, with the most mouth-watering displays of every type of edible delight – all organic, many items from small farms, and everything looking so fresh and tasty. Guess what I homed in on? You guessed it, the bakery.....

We enjoyed our leisurely and unhurried stroll though Kensington Palace and Gardens - full of enchanting exhibitions – before taking the Underground back to our hotel. We had walked miles and miles!
On Day 3 we took a pleasure boat from Westminster Pier to Greenwich – happily joining our fellow tourists waving to others on the bank-side and various bridges that we sailed under - and eventually soaked up the atmosphere of a very crowded pre-Olympic Equestrian area. Security was high and we were ‘frisked’ by the Army (a not unpleasant experience) before entering the National Maritime Museum, which proved to be another interesting and fascinating few hours.

The final stop before coming home was to sit – well, I was on holiday – outside Patisserie Valerie eating a tea-time treat and watching the locals go by. What a trip, what an experience, and what wonderful cakes – it’s a good job we don’t have temptations like this in Northamptonshire!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Baking for Amber

There are times, when I’m in the kitchen baking, that I am aware of a pair of large black eyes boring into me and feel the presence of a body ready to pounce onto any scrap of food that hits the floor. Today was such a day and, as I sincerely believe that our pet is just as special, in her own way, as us humans in our family, it reminded me that I hadn’t baked in a while for our elderly but still agile Beagle named Amber.
This dog biscuit recipe is a simple one and ingredients can be changed to whatever you have handy, just so long as the weighed dry amounts tally to the amount of liquid. In today’s instance, I decided to leave out the carrots (they were needed for a casserole later in the day) and substituted it with some cheese and a quantity of muesli - which needed to be used up - in place of porridge oats.
250g wholemeal flour
125g oatmeal
125g porridge oats
150ml rapeseed oil
2 eggs lightly beaten
200g carrots trimmed and grated
2 tsp caraway seeds
2 tbsp chopped parsley (optional)

Preheat oven to 170c. Place all dry ingredients into a bowl and then make a well in the centre and pour in the oil, eggs, caraway, carrots (or cheese) and parsley if using.  Mix with a wooden spoon until it is a sticky dough. Work the dough on a floured work-surface and knead to bring together. Place the dough between two sheets of baking parchment and roll out to about 5mm thick. Cut with a bone-shaped cutter if you have one. Bake for about 45-50 minutes until crisp and golden. Cool on a wire rack. Biscuits will keep for up to 2 months in an airtight container – but not in this house!!!

Of course, I can now tell you, Amber was truly appreciative of my baking efforts especially for her today and I have often thought these tasty morsels would make an ideal Christmas gift for any other dog lover.

Meanwhile, I’m sure my own pooch will let me know, in her own special way, when her very own biscuit tin is empty once more!