March 2014

March 2014

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Clandestine Cake Club

Veggie cakes

The Northampton & District branch of the Clandestine Cake Club met this week at Irchester Bowling Club for an ‘Eat your greens’ themed October event.
Using hidden vegetables in cakes was the order of the day and surprise, surprise our bakers turned up trumps again with their veggielicious sweet offerings.
Nearly forty members and guests attended together with our VIP guest Ben Frazer – a 2011 contestant from the ‘Great British Bake Off’ TV programme and owner of Northampton-based Cupcake Artisan -  who kindly also brought with him a batch of delicious ‘secret ingredient’ cupcakes for us all to try.
During the first half of the meeting we sampled about 20 beautiful and inventive bakes and a fun competition took place to guess the hidden vegetable – all so abundant at this time of year.  I can now tell you that sales must have gone up in our area this past week of marrows, sweet potatoes, carrots, courgettes, butternut squashes, pumpkins, beetroot, parsnips, swede and even sauerkraut (cabbage) – I hope I haven’t forgotten any!
As the evening progressed Ben shared with everyone just how his involvement with GBBO took place last year and the delights and downfalls of the programme. He also answered many of the nagging baking questions our members asked like ‘Why does my fruit sink’, ‘Does he like to use silicone moulds’ and, of course, ‘How to avoid a soggy bottom’!

Our local Clandestine Cake Club continues to steadily grow and - just like our vegetables - this can only be good for you! And so, until next time......’Eat your greens’.

(Further photographs of the event can be seen shortly on the main website)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

National Baking Week

I suspect most of us have cookery books that we hardly ever open, simply because they are precious and exciting when first bought but now just nestle amongst newer volumes on the shelf. I suspect, too, that I am not alone in reading not a novel but something culinary whilst in bed - before the lights are turned out – or sitting on the sofa with one eye scanning a recipe book, whilst the other is watching TV or, hands up, I confess here and now to taking the latest food magazine into the bathroom with me! Does this make me a ‘foodie’?

Anyway....I have resolved to actually use a recipe each month from a volume that I haven’t opened of late and, for National Baking Week in October 2012, I made some shortbread and ‘Dark Indulgent Chocolate and Walnut Brownies’ from Mary Berry’s Ultimate Cake Book which was first published in 1994.

Mary’s book contains over 200 classic recipes and, on reflection, is just as ‘current’ and useful to me as it was when first bought.  The recipes cover all areas - cakes, bakes and biscuits for every possible occasion – and you can almost hear Mary’s calm and authoritative voice when you read the easy and informative chapters on method, equipment, ingredients, etc.
And, finally, a note to self - shall I put Mary back on the shelf next to Paul Hollywood, or would she like to stay a little longer on the bedside table? What a dilemma!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

I love Sunday mornings

I love Sunday mornings – a lazy breakfast, followed by the ‘Kitchen Garden’ show on BBC Radio Northampton. However, prior to today’s show, the weather forecast predicted frost tonight and so I was galvanised into action to pick the last fruits and vegetables in the garden before they could be spoiled. To my amazement, I managed to gather a motley harvest of a kilo or so of fruit and vegetables - green tomatoes, red tomatoes, peppers and cultivated blackberries. Now what to do with it? Out came the preserving pan and my trusty chutney recipe.
Ready to eat!
The recipe calls for just green tomatoes but, over the years, I have found that a mix of ‘soft’ veggie varieties – like courgettes - can be used just as successfully, as well as ‘topping up’ the amounts with apple,  pear or, as today, blackberries. I also didn’t have time to ‘brine’ them overnight either but salted the prepared ingredients for several hours before cooking. What could be better than home-made chutney accompanied by some strong cheddar and warm, just out of the oven, savoury scones? Yum!
Here’s the chutney recipe:
·        2.5kg green tomatoes, roughly chopped
·        0.5kg onions, finely sliced
·        4 tsp salt
·        1L malt vinegar
·        0.5kg soft light brown sugar
·        250g sultanas, roughly chopped
·        3 tsp / 15g ground pepper

Finely slice the onions and washed green tomatoes and place them in a large bowl and stir. Add the 4 teaspoons of salt, stir again and then cover with food wrap or a large plate and leave overnight. This will draw out lots of the tomato juices and help enhance the flavours.

The next day:
Place the litre of vinegar into a large pan. Add the 500g of light brown soft sugar and stir over a medium heat until all the sugar has dissolved.
Roughly chop the sultanas then add to the simmering vinegar and sugar.
Remove the cover from the tomatoes and onions that you've left overnight. Drain well but do not rinse.  Add to the vinegar mix plus 3 teaspoons/15g pepper.

Bring to a gentle boil. Then turn down to a simmer and cook gently until thick and brown.
Stir occasionally.

When your chutney has reduced by almost half, and is thick with hardly any liquid left, it is ready to pot.

Spoon the hot chutney into sterilised jars.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A weekend 'Up North'.

It seems ages ago that I received a message from Lynn Hill – founder of the Clandestine Cake Club – with an invitation to join others at An Organiser’s Group (AOG) day in her hometown of Leeds, but the summer sped away and the date, 29th September, came around swiftly. Hubby Bernard and I planned a long weekend away around the date and we set off with our ‘things to do’ list and the trusty satnav pointed us in the right direction.

Our first stop on the agenda was Hardwick Hall – of ‘more glass than wall’ fame – and we were not to be disappointed. This Elizabethan National Trust property, near Chesterfield, is a stunning house set in the most beautiful countryside. It was Bess of Hardwick’s masterpiece of an idea to construct the building and, to this day, it is a living memorial to such a formidable woman who died centuries ago. We toured the various upstairs rooms  – with walls covered from ceiling to floor in the finest of tapestries – before, finally, venturing ‘below stairs’ to the servants’ working areas and my particular interest - the kitchen. It was so interesting to be able to see and touch the huge ranges which must have cooked the most sumptuous meals of their day. What sweet creations were produced? The glorious copper pots and pans gleamed in the sunlight that streamed in through the windows, and I wonder whether these cooking vessels looked so magnificent and untarnished in the 1600s?
On Saturday morning, at the Queens Hotel, I joined approximately 60 other CCC organisers for the first ever joint meeting. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I was given a ‘full to the brim’ goody bag filled with items donated by Kenwood, Steenbergs, Renshaws, Kitchen Craft, Eddingtons, George-East and Creative Party, before making my way to a vacant space. Thanks to my new table companions - organisers from Lancaster, Cottingham East Yorkshire and Newark & Sherwood - the day passed quickly in a blur of cake chat and cake eating. It was a real pleasure to meet Lynn Hill in the flesh - we had only emailed each other up to this time. She is such a hard-working inspiration and I am so pleased that her baby of an idea has grown into a fully-fledged and thriving community of bakers.  It was a huge success and I hope it will be repeated in 2013.
Sunday took us to Harrogate – a town that has long been on my wish list of places to visit. It was a blustery, rainy sort of day but we enjoyed walking around the town and diving into the various shops to miss the showers. Of course (can a duck swim!), we couldn’t miss the opportunity of sampling afternoon tea at Betty’s.
We were shown to our pre-booked table which looked out to the park below. Outside, passers-by looked like Lowry characters as they leaned into the wind with their umbrellas almost blowing inside out but we, warmed by the aroma of tea and cake, felt particularly pampered. A pianist played whilst we were served the most delicious finger sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream, together with small morsels of delicate patisserie to follow. Pots and jugs of tea and coffee flowed in abundance, brought by ever-helpful staff – just a perfect and delightful treat of an experience.

Homeward bound the next day we detoured a little and visited Chatsworth in Derbyshire, which also has a connection with the Countess of Shrewsbury, i.e. Elizabeth (Bess) of Hardwick. Yet another magnificent stately pile that has survived the test of time and continues to be a ‘home’ for the present Devonshire family.
I wonder where the love of all things cake will take me next?