Back to basics

I’ve been doing a series of on-line live bake-ins exclusively for visually impaired people – and even getting bakers taking part from different parts of the world.

The goal is to make enough different bakes to create a celebration tea when we are all able to mix again.  So fa, we have achieved ginger biscuits, soda bread and, this week, lemon Victoria sponges.    Our next session will celebrate World Baking Day on 17 May  https://www.daysoftheyear.com/days/world-baking-day/ – and we will try hot-water pastry for pork pies.

This week, with the joys of Zoom (and a difficult echo) a whole group creamed, folded and drizzled our delicious individual cakes.  A couple of mine went over the road to cheer-up neighbours  – something as quick and simple as a homebake can bring a smile to faces when we are all feeling a bit glum.

Touch is key for me with this cake: I have to feel when the butter and sugar have become light and fluffy and when the cakes are cooked – that soft sponginess.  But I have also found that a temperature probe reading (literally) 98 degrees Centigrade is also a good test.

The flavour variations are endless as long as you remember that the sponge probably isn’t dense/strong enough to hold up a lot of fruit – who wants sunken cherries?  Ideas might include: basic vanilla; chopped dates and ginger; lemon and orange St Clement’s; mixed spice and a few sultanas; coffee and walnut.

I’ve added a couple of handfuls of fresh raspberries (in China) and chopped coriander and chilli (in Costa Rica) – there’s no end to the madness.

It’s an easy recipe to remember: just weigh the eggs and everything else is the same – so you can make a smaller or bigger cake just as easily.  Here’s my lemon drizzle version:

2 lemons, zest and juice.

1 tablespoon caster sugar.

3 eggs, weighed in their shells.

Same weight butter, softened.

Same weight caster sugar.

Same weight self-raising flour.

Gently heat lemon juice and tablespoon of sugar in microwave until the sugar is dissolving – leave to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180C, Gas 4.

Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.

Whisk in the eggs one at a time, each with a teaspoon of flour.

Fold in the remaining flour and lemon zest.

Spoon into a bun tin or two sponge tins or a loaf tin.

Cook for 20 minutes (probably 25 minutes for sponge tins and 30 for loaf tin).

Test cakes are cooked.

While still hot, prick with a cocktail stick (I can’t remember the last time I used one with a cherry) and then spoon the lemon juice syrup over the cakes.

Allow to cool enough to avoid burning your mouth.

 

 

 

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Here’s one I made earlier.

My hand injury is still recovering so the beekeeping sous chef has been responsible for conjuring up outstanding flapjacks for friends who have dropped in for tea since we could meeting the garden.  Even though most of us have done very little for months, it is amazing how much talking is still needed to bring each other up-to-date.   And how good to hear others laughing.

This is our Easter Spring cake: a cross between a Christmas cum Simnel recipe that I had started at least two months before the injury. Although there are lots of ingredients, it actually takes longer to weigh out than mix.

The dried fruit had been soaking in brandy for a month and the strained residue was later injected into the finished cake (syringe, needle and all).

The sous chef’s home-produced honey replaced the usual sugar, with a little extra flour to offset its 17% water content.  This made a lighter and more flavoursome cake.

To stop the cake drying out, I gave up on the traditional Simnel top layer of marzipan plus 11 apostle balls.  Instead, and completely optional, the cake was covered top-to-toe with more marzipan.  The sous chef made and lovingly applied the final finishing touches of royal icing plus festive birds and bees. (He has to get all the praise as he posts these pieces for me!).  The cake is so unctuous and moist that it nearly needs serving with a spoon.

 

4oz currants

4oz sultanas

8oz raisins

Enough brandy to cover the dried fruit.

8oz butter

8oz honey

4eggs

16oz self-raising flour

1 teaspoon grated nutmeg

2 teaspoons mixed spice

Half teaspoon salt

2oz candied peel, chopped.

250g glace cherries.

2oz soft dried apricots, chopped.

2oz dried apple flakes, chopped (optional).

2oz dried dates, stoned and chopped.

Zest and juice of 1 orange.

Zest and juice of 1 lemon.

3oz whole almonds chopped

3oz Brazil nuts, chopped.

500g pack marzipan.

 

Soak the currants, raisins and sultanas in brandy – ideally for a month but a week would do.

Drain and set aside the strained brandy.

Cream   the butter and honey until light and fluffy.

Whisk in each egg with a teaspoonful of flour.

Fold in the flour and the remaining cake ingredients.

Fill a cake tin halfway and top with a layer of marzipan, pressed out to fit the tin.  Fill the tin on top of the marzipan.

Cook Gas 1, 140C for 2 hours 15 minutes, reduce heat for a further 45 minutes.  Internal cake temperature should reach at least 96C.

This quantity was bigger than my cake tin.  I put the extra into a loaf tin and cooked at the same time on the oven second shelf for 2 hours 15 minutes.

Optional: once cake has cooled and been removed from tin, inject with strained brandy over a week.  Brush with warmed apricot jam and cover with marzipan (around 750g) and allow to dry for a few days.  Cover with royal icing and allow to dry.  Decorate with whatever grabs your imagination.

Please don’t forget the live on-line bake-in on Monday 12 April at 1030.

 

Over-confident

No cooking this time: last week’s injury has turned into this week’s spiral fracture of the fifth metacarpal in my right hand which is now encased in a splint for the next month.

It has massive impact: can’t use my white cane so difficult getting out; can’t guide myself around indoors; difficult to eat other than with a spoon and not good at finding my mouth with it in my left hand – more clothes in the wash; laptop keyboard almost impossible as two-finger typing only works when you can see the keys!  Resorting to incomprehensible dictation on my phone.

Thank goodness for a well-stocked freezer and a well-trained sous chef!

All due to over-confidence: moving too fast and missed the wall.

Was glad of the help of the Gosport (death) hospital for x-ray, first splint and discreet check that the injury wasn’t the result of domestic abuse.  First splint was like two conjoined finger puppets.  But would have welcomed a bit more empathy from the follow-up phone call.  No further treatment but another bigger splint in the post and that’s the end of their interest.

Still going ahead with the 12 April live bake-in and did a short interview with RNIB radio https://audioboom.com/posts/7835352-join-this-virtual-bake-in-event-for-visually-impaired-people.

The sous chef will be doing all the grunt work for the lemon Victoria sponges.

 

Not Cheese Straws

 

I keep forgetting that being over-confident often ends up in tears.

Starting to feel miles better as the fatigue and physio therapies progress, I was moving much more quickly.  Consequence: misjudged where the wall was, smacked my hand on it and heard two awful cracking noises.  I can still move my fingers and hand but have probably torn something or similar.  Lots of ice packs and painkillers later, it is just about useable again.  And, you guessed, my right hand with all the complications that follow when it is out of action.

Being blind, small injuries are part of life: the bruises, the sore spots, the cuts and burns, the lumps on your head.  Usually, I don’t even remember how I got the injury but this one had rather more impact:  using a keyboard with dud fingers isn’t very comfortable.

I’ve been feeling rather guilty too: there was a request after one of the on-line baking sessions for me to do cheese straws.  The problem is that I utterly loathe cheese: the smell, taste and texture and, if I eat it, I get migraines.

Instead, I’ve adapted a recipe to make Not Cheese Straws – replacing the offending articles with walnuts and herbs.  The added bonus is the end product has far less fat – as if you care about calories when being tempted by warm, savoury slivers of deliciousness!  For those who prefer the authentic version, I’ve given the cheese proportions.

 

185g plain flour

1/2 teaspoon salt.

¼  teaspoon English mustard powder.

Tip of teaspoon paprika or chilli powder.

110g butter, cubed.

100g walnuts, chopped and a generous tablespoon rosemary and thyme leaves, chopped (or 75g Cheddar cheese and 25g Parmesan cheeses)

1 egg (or 1 egg yolk and about 2 tablespoons water).

Place the flour, salt, mustard and chilli in a bowl and rub in the butter.

Mix in the nuts and herbs (or cheeses).

Bring together using the egg (or egg yolk and water).  The result will be a soft sticky dough.

Chill for at least 30 minutes.

On a floured surface, roll or press out the dough to a thickness of about 1 cm.

Cut into 1 cm wide strips and place on a baking tray lined with parchment.

Chill thoroughly (I left the tray in the fridge overnight).

Pre-heat oven to Gas 4, 180C, 350F then cook for for 15-20 minutes.  I could hear them sizzling on the tray.

(If you are using cheese, the recipe suggested rolling the dough to the thickness of a £2 coin – whatever that is – and cooking at Gas 5, 190C, 374F for 10-15 minutes)

Leave to cool on the tray as they are quite fragile.

 

I’m very pleased with the end result which will be good with a glass of wine or similar – don’t be mean with the salt, mustard or chilli.  Next, I’m thinking of a sweet version to serve with desserts.

Don’t forget: there’s another live baking session on 12 April: lemon Victoria sponges.

 

 

 

 

Embarrassingly easy bread

I was Celebrating International women’s Day on 8 March with a bread anyone can make (5 minutes mixing plus 30 in the oven).

Ideal for women (and men) who want something simple and homemade after a day at work , caring or home-schooling.  It is perfect with a bowl of comforting soup for supper.

I first learned soda bread with Wendy in Virginia Beach, USA.  Being Irish herself, she was proud to teach me one of the classics from that country.  Like any bread, it has three key ingredients: flour, a rising agent, liquid.  Wendy used a wholewheat-type bread flour, baking soda and buttermilk.  But there are many variations:

  • For the flour: white, brown, wholemeal or other bread flours will work as does plain (all-purpose) flour.
  • For the rising agent: baking soda, bicarbonate of soda or baking powder will all work.
  • For the liquid: if you can’t find buttermilk, ordinary milk with the juice of half a lemon and a slug of vinegar will work; alternatively try plain natural yoghurt or, if you make your own, the liquid left-over when the yoghurt is strained.

I’ve previously blogged this recipe using the strainings from making yoghurt plus self-raising flour – as it says in the name, flour and rising agent combined.  On that Monday, I and a group of other visually impaired people from all over the UK, America and Australia tested a new version using plain natural yoghurt as being easier to find than buttermilk and less faff than adding lemon and vinegar.  You can see our on-line live bread bake-in and the end results:

https://youtu.be/d2OfawOg-uk

One of the Americans with an Irish background wrote: “I had never heard of adding yogurt to soda bread before, but when you explained it as a buttermilk substitute it made perfect sense. The bread came out delicious and with a level of moisture I‘ve never had before making soda bread, as you know it’s a dryer type of bread traditionally. “Phew! I’d survived the test.

250g self-raising flour.

200g plain natural yoghurt.

1 level teaspoon salt.

Pre-heat the oven to Gas 6, 200C.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly oil.

Place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix together with your hand to create a soft dough that can be formed in to a ball, leaving the bowl clean.

Place the ball on the baking sheet, cut a cross in the top and bake for 25 minutes and then turn the loaf over and cook for a further 5 minutes.

The loaf will sound hollow when you knock the baked bottom; the crust will be rough, craggy and crisp; the internal temperature will have reached at least 85C.

This bread is best eaten fresh and warm but, if you have any left over, slice and store in a bag for later today/breakfast toast.

You could add herbs, spices, nuts, seeds and other flavourings to ring the changes.

We will be making lemon Victoria sponges at our next Exclusive Baking Blind event on 12 April – you are welcome to join us.

 

Risotto pescatori.

 

Liz, I know that you are out there! I wonder if you remember us searching restaurants in Caserta looking for one that would serve both spaghetti alla putenesca  for you and risotto pescatori for me?  My recollection is of two tall, bronzed, dark-haired young women striding through the streets – we looked quite Italian but, being so much taller, drew many eyes.

We finally found a restaurant and devoured our lunch with at least one bottle of Mateus Rosé and were complaining to each other about our respective love lives.  Then we went to the Palace of Caserta and took a pony and trap ride up the length of the very long water feature in the gardens.  The driver tried to make us walk up the steep bits but we declined.  There was a fountain at the very far end and we caught a little train coming back.

My sous chef has been experimenting with the risotto and adapting his usual prawn version with the addition of mussels and scallops.  I made your spaghetti and thought of you many times when I was cooking it in France, where it was extremely popular.     It is over 40 years since I first went to Italy thinking no further than spag bol – now, I know much more about Italian cuisine and can even cook some of it too.

 

 

 

Hot Stuff

What Government organisation interacts with just about every disabled person in the country and should be leading the field on accessibility etc?

Give up? It is our National Health Service and you may already have heard the reports that disabled people are disproportionately dying from Covid.  Set aside the arguments about priorities for vaccinations and just consider the mechanics of actually getting one.  For me, our glorious NHS stumbled at the first fence: is there any point sending a printed letter to a blind person?  Years ago, I’d done as requested and told them how I need information but it was clearly barking at the moon.  I realise that I could have waited for contact from my GP but hadn’t had a peep after four days.

Luckily, I had someone around who I could trust to read my mail, take me to the appointment, guide me through the various stages and get me back.  But I suspect that there are many others who don’t even know that they’ve been counted towards the target as having been “offered” a vaccination, let alone been able to get it. OK: rant over.

These samosas filled with lightly-curried vegetables follow the theme of eating lots of different plant-based foods – and are also a good way of using anything left over at the end of the week.

 

1 tablespoon oil.

1 onion, peeled and diced.

2 portions GGG.

2 rounded teaspoons garam masala.

1 teaspoon each cumin and coriander powder.

Half a teaspoon each of turmeric, chilli and paprika powders.

A mix of vegetables cut according to their hardness – carrots small, mushrooms larger.

About 6 tablespoons water

2 rounded soup spoons coconut powder.

12 sheets filo pastry, cut in half lengthwise.

Oil for brushing/spraying.

Sesame seeds to finish.

 

Gently sauté the onion and GGG in the oil until softened.

Add the curry powders and heat until they smell spicy.

Add the hardest vegetables, followed by the remainder after a minute or two.

Add the water and stir to remove any of the curry powder on the bottom of the pan.

Cover and cook over a gentle heat:  the vegetables on the base will be heated while the remainder steam.

When the vegetables are just softened, stir in the coconut powder and remove from the heat.  Replace the lid and allow to cool (perhaps overnight in the fridge).

Cut the filo pastry in half lengthwise and keep covered with a damp tea towel while making up the samosas.

Brush a strip of filo with a little oil.

Place a spoonful of the vegetable mix at one end of the strip – in a little and on the right-hand side.  Fold the left-hand corner over the filling to create the basic triangle shape.

Fold the triangle away from you, then to the left, away from you again.

You will probably have got nearly to the end of the filo strip so fold over the last pieces, brush with a little oil and dip one side in sesame seeds before placing on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.

Cook for 10 minutes Gas 4 and then turn over to crisp the underside.

 

If you don’t have a whole range of ground spices, just the garam masala or a curry paste/mix will do as well.

I used: 2 carrots, 1 sweet potato, 12 French beans, 12 sugar snap peas, 1 red pepper, thinly-sliced broccoli stalks, 2 tomatoes, 5 mushrooms, 1 courgette – whatever you have available – and had some filling left-over.

GGG is ginger, garlic and green chillies (de-seeded) in weight proportions of 8:4:2.  Roughly chop and then reduce to a rough paste in a food processor.  Divide into teaspoon portions and freeze ready for future curries (Indian, Thai, Sri Lankan etc).

These are quite fragile crisp hot parcels with a moist but not runny filling.  They need something “wetter” served with them – perhaps a yoghurt raita or we have delicious home-made and home-grown tomato chilli jam.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/baking-with-penny-for-visually-impaired-blind-people-tickets-141946530895?ref=eios

 

Desserts from leftovers

 

Another week of culinary experiments – it is good to have the leisure with lock-down.

Firstly, I’m proud to report that the sous chef’s panettoni was magnificent on the second try and made full use of the faffing candied Seville orange peel from a few weeks ago.

 

But it did produce spare egg whites and I’d already done macaroons last time.  I made up this chocolate mousse dessert with what was to hand including some rather mature 70% cocoa solids chocolate that had developed a bloom (not mould but just the surface discolouring).  I used cream to replace the egg yolks and, only having single cream, three threw in some milk powder.  Thanks to a super American cup measure, it is easy for me to put the ingredients together when using American measures in recipes:

 

200g dark chocolate.

1 cup single cream.

1/3 cup milk powder.

3 egg whites.

 

Very gently heat the chocolate, cream and milk powder in a pan until the chocolate has melted and all the ingredients can be mixed together.  Allow to cool.

Whisk the egg whites to stiff peak.

Place a quarter of the egg whites in a bowl and fold in the chocolate mix.

Add a further quarter of the egg whites and fold in.  Repeat twice.

Place the mousse mix in containers and chill for at least 12 hours.

I made four huge servings – these amounts would really do 6-8 of normal size.

 

I wanted to use more of the spare single cream so knocked up some very simple egg custards to turn in to crème brulée using the trusty sous-vide.

 

2 eggs.

¼ cup sugar.

1 cup single cream.

1/3 cup milk powder.

½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste.

Small pinch salt.

 

 

Place all the ingredients in a jug and whizz with a wand-blender for one minute.

Pour the mix in to bottling jars (the sort with rubber seals and clips or screw tops).

Place in a sous-vide water bath, covered with water and cook at 81.5C for an hour.

Chill and turn out on to a plate.

Top with a little caster sugar and caramelise with a blowtorch (others with no sight like me may care to entrust this bit to the sous chef).

Serve with some fresh fruit to pretend it is healthy.

These quantities made 4 servings (normal size!) but we ate them before remembering to take a picture.

 

 

 

 

 

Too many cooks?

 

No, it was super to be doing another on-line cook-in  this week  https://youtu.be/4lkmaV_8Yx0 -mainly people from Hampshire but also drop-ins from India and Holland.

We were doing the excellent ginger biscuits which seemed to work for most people but one thought there was too much spice.  Another had probably got the proportions a bit awry and ended up with rather a sticky mix and enormous biscuits (more like brandy snaps).  Hopefully, we will be doing some more sessions in the future.

Yes, there were too many cooks a little later as I started on the washing -up: good squeeze of Fairy and hot water pouring in only to discover that the sous-chef had already filled the bowl with spinach leaves for lunch!  It took a lot of rinses to remove the lingering lemon fragrance and bubbles – one way of making sure that the Covid virus hadn’t strayed in!

We’ve been counting how many different plant foods we eat after hearing Professor Tim Spector on the radio (The Spark on BBC R4 29 January for those using BBC Sounds https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000rlpz ).  He’s a whizz on gut flora and fauna: the basis of good health, diet and weight-loss.  Thirty different plant-based foods a week sounds a lot until you count garlic, herbs, rice and more.    Yesterday, we gleefully achieved 30 in one day, thanks to simple roast vegetables (and feel so much better and virtuous for doing so).

 

Hard vegetables: all peeled and chopped.

2 potatoes.

1 swede.

2 parsnips.

1 turnip.

4 carrots.

 

Softer vegetables:

2 onions, peeled and diced.

3 tomatoes, quartered.

A handful of dried tomatoes, chopped and soaked in a little water.

4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped.

3 sticks celery, peeled and chopped.

3 peppers, de-seeded and chopped.

1 bulb fennel, chopped.

1 butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and chopped.

1 heaped tablespoon thyme leaves.

1 heaped tablespoon chopped rosemary leaves.

Olive oil.

Salt and pepper.

 

Cut the vegetables to about fork-size – not tiny pieces nor great lumps!

Put the peeled hard vegetables in a pan, just covered in cold water, and simmer for about 5 minutes.  Drain.

Meanwhile, line a deep roasting tin with foil (to save on washing up) and mix in all the softer prepared vegetables with a tablespoon or so of oil, herbs and a good seasoning of salt and pepper.

Mix the parboiled vegetables and place on top of the roasting pan, seasoning again.

Drizzle over with a little more olive oil.

Cook Gas 4/180 C  for about 45 minutes before mixing again and returning to the oven for about 30 minutes.

Cooking times are flexible as it depends on the size of the pieces– test them with a knife.

By my reckoning this would give you about  half the different plant foods you need a week in one dish so some greens on other days plus fruit should about meet the target.  Freeze portions of the roast veg for future weeks so they are half done too!  You can vary the herbs and vegetables  according to season and to ring the changes.


Sticky to my elbows

 

Part of the fatigue management programme (see last posting) is about doing something each day just for fun and pleasure.

This week, it has been candied peel for the sous chef who has been making panettone, that tall Italian brioche-like bread.  Of course, being a man, he has to have all the right accoutrements down to the fancy cardboard case for the final rise and baking – with bamboo skewers inserted so that the edifice can be suspended upside down when it cools (avoids the soft creation collapsing).

Anyway, he wanted proper candied peel and, with Seville orange season upon us, I obliged and now have a stock for fruit cakes, Christmas puddings and gifts.

The actual work of this recipe is dead easy, doesn’t take much time but is spread out over about a week.  The really messy bit is taking the peel off the parchment paper, rolling in caster sugar and storing in boxes.  Even with several hand-washes, I was sticky everywhere and the floor needed a good mop through.  But the result was worth it all.

 

3 lb Seville oranges (or any citrus fruit)

1500g granulated sugar

Caster sugar for storing.

 

Cut the fruit in half and squeeze out all the juice.    I have a whizzy electric “lemon squeezer” which makes this very easy.  I used the juice in marmalade.

Remove any remnants of the flesh, pips etc. from the fruit halves.

Place the fruit halves in a pan, covered with water (weighed down with a plate if necessary).  Don’t use more water than needed.

Simmer for 1-2 hours until the peel is soft but not falling apart.

Add 500g sugar and stir gently over a low heat so that it dissolves without breaking up the peel.  Once dissolved, boil rapidly for 30 minutes.  Leave the peel in the syrup for 24 hours.

Repeat the addition of 500g sugar, dissolving, boiling, standing.

Repeat again.  By this time, the cold syrup should have reached the consistency of thick honey.

Gently warm the peel and syrup – just enough so that you can remove the peel from the syrup.

Place the drained peel on baking trays lined with parchment paper and place in the oven on the very lowest heat for 6 hours to dry as much as possible.  Leave in the oven until completely cool.

Put caster sugar into a bowl and roll each piece of peel in the sugar before placing in an airtight storage box, interleaving layers with parchment paper.  Add any remaining caster sugar to the layers to keep the peel separate.

I’ve stored peel like this for at least 12 months.

 

The remaining orange-flavoured sugar syrup and the caster sugar from the boxes can be used in puddings, baking, pannetone and next year’s marmalade.  Nothing wasted!