Christmas preparations

 

The apple harvest always heralds the start of Christmas as I make the incredibly simple seasonal mincemeat with home-grown fruit.

I’ll be demonstrating this and other apple basics on Monday 13 September at 1030.   You can sign up for a free ticket at:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/167476539839

If you have any problems, one of the Open Sight staff can help with registering: 02380 646 378

This week, I’ve been experimenting with honey cake.   I think that the last effort was in San Francisco using the recipe of Steve Edwards, winner of Professional Masterchef.   This weekend, at a gathering of local beekeepers, I learned about their “Hampshire honey cake” https://drive.google.com/file/d/1a3vl4wLeIcanNKMusmMAU0ph5SNCb0T2/view?usp=drive_open
I confess, having checked it out, I wouldn’t waste the ingredients.   One of the issues with using honey instead of sugar is that it contains about 17% water (23% for heather honey) which can make a much wetter mix.   One way to offset the water is to add more flour whereas my alternative here is to use some gentle heat to try to persuade the dry fruit to absorb the liquid.   The honey-soaked sultanas, even when coated with flour, still had a tendency to sink but I was too mean with the honey to rinse them.   The orange zest is just to offset the sweetness.   Using a ring mould means that the heat can get to the centre of the cake more easily but the wetter mix still needs longer cooking time to reach the cooked temperature – I prefer something over 95C (in this case, 98C).

And cooking with warm honey, sticky fruit and wobbly cake moulds is particularly testing when you can’t see!   Lots more cleaning up.

 

175g sultanas.

475g honey.

250G butter (one pack).

4 eggs.

250g self-raising flour.

zest of one orange.

 

Place the honey and sultanas in a pan and heat until warm (still comfortable for a finger).   Cover and leave to cool and the sultanas to absorb water from the honey (overnight) – repeat the following day.

On day three, gently reheat the honey until warm enough to drain the honey into the mixing bowl.   Allow to cool.

Whisk the butter into the honey until light and fluffy.

Whisk in the eggs, one at a time.

Fold in most of the flour, leaving a tablespoon or two to mix in with the sultanas.

Fold in the sultanas, coated with flour and the orange zest.

Place the mix in a lightly buttered and floured silicone ring mould.

Cook in a preheated oven at 180C, Gas 4 for 20 minutes before turning in the oven.

Cook for a further 20 minutes, covering loosely with foil if the top is getting too brown.

Allow to cool before turning out.

Next time, I might ignore the sultanas, add 100g chopped walnuts with the flour and top the cooked cake with a warmed honey glaze and walnut halves dry-roasted in a pan with a little honey added to make them sticky at the end!

 

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Summer party

The first proper entertaining for nearly two years to celebrate four wedding anniversaries (56, 51, 44 and 3 years plus two birthdays for which I’m too polite to mention the decades).   With my problems of fatigue, memory, concentration and organisation, it had been a daunting prospect but, with good old Naval planning, it all worked.   The key was a timetable that would please any First Lieutenant: a menu designed for some elements to be made weeks beforehand and frozen (smoked salmon mousse, chocolate truffle torte, honey and ginger ice-cream); just the right amounts for the shopping list: a count-down of actions for the weeks and days before the event.   With a few bits of preparation to do each day, a four-course lunch for over a dozen was just achievable.

However, the weather was stubbornly outside my control and thunderstorms were forecast.   The gazebo was up, tables out, seating Covid-spaced and fingers firmly crossed.   We were immensely lucky: there was torrential rain and lightning just a few miles away while we sat in warm relaxing sun.   With the last guests departing some eight hours later, I felt I’d regained my entertaining confidence.

And, of course, there was a cake to complete our celebrations.   It is my standard rich fruit cake but with honey replacing sugar (you can tell how old the recipe is as it still uses Imperial measures!).   Actually making the cake takes no time, it is the preparation, weighing and cooking that takes a while.   Finished with marzipan and royal icing before being festooned with myriad champagne and star candles, it was an attempt to celebrate all those years of marriage and life.

 

4oz currants.

4oz sultanas.

8oz raisins.

brandy to cover.

8oz butter.

8oz honey.

4 eggs .

12 oz self-raising flour.

1 teaspoon grated nutmeg

2 heaped teaspoons mixed spice.

half teaspoon salt

2oz (home-made) candied peel.

8oz glace cherries.

2oz soft dried apricots, chopped.

2oz dried apple flakes, chopped (optional).

2oz dates, chopped.

2 oz dried figs, chopped.

1 orange, zest and juice.

1 lemon, zest and juice.

3oz whole almonds chopped.

3oz Brazil nuts, chopped.

 

Place the raisins, currants and sultanas in a jar or similar container, cover with brandy and leave to soak for several weeks.

Cream the butter and honey.

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

Fold in the dry ingredients.

Fold in the drained fruit (reserving the brandy), other fruit and nuts.

Place the mix in a 10-inch cake mould (silicone or greased and lined).

Cook in a pre-heated oven at 140C, Gas 1 for 2 hours 15 minutes then reduce to 120C, Gas Half for a further 45 minutes.   The internal temperature of the cake should reach about 96C.

When cool, remove from cake mould and, over a week, inject the cake with the sieved reserved brandy.

Decorate as you like.

 

If replacing the honey with soft brown sugar, reduce the flour to 8 ounces.

I used the same recipe for an Easter Simnel cake but with a rolled layer of marzipan on top of the first half of the mix before topping with the remainder before cooking.

 

 

 

 

Blind cook and pot of honey is recipe for stickiness everywhere

One of the joys of my time at the LightHouse for the Blind (who kindly provided these images) in San Francisco was cooking with Sydney.  She is their instructor chef who herself has very limited vision.  And she enthusiastically allowed me in to her immaculate training kitchen to create havoc and make the honey cake I’d learned from MasterChef champion, Steven Edwards.

By the end of the morning, I was sticky up to my elbows as was the working surface, sink taps, spoons, bowls and virtually everything down my side of the kitchen.  I had to completely change my clothes afterwards.

And the cake was very much touch and go.  Weighing the dry ingredients was easy but, even between us, achieving 200g of egg whites was a challenge.  I’m not sure if the American hens are fed on something different but their shells didn’t really crack but rather collapsed inwards.  Once opened, we were trying to drop the egg in to a separator that was far too small and that wobbled precariously on the edge of a bowl.  And then, of course, there was the honey. The electric mixer made short work of whizzing together the egg whites and dry ingredients

It took two of us huddled over the stove listening to the butter bubbling and then the smell changing to decide that it had browned.

Even once we had the cake batter mixed, we were very dubious as it seemed far too liquid so extra spoonsful of flour and ground almonds were whisked in.  As to the baking tin, there was nothing like Steven’s deep square tin so we compromised with one of those round ones with a hole in the middle to make a ring cake.  This meant that there was less surface to cook which resulted in nearly double the time in the oven.

All of this was to be dessert for a lunch for 12 and, at one stage, it was looking pretty hopeless.  I was wondering how I could make something nearly presentable with a loaf and the rest of the honey.

A cocktail stick is still the best way of testing If a cake is done - and here it came out clean after 40 minutes in the oven.Nail-biting minutes later the cake emerged: lightly golden, springy and coming away from the sides of the tin.  It flopped out perfectly and, after multiple prods with a cocktail stick, it was anointed with the honey and orange juice syrup (the Americans call this a “poke” cake for obvious reasons).  Meanwhile, I’d toasted some walnut pieces and then candied them in yet more honey so that they made a crisp and sticky topping.

Steven’s wonderful winning recipe was even more adulterated as I’d added orange zest to the batter and on the base of the baking tin – he is probably cringing!Penny stirring the small pan of honey and orange juice to make the syrup to pour over the cake.

But it all worked surprisingly well: light and full of flavour without being too sweet – it disappeared very fast.

Another time, I’ll share Sydney’s Marbella chicken – with prunes, olives and much more.  She certainly deserved one of the Baking Blind apron medals for all her patience and the clearing-up!

PennyThe ring shaped cake is golden brown on the white plate, topped with shiny and sticky walnut pieces.