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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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.

 

Pleasing powerful Ladies who Lunch.

Imagine your very first cookery demonstration: not even in a kitchen; supported by a chef who barely speaks English; an audience of the most powerful women in the world’s largest city.  Daunting or what?  I desperately fell back on the tried-and-tested Victoria sponge but with a little twist to make it my own (https://youtu.be/0H0jPBwpD1M).

I was in Chongqing in China with one of the top chefs, Frank, at the prestigious InterContinental Hotel.  We were providing the entertainment for the regular lunch of the International Women’s Group.  This was a truly impressive gathering of the key female influencers in this vast city of 37 million people: Consuls general heading up the local representation of their national embassies; leaders in business and academia; my Rotary Club sponsors; movers and shakers in heels.  And this was my initiation audience so I chose something hopefully foolproof and quintessentially English.

Frank and super-Beverages and Food Manager, Sam, did all the hard work.  All I had to do was crack the eggs and turn on the mixer.  I just tossed raspberries in to the mix and let Frank carry it away to the oven.  Hardly testing or high cuisine!

My mini-sponges looked suitably simple alongside the accompaniment Frank had produced: a delectable chocolate stiletto shoe each garnished with fruit.  He was just showing off and definitely caught the attention of the whole group.  It was clearly the difference between a truly professional chef and yours truly – but did he have to rub it in so hard?

Frank and I had a great time working together – I just wish we had been able to do more.  But the lunch was another chance to spread the word that disability needn’t be the end of the world – just give us a chance to show what we can do.

Penny

Digging out dinner guests

Guests lost in the jungle and bogged down in mud was the drama of my second dinner service at Noam’s HiR restaurant in Tamarindo, Costa Rica.  Although late, dinner succeeded and you can see how I turned classic Victoria sponges in to more exotic desserts with chilli and coriander https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyAYELsPtgo

In the rainy season, the jungle roads are treacherous with pot holes, mud and torrents of water.  Our missing dinner guests were marooned only a few hundred yards away but their car was stuck in the mud.  Chef Noam dashed out with other guests in tow.    He was as handy with a pick-axe as with his chef’s knife and, within minutes, they soggily joined the party.  This was service with a difference!  As they say in Costa Rica, Pura vida – the answer to everything.

This whole week had been wonderful for discovering new foods growing wild in the jungle:

  • Okinawa spinach – green on one side and purple on the other.
  • Mayan tree spinach – which is toxic when uncooked.
  • Turmeric plants with large leaves – just dig out some roots to use.
  • Ginger plants with thin strap leaves for a light ginger taste and the roots/bulbs of ginger emerging from underground and to be cut.

And every home needs cleaner ants.  They rid houses of other insects and animals.  But they do bite humans too.  They don’t eat our food but will get rid of cockroaches and even something as large as a scorpion.  So you need to know which ant is which and keep the good ones.

Penny