June 19, 2022

MIXED FRUIT CLAFOUTIS and some gadgets.

A clafoutis is one of my favourite desserts and the recipe I most often use for it (well I have only experimented with a couple of others) is this one from my friend Susan.

The traditional clafoutis would be cherry and another favourite of mine is apricot.  I looked in the fridge and found a few of each so I decided to put them together.  Why not!

It's important to have the right size of baking dish, not too shallow nor too deep. I find this 20cm Pyrex dish is just the right size for a single layer of fruit and the batter. 

The batter is simple to make and quite forgiving in terms of ingredients.  This time I had a tub of Elmlea single (which is largely buttermilk) and some whole milk.  I often add a sprinkling of flaked almonds which is not really traditional but we like it!

Another essential piece of kit is a cherry stoner.  Some say that the cherries should not be stoned because stones add flavour.  For me, spitting out cherry stones takes away some of the joy that is a clafoutis so I always stone them.  The problem is in finding a good cherry stoner that works.  I have had several that don’t, that have been a real pain to use and ended up in the bin.

So, having decided to make an apricot and cherry clafoutis, I went looking for my cherry stoner but the cupboard (drawer actually) was bare!  So I had to go and buy one.

First I headed to my absolute favourite shop, the hardware shop in the little town two miles away.  They have everything and what they don’t have they can get for you.  Sadly, the owner rummaged through boxes of ancient stock and was gutted to find that a cherry stoner was one of the few items they did not have!  

I couldn’t wait two days for their next trip to the wholesalers so I headed into the big town.  Actually to the retail park just on the outskirts of town, to Dunelm Mill.

On the way there I pondered how much our town has changed and how much I miss it.  It's now becoming a ghost town of charity shops and cheap clothing stores, the only decent shops left being M&S, Boots, Wilko and W H Smith’s.  I do wonder how much longer they will last, they must be hanging on by the skin of their teeth. 

Ours used to be a wonderful small market town. It had a BHS, Richard Shop, a small department store called Turner’s, with creaky floorboards and wrinkly carpet, a bigger furniture store, M&S*, Littlewoods, a myriad of independent shops and, best of all, the Co-op.  The Co-op was in a fabulous Tudor style timbered building, and you could buy everything there that you could possibly need, from beds to shoes and cosmetics. 

The household linens dept was wonderful, selling curtain fabrics, dress fabrics and a huge range of knitting wool.  The toy department was magnificent and best of all was the kitchenware department where you could buy absolutely everything.

When it closed some years ago I was so sad.  I knew a couple of the assistants, ladies whose whole careers had been working for the Co-op, and they said it was the internet that killed the shop.  People would go to the Co-op to choose something, ask the assistants for their advice based on years of product knowledge and experience, then go home and order it online.

Now these shoppers can no longer see what they’re actually ordering, they have to gamble that it’s something like the description on the website then send it back and wait for a refund.  Still, it keeps all those van drivers in a job and saves the online retailers from having to have too much capital in the bank, they use their customers money instead, hanging on to it for a couple of weeks before they send the refund!

Anyway, for £5 I bought the only cherry stoner that Dunelm had and, believe or not, it actually works -without smashing the cherry to bits or splattering juice everywhere!  The question is, would I have ordered it if I had seen it on the internet?  Probably not, as its bright pink colour makes it look more like a toy than a serious piece of kit!




Another gadget needed is a whisk.  Did you have one of these?  We did.  My mum used one for making pancake or Yorkshire pudding batter, and for whisking up Instant Whip.  It was one of the many things that vanished after she died.  Dad probably thought he would never use it so got rid of it, along with her cake tins and mixing bowl.  It never occurred to him that his daughter might like to have them.



I recently treated myself to one of these, having seen it recommended in a blog somewhere. It’s an Oxo Good Grips modern version of the old fashioned hand whisk and it’s brilliant for beating up batters, whisking up cream and anything for which the electric version seems a little over the top.  The business end comes apart and the bits go in the dishwasher too!



A clafoutis is nice served slightly warm or at room temperature, dusted with a little icing sugar if you like and with a dollop of cream or ice cream.  Or just plain, like this one.

(*I just discovered yesterday (27th June) that our M&S is moving from the town centre to a vacant building in a nearby retail park, one that was previously occupied by Debenhams.  This will happen in a few weeks' time.  It’s a good move for M&S as it’s a big, modern building and good news for shoppers as the parking is right outside and free. I will probably shop there more often as a result.  It’s very bad news for the town centre and the other shops as M&S is the only reason that many people go into town at all.)

Ingredients

50g plain flour

50g ground almonds

100g golden caster sugar

2 eggs

250 ml of liquid consisting cream, plain yoghurt and whole milk

a handful of apricots and cherries

a spoonful of flaked almonds

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Butter a suitable baking dish.

Use enough fruit to make a single layer in the bottom of the dish.  Remove the stones from the cherries and apricots and cut the apricots into quarters.

Put the flour, ground almonds, sugar, liquids and and eggs into a medium bowl and whisk until well combined.  Pour the mixture over the fruit and scatter flaked almonds over the top if you like.

Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown and firm.

Serve warm or at room temperature, dusted with icing sugar if you like and with a dollop of cream or ice cream.

Serves 6.

June 10, 2022

SCHOOL CAKE


I do remember having this as a pudding for school dinners - a sponge cake topped with jam and coconut, scooped in chunks from enormous baking trays.  It was served with pink custard usually once a week, maybe every two weeks at the most.  I loved it!  The dinners at my secondary school were excellent, especially the puddings! 

I first made it myself as part of my afternoon tea.  You can read about that here.  I used quite a large traybake tin which made a shallow sponge, easy to cut into tiny squares.



The squares looked the bees knees when topped with a fresh raspberry and tasted divine.  I took a box full of the leftovers to my knitting group where they were very popular.

I made the cake again for another event, cut into larger squares to be served as a dessert.  It was equally popular.  This recipe is definitely a keeper!  You can see the original here.


It's hard to resist such a dainty treat!

One thing I haven't done with it so far is to repeat the whole school experience and actually serve it with pink custard!  There's time yet!  

Ingredients

For the cake

225g baking spread

225g caster sugar

225g self raising flour

4 eggs

a splash of milk if needed

For the topping

a jar of raspberry jam

25g desiccated coconut

a small punnet of fresh raspberries (optional)

Method

Preheat the oven to 180C / 160 fan / gas mk 4.  Grease and line the base of a traybake tin measuring roughly 30 x 18cm.

Put all the cake ingredients into a large bowl and whisk with an electric whisk until creamy and well combined.  Whisk in a splash of milk if it seems rather stiff.

Pour the mixture into the tin and spread out evenly, levelling the top.  Bake for 25-30 minutes until done.

Take the cake out of the oven.  Put about half of the jar of jam into a small bowl and stir to loosen it.  Spread this over the warm cake, making sure there are no bare patches.

Sprinkle the desiccated coconut over the jam in a thick dusting and leave to cool in the tin.

When cool mark the top into squares to be cut later or cut into squares of the required size straight away.

To decorate, cut a thin sliver from the flat end of each raspberry - this makes sure they stand pointy end up and don't wobble over.  Place one in the middle of each square and gently push it into the jam slightly so that it stays put.

Serves as many as you like, depending on the size of squares you want.

June 9, 2022

CHICKEN, LEEK AND POTATO SOUP (soup maker recipe)

 


One of the recipes I regularly cook for dinner, for ourselves or guests, is Rachel Allen's chicken open pot roast.  You can see it here and I first wrote about it here.

This time I had one portion left over.  1 chicken thigh, a few chunks of potato, a few slices of leek and a tablespoon, or thereabouts, of the delicious sauce.  So I decided to make a soup.  It was yummy!

It also shows how easy it can be to turn not very much in terms of leftovers into a tasty lunch for next to nothing.

Ingredients

1 cooked chicken thigh

a few chunks of cooked potato

a few slices of cooked leek

Any remaining sauce from the dish

1 medium potato

1 onion

1 large carrot

1 chicken stock pot

Method

Put the cooked veg into the soup maker.  Remove the meat from the bone of the chicken thigh, discard the skin, tear the meat into small pieces and add it to the veg.

Add the uncooked veg, peeled and cut into large chunks, enough to fill to the bottom line.

Add the stock pot and water to the top line.

Cook on smooth.

Makes four generous portions.

June 6, 2022

AFTERNOON TEA


With all the Queen's Jubilee celebrations for being on the throne for 70 years there has been much talk of street parties and afternoon teas.  In fact in our part of France friends held their own afternoon tea party to celebrate but unfortunately I was unable to attend.  I'm back home in the UK because my father is in hospital and his future care is again under debate.  

So instead I decided it was time I posted about the afternoon tea I held for a friend's birthday just a couple of months ago.  That was in France too.

I used my three tier glass cake stand which I acquired at a brocante a couple of years ago for just 2€.  It matches some dessert plates and a regular one tier cake stand that were also collected for next to nothing from brocantes over the years.  My best white tablecloth doesn't come out very often but with that and real cups and saucers the table looked the business, even if I say so myself! 

The bottom layer was a selection of sandwiches with the crusts cut off (of course!).  There were home made egg mayonnaise and rocket on brown bread, smoked salmon, cream cheese and cucumber on brown and smoked ham with tomato and cucumber on white.

You can see the recipe for egg mayonnaise here.  I have never seen cress for sale in France so opted for rocket instead.  It was a good substitute.

Being in France, the sliced bread available is not quite like in the UK.  Generally the texture is nice but it always seems to me to be slightly sweet.  We toyed with the idea of making our own bread but as it was only a few days after we had arrived and we were still dealing with all the usual problems of being away from the house for so long decided it was a step too far.


The middle layer was Victoria scones.  For such an important occasion I didn't trust myself to make ordinary scones, my success with those being variable.  The Victoria scones are easy to make from the Be-Ro book recipe and for me they work every time.  They looked cute on the stand although someone who saw the pictures on Facebook said they looked like fat rascals!  


I can't say I've ever eaten a fat rascal so wouldn't know but they sound like fun so will add them to my ever lengthening bucket list of thing to bake!  You can see the recipe for Victoria scones here or look it up in the Be-Ro book - it's in all the recent editions.


The top layer, the crowning glory, was of small cakes.  The raspberry sponges were cut from a traybake recipe for a jam and coconut sponge, otherwise known as "school cake" and which I have been hankering after making for some time!  I used a recipe on the Asda website which you can see here.  It is very quick and easy and the little squares looked very pretty when topped with fresh raspberries.  You can also see the recipe here.

The little chocolate cakes were to a recipe from one of the collection of slim volumes that Delia Smith put out many years ago called "Baking".  They are chocolate, prune and Armagnac mini muffins and I topped them with an excellent chocolate icing from Lynn Hill's website Traditional Home Baking.  You can see the icing recipe here and I added a few decorations including halved glacé cherries, halved chocolate covered raisins and choclate vermicelli.  They were delicious!


No afternoon tea would be complete without an actual slice of cake so for that I made a lemon layer cake filled with lemon curd to another Delia recipe from the same book.  You can see that here.  I didn't make my own lemon curd but used a Bon Maman jar which I brought over from the UK.  Bizarrely you can buy lemon curd in France but not the Bon Maman one!

I had never made this cake before but had eaten it several times as it's a family favourite of Nick's sisters.  It was easy to make and, of course, yummy!


Our birthday guests enjoyed the afternoon tea and so did we.  Being Americans they had only ever had afternoon tea a couple of times before when in London.  It was fun to make and fun to eat.  It does involve a lot of preparation and baking with all the different elements but it's well worth the effort.

I shall be posting about the cake elements separately and will include the links in this post.

May 23, 2022

COCONUT AND LEMON CAKE and thank goodness I got my blog back!

Well, whatever Blogger, Windows or gremlins were up to, it seems that, as several people suggested, the problem was a signing in issue and it's sorted now.  Thank goodness I got my blog back!

Blogging has been rather random lately but baking has been going on throughout so a bit of a catch up is needed methinks.


This is an adaptation of a raspberry and coconut cake that I first wrote about here.



I have now made this cake twice and never tasted a slice of it!  The first time it was a birthday gift and this time a donation to an event.  However, I am reliably informed by those that did taste a slice that it was lovely so I'm writing about it in full here so that I might a) remember how to make it and b) actually make it again so that I can have a piece after all!


The recipe originally came from the Waitrose website and you can see it here.  It's for a raspberry and coconut cake that I have made many times and which always goes down well.  For this version I simply omitted the fruit and added lemon zest instead.  Then I iced it with a simple icing and decorated it with lemon zest, coconut and some edible flowers (which were actually self seeded violas growing in our gravel drive!).

Ingredients

175g unsalted butter, softened

175 golden caster sugar

zest of 1 lemon

3 eggs

¼ tsp coconut flavouring

175g self raising flour

100g dessicated coconut (plus extra for decoration)

2-3 tblsp icing sugar, sifted

1 tblsp lemon juice

extra lemon zest for decoration (optional) 

edible flowers or other sprinkles for decoration (optional)

Method

Butter and line a 2lb, 900g loaf tin with baking parchment or use a paper liner.  Preheat the oven to 180C / 160 fan / gas mk 4.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and lemon zest.  Beat the eggs with the coconut flavouring and beat into the mixture a dribble at a time with a spoonful of the flour.

Fold in the remaining flour and coconut.  Spoon into the prepared tin and level the top.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, covering with foil after 30 minutes if it looks as though it's browning too much.

Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, sift the icing sugar into a bowl and mix with enough lemon juice to make a runny consistency, thick enough to hold its shape and just run down the cake slightly, not run off completely.  Sprinkle with lemon zest (if you are happy to use a second lemon, otherwise omit).  Sprinkle with dessicated coconut and decorate along the inevitable crack down the middle with edible flowers or other sugar decorations of your choice.

Cuts into 9-10 slices.

May 19, 2022

THE LAST POST?

For reasons I don’t understand, I can no longer access my blog, create a new post or read my reading list on my laptop, only on my iPad.

I haven’t been able to leave comments on other blogs using my iPad either for some time.

Anybody know what's going on and how to fix it?

April 4, 2022

GARLICKY POTATOES



We are now in France for our permitted 180 days, having gone to the trouble of getting visas so that we can spread that time over nine months by coming and going just like we used to PB,  (Pre-Brexit.)

To arrive in mid March is what we always used to do and is ideal.  We can get the house warmed up, clean and vermin free for the spring and summer, get the garden tamed and planted so that we can keep on top of the work and enjoy it for the rest of our stay.

We haven't been able to do this for the last two years due to the pandemic, arriving during the summer by which time all we wanted to do was to be thankful that we got here at all and enjoy the place.  Consequently the housework and gardening took a back seat for two years and this year there has been a lot to catch up on.  It's been a labour of love, mostly.  (We were not too chuffed about the plague of mice that ate the covers of all three sofas, but, thank goodness, although we got them from Ikea many years ago, they still make them and you can still buy new covers for them.  Phew.)


For the first two weeks the weather was mild but this weekend temperatures fell to freezing.  However, this did not deter us from getting out and about and enjoying the first brocantes of the year!

For those who are not familiar with these events, a brocante or vide grenier is similar to a car boot sale and most villages in France hold one or two a year.  The streets are closed and lined with tables where people sell their unwanted stuff.  A lot of it is not of much interest to us but just to be able to be there at all was a great joy.  There were no brocantes at all in 2020 and not very many in 2021.  We are now looking forward to a whole year of browsing other people's junk every weekend, just because we can!

At this one in our nearby village of Neuilly-le-Brignon the sun was shining, there were plenty of stalls and I bought a nice red real leather handbag for €3.



We then moved on to the next one, not far away, at Azay-le-Ferron.  By then the sun had almost gone and it was very chilly!  We had a sausage sandwich and chips from one of the stalls and dutifully wandered up and down peering at the tables.  I felt for the people who had turned out to display all their stuff on such a freezing cold day and felt we owed it to them to at least look, smile and exchange a few words!

We bumped into a couple of friends, chatted for a few minutes and headed home to thaw out!

 

Which is what brings me to the garlicky potatoes.


As soon as we got back we lit both log burners in the house.  The one in the kitchen is mainly a wood burner but has hot plates and a small oven and we do use it for cooking when what we are cooking is not too temperature sensitive! 

For dinner we planned to make filet mignon de porc (see here) and a recipe for potatoes that I spotted in Mary Berry's book "Simple Comforts".  It's essentially sliced potatoes cooked in butter, stock and garlic, the perfect accompaniment for anything on such a chilly day!

The recipe in the book served four but was easily adapted for just two people.  I chose two largeish potatoes, one each.  The little oven behaved itself, they were not too crozzled and the kitchen smelled wonderful because of the garlic!  They were delicious and I shall definitely be adding this to my repertoire of regular potato dishes.  (One of which is the equally delicious and in many ways very similar hassleback potatoes that you can see here.)

Ingredients

2 largeish potatoes, peeled and thickly sliced into about 1cm (½") thick slices.

2 large knobs of butter

250ml chicken stock (I used a French gel stock pot).  You may not need all of it.

1 clove of garlic, crushed

Method

Grease a suitable sized roasting tin generously with one of the knobs of butter.  Arrange the potatoes in lines of overlapping slices in the tin.  Season with salt and pepper.

Pour about half of the chicken stock over the potatoes and bake at  about 200°C or thereabouts for about 30 minutes (depending on your oven) until they are almost tender.

Remove from the oven.  Melt the other knob of butter and stir in the crushed garlic.  Dot this over the potatoes and pour over some more stock if you think they might be in danger of drying out.  (I did.)

Return to the oven for about 15 more minutes by which time the stock will be absorbed, the potatoes tender inside, crisp and browned on top.

Serves 2 people.