March 27, 2012

VICTORIA SCONES

When I saw the rules for this month’s  Tea Time Treats challenge, hosted by Karen of Lavendar and Lovage and Kate of What Kate Baked, a shiver went down my spine and the ghost of my old domestic science teacher appeared briefly before me.  Scones are my nemesis.

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As the month went by and I noticed all the other scones popping up on my sidebar, I thought it was time I banished the teacher’s curse for ever and had a go.  Surely for once in my life I should be able to bake a batch of edible scones?

Mrs Stafford controlled her unruly pupils using a “good cop, bad cop” kind of approach, except that she was both good and bad cops.  She did it by choosing one child whose life she would make a total misery and one who would be teacher’s pet.  The unlucky one was me.  She turned me into a gibbering nervous wreck and some disaster befell me every lesson.  I would forget a crucial ingredient as I made up my little basket to take to school on the bus, my cakes would go soggy, my pastry would burn and my scones would have made perfect house bricks.  She declared in front of the whole class that I was useless at cooking and I have never made an edible scone ever since !!

scones1 My friend at work gave me her recipe for scones to try, the Claridges recipe, that uses cream and requires a lot of processes.  I thought I might have a go at that but then changed my mind – house bricks would be such a waste of the cream.

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So I turned to my faithful old Be-Ro book, except that I decided to look in the brand new 41st edition.  Sure enough, the first page in the book was for scones, saying how easy they were to do and how the whole world and his mother have been baking scones quite effortlessly to the Be-Ro recipe since 1927. 

That’s the trouble, everyone talks about scones as if making them is nothing, as easy as scrambling an egg or buttering toast, adding to my acute sense of domestic inadequacy.  The last time I attempted scones was for a visit from my mother-in-law, about ten years ago, and they were terrible.  Hard and wonky little things with crozzled currants in them.  The only saving grace is that she is not known for her cooking skills and consequently thought they were “very nice dear”, but I exchanged glances with Nick over the teacups – we both knew different.  They were horrid.

So that was it.  Time to pull myself together, get on with it, bite the bullet, look the ghost of Mrs Stafford in the eye and bake some.  How hard can it be?

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The recipe was for Victoria scones, presumably with the same royal connections as the Victoria sponge (something else that gives me the collywobbles), and I thought it looked a good one for me to bake as it produced four large scones which you then divide up.  Less need therefore for perfection in shape and size, I thought.

I did everything absolutely to the book, ingredients measured to the last gram and all lined up like ducks in a row, oven preheated and baking tray greased.

The instructions in the recipe were a bit vague in places – presumably because everybody in the world already knows how to make scones with their eyes closed.  So when I got to the part where I had to “knead lightly on a floured surface” I wondered how you would do that with something that resembled a lump of porridge.  I had to add a lot more flour to be able to work the dough and my heart sank……I was destined to end up with house bricks again, I was sure.  Rolling it out proved impossible so I simply shaped and flattened them by hand.

scones5 Next I should cut a cross in the top and place ¼ glacé cherry in each section, but no hint was given how deep you should cut – in any case the dough was so soft it was difficult to cut into it at all.

scones6 Once they were in the oven, things started to look up.  They were rising and browning beautifully so I checked how much time there was left on the timer only to discover I had forgotten to set it going !!  Disaster !!  I had only the vaguest idea how long they had been in and would have to use my initiative to decide when to take them out of the oven.   Mrs Stafford rides again.  She was there, behind me, looking over my shoulder as I peered into the oven. 

At least nowadays you can see into the oven.  The 1960’s kitchen of my school days was equipped with wartime relics and the old gas cookers were those sturdy green enamel jobs with big knobbly taps and solid doors.  If you wanted to see how things were cooking there would be no option but to open the oven door and peep inside, something guaranteed to lose most of the heat and spell disaster for sponge cakes.  Or to risk leaving it a bit longer before opening it, resulting in brown burnt rings round my mince pies.

scones7But this time luck was on my side.  I took them out and gave them a bit of a prod, thought they might be not quite done and put them back in for two more minutes.  After the two minutes I decided to go for it and take them out. 

They looked yummy.  True, they would not win any beauty contest or village show but otherwise the signs were good.  They smelled nice and another prod revealed a little give – not like a house brick after all. scones91I was just spreading my second small triangle with butter and my own home-made plum jam when Nick arrived home from work.  We sat outside in the unusually warm spring sunshine with a cup of tea, a home-made scone and big grins on our faces.  They were delicious. 

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I thought I heard a slight moan from the ghost of my old domestic science teacher as she disappeared over the rooftops on her broomstick, or maybe it was just my imagination !!  I wonder what Queen Victoria would have thought of them?

You can see the recipe for Victoria scones on the Be-Ro website here in the section for scones and tea loaves.  You can also order your own copy of the Be-Ro recipe book from the “about us” page. 

Here’s my version of Victoria scones:

This is what I used

225g self-raising flour

pinch of salt

50g cold butter, cubed

50g caster sugar

1 egg

100ml milk

4 glacé cherries

This is what you do

Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mk 6.  Grease a baking sheet.

Put the flour, salt and butter into a food processor and blitz until you get fine breadcrumbs.

Tip the mixture into a mixing bowl and stir in the sugar to distribute evenly.

Beat the egg with the milk.  Add most of it to the flour and mix to form a soft dough, reserving a little to brush over the scones.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead lightly.  Divide into four pieces.  Roll each piece into a ball, flatten slightly to about 1cm (½”) thick and shape into a round with your hands.

Cut a cross on the top of each scone with a sharp knife and place ¼ glacé cherry in each quarter.  Brush the tops with the reserved egg and milk mixture.

Bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.

Serve with butter and jam and a cup of tea.

Makes 4 scones, which will divide into 4 portions each.

March 23, 2012

SWEET POTATO AND SMOKED FISH PIE

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I recently bought this book from the book selection that gets delivered to work every so often.  (Although in actual fact most of the stuff in the box is not books these days but toys and other things.)  I took this one home first, on the day the box of books arrived, to see what Nick thought of it and if it was worth buying.  We used it that same evening to cook a fish pie which was very good so I ordered one.

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We have used it quite a lot, cooking several of the fish, chicken and pasta recipes with great success.  Many of the recipes can be adapted to use whatever ingredients you fancy or happen to have in the fridge.  On that first occasion I made my fish pie using one of those packs of fish pie mix, containing pieces of white fish, smoked fish and salmon.  In principle you use the Philadelphia cream cheese to bind ingredients together in the same way as you would a sauce, for a pie, gratin or pasta dish.

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To make the fish pie, you skin the fish and cut it into chunks.  Boil some sweet potato, carrots and parsnips.  Make the sauce using the Philadelphia in your chosen flavour by mixing it with a little milk.  Pour the sauce over the fish, mash and spread the vegetables over the top and bake.

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It makes a very quick and easy meal, is reasonably low in fat if you use one of the Philadelphia Light varieties and, because it’s not a flour-based sauce, is gluten free.

We have made alternatives using leeks and bacon with the fish.  You could of course just use ordinary mashed potato as a topping.  The variations are endless.

Naturally there is a section at the back of the book for desserts with some yummy-looking cheesecakes, which I have yet to explore properly !!

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We usually bake the fish skin as a treat for Lulu, too.

Here’s my version of sweet potato and smoked fish pie.

This is what I use

1 medium sweet potato, or half a large one

1 large carrot or 2 small ones

1 large parsnip or 2 small ones

300g approx of smoked fish, dyed or not, as you prefer, or a combination of smoked and unsmoked fish.  Fish pie mix is ideal.

2 tablespoons Philadelphia Light with garlic and herbs

2 tablespoons milk

salt and pepper

milk and butter for mashing

This is what you do.

Peel and cut the vegetables into cubes.  Put into a pan of boiling water and boil for 15 minutes, or until soft enough to mash.

Preheat the oven to 190°C/170°fan/gas mk 5.

Remove the skin and any bones from the fish and cut into chunks.  Put the chunks in an ovenproof dish of appropriate size for two people.

Mix the Philly and milk together until they are well combined and you have a smooth sauce.  Pour it over the fish.  Season with salt and pepper.

Drain and mash the veg, using a little milk and butter if you like, and spread on top of the pie mix.

Bake for 20-30 minutes until the topping is browned and the sauce is bubbling around the edges.

Serve hot with green vegetables.

Serves 2.

March 18, 2012

GREEN CHOCOLATE ICING

As it was a nice day today, my dad decided he would make his first visit of the year to his model engineering society.  He phoned me up to mention it with just enough time for me to bake him something to take with him !!  Anyone can take a hint when it’s that big !!

That was lucky because I had been trying to think of an excuse to bake something green for this month’s We Should Cocoa Challenge hosted by Chele of Chocolate Teapot– something chocolate and green for St Patrick’s day.  So I decided to make my courgette chocolate cake.  You can’t get much greener than that.

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Instead of making a round cake I decided to make a square one and cut it into squares, which is easier for a bloke to dish out to his mates whilst they’re talking steam engines.  It was either that or cupcakes but they seemed a little too …….. airy fairy for the steam engine fraternity.

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First I grated the courgette then I remembered the walnuts were still in their shells – part of the stash of windfalls we brought back with us from Le Grand-Pressigny last autumn.  Just in case you need to know, it takes roughly 15 walnuts to produce 45g of shelled nuts.

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Of course the great thing about this cake is that nobody would ever know there are any courgettes in it if you didn’t tell them.  The mixture goes into the tin with green bits in it but once it’s baked there isn’t a single speck of green to be seen.

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That rather defeated the idea of producing something green.  Hmmmm……

So then I had the idea of icing them with green icing.  I used my standard recipe for white chocolate icing and added enough green colouring to make it look adequately green and plonked a  few triangles of After Eight mints on top just for the sake of it.

(The amazing thing is I have no recollection at all of buying green colouring.  The only other colour I had in stock was yellow and both bottles were unopened.  Huh…..??)

They looked positively bizarre and I was quite proud of them.  My dad raised an eyebrow when I presented him with the tin of cakes to take to the club but it came back empty so you can’t say fairer than that.

The recipe for the cake is here and the icing is made as follows:

Take 70g softened butter and beat until creamy.

Melt 50g white chocolate, cool slightly and add to the butter.  Beat until smooth.

Sift in 70g  icing sugar, a spoonful at a time and beat in.

Add a few splashes of green colouring and beat.  Add more colour a few drops at a time until you get the colour you want.

This quantity will decorate 12 cupcakes (or squares).

March 12, 2012

LACE BISCUITS

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This is my entry for Bellau Kitchen’s March Random Recipe Challenge.  This month the idea was to choose a recipe at random from the 17th book from the left on the bookshelf.  I wasn’t sure if this was to be the top shelf or bottom shelf.  Or even, in my case, the middle shelf.  Anyway I decided to go for the top shelf which is where the least used cookbooks end up.  That was bound to turn up something challenging.

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I bought this book some time ago for 50p from a charity shop.  It was in less than tasty condition; some of the pages were a bit wrinkly due to it having been in a box of unloved books outside the shop and the dust jacket was a bit grubby.  When I got it home I took the dust jacket off and binned it which made it seem more hygienic, although bits of it still remain stuck to the back cover.   After a brief flip through the book I was not too inspired which is why it ended up on the top shelf.

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Anyway, I flipped the pages again and the one that turned up had three recipes on it, so I picked the one for “lace biscuits”, something I had never heard of before.  The recipe was tucked away in the bottom corner of the page, as if it was an afterthought and there was no picture so I had no idea what they should look like. 

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Sophie Grigson says it’s amazing that something made of oats can become so fancy.  Well, I’m not sure mine quite achieved that but although some may have been rather misshapen, they were delicious.  Thin and crispy, nice and crunchy with a buttery taste and very moreish.

They were unbelievably easy to make.  You simply mix the dry ingredients together, pour on the hot melted butter, add the egg and mix.  Literally moments later, when you have something that looks like buttery porridge, you drop teaspoonfuls onto a baking sheet and bake.  How easy is that??!!

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The tricky bit was getting the dollops even in size and spaced far enough apart.  They spread much more than I expected as they baked.  Luckily I have three oven shelves and three baking sheets but still had to do a second batch.  But the ones that came out joined to each other were easily separated and still looked inviting once they had cooled.

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Some of my dollops were better spaced than others!

They would be great to nibble with coffee or to dip into ice-cream or some other soft and gooey pudding.  My mixture made a huge batch of around 40 biscuits – they were not tiny either – and the ones left after we had pigged out first time around kept well in an airtight box.  Definitely a recipe to do again and again.

lace biscuits9b

Lace biscuits – definitely worth a posh photo.

Which just goes to prove that all recipe books will have at least one recipe worth doing before you throw it out or take it back to the charity shop.  So thanks again to Dom for his Random Recipe Challenge, and for once more getting me to bake a recipe that I otherwise would never have given a second look. 

You can actually still buy the book via Amazon at a bargain price. 

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I think this might be why they’re called “lace biscuits” !!

There is also a gluten free version of the cookies using coconut and cornflour, which I came across on the internet when I was trying to find out what lace biscuits are supposed to look like - you can see this version here.  When the biscuit tin is empty and I have a few spare minutes I will make those next, just to see how they compare.

This is what I used

1 tablespoon plain flour

110g rolled oats (porridge oats)

225g caster sugar

¼ tsp salt

110g butter

1 large egg, beaten

3-4 drops vanilla extract

This is what you do.

Line 4 baking sheets with baking paper, (or as many as you have and bake in relays).  Preheat the oven to 170°C/160°fan/gas mk 3.

Sift the flour into a medium sized bowl.  Add the oats, sugar and salt and mix together.

Melt the butter in a small pan and pour it over the oats mixture while it is still hot.  Stir to mix evenly.

Make a well in the centre and drop in the egg and vanilla.  Mix the ingredients together thoroughly.

Plop teaspoonfuls of the mixture onto the baking sheets, remembering that they will spread quite a bit so space them well apart, at least 5cm.

Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown.

Remove from the oven and leave on the baking sheets for 5 minutes.  Then remove carefully and leave to cool completely on a rack.

Makes 30-40 biscuits (depending on the size of your dollops!).  Will keep well in an airtight tin or box – if they last that long !!

March 8, 2012

AREN’T I LUCKY ?!

This book arrived through the post yesterday. 

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It’s the new book by the Hairy Bikers and is out in time for their new series on TV which starts next week.  They bake their way around Europe.  I’m really looking forward to the series.  These two remind me so much of many of the bikers we have known, full of friendly banter and mischief.

The book was offered as a “giveaway” on Kelly-Jane’s blog “Cooking the Books” !!  I left my comment without any expectation that my name would be drawn out of the hat so I was mega surprised when it was !!

The  book is full of all sorts of scrummy looking bakes that I can hardly wait to tackle.  So I am most grateful to Kelly-Jane for sending it to me.

Watch this space………!!

March 4, 2012

MACAROONS

When is a macaroon not a macaroon?  Or, put another way, when is a macaroon a real macaroon?

When we were in France last summer we visited a macaroon museum.  Yes really.  The French have a museum for everything and anything including almond macaroons.

museedumacaron2_02_thumb3It was a delightful way to pass an otherwise unpleasantly warm and humid afternoon.  The museum presents the history of a family of artisans who began making almond macaroons in France a hundred years ago and at the end you get a little dégustation.  And very nice they were too.  I wrote about it here.

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The original almond macaroons.

Then there are coconut macaroons.  I have my friend Elizabeth to thank for re-introducing me to the delights of those.

macaroons9aCoconut  macaroons. 

These are a dream to make and absolutely scrumptious.  Now that I have discovered my favourite recipe I make them often.  You can read about them here.

Then there is the Be-Ro book version of macaroons. You can see the original recipe here and I made a mincemeat version of them here.

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Be-Ro book macaroons, well sort of.

However, I have never made anything like these.  Not only that, I have never eaten one either.  They always look incredibly fiddly to make and I have immense admiration for anyone who does make them.  They’re on my bucket list for a day when I’m feeling brave and frivolous.

Fashionable macaroons.

When we were in France last summer I took with me a book borrowed from the local library.  It soon became one of those books I couldn’t live without so I bought myself a copy.  It is now one of my very favourite cookbooks.

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I was sitting on our little terrace under the shade of the big umbrella one afternoon.  Nick had gone fishing, the dog was snoring in the sunshine, I had a little pile of cookbooks on the table next to my glass of rosé wine and all was well with the world. 

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With our recent trip to the macaroon museum still fresh in my mind, I found a recipe for these:

macaroons8  Hazelnut macaroons.

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I nipped straight down the hill to the little Spa shop in the village and there on the shelf was just what I needed, a packet of ground hazelnuts.

This always amazes me.  Here we are in rural France in a little village the size of Cromford in Derbyshire and you can get everything you need.  It might be basic and the choice may be limited but between the village butcher, baker, Spa shop and Thursday market, there’s not much you have to go without.  Twice we have spent a whole week in the village without venturing anywhere else and we managed perfectly well.  There are very few Derbyshire villages where you can do that.

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The little macaroons were a joy to make and absolutely lovely.  Great with morning coffee and afternoon tea.  I always give our neighbour Mme André some of my baking.  It amuses both of us and she’s always most appreciative.  It’s also my way of thanking her for all the little gifts of flowers, fruit and vegetables that she leaves on our doorstep every visit.   She thought “les macarons” were beautiful and delicious.

This is what you need.

160g ground hazelnuts

2 egg whites

160g caster sugar

40g ground almonds

2-3 drops vanilla extract

This is what you do.

Mix the egg whites and sugar together and add the other ingredients.  Combine to form a sticky dough, cover with clingfilm and put in the fridge for half an hour or so.

Preheat the oven to 130°C/gas mk ½.  Line a baking sheet with baking parchment.

Remove the mixture from the fridge and stir to loosen slightly.

Take small pieces of dough, about the size of a large teaspoon, shape into rounds or balls and place on the baking sheet.  Allow a little room for spreading.  Flatten slightly.

Bake for 25 minutes or until the macaroons are light golden.  They should be firm on the outside but slightly soft in the middle.

Cool on a rack.  They will keep for several days in an airtight container – allegedly !!

Makes 25-30 macaroons.