December 28, 2013

FRANGIPANE MINCE PIES

mince pies If you are one of those people who can’t stand the sight of another mince pie by the time New Year’s Eve is nearly upon us, then read no further.  If, on the other hand, mince pies are high on your list of favourite things about Christmas, read on.

My mum used to make dozens of mince pies in the week before Christmas and we consumed them gratefully.  In fact they were so popular with our family that my dad had a mince pie in his packed lunch most days in most months of the year. 

Sadly, Nick is not too keen on them so I rarely make more than a dozen myself, but this year I decided to try a different recipe.  There are plenty of recipes for frangipane mince pies and the good thing about them is that you get less pastry and a nice light almond sponge topping instead.  I chose a recipe in “Mary Berry’s Christmas Collection” and modified it slightly to include elements that I also fancied from other recipes.

mince pies2 I added some chopped apple and orange zest to the mincemeat along with a good measure of brandy.

mince pies3

It’s always a relief when the end result looks like the picture in the book and these mince pies really were a picture!  Instead of glazing them with apricot jam as per the recipe I dusted them with icing sugar in the usual way.  I thought the jam would make them sticky and difficult to store or pack in boxes to give away. mince pies4 They were a hit with everyone, including Nick, who liked them enough to suggest I bake another batch now that the first lot have all gone.  Success !!

You can find Mary Berry’s original recipe in several places including here, but this is my version of them:

Ingredients

For the pastry:

175g plain flour

75g cold butter, cubed

25g icing sugar

1 egg, lightly beaten

For the mincemeat filling:

1 x 312g jar Wilkin and Sons Tiptree mincemeat (my favourite)

½ eating apple, peeled, cored and chopped into small chunks

zest of one orange

2 tblsp brandy

For the frangipane topping:

100g spreadable butter such as Lurpak

100g caster sugar

2 eggs

100g ground almonds

1 tblsp plain flour

½tsp almond essence

a few flaked almonds for sprinkling

Method

Make the pastry in a food processor in the usual way, cover in cling film and chill in the fridge while you make the topping etc.

Preheat the oven to 200°C / 180° fan / gas mk 6.  Grease two patty or bun tins.

Spoon the mincemeat into a small bowl and combine with the apple, orange zest and brandy.

To make the frangipane topping, put the butter and sugar into the (unwashed) food processor and process until light and creamy.  Add the eggs and process again.  Finally add the ground almonds, flour and essence and mix briefly to combine.

Roll out the pastry thinly and cut into circles to line the tins, re-rolling scraps of pastry to use it all up.  A 6½ cm cutter worked best for my tins.  Add a level tsp of mincemeat to each circle, resisting the temptation to put too much in each one, because if you do it will definitely boil over!  Spoon a dessertspoon of almond mixture on top of each tart.

Sprinkle a few almond flakes on each tart and bake for 15-20 minutes until golden and springy.  Cool on a wire rack and dust with icing sugar.

Makes 24 mince pies (at least).

December 24, 2013

BLACK FOREST TRIFLE

We had visitors a few days ago and I wanted to make a dessert that would look and taste great without having to spend hours in the kitchen.

black forest trifle

I had stumbled upon a recipe for Black Forest Trifle some time ago and decided that now would be a good time to try it.  I adapted it to make my own quick and easy version.  It is loosely based on this one on the Good Food website.

black forest trifle3

Black Forest means chocolate cake, cherries and cream.  I loved black forest gateau when it was the height of sophistication in the 70’s and 80’s.  During the 90’s it was usurped by the tiramisu, which is also one of my favourite desserts, although that too seems to be disappearing from menus and being replaced by things like salted chocolate tart and anything with pistachios.

black forest trifle2

This was a doddle to make and in fact I made it the day before it was needed, which is often the best way with something like a trifle.

Our guests loved it.  When I make it again I will either use a smaller trifle bowl or make twice as much.  But even though the quantity didn’t have the wow factor, the flavour most definitely did.

In order to complete the full set of my favourite baking challenges this month I am entering this into this month’s We Should Cocoa challenge, a monthly event to encourage us to bake with chocolate, if any encouragement is actually necessary.  This month the idea is to use alcohol and it’s organised by Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog.  You can read all about it here.

Ingredients

Some chocolate cake, any kind will do, such as muffins, brownies, loaf cake, the amount needed will depend on the size of your trifle bowl

Cherry jam

a tin of dark cherries in syrup or juice, or a jar of cherries in Kirsch, drained.  Reserve the liquid as you will need some of it.

Kirsch or rum to taste

a 500ml tub of ready-made custard

100g good quality dark chocolate

500ml double cream

1tblsp icing sugar

Chocolate sprinkles to decorate

Method

Slice the cake or break it into chunks, enough to make a good thick layer in the bottom of your trifle bowl.  Spread one side of each chunk with cherry jam and arrange the cake the bottom of the bowl.

Pour some Kirsch or rum over the cake to moisten it.  How much to use depends on how boozy you like your trifle but I find that too much can be unpleasantly overpowering.  You can use the liquid from the jar if your cherries are in Kirsch.  Add syrup or juice from the tin to make sure all the cake is moist, but not too soggy.  Put the drained cherries on top.

To make the chocolate custard, break the chocolate into pieces and put it in a small pan with the custard.  Heat gently, stirring all the time, until the chocolate is completely melted.  Allow to cool slightly then pour on top of the cherries.

Chill the trifle while you whip the cream.  Chilling it overnight at this stage improves the texture I think.  Whip the cream with the icing sugar, splodge on top of the trifle and decorate with chocolate sprinkles or other decoration of your choice.  The addition of fresh cherries adds a degree of sophistication.

Serves 6-8.

December 21, 2013

TRIPLE CHOCOLATE CHRISTMAS CUPCAKE KIT

cupcake kit3

I spotted this recipe recently on the Good Food website and thought it was a great idea for an extra little Christmas present for an enthusiastic young baker in the family.

cupcake kit

I managed to get everything into the jar apart from the bar of milk chocolate for the topping.  In order to keep the cake ingredients in the bottom of the jar and to prevent them from messing up the other bits and pieces I cut a circle of baking paper which was placed on top before putting in the cases and the rest of the kit.

I amended the ingredients very slightly by only putting in 100g white chocolate chips as 200g sounded like an awful lot.  I added a tiny pinch of ground cinnamon for a little extra touch of Christmas as well as sugar snowflake decorations.

cupcake kit2

Naturally I felt obliged to bake a batch for myself just to be sure the kit would work.  The cupcakes were delicious, very chocolaty and moist.

I hope they go down well with the person the gift is intended for.  I did something similar and gave away quite a few Christmas Muffin kits a few years ago.  They were very well received and you can read about them here.

I am entering this into this month’s Tea Time Treats Challenge, which is for Festive Foodie Gifts.  This month is organised by Kate of What Kate Baked and this is her final Tea Time Treat.  Looking at the number of posts already linked to the challenge she is certainly going out on a high!  Her co-host is Karen of Lavender and Lovage and you can read all about the challenge, and dip into some of the marvellous ideas already submitted, by clicking here.

For the kit you will need:

A suitable jar with a screw top or clip, about the size of a large pickle jar.

In the bottom put 100g caster sugar, 100g self-raising flour, 2 tblsp cocoa powder and a small pinch of cinnamon.

Next cut a circle of baking paper the same size as the jar and place it on top of the ingredients to keep them in the bottom of the jar.

Next add 12 cupcake cases and a few sprinkles tied in a twist of cellophane.  Then put 100g white chocolate chips enclosed in another twist of cellophane and close the lid.

Tie a wooden spoon to the jar and place it in a gift bag along with a 100g bar of milk chocolate and a card with these instructions handwritten on it:

“Heat the oven to 180°C/160°fan/gas mk 4.  Put the cupcake cases in a muffin tin.

Beat together 100g very soft butter, or spreadable butter such as Lurpak, or Stork tub margarine, with 2 eggs and the cupcake ingredients.  Add a little milk if the mixture is very stiff and mix in the white chocolate chips.

Divide between the cases and bake for 15-20 minutes.

When the cakes are cool, melt the milk chocolate in the microwave in 20-second bursts, stirring after each burst.  Spoon a little over each cupcake and decorate with the sprinkles.”

Makes 12 cupcakes.

December 16, 2013

CHRISTMAS CHERRY BAKEWELL CAKE

christmas bakewell

The local Clandestine Cake Club meeting for December was themed “the taste of Christmas from your county”.  It was a three regions meeting including Chesterfield (Derbyshire), Sheffield (South Yorkshire) and Newark and Sherwood (Nottinghamshire).

I couldn’t think of a single cake that was uniquely from Derbyshire and even after endless research I found nothing much for Christmas at all.  There are a few local cakes attributed to Derbyshire villages but they are mainly all variations on a family fruit cake.  There is also something called a “Thor Cake” which is a kind of parkin with either currants or mixed peel in it and traditionally eaten on Bonfire Night, although I had never heard of it before.  I also found a recipe for a “Kedleston Marmalade Cake” in a National Trust recipe book, but I had never heard of that either.

christmas bakewell2

I have to say I was rather disappointed.  There are scores of recipes for fabulous cakes from other areas of the country, so where are our cakes?  There are plenty of traditional Derbyshire pies, tarts, biscuits, buns and puddings of course and the most famous one of all is the Bakewell Tart or Pudding.

christmas bakewell3

Many of you will know that only cakes are allowed at CCC meetings so I decided to make a Christmas version of our famous dessert.  A Christmas Bakewell Cake.

I used a really nice recipe from the Good Food website which you can see here.  I increased the amount of almond essence because I wanted full on almond flavour and filled it with the best part of a whole jar of Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference morello cherry jam, which has lots of whole cherries in it.  I decorated it with glacé cherries, perles de sucre (crushed sugar lumps), fondant icing snowflakes, holly leaves from the garden and a good sprinkling of edible glitter.

christmas bakewell4

The cake would make a good alternative for people who want a slice of Christmas cake but don’t enjoy a rich fruit cake. 

And if I cheat ever so slightly and call it a “Xmas Cherry Bakewell Cake” I can enter it into this month’s Alphabakes Challenge, organised by Ros of The more than occasional Baker and Caroline of Caroline Makes, as the letter this month is, conveniently, “X”.  You can see the details here.

Xmas Cherry Bakewell Cake.

Ingredients

200g softened butter (I used Lurpak spreadable)

200g golden caster sugar

100g ground almonds*

100g self-raising flour

1tsp baking powder

1tsp almond extract or essence

4 large eggs

pinch of salt

For the filling and decoration:

¾ jar of morello cherry jam with whole cherries in it

175g icing sugar

5-6 tblsp lemon juice

Christmas decorations of your choice

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Grease two 20cm sandwich tins and line the bases with baking paper.

Put all the cake ingredients into a large bowl and beat together, using an electric whisk or mixer.  Divide the mixture between the tins and level the tops.

Bake for about 30 minutes until golden and springy.  Cool in the tins for 5 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.  When cool, spread the jam generously on the bottom of one cake and place the second on top, the right way up.

To make the topping, sift the icing sugar into a large bowl and add enough lemon juice to make it as runny as you need to coat the top and run down the sides slightly.  When the icing is almost set, add your decorations.

Cuts into 8-10 good slices.  Remember to tell people not to eat the holly if it’s real!

*Ground almonds may be difficult to get hold of at the moment.  Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrison’s had none when I looked for them recently, due to a product recall because traces of peanuts were found in them.  You can still get them at Waitrose, Julian Graves and the Co-op.

December 12, 2013

DARE TO BARE and the skeleton in the cupboard.

The Random Recipe Challenge at Bellau Kitchen this month is to “dare to bare”.  To show pictures of the inside of our kitchen cupboards.

cupboards

My first reaction was that I couldn’t possibly.  How embarrassing that people should see my packets of Oxo cubes and custard powder.  But then I have enjoyed having little peeks into other bloggers’ cupboards as the posts have cropped up so I decided that it was time I bared all myself, so to speak.

A glance at this first picture tells me straight away what I find most lacking in my kitchen.  A pantry.  The house had a pantry when I bought it and also had a coal house and “back entry”, or corridor between these two dark and dingy little vestibules.  I knocked the whole lot out (not personally of course) and ended with with a huge kitchen and lots of cupboards.  The main problem with cupboards like mine is that to reach a lot of the stuff in them I have to climb on steps or get down on my knees.  The old knees aren’t quite what they used to be so the next house I buy will have a lovely big old fashioned pantry with lots of shelves at a height between the knees and the nose, so you can see what’s there and reach it without performing a stretch or a reverse limbo dance. cupboards2The other thing I would like to point out is that these cupboards are definitely, without a doubt, undeniably the cleanest cupboards in the county.

There’s a rather uncomfortable reason for this.

cupboards3What would be your worst kitchen nightmare?  Ours happened about six months ago.  Flour mites.

There, I have confessed, after all this time.  It was horrible.  They are tiny, almost invisible things that could be mistaken for dust, pepper, or fragments of seed.  They don’t so much move as create an impression of slight movement.  They’re not poisonous or harmful but, believe me, when I realised I had them I was mortified.  I declared war.

cupboards4The little blighters put up a fight.  It took nearly a month of hoovering, cleaning, scrubbing and bleaching over and over again to be sure they had all gone.  During that month, having thrown out anything that was either obviously contaminated or just might have been, the rest of the contents of the kitchen were elsewhere in the house.  Which meant we didn’t have much of a house left for ourselves.

We would rescrub and bleach before bedtime and sometimes I would come down in the middle of the night to see if there was any sign of them, only going back to bed when I was happy that the cupboards were bare.  Then in the morning there would be just a few dots.  We never saw them move but in the time spent to fetch the hoover and the bleach the dots would be in a slightly different place.

cupboards5

It was a truly miserable experience and one I would not wish on my worst enemy.  Well maybe one or two.

We have been bug free for several months and I still come down in the night occasionally, fling open a cupboard door and shine in my torch, just to check!  We now keep everything in sealed containers to try to avoid a repeat attack.  No more opened packets of flour, pasta or Bisto fastened with a clothes peg.  The only problem with all the sealed containers is that they take up a lot more space than bags or boxes and consequently getting a jar out from the back of the cupboard can involve something like a military exercise and even more limbo dancing than it did before!  We’re not sure how we got the critters in the first place but there were an awful lot in an opened bag of a popular brand of flour, which is where we first spotted them.

randomrecipes

So thanks again to the lovely Dom of Bellau Kitchen for his monthly challenge, which led to the revealing of my “skeleton in the cupboard” !!

December 4, 2013

HASSELBACK POTATOES

hassleback potatoes

It’s several years since I cooked this recipe for potatoes.  I used to make them every couple of weeks then for some reason I completely forgot about them.  A TV clip about wildlife the other day reminded me of them ~ in this house we always refer to them as “armadillos”.

Now that I have remembered them we will probably go back to having them every couple of weeks!  They make a nice change from roast potatoes with the Sunday roast and also go well with casseroles and sausages.  The good thing is that the oven temperature isn’t critical so you can more or less cook them alongside anything else you have in the oven.

hassleback potatoes2

These potatoes do have slits in them, they just don’t show up in the picture.

This is another dish for which you don’t so much need a recipe as a guide to the concept.

You take as many potatoes as you need for the number of people you are serving and try to choose them fairly evenly sized.

Peel them and cut in half longways.  Put them cut side down on a chopping board and make vertical slits into each one, about ¼” apart, being careful not to cut all the way through.  Arrange them in a suitable roasting tin for the number of potatoes.

Brush each half with melted butter and season with salt and pepper.  Then carefully pour hot stock into the roasting tin.  Any stock will do and the quantity will depend on the number of potatoes and the size of the tin.  The stock should come about a third of the way up the potatoes ~ don’t drown them!

hassleback potatoes3

Bake at around 180°C / 160°fan, but a slightly higher or lower temperature will be fine to suit what else is in the oven.

At 180° they will be done in about 40-45 minutes, depending on the size of potatoes.  If you let the stock dry out they will be crisper than if you top it up, in which case they will be nice and chewy.  I like to top up just a little when the first stock has been absorbed.

They will be gluten free if you use Marigold stock powder or Kallo cubes.

November 27, 2013

CIDER AND ONION SOUP

This month’s Random Recipe selection turned up another of my charity shop finds – a book simply called “apples”.  This was slightly inconvenient as there were no apples left in the house, the last having been used for dessert as baked apples the night before.

soupsoup1

Luckily when I flipped the pages the book opened at a recipe that uses cider, not actual apples and we happened to have a can of dry cider lurking in the cupboard.  Which is odd because neither of us drinks it ~ we must have got it in for a long since forgotten recipe for something.

soup2

Having spent ages slicing the onions by hand I then remembered that I could have used the slicing disc on my food processor, which would have saved a lot of time and sliced them thinner, which would have been better.  I shall try to remember that next time, as I will definitely be making this soup again.

soup3

It was an unusual soup and we enjoyed it.  It’s a good way to use up a glut of onions, whether home grown or in one of those large bags of onions that can be bought quite cheaply at the supermarket.

randomrecipes2_thumb

So thanks again to Dom of Bellau Kitchen for getting me to cook a recipe that I almost certainly never would have done otherwise, if it hadn’t been for his Random Recipe Challenge.  You can see the details here.  Also, having found the book on my shelf again, I shall explore its pages even further as it’s full of lovely recipes.

Ingredients

50g butter

3 tblsp olive oil

1kg onions, peeled and thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, sliced

500ml chicken or vegetable stock (can be gluten free if using GF stock cubes)

500ml medium dry cider

Method

Heat the butter and oil in a large saucepan until the butter has melted.

Add the onions and garlic and fry, uncovered, for 30 minutes, until the onions are soft and golden.

Add the cider and stock, bring back to the boil on high heat and boil for 4-5 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper and serve in warmed bowls with crusty bread.

Serves 6.

ORANGE AND BANANA YOGHURT CAKE

banana cake

It’s the usual story.  A couple of very sad looking bananas in the fruit bowl and a guilty conscience about throwing them out.  Not that many years ago they would simply have gone in the bin and I wouldn’t have given it a second thought.  Then I started putting them in the compost bin which made me feel very smug and virtuous.  More recently I have put them in the freezer for use later but the freezer has quite a few in it already.   So to ease my conscience I just had to bake something.

How’s that for an excuse to bake a cake ?!

banana cake2banana cake3

I also found half a large tub of plain yoghurt in the fridge and a few oranges about to become slightly past their best at the bottom of the fruit bowl.  After a bit of research it appears that bananas and oranges do go together so I decided to go for it, using up most of my leftovers in one guilt-free bake.

banana cake4

Lulu gave me that “who do you think you’re kidding?” look.  She can be extremely perceptive at times and we both knew that as Nick absolutely loathes cooked bananas in any form, the only person available to eat the cake would be yours truly.  Sadly, dogs are not allowed cake in this house.

banana cake5

I adapted this recipe which is actually written for children.  It was indeed very easy and produced a huge quantity of mixture, far too much for my large loaf tin.  So I made some of it into six muffins.

The muffins were fabulous.  Nice and moist with a lovely light texture.  This could be my favourite recipe for banana muffins from now on.

The cake was lovely too.  The orange and banana combination worked very well and I would definitely do that again.  I drizzled some orange icing over it to glam it up a bit but with literally only me to eat it, it was beginning to be past its best after three days.  I had taken the precaution of freezing some thick slices but by the third day I couldn’t eat any more so a small piece went in the bin after all.  Still, at least I tried so my conscience is clear.

I am submitting the cake to this month’s Alphabakes Challenge, organised by Ros of The more than occasional baker and, this month, by Caroline of Caroline Makes.  This month the letter is “O” and you can see the details here.

Ingredients

120ml sunflower oil

225g light muscovado sugar

3 large eggs

225g self-raising flour

1tsp ground cinnamon

zest and juice of one orange

2 ripe bananas, peeled and mashed

150ml low fat natural yoghurt

2tbslp golden icing sugar

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Grease a 900g (2lb) loaf tin or use a greaseproof paper liner.

Put the eggs, oil and sugar into a large bowl and whisk together.

Sift in the flour and cinnamon and stir in gently, do not over mix.

Add the mashed bananas and orange zest and stir.

Spoon the mixture into your loaf tin to about two thirds full.  (Make muffins from any remaining mixture.)

Bake for about an hour, until risen and golden.  (Muffins will be done in 15-20 minutes.)

When cold, make some icing with the sifted icing sugar blended with enough orange juice to achieve the right runniness and drizzle over the cake.

Makes 6 muffins and one cake that will cut into 8-10 slices.

November 24, 2013

PORK AND LEEK LATTICE PIE

PORK AND LEEK LATTICE PIE

The leftover season  is coming up.  By which I mean that most of us spend the week after Christmas conjuring up interesting dishes that use up the leftovers.

A couple of weeks ago we had a family lunch and cooked a large joint of pork which resulted in plenty of leftover meat.  I find it difficult to immediately think of what to do with leftover pork.  I have a reasonable repertoire of dishes that make good use of leftover chicken, lamb or beef, but apart from a roast pork sandwich I was a rather stumped.  I Googled “leftover pork” and came across  this recipe for pork, leek and celeriac pie on the Sainsbury’s website.

Although the meat used in this recipe is pork I think it would work just as well with turkey or chicken.  You could even add a few pieces of leftover stuffing to the pie mixture.

PORK AND LEEK LATTICE PIE2PORK AND LEEK LATTICE PIE3

Basically, you cook some root vegetables ~ I didn’t have any celeriac but used carrot, parsnip and swede ~ fry some onions and leeks, add flour and milk to make a sauce.  You add pieces of cooked pork, smother with the sauce and add a pastry lid.

The interesting bit for me was that I decided the time had come to once and for all get my act together and make a proper pastry lattice top.

PORK AND LEEK LATTICE PIE4

By which I mean strips of pastry that weave under and over each other rather than just a layer going horizontally topped by a layer going vertically.

It was fiddly but worth it.  I started by sticking a strip all the way round the edge of the pie dish.  Then you add a few strips and start weaving.  There are several tutorials on YouTube that show you how to do it, including this one:

PORK AND LEEK LATTICE PIE5

The pie was delicious.  Definitely tasty comfort food for this time of year and a good way to use up leftover pork and an assortment of vegetables.  And don’t panic if you can’t face making a proper woven lattice on the top ~ a plain pastry lid would be just as good.

Ingredients

3 carrots, 1 parsnip and a piece of swede, peeled and cut into 3cm cubes

1 onion, peeled and chopped

1 leek, washed and sliced

Flora Cuisine or olive oil for frying

shortcrust pastry made with 200g flour and 100g lard, Trex or similar

2 tblsp plain flour and 500ml milk to make a sauce

a handful of fresh parsley, chopped

250g (or however much you have) cubed leftover roast pork

Method

Preheat the oven to 200°C / 180°fan / gas mk 6.

Put the vegetables into a pan of boiling water and cook until soft.

Meanwhile, heat the Flora Cuisine or oil in a deep frying pan or sauté pan and cook the onion and leek until soft.  Sprinkle on the flour and cook for  minute or so.  Add the milk and stir until you have a thick sauce.  Season with salt and pepper.

Put the cooked vegetables into a pie dish and scatter over the pork.  Sprinkle over the parsley and pour the sauce over the top to coat the whole mixture.

Make the pastry and roll out as usual.  Cut into strips about 2-3 cm wide.  Lay one strip (or two depending on how long they are) in a single layer along the rim of the dish.  Press two or three more strips onto the rim and begin weaving.  (See video).  Continue weaving until the whole pie is covered.

Brush with beaten egg and bake for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden and the filling bubbling.

Serve hot with more vegetables.

Serves 4.

November 21, 2013

STUFFED MARROW

stuffed marrow

A marrow is really just an overgrown courgette.  My father grew them in the greenhouse when I was a child, as did most of my uncles, and the neighbours.  A single marrow goes an awfully long way in terms of culinary use so using them up was a bit of a challenge.  (Giving them away was not an option as everybody in the village had more than enough already.)

My mum had three principal uses for a marrow; stuffed with sage and onion stuffing then baked and served with chops or sausages, in homemade chutney or, the family favourite, stuffed with a meaty filling, smothered in cheese sauce and baked.

stuffed marrow2stuffed marrow3

Once my brother and I had flown the next, using up the marrows was more of a challenge for my mother and in autumn every visit I would come away with half a marrow whether I wanted it or not.  Which I did, of course.

My dad no longer grows anything at all so I had completely forgotten about stuffed marrow until I found myself looking at a modest sized specimen in the supermarket the other day.

To make stuffed marrow you don’t so much need a recipe as a guide to the concept.  Think beef lasagne, bolognaise and a large green vegetable and there you have it.  It’s almost a cross between a lasagne and a cauliflower cheese.

stuffed marrow4

I always peel and pre-cook the marrow by putting thick, deseeded rings of it in a pan of boiling water for a few minutes.  Then I turn the heat off and leave it in the water to continue cooking while I make the filling and the sauce.

On this occasion I used 500g lean minced beef and made a kind of bolognaise/cottage pie concoction using onions, carrots, peppers, mushrooms, tomato purée, and enough stock to make it thick and not runny.

I placed the cooked marrow rings in a baking dish, spooned the meat mixture in and around them and poured a thick cheese sauce over the top.  I also added a few slices of goat’s cheese just because I had it in the fridge and it needed using up.

stuffed marrow5

Bake at 180°fan for 20-30 minutes until browned and bubbling.  You can just have it by itself, or with salad or vegetables.   A dish like this would easily serve four hungry people.  It’s great comfort food for chilly autumn evenings.

November 13, 2013

WAR CAKE

The local Clandestine Cake Club meeting this month was themed “Vintage”.  I tried to imagine what “vintage” actually means and decided it was probably anything from the late 19th century until maybe the 1950’s.  I considered all the old family favourites such as battenburg, parkin and coffee cake but fancied making something unusual.  I spent a few minutes looking up “vintage cakes” on the internet and something called “war cake” cropped up several times.

war cake

A war cake is one made during war time when many cake ingredients might be too expensive or completely unavailable.  So almost all of the recipes use  shortening  (white fat) instead of butter or margarine, and no eggs, both of which would have been rationed during the second world war.  As food rationing was still in place when I was born, the idea of making a war cake appealed to me.

I also liked the idea of using what I had in, rather than going out to buy special ingredients.  Anyone trying to eke out their food rations would probably have used lard, which is basically rendered pig fat.  Amazingly, I stumbled across a recipe written by the Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson, for something called “pork cake”.  You can read about that here.  The recipe is in the cookbook she herself wrote called  “Some Favourite Southern Recipes of the Duchess of Windsor”. 

war cake2

Now who would have thought that the Duchess of Windsor, whose occupation is described in Wikipedia as “socialite”, would have written a cookbook?  As a complete coincidence, last month we visited the château in the Loire where Edward and Mrs Simpson were married.  It was a charming and captivating place and I am currently posting lots of pictures of it here if you’re interested.

A common feature of war cake recipes is that the fruit is boiled before stirring in the flour and spices.  My Aunt Vera often made a boiled fruit cake and now I come to think of it, she also used lard and cold tea, so maybe that was a war cake of sorts.

war cake3

I have to say the cake would not win any beauty contest and I was a bit nervous about taking it to the CCC !!  It had a crater in the middle, a mottled top and the fruit had obviously sunk to the bottom, but I tried to imagine how pleased anyone would be to see any kind of cake, especially a fruit cake, on the tea table during the first or second world war.  I sprinkled it with icing sugar in an attempt to improve its looks but nothing was able to disguise the craggy exterior.  I just hoped the interior looked better.

war cake4

I placed the cake on the table with the others and was relieved that it was not the only plain cake on display.  There was an interesting collection including two ginger cakes, two battenburgs, one pineapple upside down, one classic chocolate and one nutmeg cake.  (I was surprised there was no Victoria sponge.)

I took the cake as Nick’s offering and for my own I took a caraway seed cake.  I was very pleased to find that by the end of the evening they had both been almost completely eaten up.  It appears that the introduction I gave for the war cake was so negative that everybody wanted to try a piece just to see if it was as bad as they expected !!  I managed to sneak the last slice home to have a proper taste myself.

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In fact, it was lovely.  Very moist with a chewy texture and the flavours were delicious.  Several people asked me how it had been made.  So now I feel less embarrassed about it I am also offering this cake for this month’s Tea Time Treats Challenge, organised by Karen of Lavender and Lovage.  The currant theme is “dried fruit”.  Currant theme ~ get it ??!!  Anyway, you can read the details here. 

Tea Time Treats

There were lots of different recipes for war cake that I could have used but I based mine on the one that seemed most likely to work and taste nice, which you can see here.

This is how I made my version of war cake.  You need to start several hours before you want to bake the cake, to allow the boiled fruit to cool.

200g light soft brown sugar

100g dark soft brown sugar

90g Trex vegetable fat (you could use white Flora or Cookeen)

230g mixed dried fruit

350ml water

200g plain flour

1½tsp mixed spice

1tsp bicarb

½tsp baking powder

½tsp salt

Method

Put the sugars, fat, fruit and water in a large saucepan.  Bring slowly to the boil and boil for three  minutes.  Leave to cool completely in the pan.

Preheat the oven to 150°C / 140° fan / gas mk2.  Grease and line a 22cm  round cake tin.

Put all the other ingredients in a bowl and whisk together.  Tip them into the cooled fruit mixture and stir well until there are no floury lumps and it is all fully combined.

Pour the mixture into the tin (it’s quite a runny batter) and bake for 1½ until it passes the skewer test.  It will still look wet on top.

Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out carefully onto a wire rack.  Allow to cool completely before wrapping in foil and storing in an airtight tin.

Cook’s note ~ the cake is dense but fairly fragile as well as being sticky, so handle it carefully and as little as possible.

Cuts into about 12 slices.