October 17, 2022
October 14, 2022
Our new velux windows are fitted here in France and we're now on with decorating the master bedroom. It's a big job because it’s a big room. However the timing is right as the very day after the last window was finished off it started raining, so being confined to indoors seems like less of a sacrifice. On top of that we both have colds. As per usual Nick's has been mild but mine is what my mum would have called "a stinker". Neither of us has had a cold for three years so we're not going out and I had quite forgotten how much of a hinderance they can be.
On top of that we have another fuel crisis on this side of the Channel. The tanker drivers have "downed tools" (do tanker drivers have tools?) and supplies are patchy. I knew nothing about it until my Nick's sister mentioned it after seeing it on the BBC news. Filling stations are all a good distance apart in rural France and it's risky to head off in one direction only to find no petrol to be had. With our petrol tank already very low we managed to fill up but are conserving our supply for essential use. Going to buy more paint might be the next trip.
Consequently we haven’t done any food shopping for a while and are eating what we have in. The carrots looked a bit tired and there was one leek but plenty of potatoes and a huge bowlful of apples. A very tasty soup they made!
THE UGLY BAG - home made stock (broth in the USA)
For the stock I used home made. Never in a million years did I think I would turn into the kind of person that made her own stock but then I read somewhere about something called an "ugly bag". (At the risk of going against my own most recent rule I'll give the link for it here.) The idea is simple in that every time you prepare a meal you put all the carrot tops, onion trimmings, celery leaves, chicken bones, tomato ends etc into a large bag in the freezer.
When the bag is full you tip the contents into a large pan, cover with water, add any fresh herbs you have, bring to the boil and simmer for an hour, no longer. Strain through a colander into another large container and discard the veg. Fill sturdy freezer bags with quantities suitable for your needs and pop in the freezer. I even reuse the same ugly bag! Clever or what!
5 medium carrots
1 large leek
4 smallish potatoes
1 eating apple
350 ml home made stock (or use a stock pot/cube) - save your trimmings for your ugly bag!
salt and pepper
Prepare enough veg to fill the soup maker to the lower line. Add the stock and enough water to the top line.
Cook on smooth.
When it's done, add a little grated nutmeg, fresh if possible but otherwise from a jar. Add a good splash of sherry, season to taste and stir. Serve with a swirl of cream if you have any.
Makes 4 generous portions.
October 13, 2022
In accordance with my recent lightbulb moment regarding the conundrum of giving away cakes made to an untried recipe I made a couple of muffins with a spoonful of the mixture. They tasted good, a nice flavour of lime with a hint of coconut, just as I would expect, moist and with a nice even crumb, which confirmed my conclusion that the recipe on the internet must be wrong and the sugar had been omitted. The lime flavoured icing was delicious.
It wasn't until I looked at the recipe again for writing up the blog post that I realised my mistake........I should have used condensed milk, not evaporated milk, condensed milk being an already sweetened product. No wonder the recipe contained no actual sugar! I can't believe I did that but brain fog has been a feature of my life so far this year!
In the words of René Artois from "Allo, allo": "you stoopid wooman!!"
The cake sold well, every slice devoured, so I leave it up to you whether you make it with evaporated milk or condensed milk. I will add this cake to my tweaking list and try the condensed product myself next time!
(You can buy tinned condensed milk everywhere in France and I think also evaporated milk, sold as an addition for coffee, although I haven't tried it. I brought mine from the UK in the pre-Brexit days when that was allowed.)
A word here about zesters.
For the cake
175g softened butter or baking spread
3 large eggs, beaten
55g desiccated coconut
zest of 2 limes
175g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
250g evaporated milk*
100g caster sugar*
For the icing and decoration
100g icing sugar, sifted
juice of 2 limes
as sprinkling of desiccated coconut
strands of lime zest (optional)**
Preheat the oven to 170°C / 150° fan / gas mk 3. Butter a 900g / 2lb loaf tin and line the base with a strip of baking paper, or use a paper liner.
Put all the cake ingredients into a large bowl and using a hand held electric whisk beat together until pale and creamy.
Transfer the mixture to the prepared tin, level the top and bake for 50-60 minutes. If the top is looking brown before the middle is cooked, cover with a piece of baking paper or foil.
Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the icing, mix the icing sugar with enough of the lime juice to make a thick pouring consistency and drizzle imaginatively over the cake.
Sprinkle coconut over the cake for decoration. If using an extra lime, scatter strips of lime zest over the cake.
Cuts into 10-12 slices.
*instead of evaporated milk and sugar use 250g condensed milk
**if using the extra lime to create the topping it occurred to me that you could drizzle the juice from it over the cake before icing it.
October 10, 2022
There has been more baking than you would expect going on chez nous lately. We are up to our eyes in dust and scaffolding here in France, with major work on the house going on. Roof repairs and five new velux windows; four replacements and one brand new one (in the bathroom - how we put up with no window in the bathroom for eight years is now baffling). Followed by decorating in the master bedroom and a new carpet.
The whole house is affected. The carpet extends into the walk in wardrobe so that has had to be emptied. The stuff from in there has more or less filled the living room. The furniture from the bedroom has filled everywhere else. Oh the joys of home improvements!
Before the work started I volunteered to make a couple of cakes for the Tea Garden at a local event. The French love British cakes, it seems. French patisserie is a thing of wonder but British home baking always sells well around here.
All of my cookbooks are safely under dust sheets so I resorted to the internet for ideas. I was going to make Phil's apple cake recipe (see here) as I've been hankering after making it ever since he posted it. But then I spotted one by Miranda Gore Browne, a former GBBO contestant from a few years ago, called caramel apple cake, and remembered my golden rule of bake sales. That the cakes slathered in the most icing sell the best. Sad but true (in my experience - see here). I'll risk giving the link for the recipe here as the recipes on the Sainsbury's Magazine website do tend to not disappear or turn into something completely different.
It took longer to clean down the kitchen sufficiently than to make the cake. I didn't make the apple crisps to decorate the cake as per Miranda's original recipe because a) for me they were possibly a step too far and b) the timing was wrong. I was making the cake the night before the event and it occurred to me that the crisps might not be quite so crisp by the time the cake was on sale. I scattered a few fudge squares over the cake instead.
However, they looked so pretty in the picture that the next time I make this cake I will definitely give them a try.
I also had a lightbulb moment regarding the conundrum of making cakes to recipes I had not tried before that were destined to be given away. I used a spoonful of the mixture to make a separate muffin. That way I could taste the cake myself and make sure I was not presenting something inedible. Why did I never think of that before?
Consequently I can confirm that the cake is delightful and the icing is fabulous - very, very sweet but delicious, so I shall definitely be making this recipe again. Like many apple cakes that contain chunks or slices of apple, the cake was quite fragile. Even when completely cold the top layer developed a crack when I lifted it on top of the bottom layer, as you can see in the picture. Luckily the icing disguised it pretty well! Apple cakes that contain grated apple tend to hold together much better - or maybe it's due to the variety of apple. The recipe stated Bramley apples but I have never found them for sale in France so I used Reinette apples instead.
At 10.00 when I delivered my cakes the Tea Garden was a sea of cake and the first few customers were trickling in. When I returned at 5.00pm to collect my plates it was still in full swing but the only cakes left were a few slices of fruit cake. Amazing. I was dead chuffed when my friend who was helping on the counter said that the first slices of cake sold were of my caramel apple cake!
For the cake
500g cooking apples
zest and juice of 1 lemon
225g unsalted butter, softened, or spreadable butter
225g caster sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
200g self raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
50g ground almonds
1 tsp mixed spice
For the buttercream filling
100g unsalted butter, softened, or spreadable butter
200g icing sugar, sifted
2 tblsp caramel, either from a tin of Carnation caramel or a jar of Bon Maman confiture de lait
1 tblsp semi skimmed milk
For the caramel icing
75g unsalted butter
75g icing sugar, sifted
1 tblsp caramel (see above)
a handful of fudge pieces (optional)
Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4. Butter two 20cm sandwich tins and line the bases with baking paper.
Peel the apples and chop into 2cm dice. Toss the pieces in the lemon juice to prevent browning and set aside.
In a large bowl, beat together the butter, sugar and lemon zest, either by hand or using a hand held mixer. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Fold in the flour, baking powder, ground almonds and spice. Tip in the diced apples, draining off any excess lemon juice first and mix well to evenly distribute through the mixture.
Divide the mixture equally between the tins and bake for 25-30 minutes. Leave to cool in the tins for 10 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Be careful as they are quite fragile.
While the cakes are in the oven make the caramel buttercream by beating all the ingredients together until smooth and well combined.
When the cakes are out of the oven make the caramel icing by putting all the ingredients into a medium saucepan. Heat gently until melted together and smooth. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes.
When the cakes are cold, place one onto a serving plate or cake stand and spread the top liberally with the buttercream.
Place the second cake on top and pour the still warm caramel icing over, allowing it to dribble down the sides. Decorate with the fudge pieces (or any other decoration of your choice).
Cuts into 10-12 slices.