A Small Interview, based on cake..

So my dad has just had his first book published called Mrs. Darcy versus the Aliens, so I decided to interview him during his month-long blog tour. We debate the finer points of alien cooking, or cooking aliens, however you want to look at it…

 

Tell me a little bit about your book.

 

It’s a sequel to “Pride and Prejudice”. With aliens. That do? So where’s the cake? I was told there’d be cake…

 

How did you come up with the idea?

 

I was talking to a fellow writer a few years back about another book I’d read (“Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell”) and we decided it was basically a Regency novel with wizards. From there it was a very small step to thinking up a Regency novel with aliens. Now can I have some cake?

 

Did you have a particular snack or food that you ate when you were writing?

 

You’re checking up on me, aren’t you? No. Nothing at all. Definitely not. Not even cake. Although some cake would be very nice now…

 

What’s your favourite type of cake?

 

AT LAST! THE CAKE QUESTION! Actually I like all types of cake. What have you got?

 

What do you think Mrs Darcy’s would be?

 

To hell with Mrs Darcy, WHERE’S MY CAKE? I WANT CAKE!

 

There are aliens in your book. What do you think they would taste like?

 

Probably chicken. Most things taste like chicken. Maybe with a hint of squid. So there’s no cake. That’s what you’re trying to tell me, isn’t it?

 

I bet they’d be good battered and deep-fried with some sweet chilli dipping sauce.

 

Actually, most things are good battered and deep-fried with some sweet chilli dipping sauce. Especially cake. Which reminds me…

 

Boring details about the book: The web site is here. The Wickhampedia is here. And there are some trailers here. You can buy it from all good bookshops (especially WHSmith, where it’s on promotion) and all the usual online places, including the Jane Austen Centre Online Giftshop, where they have signed copies.

 

 

Post to Twitter

How to Poach an Egg

Sorry I’ve been a bit MIA lately folks, had a small amount of work to do (just cooking a mere 8 mains, 3 puddings and a giant birthday cake for 60 people, all in a days work). So my brother came home last weekend furious because everytime he tried to poach eggs it went wrong and he would end up with a boiling pan of egg white or just an egg yolk left. Whilst there are many ways to achieve the perfect poached egg, from the cling film method to buying those dinky silcone egg poaching basket things, I still maintain the best and most satisfying way to poach eggs is with a ladle and a pan of hot water.

I can’t believe I still enjoy making poached eggs seeing as in my last exam at cookery school we had to cook a 3 course meal, plus bread and the examiners could walk up to you at anytime and say right I want poached eggs and hollandaise in 15 minutes and you would have to drop what you were doing and do it. That exam was the worse 5 hours of my life and those 15 minutes the most stressfull.

But anywho, poached eggs, firstly you need to know about the 4 grades of heating water,

1st Poaching which is the lowest, where the occasional small bubble breaks the surface.

2nd Simmering where lots small bubbles break the surface,

3rd Boiling where lots of large bubbles break the surface,

4th Rolling Boil where big bubbles come to surface at the edge of the pan and roll inwards towards the middle of the pan. This is the hottest, be warned.

 

Ingredients

 

An egg

 

Method

 

1. First have a pan of boiling water on the stove, make sure it is quite a deep pan, you need quite a bit of space.

2. Next turn the heat down under the pan until the water is barely moving and is at a poach.

3. Next take the egg out of the fridge. Now for the perfect poached egg you need the freshest and coldest egg imaginable. Fresh out of the chicken would do but seeing as for most of us that isn’t possible then eggs which you bought that day would do. you can also try the fresh egg test:

Fresh Egg Test

Take a fresh egg and a not so fresh egg and place them both in a bowl of cold water. The fresher of the eggs should stand upright, whereas the not so fresh egg will lie on it’s side. Technically. Moving swiftly onwards…

4. Crack your fresh egg into a ladle. Using a slotted spoon stir your poaching water to create a vortex. Just when the vortex is disapating, carefully pour in your egg using the ladle.

5. Now, technically the vortex should gather the egg white around the yolk and make sure it all stays together. You can help it along using your slotted spoon if you think it isn’t working. Once that is done the egg kind of sits on the bottom of the pan and you have to leave it in there for 4 minutes to get a perfect runny yolk. Then just whip it out and it should be a perfect tear drop shape.

 

 

All you have to do is enjoy with a toasted english muffin, a couple of rashers of bacon and hollandaise dribbled over the top! Nom nom nom.

 

 

If you want to do loads at once you can actually part cook the eggs seperately for 3 minutes the same way as described above, then plunge them into cold water (to stop them cooking). Then once they’re all done you just put them all back into poaching water for another minute and ta dah! Poached eggs for 20 no trouble!

Anywho, I will tackle making hollandaise from scratch another day, for now, just use the bought stuff!

I’m now off to make some sticky toffee pudding cupcakes seeing as it is national cupcake week. I’m kinda over the whole cupcake thing though. Infact according to the Independent on Sunday scones are the new cupcake, which means I’m ahead of the times seeing as my very first post was on scones! Unbelievable, there’s a first for everything I suppose.

Ta ta for now!

 

 

Post to Twitter

Blackberry Jam

‘Sup ladies and gents, missed me?

‘Fraid I’ve been having fun picking blackberries, raspberries, elderberries and sloes… I now have more than I know what to do with and have given myself nettle rash in the process.

But I thought I would make some jam. Now jam is easy, you just simmer fruit with sugar and voila, yummyness in a jar.

 

The jam making process:

 

1. Pick a fruit, any fruit (this is not an exaggeration, you can literally use any fruit)

2. Weigh your fruit. We were taught at school to not even attempt making jam with over 2kg of fruit as it gets hard to pot, but under that you’re fine.

3. Make sure you remove all bruised and battered fruit and it’s best to use fruit that is slightly under ripe.

4. Make sure you check (via t’internet or a jam making book, which if you have then I don’t know why you’re bothering to read this, but then again I have one so I’m not entirely sure why I’m writing this) the level of pectin your fruit contains. I have differing opinions on blackberries, my book says low, my teachers say high. I went with a low level of pectin. Pectin is a carbohydrate found in the skin and cores of all fruit, it helps with the setting of the jam…I think.

5. Use a large crystal sugar i.e. granulated sugar or preserving sugar, as it will dissolve quicker. Also whatever the weight of you fruit the weight of the sugar will be the same.

6. If the fruit is low in pectin use a jam sugar or certo, which is liquid pectin

7. Have a cold plate in the fridge, this is for your flake test later.

8. I swear there was another point which I’ve forgotten, actually if I’m honest then there’s probably a lot of points that I’ve forgotten, but I think most of the important bits are there.

Right, now that the boring stuff is out of the way we can get onto the good bits, but first look at this picture of blackberries:

 

That was nice wasn’t it? Now, moving on swiftly…

 

The Recipe

 

700g blackberries

700g jam sugar or 700g preserving sugar with 60ml certo

2 tbsp lemon juice

50ml water

1. Firstly we’re going to sterilise the jars. Pre-heat the oven to 140C/GM 1/275F, wash the jars that you will be using with their lids in very hot soapy water, dry them and then place them in the oven for 20-30 minutes. You will need about 3 x 440ml (1lb) jam jars for this amount.

2. Place blackberries in a large pan with the water and lemon juice and heat until the blackberries have released their juice and have broken down slightly

3. Meanwhile weigh out the sugar, place it on a baking sheet and place in warming oven (around 110C) for about 10 minutes. This helps the sugar to dissolve quicker when added to the fruit.

4. Once the blackberries have broken down turn the heat right down, remove the sugar from the oven and add it to the blackberries. Stir very gently until the sugar has dissolved and then turn the heat back up again.

5. Boil the jam for about 8 minutes. To check if it is ready remove the plate from the fridge and dollop some jam on and place it back in the fridge for a minute of so. (Whilst this is happening make sure your jam is off the heat so you don’t go beyond the jam point into cheese territory.) Remove the plate from the fridge and if you can push your finger through the jam and create a channel that stays then your jam is ready. If not then keep heating it until it does.

6. Once your jam is done turn the heat off, and gently skim off the fat that has accumulated (or apparently you can add a knob of butter and this will do it for you). Leave the jam to cool down for a little bit otherwise all the fruit will sink to the bottom and then carefully pour it into your sterilised jars, whack on a lid and leave to cool completely until set. Then enjoy on toast, or on a tea cake, or in a bakewell tart, whatever you fancy!

Oh and if you are uber clever then you can just skip most of step 5 if you have sugar thermometer, just boil it until it reaches the word jam and your done. Or you can be a complete idiot like me and have one but not use it…

In other news my cat has decided to shun all kitty beds and sleep on my Hobbs trousers instead, such expensive taste, thanks Marvin (that’s the cat)…this is him:

Strange isn’t he? Trust me he looked weirder when he was younger…

Anywho, happy jam making! I’m making elderberry tomorrow.

 

Post to Twitter

The Almighty Cheese Sauce

Is it bad that I can’t spell my own blog name? But then I can’t spell much so that’s not much of a surprise…anywho, it’s all about cheese today.

When stuck for something quick for dinner I always turn to cheese. Be it macaroni cheese, cauliflower cheese, a cheese sandwhich, or occassionally just a block of cheese (I’m not joking I have done this before and I didn’t even have the excuse of being drunk).

Anyway I’m going to tell you how to make a simple cheese sauce. These measurements make a coating consistency sauce, Leiths words, not mine, so if you want it thicker, use more butter and flour…I think.

Melt 20g butter in a pan, briefly remove from the heat and stir in 20g plain flour, return to heat again and cook for a couple of minutes (this is so it doesn’t taste of flour). This is called a roux. Remove from the heat again and veeeery graaadually stir 290ml (1/2 pint) of cold milk into the hot roux until you get a smooth liquid free from lumps. (If lumps do occur get out your whisk and beat until they vanish.)  Next place the pan back on the heat and stir continuously until the liquid thickens and starts to boil, then season with salt and pepper and add a cheese of your choice, though cheddar or gruyere seemes to be the best. I haven’t put down an amount because it depends on how cheesy you want it, but it tends to take quite a bit. If the mixture is too thick for you then just add a spot more milk.

And voila cheese in sauce form. My mum and I often eat this with a spoon, my dad says it’s like eating branston pickle out of the jar. I tell him to shush.

Now just pour over cooked cauliflower (or any other cooked ingredient that goes with cheese) and place in a 180C/200C oven for 20mins or so, or pour over cooked pasta to make macaroni cheese.

 

 

Happiness in a bowl for me (oh and I chucked in cooked bacon and sweetcorn to make it extra yummy)

Post to Twitter

White Chocolate Buttercream

I have decided that all buttercream in the future should be white chocolate buttercream. Sooooo yummy.

Cream 150g softened butter with 180g of sifted icing sugar and 1 tbsp water until combined. Melt 150g white chocolate (I use Green & Blacks) in a bowl over a pan of simmering water or in the microwave (sacrilage I know) for 30 seconds to 1 minute (but keep an eye on it). Beat the melted white chocolate into the butter and icing sugar mix and combine. And  you are left with the best cake filling EVER! I could just eat it from the bowl.

I’m going to use this later for the filling for Devils Food cake which I am making for a client. Hopefully the post for that cake should be up next week sometime. I warn you this icing is very very sweet, it’s the type of thing my mother would complain about, but I love it!!

Happy baking all…

Post to Twitter

Coffee and Chestnut

You know what’s nice? Avocado. You know what’s also nice? The surprise in my housemate’s voice when she said I looked nice (note sarcasm).  But anyway, coffee and chestnut may not be the first flavour combination that jumps to mind, but it works!

My very first client wanted a birthday cake for her mother. She really likes chestnuts so we were brainstorming about what would go with it and both decided on coffee. So I did a plain coffee cake as the base with a chestnut filling and a coffee glace icing to cover it.

I was debating over what recipe to use for the cake base. For something like a coffee cake you need a moist but not incredibly close textured cake, like the texture you get from a carrot cake. I have this brilliant all in one recipe that I have used constantly since I was six making butterfly cupcakes with my mum.

All-in-one is another of the 5 cake methods. This is where you chuck everything in a bowl and beat it all together. This is very similar to the creaming method except that there is a chemical raising agent (baking powder) because you don’t cream the butter and sugar which usually incorporates air. Is this making any sense? It isn’t to me and I know what I’m talking about.

Coffee cake

 

170g self-raising flour

170g sugar

170g butter at room temperature (you can use either salted or unsalted)

3 eggs

1 ½ tsp baking powder

3 tsp coffee granules

2tbsp of just boiled water

(Technically 1 medium egg weighs 55g, what you’re meant to do is weigh the eggs and then weigh the exact same amount of flour, sugar and butter. But this works just as well.)

Pre heat the oven to 180C/GM 4/350F

Line 3 8 inch individual sandwhich tins with greaseproof paper or an 8 inch springform or loose base cake tin.

Even though it’s an all in one cake I still like to beat the butter briefly just to break it up a bit.

Dissolve the coffee granules in the 2tbsp of just boiled water.

Once the butter has been slightly beaten add the sugar, sift in the flour and crack in the eggs. Add the dissolved coffee and the baking powder.

Beat it all together until smooth

Pour into the sandwhich tin/tins and bake in the oven for 20 mins until the cake is firm and a skewer inserted comes out clean. Leave to cool for 5 minutes and then carefully place on a wire rack to cool completely.

 

Chestnut buttercream

 

110g butter

300g of icing sugar (I think this is right, but I always do it to taste so add more or less if you want)

around 40ml of milk

around 40ml of double cream

around ¼ of a can (~100g) of chestnut puree (I use Merchant Gourmet, found at most supermarkets, oh and I also do this to taste, if you like a more chestnutty flavour then add more!)

Cream the butter and sift in the icing sugar, whisk together until light and fluffy.

Add the milk and the cream and whisk again

Add the chestnut puree (be warned it looks alarmingly like dog food) and whisk again.

 

Coffee Glace Icing

 

around 500g icing sugar

4 tsp coffee granules dissolved in 4 tbsp of boiling water

For decoration (optional):

cake crumbs

7 or 8 cooked and peeled chestnuts

2 tbsp ground down coffee granules

Sift the icing sugar

Add the dissolved coffee and mix, add more boiling water to bring to a smooth thick paste.

If it goes lumpy (which it may, this is me we’re talking about) just whizz it in a food processor, if you don’t have a food processor like me then you have the laborious task of gradually shoving it through a sieve (yay).

 

Construction

 

Divide the buttercream in 2 and spread half over the bottom 1/3 of the cake, place the 2nd layer on top and spread the rest over this layer. Place the final layer on top.

Pour the coffee icing over the top of the cake so it dribbles down the sides, smooth over with a wet palette knife.

Decorate however you want. I ground down some coffee granules, added some cake crumbs and roughly chopped cooked chestnuts and sweetened it with a bit of caster sugar and then placed it artfully (yeah right) in the middle of the cake.

Place a dollop of apricot jam or strawberry jam in the middle of a cake board and veeeery caaarefully place the cake on top. This anchors it in place so it won’t (easily) fall off which is very important when I’m involved because I do drop things constantly.

And voila! Your cake is made!

 

 

Boy that was long! Now I’m going to go because I’ve been sitting in the same place for far too long and my bum’s gone to sleep and rather disconcertingly I can smell smoke. I’m going to go check the house isn’t on fire.

 

Happy baking!

 

Post to Twitter

Scones

I dream of cake. I once wrote this on a job application; needless to say I didn’t get it.

But anyway, ever have the most awful day in the kitchen where nothing goes right? I seem to have a lot of them considering I’m meant to be a chef; it’s rather worrying really. Today was one of those days, I was halfway through making a cake and realised I only had half of the ingredients, I stubbed my toe on the oven and now a large chunk is missing, my buttercream icing went lumpy (don’t ask how) and I mildly electrocuted myself with my electric handwhisk. So all in all not a good day. So I decided to make something I couldn’t bugger up. SCONES! Though saying that, they did once go horribly flat because I didn’t have the oven temperature high enough. There’s a lesson for you kids.

Anywho, scones are so versatile; make them as a savoury accompaniment to soup or use it as a topping over cooked fruit for a more interesting pudding. Or even use savoury ones to make a cobbler (more on that at another time, but let’s concentrate on the sweet stuff for now).  Even my mum likes these and it’s hard to please her; she always complains that my food is too sweet.

So boring stuff first. There are 5 different cake methods.

  1. Whisking
  2. Melting
  3. Creaming
  4. Rubbing in
  5. All-in-one

 

Scones use the rubbing method because you rub the butter into the flour before doing anything else. The rubbing in method culminates in a dryer end product; rock cakes are another example of this kind of thing.

Recipes always say they make more than they actually do. This recipe is taken from the Leiths Cookery Bible and it makes about 5 or 6 average sized scones.

Ingredients

 

225g self raising flour

½ tsp of salt (this is necessary as it really brings out the flavours)

55g butter (cool but not cold)

20/30g caster sugar (depending on how sweet you want them)

150ml milk (but you won’t necessarily need all of this)

optional: an egg or additional milk to glaze

Method

 

Firstly pre heat the oven nice and hot to 220OC/GM 7/425OF, although if you have a fan oven then pre heat to 200OC. Prep a baking sheet by sprinkling it with plain flour.

Sift flour and salt together and rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs and stir in the sugar. If you were adding something, e.g. raisins, chocolate chips, then you would add them now

Make a deep well in the centre and pour in enough milk to make a soft dough. Add a touch more flour if it’s too sticky.

Knead on a flour surface until just smooth

Using your hands press out the dough until it’s about 2.5cm/1 inch thick. Using a cutter stamp out rounds (but don’t twist the cutter when you pull it out). Reform the dough and stamp out more

Place them carefully on the baking sheet  and either brush the tops with beaten egg, milk or sift over some plain flour.

Bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until well risen and golden brown.

Leave to cool or serve hot (this would be my option)

NB. The first batch of scones before you reform the dough will be the most risen. Ones stamped after the dough is reformed will be slightly thinner.

NB2. If you want to make cheesy ones then substitute half the butter with grated cheese and leave out the sugar.

Enjoy slavered with homemade raspberry jam and oodles of clotted cream… I know I did!

Slump

 

Oh, and to make a something called Slump (though in this months BBC Good Food magazine, they call it Scrumble, but my mum’s been using this American recipe for years), boil down 700g of summer berries with 110g caster sugar and 75ml of water, until they soften and the juices get thick. Pour into a heatproof dish and top with dollops of mascarpone (a 250g tub) and then add your scone dough on top of that. You can use the scone recipe above or substitute the caster sugar for demerara or soft brown sugar and melt the butter instead of rubbing it in and add it before the milk. Cook in a preheated 200OC/400OF/GM 6 oven for 25 mins until the scone topping is golden brown and the berry liquid is bubbling.

Allow to cool slightly before serving with vanilla ice cream or custard or whatever else you fancy! Enjoy!

(My teachers would be appalled if they found out that I’d used a sprig of mint as decoration, but it’s my blog so I’ll do as I like. Besides, I think it needed some green in it somewhere.)

Post to Twitter