Sourdough – here’s what I do

With lots of time at home and a lack of yeast in the shops a few people have got in touch with me about sourdough.  This does make me a little uncomfortable because I am really not very good at it and certainly no kind of expert. But I do have a live culture right now and some success in making loaves from it, so all I can say is what I do. There is so much to read out there on the internet and so many people with better answers, feel free to try that too.

What I do is based on instructions from S John Ross, but the home of that on the internet has changed a couple of times.  Here’s a version I found recently, but it’s less than the full pages that SJR wrote that I read ten years ago.

It’s worth bearing in mind that this is how humans have made bread for around 50,000 years. Bakers yeast is less than 100 years old.  If cavemen could do a version of this, so can you. It’s not going to be as beautiful as some of the bakers on the internet, but who cares.

My starter – made ten years ago, but saved some – I spread it on a baking sheet and let it dry out then froze it.  Last year I woke it up again and augmented with some crumbs posted to me from California in exchange for a few Paypal dollars thanks to the Friends of Carl. I have no idea how hygienic any of this and my kitchen is far from catering standards of clean, so if you have any concerns, and I’ve given you starter culture recently beware! Especially if you are in a vulnerable group!

Sourdough starter

Even worse, I did have a mould problem recently, which I fixed by pouring the mould off the top and taking a teaspoon of the culture from the very bottom, dishwashing the pot and then feeding frequently.

If you’re in feeding stage and leaving on the counter, the culture needs a daily feed. If you’re in a maintenance feed and it lives in the fridge, it needs feeding weekly.

You should wash the pot regularly – reserve a little bit of culture and wash the main pot.  I put it in the dishwasher every time I bake.

My recipe uses American style cups because  my kitchen scales broke years ago and I never got around to replacing them.  Two things to think about if you’re not used to cups: a) loads of things you already have in your kitchen are approximately the same size as a 250ml cup:

250 mls

and b) the recipe is a ratio  so it matters less what size cup you use and more that you use the same cup for all the ingredients.

To make a starter – Equal quantities of flour and water in a jar kept in a warm spot, every day for a week stir and pour half of it away and replace with more flour and water. It will start to bubble. Any flour except self raising, but strong white best and easiest, spelt and rye for flavour. In these days of limited availability of flour, you don’t need to use a whole cup every time.  Some people maintain a starter with a tablespoon of flour in a tiny jam jar, but I think if you do this you need to feed it twice a day.

It’s supposed to smell beery and yeasty and a bit sour.

Once the starter is alive, you can actually start cooking with the bits you throw away, you don’t need to go through the full knead and bake routine. You can just fry sourdough starter in a hot pan with a little oil.  There are also recipes for crumpets (be careful, baking soda and baking powder are different things…) and crackers. You can also make pancakes by beating an egg into one cup of discard. If you make tiny pancakes you can call them blinis.

If you were given a starter culture, here’s how you bake:

The day before you bake, you need to feed the culture to make enough starter for your baking the following day. You will need two cups of starter for the recipe plus leftover starter to keep alive for the next day’s baking, so feed the starter 1.5 cups of flour and 1.5 cups water.  Leave it on the counter.

Ideally the starter is vigorous enough to double in size over night – you can keep an eye on it by putting a rubber band around the pot and seeing how big it gets. Ideally you bake with it when its at its biggest, it will grow and fall back. So long as there are bubbles on top and hopefully bubbles you can see through the sides, it’s ok to cook with.

Measure 3 cups of flour into a bowl. If you want rye or wholemeal, use that for some of the flour, but you’ll get a very heavy loaf if you don’t include at least some strong white bread flour.  Add to the flour two cups of starter, then reserve the starter you’re going to keep in the fridge and wash up the starter pot. A tea spoon of salt. Optional extras: generous glug of olive oil and a table spoon of sugar to feed the culture. First stir it with a wooden spoon, then get your clean hands into it and knead. Some recipes have no kneading at all, some say you should knead for 10-20 minutes and do it so vigorously you get slightly breathless. I tend to punch it about a bit in the bowl or flour the worktop and stretch it a forearm’s length along the counter.  If it’s flakey at this point, it’s too dry, add a teeny splash of water. If it stays sticky and won’t come off your hands it may be too wet, add a little flour. (but some bakers try and keep it really wet as that’s the best way to beautiful sourdough holes in the finished loaf.)

A very great deal has been written about proving, kneading and shaping doughs.  You will found a million different ways of doing it on the internet. And making bread. Here’s the very little I do:

Make the dough as above.  The recipe will make one round loaf, two 2lb loaf tins, or a dozen little rolls / baps.  The rolls are good for me because I live alone and can’t eat a whole loaf before it goes rock hard. The rolls can be refreshed in the microwave or frozen and used as and when.

Let the dough prove in the mixing bowl somewhere warm until it doubles in size. Ish. Cover it with a tea towel or the top will try and go crispy (not a problem but not ideal). This might take a very long time – up to 18 hours.  IF you don’t have anywhere warm, you can put the oven on for a couple of seconds, then turn it off and put the dough in the oven. Just don’t use the oven for anything else accidentally while you do!  You can also do the initial prove in the fridge – this will take much longer but the sour flavour develops.

After the first prove, knock it back – do a very small amount of kneading and the dough will collapse.

Then shape the loaf and prove again, covered with a damp teatowel or in a giant plastic bag.

For a round loaf – you need to repeatedly gently pull/smooth the top down and bunch it underneath whilst turning it round. Then allow to rise in a floured banneton. If you don’t have one, flour a dry tea towel well and put it in a colander.

For loaf tins – you need to divide it into two, flatten into squares, roll up the square like a swiss roll and put that in each LINED tin – if you don’t use parchment you may never get it out again!  (I haven’t done this in ages and can’t remember if the dough makes 1 or 2 tins!!)

For rolls/cobs/baps – divide dough into half then quarters then each quarter into 3. Roll each piece in your hands and place into a baking tray with sides. Line at least the bottom of the tray.

(this is after it’s risen for the second time:)

Sourdough rolls

Look at the terrible portion control.

The second prove can be a variety of times too… maybe two three hours?

About 45 minutes before you want to put it in the oven, put the oven on as hot as it will go to have a good go at getting very hot indeed.

I then turn the oven down to 180 when I put the loaf in. Rolls about 20 minutes, loaves in tins about 30, round loaves about 45. Knock the bottom of a baked loaf – it should sound hollow.

You’re looking for “oven spring” which means the loaf gets a lot bigger quickly when it gets to the heat.  Because of oven spring it’s good to slash the top of the dough before it goes in the oven with the sharpest knife you have. This controls where the dough opens instead of having it burst at an unpredictable point.

Trad yeasted rye loaf

If you’re cooking a round loaf, you can get excellent results if you cook it in a Dutch Oven / Le Creuset / cast iron casserole. Allow the whole pot to heat up to as hot as the oven will go. Turn the round loaf out of the colander / banneton onto a sheet of greaseproof and use this as a sling to lower into the preheated pot. Try to be gentle at this point because you don’t want to knock the air out now! Slash and bake with the lid on.

You can also put icecubes in the oven, even a cup of water, which evaporates and makes steam, and keeps the crust slightly softer.

You’re supposed to let the whole thing cool right down before you slice it, I don’t always manage.  You can let it cool with a tea towl over it which lets the crust reabsorb some of the steam and stop it being too sharp on your teeth.

Let me know how you get along!

 

Food in the time of Coronavirus

For a bunch of reasons, some of which I can put a finger on, some of which I can’t, I have been off my game since before the start of this year. One of the several ways this manifests itself is that I have been well off track in terms of planning and cooking. When I’m fully myself I like to have a list of meals coming up and shop sensibly accordingly. When I’m not, I find myself relying on the places I can drive through on the way home and find myself eating my dinner whilst driving so that I can go straight to bed when I get home.

Two Mondays ago it was pretty clear that some serious societal change was in the offing, so like many many others I decided to go home via the supermarket and stock up.  I spent a lot of money, filled the freezer and shopped around the gaps other people had left.  Two days ago, very clearly stuff was up – by then, schools were closed, although we had a whole staff meeting (on socially distanced chairs in the hall) at 8.15 to set out a plan for how we would cope with setting work and supervising the key worker children.  So again I called at the supermarket for long life essentials – and this time also stocked up on some nice things as the week before I spent a small fortune without even buying alcohol or chocolate!

So, the first Monday I made a huge pot of bolognese. This was all the more challenging because judging from the gaps in the shelves, everyone else had had the same idea. There were no celery, carrots, or onions. No mince of any sort in the fresh isle. No tinned tomatoes.

Giant pot of bolognese

As it happens I pretty much always stockpile, so apart from the meat,  I had much of what I needed at home, including some wrinkly old carrots and onions. I eventually found a kilo of frozen lamb mince and used that. I blogged about a good mince sauce for pasta over ten years ago and I did just that. I also planned for the lasagna! I also hid a bit of extra veg from myself – supermarket trip netted a huge bag of frozen cauliflower and broccoli and I blended some of that till it was tiny and put it in the sauce and cooked down, and now you’d never know it was there!

My mince sauce was 8 portions – one that night (although I just ate it by itself because it took so long to cook I’d stuffed my face on bread by then), one the following night with a jacket potato, and then made lasagna at the weekend.

Bolognese

I am currently mostly cooking a meal for two each time I cook and having the spare one two nights later to try and avoid eating the same thing two days running.

Monday 16 – bolognese

Tuesday 17 – bolognese with baked potato. Cooked two potatoes to avoid toooo much wasted oven heat. Put the oven on a timer so it was ready by the time I got home from work.

Thursday – a pack of stuffed pasta with pesto. A delicious fast meal with nearly no nutritional benefits at all. All carbs and no vegetables.

Filled pasta and pesto dressed with pine nuts

By Thursday school was already a bit odd… we’d closed to two year groups and Y11 got the news that they would not have to sit exams this year which turned their remaining lessons into end of term lessons.

Friday I had the other baked potato with cheese and beans

Spud with beans and cheese

Saturday was the lasagna

Lasagna

Sunday – the other half of the tin of beans turned into an all day breakfast. I ended up cooking 8 sausages to eat two and have been snacking on the rest of them ever since.

All day breakfast

Monday leftover lasagna with jacket potato

Lasagna and jacket spuds

Tuesday – delicious mozarella pasta bake from this recipe I’ve been wanting to try for a while, although I simply left out the cream. Halved the recipe and ate only half of that and overdid the garlic.

Veggie(ish) pasta bake

Tonight – even more jacket potato, this time stuffed with tuna and chopped pepper and onion.

Stuffed jacket potato with tuna and finely chopped pepper and onion

Future meals as of now…

Well there’s 5 portions of bolognese still in the freezer so that could be risotto bolognese or simply with spuds or pasta or as lasagna again.

I opened a pack of bacon for all day breakfast so that needs eating… could maybe have carbonara tomorrow. Could add in the leftover mushrooms too.

There’s half a veggie pasta bake.  Grief, but I’m eating a lot of pasta whilst the rest of the world has run short!

I have breaded fish fillets so they could be eaten with potato wedges as both need the oven.

Today I left the milk in the sun a bit too long so made rice pudding.

Plan to make a cheese sauce and a gratin (breadcrumbs in the freezer from a less than successful sourdough loaf) for that frozen cauliflower and broccoli mix.

In all this I have also resurrected my sourdough from frozen flakes and been baking bread with highly variable results… A fuller post on this another night.

Sourdough rolls

 

 

 

Pudding club millionaire pots

A variation on a theme of chocolate pots…

Pudding club millionaire chocolate pots

These quantities made 4 large Ikea ramekins, which was a whole lotta pudding. I’m sure the same quantities would make at least 6 Gu ramekins and maybe 10 shot glasses / espresso cups and still feel like pudding was had.

It was a very simple recipe, which benefitted from fridge stages at each layer, so definitely need making the day ahead.

The biscuit layer is an entire packet of Oreos blitzed, with about 50gr melted butter stirred through. Pack into the bottom of the ramekins and fridge. I intended to use Bourbon biscuits, but there weren’t any in Sainsbury’s when I went.

The caramel layer is an entire tin of Nestlé caramel from the condensed milk aisle, which comes in a handy 397g serving. Put the can in a bowl of warm water before opening it to make it easy to pour / serve and help you get more out of the tin.

The chocolate ganache layer is a mix of dark and milk chocolate – about 100gr each – and an equal amount of cream. Boil the cream, add the broken chocolate, stir until well melted and pour over the top.

A friend on facebook saw the picture and estimated each serving at over 1,000 calories. I’ve just run the ingredients through MyFitnessPal and she was highly accurate. This recipe divided by 4 clocks in at 1223 calories each.   Try and get it to 6, 8, or 10 portions for a far more sensible serving!

Things I cooked over Christmas

I made some cocktails for gifts before we broke up.

Chocolate orange martini: chocolate liqueur and triple sec with vodka in a 1:1:2 ratio.

Nigella’s Christmas martini: chambord and creme de cacao blanc and vodka, again 1:1:2

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Some of my friends also got tasters of my vintage elderflower gin – this was originally a mistake because I steeped elderflowers from my garden for far too long and the gin took on a very bitter taste. But later I added a lot of sugar, and over the 8 years or so it’s been on the shelf, it almost took on a Parma violet note. This is pretty much all gone now.

Also crab apple vodka. The old way of making this was to clean and halve crab apples then leave them in a jar with vodka for a couple of weeks until the sugar is dissolved and the vodka has gone a pinker a colour. Now I’m experimenting with making a sugar syrup by boiling the crab apples with water and sugar and simply adding that to the vodka. The best version I think comes from a mix: some crab apples in a jar with vodka and no sugar, some in a syrup, mix all together into final bottle.

Before we broke up I made some speculoos fudge out of Lotus spread – but couldn’t find last year’s recipe. This recipe is the one I don’t recommend. Jane’s patisserie version is much better and I think it’s the one I used last year.

2018-12-28 20.58.08

It’s great to start the festive season with a big batch of fudge… you have something in the fridge that can be turned into gifts to take with you or buffet contributions or feeding unexpected gifts. It keeps a couple of weeks, provided you don’t eat it.

The first Saturday of the holidays found me in front of Saturday Kitchen where I saw a recipe for mulled wine chocolate truffles, similar to this one from Waitrose.  If you are mulling wine anyway, just reserve a glass, otherwise the recipe gets you to make mulled wine especially. Looks like this technique could be easily adapted to getting other flavours into other chocolates… how about espresso into milk chocolate or mulled cider into white chocolate or …  Just as with the fudge you can make the ganache and leave that in the fridge to turn into truffles whenever you need them. And rolling ganache into truffles is a good activity to get children and non-cooking boyfriends involved in too.

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I had my friends and godkids over before Christmas for fondue, ham sandwiches, my own banana cake, and this “next level poke cake” – purely because I love the coffee flavour and don’t make enough coffee cakes.  I borrowed the key to church and we roamed all around it, including climbing the tower and looking at the bells, and we all ended up at the carol service, which was delightful.

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For Christmas day (I deliberately spent it on my own and had a lovely time) I roasted a chicken, with loads of roast potatoes, carrots. I repurposed leftover fondue as cauliflower cheese and made this strange Jamie Oliver red cabbage recipe with tinned pears and chorizo. It was nice enough but the ingredients did not really blend together at all. It fed me on Christmas day, did two of us on Boxing Day and there was plenty of chicken left to make a huge risotto much later in the break (after a long facebook thread about whether it was safe to eat roast chicken a week after cooking. No ill effects, but be careful out there!)

To Scotland I took the remainder of the fudge and truffles and made again a version of this very forgiving peanut and Crunchie bar rocky road recipe, which went down well.

2018-12-29 00.03.07

Yesterday, for pudding club, I made a fridge cake from a fridge cake recipe book, amended slightly but a super simple idea: melt 400 grams milk chocolate, add 300ml of double cream, tinned pears, chopped, and a pack of shortbread biscuits, also chopped. Fridge for a couple of hours in a cling-film lined 1lb loaf tin. Then whip together cream cheese, another pot of double cream and a little sugar (vanilla sugar adds awesomeness) turn out the chocolate loaf onto a cake plate and slather the cream on the outside. Grate chocolate over the top, because if it’s not garnished, it’s not finished.

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Three pudding club eats

 

 

Three recipes cooked for pudding club so far in 2018, none of them blogged! #thehorror

At the start of the year, I was very taken with the new  Mary Berry TV series and there were a few things I wanted to cook. Her truffle chocolate pots looked super – a chocolate mousse with some of the mousse reserved and magicked into truffles to put on top. The recipe and her photos are here.

The mousse component was fine.  I mean, sure, it’s a faffy way of getting a food processor dirty to make a mousse – previously I have whisked the egg whites and folded into melted chocolate + yolks instead, but that’s not entirely safe if you might be feeding the immunosuppressed.

But the recipe for the truffles on top just didn’t work.

For starters the centres were incredibly sticky and refused to be rolled without extreme fridging and adding in extra icing sugar and cocoa.

Mary Berry chocolate truffle pots

And then just dipping them in molten white chocolate to get a shell…

Mary Berry chocolate truffle pots

Really, you need to temper chocolate to make it do that. And that’s nowhere in the recipe.

The final pot was delicious, but I totally failed to make it pretty. (Story of my cooking!)

Mary Berry chocolate truffle pots

For my next triumph, I made a chocolate cake in a frying pan!

No, I can’t remember why, either, but it was quite nice. The recipe had an interesting frosting and some interesting questions about American recipes. What is “Dutch” cocoa for example? We thought it was probably something to do with the difference between what we in the UK would call cocoa and drinking chocolate. I just used Bourneville. To make matters worse, the frosting calls for quality milk chocolate and I just used Dairy Milk. You could taste that it was Dairy Milk in the finished article and although we all knew that was bad, it turned out to be quite a nostalgic flavour for us all.

I also forgot to take any pictures, apparently…?

For our most recent outing to Pudding Club, my hosts provided this awesome Baked Alaska as the pudding, so I made the main course for a change.

Baked alaska awesomeness

I had previously halved the ingredients and just done the chicken component of Nigella’s Chicken Shawarma as a midweek supper; but this time, I bought everything needed for  the sides as well, including things that didn’t sound like I would especially like them… pomegranate seed bejewelled tahini flavoured yoghurt? But it turned out lovely, actually.

The chicken by itself had garnered a “you can make that again”, and it is fantastic, really delicious. The marinade is not hard, but it does have quite a lot of ingredients, and ideally you need to do it the day before. Getting the seeds out of the pomegranate is fun. Whack! whack!  Now, what to do with the rest of the jar of tahini?!  (Quick google, and these catch my eye: cookies, salmon, lamb, peanut hummus!)

This paprika smells wonderful and I am looking for excuses to cook more with it:

Nigella chicken shawarma

There’s lots of ingredients for the marinade but nothing is actually difficult. I left the coriander out because I don’t like it (tastes soapy to me) and so don’t have any.

Nigella chicken shawarma

Overnight in fridge

Nigella chicken shawarma

Hot oven for 30 minutes, then serve on a bed of lettuce and drizzle over the oily juices.  Unless you are, as Nigella says, for some inexplicable reason, anti-oily-juices.

Nigella chicken shawarma

Serve with salad and a pomegranate/yoghurt/tahini dip.

Nigella chicken shawarma

 

 

Ringers’ dinner II

Last weekend I threw the house open to the lovely people in my tower for our now annual Christmas social. We initially decided we ought to have a Christmas social but that everyone’s diary in December is too hectic, so we have ours in February instead.

I like cooking for people and having people in my house but I actually don’t do it very often, so it’s nice to have an excuse.

Ringers' supper 2018

(Laid the table before counting properly AGAIN! and had to put an extra place setting in at the last minute.)

I thought that the menu had not evolved much from last year, but looking back it seems I did simplify quite a bit.  I did the mulled apple juice again and offered some of the crab apple vodka to those who were both not driving and suitably aged.

Ringers' supper 2018

It’s been cold this year, so I didn’t want to do cold starters and desserts again, and so went for a slightly ambitious three cooked courses.  Crudités were still the main feature of the starter, then I was initially thinking fondue… but it would be hard to put the pot where everyone could reach it, so went for two separate baked camemberts so that each half of the table could reach. I was planning for 8 but one of us was ill on the night and we were 7 instead.  Two vegetarians amongst our numbers and I was conscious that anything properly called camembert is by AOC definition not vegetarian, so there was some hummus available instead.

The mains as last year were baked potatoes with beans, cheese (veggie cheddar), sausages and Quorn sausages and homemade coleslaw.

I actually took hardly any photos this year, but I did take quite a lot of the dessert. I was making Simon Hopkinson’s sticky toffee pudding – I blogged about it before in 2013 and the recipe is still on the BBC, and it’s still decadent and delicious. The basic recipe says serves 4, and the only way that is true is if you don’t eat anything else for an entire weekend.  I still doubled it and cooked it in a disposable foil roasting tin for a dessert that fed 7 people on the night, did doggy bags to take for absent partners, fed my neighbours who liked the photo on Facebook, and did me and T the following day.  I still have spare ingredients and I’m making it again today for half term pudding club tomorrow 🙂

In its doubled up form you end up needing to buy over a litre of cream!

Ringers' supper 2018

The basic date sponge cooked the night before.

Ringers' supper 2018

With the first sticky toffee sauce poured over the top then put back under the grill.

Ringers' supper 2018

Loads of leftovers!

I also made fudge – this Nigella recipe ish. There weren’t shelled pistachios available when I went shopping and I didn’t fancy shelling 150 grams myself, so I just used chopped hazelnuts. And glacé cherries, because why not?  And then, having made fudge, and having been given two boxes of After Eights… I forgot to bring either of them out with the tea and coffee! So there were loads leftover which made nice end of term gifts at school for colleagues instead as well as satisfying my own chocolate craving whenever I walk past the fridge.

Ringers' supper 2018

 

 

A very Jamie dinner party

I really enjoyed Jamie Oliver’s recent series of five ingredient, easy to cook food. I’ve made loads of the things from the show, but some of the recipes called for larger quantities and feeding a crowd – so I decided to invite some friends around just so I could cook the food and try to get them to drink some of the weirder things from the liquor shelf that have been hanging around for a while.

No starter for once, just nibbles and some of the last of the basil wine, which for all its worrying in the fermentation stage has actually ended up delicious.

The main was slow cooked lamb – almost a tagine, with its ras-el-hanout and preserved lemons and an unorthodox and worrying way of cooking chick peas which seemed to work out OK.

You do wonder, with the limiting yourself to 5 ingredients, if it would have been a little better with 6 or maybe 7?  Cooking lamb without garlic?  In the final dish, the flavour of the ras-el-hanout and preserved lemons don’t come through particularly well. I wonder if this would work in the slow cooker?  The recipe calls for a 2kg lamb shoulder for 8 servings – I was feeding four, and Sainsburys only had a joint slightly over 1kg and it just about went far enough. I didn’t reduce the other ingredients at all, so have ended up with massively more lamby chickpeas than anyone can use!

Final lamb with fattened chickpeas

I wasn’t sure if the one-pot would enough to feed us all by itself, so made a side of small hasselback potatoes. I’m glad I did as they were delicious, and a good avenue for garlic and salt.

Main in serving plates - lamb, hasselback potatoes, chickpeas and tomatoes

The dessert was frozen banoffee cheesecake, moderated from the original. I used half the ingredients and made it in a 1L  / 1lb loaf tin. There was enough leftover mix to make a few ramekins as well so those can stay in the freezer till an appropriate time.  The idea of piling the chopped chocolate on the top is brilliant – it looks pretty rough and ready straight out of the freezer and slightly clumsy greaseproof lining left it misshapen as the grease creases ate into the sides. But the extremely simple garnish, a work of 90 seconds, made it look awesome and it got a nice ooh! as I brought it to the table.

Frozen banoffee cheesecake

I do like to try and do some chocolatey things – nibbles for the digestif as well as the aperitif – so I had made white chocolate salami and homemade after eight mints.  Both straight forward to make, but slightly trickier to slice!

White chocolate salami and home made after eights

In all one of the least stressy dinner parties I’ve ever done. The dessert and chocs were finished two days ahead in just over an hour; the main went on seven hours before the start time and essentially looked after itself, as well as making the house smell awesome after the first few hours. Some very enjoyable cooking and company.

More photos on flickr here.

Banana loaf recipe – with pictures

The way I make my banana loaf has evolved a little since I first wrote about it, so I thought I would update my recipe. With pictures!

Banana cake steps

I don’t have scales at the moment, so everything is judged by eye. Break two eggs into the big blender cup.

Banana cake steps

Add roughly the same volume of vegetable oil

Banana cake steps

And roughly the same volume of sugar. I’m using dark brown sugar because it makes the resulting taste caramelly and toffeeey and delicious.

Banana cake steps

Add two bananas and a heaped teaspoon of ground mixed spice. You can also add any other fruit and veg you want at this point. I’ve put a carrot in this time – topped and tailed, cut into smaller pieces, but no need to peel. I often put an apple in too.

You can make other sorts of cake with the same base – I’ve made a pear and chocolate cake this way – add a heaped tablespoon of cocoa instead of the spice. You can also add cocoa nibs and desiccated coconut at the later stage.

I am usually doing this to use up extremely ripe bananas that have gone past how I like to eat them as fruit, but today I bought extra bananas specially.

Banana cake steps

Blitz

Banana cake steps

Pour into a bowl and add a few handfuls of the sorts of things you like to find in a fruitcake. I’ve used raisins and glacé cherries today. I usually add chopped walnuts but I’ve run out. I’d always prefer sultanas to raisins but they aren’t always available.

Banana cake steps

Add enough self raising flour on top to completely cover the mix and stir in with a wooden spoon. You’re aiming for dropping consistency, if you know what that means.

Banana cake steps

Banana cake steps

Pour into a lined 2lb loaf tin. Loaf tin liners used to come from Lakeland, but now they are showing up in larger supermarkets too. If you don’t think you’re going to make 40 cakes any time soon, you can also just line it the old fashioned way with plain parchment paper.

Bake in a 170 deg fan oven for around an hour.

Check after 45 minutes to see if it is burning. Stick a knife in it to see if the inside is cooked. If the knife comes out clean, it is cooked. If cake batter sticks to the knife, it is still raw inside.  If the cake looks finished on top, or is starting to catch or burn, cover the cake with tin foil so that the top doesn’t brown further, but so that the inside can catch up.

If you have go out at this point, it can sometimes work to turn the oven off now and let the rest cook in the residual heat.

If not, check the cake again every 10-15 minutes by repeating the knife test.

Banana cake steps

This is an extremely forgiving recipe. You can even make it without the eggs if you want to try for vegan – I tried a dollop of golden syrup instead that time, and it was ok…

Cirque de Navacelles – strange coincidence

Last night I opened a bottle of wine for dinner.

Cirque de Navacelles bottle

I like a nice bottle, who doesn’t, but I don’t actually put a lot of time or effort into choosing what I drink. I send £15 a month on payday to Virgin Wine Bank, they top it up with interest and two or three times a year I have enough to pay for a crate of bottles. I drink them as I feel like it or use them as last minute hostess gifts. I try to get a huge 16 bottle box, which is always delivered by a tiny woman who can heft it to my doorstep far more easily than I can move it around the house. I can be sure that each of the bottles that arrives will be interesting and delicious, but it’s fairly random what turns up.

(If you want a referral to Virgin Wine drop me a line as there’s a friend-get-friend scheme.)

Last night’s bottle had a really irritating typographic design, with all of those letters jumbled up, unclear where the words begin and end, so I insta’d a pic and left it there. There was a bonus opportunity to make a weak, limp, rude bilingual pun, because if you work really hard you can see cir que  as cire queue which are the French words for wax and dick, although of course for it to make sense as a French phrase it would have to be a queue de cire.

A helpful friend who presumably wasn’t up to her eyes in an oven full of classic British Saturday night fare  (we had baked potatoes, Lincolnshire sausages, corn on the cob, carrots and a gravy made with fried onions, mushrooms and a spoon of caramelised red onions from a jar, which barely left any room for an oaty walnutty crumble filled with jumbo apples from the kind neighbours) deduced the phrase in full and posted a link to Cirque de Navacelles which jogged a memory.

I’ve actually been there!

I have also wondered over the years, reviewing the pictures of the awesome six-week round France trip I did after working on the successful campaign to re-elect Paul Holmes in 2005, if I was ever going to work out again where that strange, heart-shaped hollow was.  Somewhere in the south of France, somewhere on my journey from campsites near Canne and Perpignon, I followed a brown sign to something interesting to tourists and found myself overlooking a giant hole in the ground which I photographed and then got back in my car. Places to go, tents to erect, dinner to cook before dark.

Now I know!

Cirque de Navacelles

12 years later and it’s about time for another holiday of a lifetime.

Afternoon tea

Getting the tea set out is something that’s on the list of things I should do more often, so I invited my lovely friends to come over for the bank holiday weekend.

Normal people in this sitch would take photos of the people, I think, but I took photos of the food.

We ate:

Salads you can make with the grating disk in the food processor

  • carottes râpées (I grate carrots, mix with something crunchy, pine nuts or pumpkin seeds, sultanas, and then make a dressing out of the juice of half a lemon, olive oil and seasoning)
  • coleslaw (quarter of a cabbage, a carrot and an apple grated, with mayo from a jar, and a spoonful of wholegrain mustard)

Sandwiches

Two loaves from Aldi with a variety of fillings. 3 rounds of sandwiches quartered to make 12 sarnies for 8 guests. V non-u, but I left the crusts on!

  • caramelised onion hummus and grated carrot (reserved some carrot from the salad above) (whole pot of hummus)
  • egg mayonnaise and chives  (5 hardboiled eggs) (I feared these would be unpopular but they went just fine.  Bought a pot of chives and will plant into garden to see if they live!)
  • goat’s cheese and onion jam  (the caramelised red onion jam is one of those jars at the back of the cupboard that was probably left there by ex as I have no recollection of it and it is ahem approaching its sell by, but these sarnies were delicious, and will definitely make again and/or put in packed lunches.  Leave the cheese out for an hour before attempting to spread and I also loosened it a little by beating the cheese with a couple of spoons of mayo)

Cakes

So my aim is something showstoppery for the cake stand, and a variety of nice things for the two tiered plates.  Completely lacking in the time and inspiration for a show stopper (OMG did you even see bake off this week!?) I threw together another of my regular blender cakes and set it atop the cake stand. Oh well.

A few days before I had seen (and eaten!) some beautiful coconut macaroons, topped with cherries with even, chocolate decorations drizzled across – I thought those would be lovely to make and would look great topping a tier, so asked for the recipe and did my best from the resulting photo.  Only… I don’t have a mixer, or working scales at the moment… So I forked out 20 quid in Aldi for something that’s a bit like a mixer  (aargh, it says don’t put in dishwasher!!) to breach the gap and estimated the quantities by googling cup equivalents for the sugar and estimating from the packages – eg 200 grams of desecrated coconut is half the bag…

I think I didn’t beat the eggs enough. I’ve never really got along with meringues, and will have to practise a lot more to see if it’s possible to make in my new mixer or whether it’s just me… But instead of lovely pillowy domes, I got flat discs.

Afternoon tea(chers)

In the end, I decided to drizzle the chocolate on anyway and brazen it out. As it was, they were delicious.

Afternoon tea(chers)

I also wanted to make Portuguese custard tarts, having just returned from (Portuguese) Madeira where they were everywhere!

I went with this Not Quite Nigella recipe to start with except when reading it through I realised half the instructions were just “make custard” and that’s something I’ve been practising a lot lately as a way of using up egg gluts. The instruction for rolling the pastry seemed properly weird, and I was worried

Both the macaroons and the custard tarts were made the night before – and that ended up with the tarts being slightly too soft by the time they were served. Some of them poked out of their cases a bit much, but lots of them looked good and tasted good too.

Afternoon tea(chers)

Afternoon tea(chers)

I got some lovely gifts from my gracious guests – two fab boxes of chocs which did not last long, and two separate people turned up with sunflowers, which I turned into a huge bouquet which looks absolutely super! Both guests were concerned about showing up at a man’s house with flowers. People rarely bring me flowers, but I love it and was delighted to receive them. They’d both separately thought that sunflowers were sufficiently manly to hand them over.

Afternoon tea(chers)

Here are a couple of other posts about times I’ve used the tea set – as a farewell party for councillors and last year with a vegan twist.

And here’s more photos on flickr.