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IMG_9316Usually in the middle of May, shortly after the May tree flowers, the elder tree will start to appear with large heads of creamy white froth. A signal that summer is nearly here. This year the weather has been awful and the seasons a little muddled. The elderflowers have been late. I have had to take several extra walks to check on progress. Then over a few days of sunshine small white buds started to appear and not long afterwards froths of flowers could be seen.

Walk anywhere in the English countryside and it won’t be long before you walk past a tree full of the creamy frothy flower heads with the most heavenly fragrance. These flower heads can lend themselves to many recipes, dripped and fried as fritters, made into a cordial, mixed into cakes but the most luxurious thing has to be Elderflower Champagne. What ever is made with the flowers the house will be filled with a sweet summery scent.

As tempting as it is to strip the first tree of all its reachable flower heads it is better to take a few of the best heads and move onto another tree. This allows for berries to mature later in the year, not only for further recipes but also for the birds.

Elderflower champagne is easy to make and uses very few ingredients. The taste is floral but in a subtle way. Please do read the notes below the recipe, as they are quite important if you are thinking of making this. I don’t want to come across as off putting in making this but, I learned new respect for its powers, when my brother managed to blow the fridge door off many years ago! Luckily I wasn’t living with him so was unavailable for any clearing up duty but he wasn’t allowed to make any more.

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Elderflower Champagne

Makes 12 litres

40-45 Elderflower heads

5 Tablespoons cider vinegar

6 Unwaxed lemons

8 Pints boiling water

16 Pints cold water

1.5 kgs granulated sugar

6 x 2 litre plastic fizz bottles (cheap lemonade bottles are good)

A large bucket

Method

Pick the elderflowers when they are dry, preferably on a sunny afternoon when the dew has been dried off. Look for the newly opened flowers, not any that are brown or petal dropping.

Remove the stalks, any brown flowers and any small bugs. Set to one side.

Put boiled water in a bucket (a fermenting bucket is well worth the investment), add the sugar to this and stir until dissolved. Add the cold water, stir. Allow to cool to no hotter than blood temperature.

Whilst the water is cooling prepare the lemons. Remove the zest and extract the juice. The pith is unwanted as it can cause the elderflower to have a bitter taste.

When the water has cooled add the lemon juice, the lemon zest and the vinegar. Stir well. Add the elderflowers and stir gently making sure they are fully immersed in the liquid. Cover and leave for 5 days. If using a fermenting bucket, make sure the lid is not completely sealed down as you need to allow for any gases to escape. If no lid is available a tea towel or towel can be used.

After 5 days there should be some evidence of activity. This is in the form of bubbles and or foamy mould sitting on the top. Lack of either of these does not necessarily mean that no fermentation has taken place. To double-check this, I strain the liquid through a muslin cloth into 4 demijohns fitted with an air lock (just over half filling them to allow for any excess activity). After thirty minutes the air locks started to bubble indicating fermentation was under way.

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Allow to settle. Siphon the liquid into bottles leaving a generous gap at the top. Seal and leave to ferment further.

During this time the gas will build up in the bottles and this gas will occasionally need to be released to prevent excess pressure. The sugar is being used up in the fermentation process and so the champagne will decrease in sweetest and become drier but also more alcoholic. Please read further notes below.

The champagne should be ready to drink after about 7 days in the bottle. As time goes on the fermentation process continues until all the sugar gets used up and it becomes unpleasant and past its best. To slow the process down put the bottles somewhere dark and cool.

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The bottles are designed so that when too much pressure builds up the indentations at the bottom of the bottle will pop out and make the bottle tip over, this is the signal to release some of the pressure by opening the cap to allow some of the gas to escape.

NOTES

Picking

Elderflowers are best picked on a dry day, preferably a sunny afternoon. Do not pick from the side of a road because the passing cars will have affected the flowers. Also try not to pick any flowers at dog height!

Bottles

I have used plastic fizz bottles for one very good reason; they are manufactured to withstand high pressure. As the elderflower champagne ferments in the bottles there is a build up of gas. By squeezing the bottles the amount of gas can be judged easily.   At this stage excess gas can be released when needed by twisting the cap part way until a hiss is heard. Lastly if any of the above signs of pressure build up are missed the design of the bottom of the bottle will pop out making them topple over and warn you before they explode.

Glass bottles with swing lids are temptingly attractive but come with hidden dangers. There are several clips on Youtube of the force that these can explode from pressure. The aftermath of clearing up broken glass and sticky liquid is no fun. The other problem with the swing lid is that it doesn’t allow for easy opening and closing releasing excess pressure – its all or nothing rather than controlled.

Natural Yeast

The idea behind this recipe is to use natural yeast found on the elderflower heads. Natural yeast is unpredictable; sometimes there will be none present. It’s strength is also unpredictable. If fermentation does not occur naturally then a sachet of sparkling wine yeast can be added to get it started. To do this, mix the sachet with 100ml warm water to which 2 teaspoons of sugar have been added. When it becomes frothy add to the elderflower liquid.

Blackening

Some recipes call for you to add boiling water to the elderflowers. In my experience this always causes them to discolour and go black immediately – and this ruins the batch. I have found that the answer is firstly to allow the water to cool sufficiently and secondly to acidify the water (with the lemon juice and vinegar) before adding the elderflowers.

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This is what happens if you add boiling water to the elderflowers or elderflowers to boiling water.

Fermentation.

The process involved is a natural and ancient one. Yeast reacts with sugar to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide (and a small amount of sediment). The carbon dioxide gas is released to the air in the initial stages of fermentation. After the liquid has been bottled the fermentation process continues but this time the gas is trapped in the bottle. The gas exists partially dissolved in the liquid and partly in the space at the top of the bottle. On releasing the pressure the gas escapes from the liquid, which causes the bubble effect but can cause a volcanic reaction if too high a pressure is allowed to build up. The fermentation process will come to an end either when all the available sugar has been used up or if the alcohol level reaches higher than the yeast can tolerate (commercial yeasts are selected to withstand a higher alcohol limit).

Champagne

True Champagne comes only from the Champagne region of France. My elderflower “champagne” is not true Champagne (obviously) but is still great for a summer celebration!

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Rhubarb is such a versatile ingredient, it can be eaten as a sweet or with meat or fish. It has a tart acidic taste. Adding sugar changes its taste completely.

Growing up, I think ours was the only garden not to have rhubarb growing in it. Our elderly neighbour more than made up for it, giving up a good fifth of her garden to one huge rhubarb bed.

I can remember being invited round for supper one evening and there on the back of her cooker was a pan of simmering rhubarb pieces (I think from the colour they had been there a couple of days). I had never eaten rhubarb before so didn’t know what to expect. When they did eventually make it into my pudding bowl they had taken on a unappetising grey/green colour. The taste was like nothing I had ever eaten before, sharp with no texture; in fact they dissolved instantly in my mouth leaving an unpleasant after taste. My mind was made up I was steering clear of rhubarb. In future I avoided the stuff like the plague.

Not until I grew up and started to grow my own vegetables did I relax my hatred of the plant. Rhubarb was easy to grow and didn’t need any real expertise. It also doubled up as a good ground cover so stopped weeds growing. I let it flourish in my garden for several years without actually using it. To me, it just looked good.

When we moved house a neighbour offered me a small rhubarb crown, telling me it was from an old house that was being demolished and that it was a very special type of rhubarb. She said it was a pink champagne variety – I have looked this up and haven’t found it. I have since grown other champagne varieties but nothing compares to this mystery one. I planted it and forgot about it. Then the following year the most amazing deep scarlety pink stems started to shoot up. I was intrigued.

We cut a few stems and gently poached them. They cooked too quickly and fell apart, but the taste was a revelation. I tried again a second time, slowly bringing the water to the boil and then turning the heat off. I drained the rhubarb and with the small amount of remaining water added sugar and bought it back to the boil creating sweet syrup. The flavour and taste is delicate but distinctive. We now love rhubarb. In fact if we had to choose one plant only to grow in the kitchen garden it would be rhubarb.

Rhubarb cordial is a wonderful way to use up any excess stems. If you are careful you can keep it until the following year. The recipe below will make around 860-900ml. That is enough for one bottle, which I put away, and a small amount to drink now.

The cordial can be made with any variety of rhubarb but for the very best taste I would try to use the sweetest rhubarb you can. Champagne or Victoria are good ones, the pinker the stems the stronger the final colour.

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Rhubarb Cordial

Ingredients

1 kg of rhubarb

100g water

450g sugar.

Juice of half a lemon

A sterilised bottle with screw top or swing cap. (see below for sterilising method)

Method

Cut the rhubarb into small pieces.

Place in a pan with the water. Don’t worry that the water barely covers them.

Start with a low heat and slowly bring them up to the boil.

Place a lid on the pan and leave to gently simmer for 40 mins. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Strain the contents of the pan through a sieve lined with muslin, or a jelly bag. Leave overnight. If in a hurry, 5 hours should be enough. Do not squeeze the pulp as this will cloud the cordial.

Put the strained liquid into a clean pan and add the sugar. Again gently heat and stir until all the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat.

Allow to cool slightly before adding the lemon juice.

Pour into sterilised bottle/s.

I use a funnel to pour the cordial into the bottles lined with a layer of muslin just to remove any scum etc.

Label and store in a cool, dark dry place. It should keep for a year but once opened must be kept in the fridge.

If you don’t like the idea of keeping it in a bottle you can freeze it. Pouring it into an ice cube tray and then once frozen decanting into a sealed bag. This way you can just use what you want when you want.

To sterilise your bottle/s.

Wash in soapy water and use a bottlebrush to clean the inside. Rinse well and drain as much as the water as you can. Turn your oven to Gas mark 2/150F/300C and place the bottle/s inside. Laying them on their sides is fine. Leave for about 15 mins and remove. The bottle/s are now sterilised and ready for use.

N.B: There are countless recipes for rhubarb cordial. The sugar you add is up to you, but the amount I have used I feel is about right. I suggest you taste some of the cordial before bottling and if it is not sweet enough there is nothing to say that you cannot add another 100g or more, until it is right for you. If you do add more sugar remember to return it to the heat so that it is fully dissolved before bottling.

If you forget to watch the cordial after adding the sugar and it starts to boil don’t worry this will make a slightly thicker liquid or a very thin jam (which is lovely as a sauce over ice cream).

 

 

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Just as lamb on the spit is a symbol of the Greek Easter Sunday so Laganes is a symbol of the start of the Greek Orthodox 40 days of Lent.

Lent for the Greek Orthodox is 40 days of no meat, fish with backbones or dairy. Some will even forgo olive oil and maybe replace it with vegetable oil. I consider this a step too far for me. I am happy to give meat up but diary and olive oil I find tough.

The first day is known as Clean Monday – Kathari Deftera. So big is this day in the Greek calendar that it is deemed a Bank Holiday. Most families take the opportunity to go out on picnics and fly kites. It also seen as the beginning of spring. As with most celebrations a lot of the work falls to the person in charge of the kitchen, as part of Clean Monday is also the day the family kitchen is cleaned to an inch of its life. With everything being taken out of cupboards and washed.

Laganes is eaten nearly in every Greek house today. It is an unleavened bread which has had a vital ingredient added, Yeast, thus no longer making it unleavened. Previously it was made without yeast but now yeast is added. The bread itself is flat looking, with a heavy sprinkling of sesame seeds, which sits on a slightly crusty top. Inside the bread is soft and springy and perfect when sliced into thin fingers. These fingers can then be used to scoop up various dips or eaten with olives. My preference is to use them to mop up any juices from my meal. Today we will be eating Briam and I can’t think of a better mopper upper than Laganes.

This bread is not complicated to make. I prefer to use fresh yeast – it could be just personal choice but I believe it gives the bread a slightly better flavour.

If you want to use dry yeast just use 15g and follow the instructions on the packet. This is sticky dough. I use my Kenwood mixer to start things off and then once the dough has form into one I turn it out onto a floured board and finish kneading it myself.

It may be only eaten once a year in Greece but it tastes so good it’s a crime!

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Laganes /Λαγάνες

Makes 2 loaves

Ingredients

30g fresh yeast
300ml lukewarm water
1 ½ tablespoons honey
500g strong flour
7g salt
10 ml olive oil

Sesame seeds to decorate (If you can get hold of black sesame seeds and mix the two, it will add to the flavour).

A little olive oil to grease baking sheet

Gas 6/400F/200C

Method

In a large mixing bowl place the flour and salt. Mix the salt well into the flour. If salt comes in direct contact with the yeast it can kill it off.

Put the fresh yeast in a bowl and add the honey. Stir to combine the yeast. Add the lukewarm water and the olive oil.

Add the fresh yeast and other ingredients to the flour.

Knead for about 10 minutes. This job is much easier if using a dough hook and mixer. The dough should be tacky but not sticky. In other words it should not stick to your hand.

Place in a clean bowl, cover and leave to rise.

Once doubled in size, remove. Knock back by kneading the dough a couple of times and then split the dough into two balls.

Generously grease a non stick-baking tray and place one of the balls on it. Flatten and spread the ball out with your hands. Repeat with the other ball. Leave both to rise – they will not rise greatly just about double their height if that. This should take about 40 mins.

When risen, brush the tops with water and then using two fingers push into the dough but avoid breaking through the bottom. The idea is to create dimples. Sprinkle the entire top liberally with sesame seeds and place in the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes. The bread is done when it has taken on a golden brown colour.

Remove and transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly.

Serve warm.

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It’s been too long since my last post but, I have not stopped cooking.  Life has enveloped me tightly and carried me in a huge wave out to sea.  I am not in calmer waters and have the time to settle back into my previous life.  Well, for the moment.
After so long I would have never have guessed the recipe that would bring me back to writing would be a recipe based on a simple Madeira cake.
I know I am not alone when I tell you I have shelves full of cookery books. Mine have been collected over the decades. A bookcase was built for me that stretches across the entire wall in the sitting room and in return I promised that I would only keep books that fitted on the shelves, with the rule that if a new book came into the house then one had to go. The one in one out rule hasn’t worked, but what has appeared is little mountains of books directly in front of the bookcase.
I am not completely selfish; I do feel pangs of guilt when I add another book to the mountain. My antidote to this guilt has been to take a book each week and use a recipe. This way I felt I was demonstrating how useful all these books could be! I have been experimenting, eating new things, and trying different flavours.
I decided to try a baking book (I am naming no names here) in which the photographs were beautiful, the cakes look delicious, and they tempted me in. I wanted to try the recipes. Note the ‘s’ on recipes. I decided on a hat-trick of baked wonderfulness. All three cakes were very similar, in that they were loaf cakes. I started to make a shopping list of ingredients. That was when the first doubt crept into my head. Did I really need all these different ingredients? I brushed the doubt aside.
As I started to weigh out the ingredients for the first cake it dawned on me that a quarter of the ingredients were unnecessary as the quantities were so small. I ploughed on, making sure I followed the recipe to a tee. When the time was up in the oven and I went to check the cake, I didn’t need to use a skewer to see it was not cooked. Was it me? I went online and did some research – I was not alone with my cake results.
I am disappointed in the recipes and in the book. I feel a little duped. All too often I see recipes that have a fancy name when in fact they are another traditional recipe but instead of actually improving the technique or adding something that would change the recipe for the good, a whole long list of meaningless ingredients have been added just so the writer can claim it as theirs.
My disappointment wasn’t all negative I did take from the cake is that I liked the orange zest flavour and, that the ground almonds gave it a heavier more moist texture. It also made me think about how I could improve it and pushed me to research and create my own recipe, which I wouldn’t have done had it been a good cake. My new recipe is based on a Madeira cake. The orange zest can easily be swapped for lemon zest if you wanted.

N.B:  When making cakes soften butter makes all the difference.

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Orange and Almond Loaf Cake

Ingredients

160g self raising flour

70g ground almonds

pinch of salt

zest from 1 orange

140g butter (soften)

140g caster sugar

3 large eggs

25g milk

15g flaked almonds for decoration

Method

Turn oven on to Gas mark 4/ 350F/180C
Grease and line with baking paper a 3 ½ inch x 7 inch loaf tin.
In a bowl beat with an electric mixer the butter, orange zest and caster sugar.
Beat in each egg separately until well combined.
Add the ground almonds, self raising flour and salt. Using a large spoon fold the dry ingredients in until combined.
Add the milk and mix until combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared tin. Sprinkle the top with the flaked almonds.
Place in the middle of the oven and bake for about 1 ¼ hours. The cake is baked when a skewer inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean. If it doesn’t, just give it another five minutes and check again.
Allow to cool on a wire rack in the tin. When cold enough to handle, turn the cake out onto the rack and leave to cool completely.
This cake is best eaten on the day, but will keep for up to 3 days in an airtight container.

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Half way down our long garden is a greenhouse and to the right a fig tree and beyond that lies our kitchen garden.  It’s a very simple set up of two large beds enclosed with a low box hedge and a wide grass path up the centre. Directly behind the greenhouse is a gravel area where herb-filled pots sit, out of reach from pets.  With each year that passes we learn something new.  We learn what doesn’t grow and what does, but the garden never lets us get complacent. Just as we become confident in a crop it will play up and not produce anything.  This year our courgettes were a triumph.  At times it was hard to keep up with production but courgette fritters are a wonderful way of using up any overload or any courgettes lurking in the back of the fridge.

As soon as the seeds are sown I find myself trotting down the garden looking for the first signs of life.  Courgettes grow quickly and as the first leaves unfold and stretch out I increase my visits down there.  It’s not long before their bright trumpet shaped flowers dotted amongst their large leaves appear, filling me with expectation.  The visits become more frequent and I more impatient for my first courgette of the season.  It doesn’t matter how many times I have grown and harvested courgettes I cannot help but get excited at the thought of a baby courgette. As the season progresses the leaves of the courgettes start to spread and grow larger, shielding their offspring.  At this point I have to bend and gently part the leafs without snapping off a stem to look for the little green courgettes. This is when I discover the courgettes past their prime, the ones that I have missed.  These might not be good enough for an omelette but they are just perfect for courgette fritters!

No courgette has grown in vain in my garden!  After a quick wash to rid them of any soil, they are grated, salted and left to release their water.  The older and larger the courgette the more water it will hold.  After an hour I squeeze the living daylights out of them, adding bread crumbs, crumbled feta, eggs, flour, chopped dill and seasoning.  Depending on what I have in the fridge denotes the actual quantities – if the mixture is too loose I might add some more flour or breadcrumbs, a little less if I only have one egg.  This is a recipe that over time can be altered and played with.  A lot of Greek recipes include grated onion.  I feel that the strong flavour of the onion is a bit of a bully and overpowers the courgette so I leave it out. Feta can be substituted with grated parmesan or percorino and the dill can be replaced with other herbs such as mint, fennel or parsley.  It all depends what you have and what flavours you like.  Finally the frying.  I prefer to use olive oil as it gives a nicer flavour but sunflower oil does produce a slightly crisper fritter.

A small note.  I have grated the courgette and left it covered in the fridge over night and it has been fine but even with a strong squeeze the courgette has more water to give so don’t make the full mixture up to use later as you will find it has become watery and won’t hold together so well.

Courgette Fritters/Κολοκυθοκεφτέδες

800g-1kg courgettes

2 eggs beaten

60g plain flour

60g bread crumbs

100g Feta crumbled

3 tbs fresh dill  (fennel, mint or parsley could also be used instead or as well)

Salt and pepper

Oil for frying (olive or sunflower).

Method

Wash courgettes, trim each end and grate with skin on into a large bowl.  Sprinkle with salt and cover.  Leave for about an hour to allow the courgettes to shed their water.

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Squeeze the grated courgette hard to release as much moisture as possible and place into a clean bowl.  Add the feta, eggs, flour, breadcrumbs, dill and seasoning. (Beware not to add too much salt as the Feta has a salty taste and the courgettes will retain some of the salt used earlier).  Mix thoroughly.

In a frying pan add a generous amount of oil.  Using two tablespoons make a rough ball of the courgette mixture, if it is too wet add a little more flour or breadcrumbs to dry it out a little. Drop the courgette balls into the hot oil and gently fry.  Allow to brown on one side before turning the fritter over  – this stops the chances of the fritter breaking. When both sides are golden brown transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper.

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These can be eaten hot or cold.  We eat them hot and any left over get put in the fridge for the following day.  We enjoy them with crab apple chilli jelly but they can also be eaten with tzatziki.

Cherry Clafoutis

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Cherry Clafoutis

It’s been a while since I posted and there has been a little guilt. Don’t worry I haven’t stopped eating I have just been very slow to write about it. I promise to do better.

I also have to confess to being given a little prod by EvieSaffronStrands who asked for my cherry clafoutis recipe.

August is one of the most productive months of the year for fruit and vegetables and one of the busiest in my kitchen. I try and preserve all I can for the coming winter months by turning whatever is in season into jams, jellies and chutneys.

The fruit grown in the garden is usually eaten before we have reached the kitchen door. So excited and amazed are we, that anything so wonderful could be grown just a few feet away. I also secretly think that it is just too good to be used for preserving and best eaten and enjoyed straight away.

There are a few farms that I buy from direct. Each farm is favoured for a particular fruit or vegetable. One on my list is a farm that supplies the most wonderful cherries and plums. This year their cherries have been delicious and we have arrived home with an empty basket because we couldn’t resist eating them en route.

On the last two visits I have been spoilt for choice on the cherry variety front. This time the cherry season was coming to a close for this particular farm and Valentine cherries were the last to be had. Not only the last variety but the last bag. It didn’t take a moment to decide that I would make one last clafoutis before the season ended. To make sure they actually got home without being tampered with they went straight into the boot, out of reach.

Many clafoutis recipes call for the stones to be left in, suggesting that it gives the cherries a more almond flavour. I feel that any benefit that this may give (and I don’t think it does) is far outweighed by the chance of a broken tooth. I don’t have a cherry stoner so use a small sharp knife to slit each cherry, giving me enough room to prise the stone out, thus keeping the cherries nearly whole.

Just in case I have robbed the dish of an almond presence, I soak them for a couple of hours in Amaretto, which is a rich nutty almond flavoured Italian wine. It adds flavour to the cherries without overpowering them – but you can certainly taste it.

The texture of the batter is very much like that for bread and butter pudding.

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Clafoutis

Ingredients

500 gms fresh cherries or enough cherries to fill your tin in one layer
3 eggs
210 ml full fat milk
60 ml double cream
50 gms plain flour
75 gms caster sugar
20 gms melted butter (cooled)
pinch of salt.

3 tablespoons of Amaretto (optional)

Butter to grease the tin and a couple of teaspoons of caster sugar to coat the tin.

Method

Wash the cherries and remove the stones, place in a bowl. Add 3 tablespoons of Amaretto. Leave to soak for 2 hours.

Turn on oven to 350F/180C/Gas mark 4.

Grease a 9 inch/23cm pie tin with butter and sprinkle with caster sugar.

In a bowl add the 3 eggs, flour, sugar, salt and melted butter along with the milk and cream.  Beat well or use a blender until a smooth batter is achieved. Cover and leave to stand for at least 30 minutes to rest.

Drain the cherries and place in the pie tin to create a single layer.

Give the egg batter a stir and then strain through a sieve onto the cherries.

Place in the upper middle of the oven. Check after 35 minutes – the clafoutis is cooked when the batter has risen up and turned a deep golden brown. I have found in my gas oven the clafoutis takes 45 minutes maybe a little more maybe a little less. After 35 minutes the batter should have set which allows me to turn the clafoutis around so as to create an even browning.

Remove from the oven slightly cool and serve.

Dust with icing sugar for more eye appeal and eat on its own or with double cream.

Revani

Easter for me is the true beginning of Spring.  Like our winter clothes, the foods in the kitchen start to change. The heavier dishes of casseroles, soups and steamed puddings begin to be replaced with a wider range of seasonal vegetables, salads and fruits. What better recipe to show this than Ravani – the lightest of sponge cake, laced with a light sweet syrup with a hint of lemon.  The coconut works so well with this recipe as it adds a wonderful texture to the sponge and goes beautifully with the lightly flavoured citrus syrup.

Every home in Greece must have it’s own recipe. I couldn’t guess how many variations there are of this recipe.  Ravani is a typical Greek traditional semolina cake that is baked for festive occasions.  No doubt with the Greek Orthodox Easter celebrations coming up this weekend there will be an array of Ravani cakes being made.

I can remember Panayota, my aunt’s cook, making this.  No doubt a recipe handed down to my aunt from her mother (my great grandmother) and then perfected to my aunt’s taste over the years.  She was a very exacting lady and would hover over poor Panayota making sure no mistakes were made.  I can remember sitting in her beautiful light and airy Salonee on a large sofa that was, like every piece of furniture in the room, covered in its custom made fitted linen cover.  I had to fight the strong urge of jumping up and lifting up these covers to discover what lay underneath. My aunt is no longer with us and I never ever found out what those covers hid. It will remain one of those mysteries.

I was always very respectful and would sit politely until a small plate would be presented to me. On it would sit a piece of their ravani cake and a linen serviette, just in case.  My aunt would sit across from me with Panayota proudly standing behind her, waiting for my reaction.  Hollywood has never called, but at least my aunt was convinced that I loved it.  Trouble was, I was never too keen on their version!  It was heavier and sweeter than this recipe and it definitely didn’t contain coconut, to which I am rather partial.

I think I can now say that I have found my own version of the recipe which I hope will continue down the family line.  I know I won’t be getting any commanding performances, as my family are quite happy to tell me if they don’t like it.  The sun may be a little shy this weekend in London but the Ravani will certainly be shining out over our Easter celebrations.

Ravani/Ραβανί

Ingredients

6 eggs separated (large)

140g caster sugar

50g desiccated coconut

70g plain flour

140g fine semolina

For the syrup

300g caster sugar

300 g water

1 unwaxed lemon cut in half.

Decoration

1 tbs desiccated coconut

Method

Turn the oven to 170C/325F/Gas Mark 3

Grease and flour a 22 cm cake tin.

Beat the egg yolks with 100gms (not all) of the caster sugar until thick, creamy and very pale.  In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites with the remaining 40g of caster sugar until stiff.

In a bowl mix together the flour, semolina and desiccated coconut.

Add one third of the egg whites to the egg yolks and fold in gently.  Sprinkle the dry ingredients over the egg mixture and combine.  Fold in the rest of the egg whites.

Turn mixture into a 22cm cake tin.

Place in the oven and leave for 20-25 minutes.  Test with a knife after 20 minutes to see if it is cooked (knife will come out clean if cooked).  If not, leave for a further 5 mins and test again.

When cooked remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin.

To make the syrup.

Add to a saucepan 300ml water and 300g caster sugar. Add the whole lemon, cut in two.  Bring to a boil.  The syrup should then be allowed to boil for exactly 3 minutes.  Remove from the heat.

The cake should be cool when the hot syrup is added.  Pour over the cake which is still in its tin.  Cover with cling film well, and turn the tin upside allowing the syrup to distribute.  After a few minutes flip the tin over – this helps to stop the syrup from collecting at the sides and bottom of the tin.  This can be repeated a couple of times until the syrup has cooled.  Unwrap and sprinkle a tablespoon of desiccated coconut over the top.  Serve.

N.B  The ravani in the picture was baked in a 8″ cake tin as I couldn’t find my original 22 cm cake (now found in another cupboard).  The ravani took longer to cook around 35 mins and proved difficult when pouring the syrup.

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