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Archive for May, 2013

cak

It wasn’t until Kathleen left a comment on one of my previous posts asking for the recipe of the fairy cakes I had mentioned, did I, after a lifetime, realise that what I have always referred to as fairy cakes are in fact butterfly cakes.  Looking at them I can’t believe I ever thought they could be called anything else.  The cake tops are sliced off and cut in half to resemble the wings.

These little cakes are so easy to make and have a smaller margin for failure than a full size, Victoria sponge.   Even though they are made with the same recipe and formula.  Add to this that the vanilla frosting does not have to be piped as in cupcakes,  just applied neatly with a knife, make these perfect for baking with children.  Even if the wings are not precise or the frosting uneven a sprinkling of icing sugar forgives all.  I limited the decoration to a small piece of cherry but there is no end to what you could sprinkle and decorate them with;  chocolate buttons, hundred and thousands or even left plain.

When I made this batch I thought I would tart them up and pipe the frosting.  While I rummaged in my baking drawer to look for the icing nozzles I gave it some thought.   That wasn’t how they used to be made.  They were always slightly rustic with no two being the same, which is what gives them their charm.  As the saying goes ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fit it’ so I have not meddled and made them as I have always known them.  Perhaps, with the only difference being that I have finally got their name right.

I have given a generous recipe for the vanilla frosting.  I either use all of it on the 12 cakes or I am less generous and split it over two batches.  The frosting will keep in the fridge for a day or two if covered tightly with cling film but will harden so needs to be left out while the cakes are cooking to soften up.

There are two problems with these.  Firstly,  just one is never enough and secondly how to hide the pile of empty paper cases sitting in front of you.

Butterfly Cakes

makes 12

Ingredients

4 oz/110g butter softened

4 oz/110g caster sugar

2 eggs

4 oz/110g self raising flour

3/4 glace cherries for decoration cut into quarters

12 Paper cases

Turn oven to 190C/350F/Gas 4

In a bowl beat softened butter and caster sugar until pale.  Add one egg and beat.  If the mixture begins to curdle add a tablespoon from the measured self raising flour and beat until smooth.  Add second egg and mix well.  Fold in flour.  Divide up equally into the 12 paper cases.

For extra support I place my paper cases in a bun tin.

Place in the oven for 20/25 minutes.

They are cooked when a skewer is inserted in the center comes out clean.  They should be a light golden colour.

Leave to cool on a wire rack.

When cool, cut out a disk from each cake with a knife.  This is then cut in half to create the wings.  Place a small amount of vanilla frosting to cover the hole and then gently push the two halves into the icing.  Finish with a small piece of cherry.

Sprinkle with icing sugar.

Keep in an airtight container.

Vanilla frosting

Ingredients

4 oz/110g butter softened

8 oz/225g icing sugar

3 tbs milk

1/2 to 1 tsp vanilla extract

In a bowl mix together the butter and icing sugar until smooth and well combined.  Add the milk and vanilla extract and mix well.

Apply to cakes.

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and how the simplest of recipes can go wrong.

Asparagus season is upon us.  The weather is glorious, blue skies, sun and a slight wind.  Just as I like it.   So today is the day for the pilgrimage to Brantham in Suffolk for asparagus.  We had discovered this little shed by accident after our usual habit of trying to find a short cut.  An unexpected rustic sign for fresh asparagus and a dirt track beckoned to us.  We felt brave and turned in.   I have ventured down many little tracks in the hope that I would find an array of wonderful produce only to be disappointed with a mediocre selection of tired and passed-it specimens, followed by the sinking guilty feeling that to be able to get back in and drive away I am going to have to buy something with the guarantee that I never have to return.

Well, this rustic sign did lead us to a wonderful treasure of not only asparagus but rhubarb and eggs to name but a few.  This rustic sign is firmly on the list to visit annually.   A pilgrimage would sound as if it were a one off –  but we will be going often until the asparagus season is over.

Lunch was now sorted – fresh asparagus and hollandaise sauce – life couldn’t be better.  Except that by the time I got home via a couple of nurseries time had marched by and I was now having to rush.  As I started to get things out to prepare the asparagus I happened on a brainwave of microwaving the hollandaise.  What a short cut, what a triumph it will be.  Disaster is what it was!

I shall say that the moment I put the butter in the microwave to melt did my problems begin.  I was too busy fussing over the gentle cooking of the asparagus to remember the butter until the sound of a minor explosion from the microwave started the unraveling of my calm.  I decided to ignore the issue of the butter coated microwave and  continued to pour the remainder of the hot butter onto the eggs and vinegar giving it a quick beat and then without a glance shuffling it back into the microwave for a few short blasts, it wasn’t until a couple of blasts that I noticed the sauce begin to split and curdle. With each blast the splitting and curdling got worse.   The asparagus by now was at its perfect cooked state.  So in a fit of panic I decided to resuscitate  the sauce by blitzing it with the Bamix – the stuff went everywhere – hot curdled butter can travel and not in a good way.

Abandonment was the only option.  The asparagus that I served for lunch with melted seasoned butter was very nice.

After lunch I convinced myself dramatically that my relationship with hollandaise was over and I would never  make it again.

By early evening I was over it – I love hollandaise too much to turn my back on it.  Made by the Marco Pierre White’s method works for me.

as MD - Copy

Asparagus

Wash and trim the bottoms of the asparagus.  If I have bought them straight from the farm I just want to get them cooked and on the plate as quickly as possible.  So I either steam them or if I haven’t got my asparagus pan to hand I use a frying pan, that way I can leave the tips outside the water and at the last minute push them in.  I find this a quick method but one that needs constant watching as the asparagus only take a few minutes to cook.  To judge when they are done push the point of a sharp knife into the flesh.

Hollandaise Sauce

Ingredients

25ml vinegar/lemon juice (either or both)

2 large egg yolks

200ml melted butter

Salt and pepper

Method

Place the egg yolks in a bowl that will fit over a saucepan, you don’t want the bottom of the bowl touching the water.

Add the vinegar and beat.

Add the melted butter and beat.

Now place the bowl over the saucepan and keep lightly beating.   After a few minutes the sauce will begin to thicken.

Serve.

Hollandaise needs to be eaten and not stored.

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madel SL-1

When I was a child it seemed that every mother was baking for all she was worth, turning out all sorts of fancies and iced novelties.  A lot of them are just distant memories now, but I can remember my mother getting very frustrated  in the kitchen when she couldn’t find a recipe she had been given for some fancy cake or other.  Always asking me if I had seen it?  As if!  My interests were limited to what Cindy was wearing, not worrying where my mother kept her recipe collection.  My involvement was in the finished product not how it got there.

Now I am all grown up, I too get frustrated in trying to recreate those same recipes, either by trial and error or by asking around.  Someone usually has a recipe handed down or can still remember how their mother made them. The same can be said for my Great Aunt Beatie’s recipe for clotted cream.  I wish now that I had taken notes.

It was in a telephone conversation recently that we discussed how fantastic everything was when we were children, days of ever lasting sunshine and school holidays that stretched on for ever, that the memory of Madeleines came up.  I don’t think I have seen them around for many decades so perhaps they are ready for a comeback!   The English Madeleines are very different to the French ones which are baked in shallow shell shaped moulds.  These are baked in dariole moulds covered in jam and then rolled in coconut.  The only major tip I would pass on, if you decide to make these, is to make sure you grease, grease again with butter and then flour the moulds, because the sponge has a tendency to stick.

Madeleines

Ingredients

100g/ 4 oz butter

100g/ 4 oz caster sugar

2 eggs (beaten)

100g/ 4 oz self raising flour

60 ml (4tbs) strawberry jam (or any red jam that is mainly jelly not whole fruits)

75g/ 3 oz desiccated coconut

glace cherries halved to decorate and a few mint leaves.

8 Dariole moulds

Method

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

Grease and flour 8 dariole moulds – this is one of the most vital parts of the recipe, if the moulds are not greased enough the cakes will not come out in one.  Put these onto a baking tray.

Beat together the butter and sugar until the mixture is pale and fluffy.  Add the eggs a little at a time.  Then using a metal spoon gently fold in the flour.

Fill each of the dariole moulds 2/3 full with the butter mixture.

Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes (depending on your cooker) the cakes should be risen and when gently touched should spring back.

Cool slightly in their moulds.  You want them to have cooled enough to handle. If you remove them from the moulds straight from the oven they will break.

To turn these out I run a knife around the edge to loosen them and then gentle shake – they should come out in one.  Leave them to cool on a wire rack.

When the cakes are cool slice any excess from the bottom so that they can stand flat – I put mine back into the moulds and used the bottom edge as a guide.

Melt the jam in a pan and pour onto a plate.  On another plate spread the coconut out.  Either brush the cakes with the jam or roll the cakes gently in it, be generous making sure that the surface is covered otherwise the coconut won’t stick.  Then roll in the coconut.  The idea is to cover the tops and sides leaving the base clean.

Top with the glace cherry and serve.  To store keep in an airtight container.

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Tsoureki is a Greek bread traditionally baked at Easter.  It has a smilar texture to brioche but not as buttery.  It is either braided as a loaf or braided in a wreath.  Both are brushed with egg wash and decorated with sesame seeds or flaked almonds and studded with red dyed eggs.

I have to date no family recipe to share as my mother never made Tsoureki.  We always had a Tsoureki sent over from Greece for Easter.  Having a dislike of the red eggs I would always steer clear of it.  As with everything, my tastes have changed.  Once a year I like to bake my own Tsoureki (without the red eggs embedded) and it has become a bit of a pilgrimage for me in finding the perfect Tsoureki recipe.  Each year I try a new recipe.  This year I have used the recipe from Stellios Parliaros a very well known Greek patissier.

The recipe comes close to what I am looking for but it didn’t quite have the sweetness.  Also I felt that instead of the single Tsoureki I would probably make two instead as it was rather on the large size.

A word of advise on the mastic.  When grinding it has a tendency to melt and cling and is quite difficult to get off.  Hence I am guessing why the recipe says not to allow the mastic with milk to get too hot.

Both the mahlepi and mastic were hard to find but they give the unique taste to the tsoureki and should not be left out.  They also give an aroma which immediately transports me back to Greece. These two spices really are for me what makes a Tsoureki Greek.

Mahlepi is an aromatic spice which comes from the kernel of seeds of the wild cherry.  The smell is unusual and has a sour note.  The Mastic  is the sap from the Lentisk tree which grows on the island of Chios.  It becomes brittle by the heat of the sun.  Mastic was apparently the original chewing gum hence its ability to stick to my pestle.  Both spices are used in middle eastern and Mediterranean cooking.

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Tsoureki

Ingredients

70g Butter

100ml milk

160g caster sugar

3 eggs

5g ground mahlepi

5g ground mastic

100ml lukewarm water

40g fresh yeast

650g strong flour

1 egg for brushing

Flaked almonds or sesame seeds to decorate

Method

In a saucepan gently heat the milk, butter, sugar mahlepi and mastic making sure the temperature does not rise above 50C

Remove from heat once all the ingredients have melted.  Strain the liquid through a sieve to remove any pieces of mahlepi or mastic set aside.

Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water and add to the butter, milk, sugar, mahlepi and mastic mixture.

Add the eggs and mix well.

Put the flour into a large bowl and make a well, add the liquid ingredients and knead.

Ideally use a mixer with a dough hook.  The dough is very sticky at first and the secret here is not to add more flour but to continue to knead.  The more you knead the less sticky the dough becomes.   The dough is ready when it stops sticking to your hands.  I also found when handling the dough it helped to flour my hands.

Remove the dough and form it into a ball and place in a clean bowl with some flour sprinkled on the bottom.  Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise.  It will take about 3 hours to triple in size.

When risen, remove the dough and knead again for a few minutes on a lightly floured board.

Divide into three equal balls.  Roll the balls into three long strands of equal length.

Line the long strands in front of you and pinch them tightly together at one end.  Plait the strands and then finish off pinching them firmly off,  tucking the ends under themselves for neatness.

At this point if red eggs are to be placed in the bread this is the time to do it.  If you attempt to do this after the second rising you will lose the air in the dough.

Place on a baking sheet and leave to rise about one hour until double in size.

Brush with egg very gently avoiding getting any egg wash into the creases.  Sprinkle with flaked almonds/sesame seeds and bake for about 45 minutes to an hour 180C/Gas 4

The Tsoureki is ready when it is golden brown.  I also like to insert a skewer into the middle to check that it comes out clean.

It will keep well for a week in an airtight container.  After a couple of days I tend to slice mine and toast it.

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IMG_3557

Today is Holy Thursday in the Greek Orthodox Church and it is traditional to make red eggs along with tsoureki:  a sweet brioche type plaited bread which is commonly decorated with red eggs.

The red colour is to symbolise life and the blood of Christ.  The red is achieved by either boiling the eggs with white onion skins or buying a dye kit which is applied to the eggs after they are boiled.  The eggs are then polished with a little bit of olive oil on a cloth or with shellac supplied with the dye kit.  I favour the dye kit method for colouring the eggs as then I don’t have the problem of using up fifteen large onions, but skip the shellac process preferring the more natural olive oil method to give a sheen to the eggs.  A very small dab of olive oil on a piece of kitchen paper goes a long way.

I love the tradition of the red eggs and enjoy making them each year but  I don’t eat them and have never encouraged the family to do so either.  I am sure the red dye is not good for you hence the reason why I never put red eggs in my tsoureki.  I know my thinking is not always popular!

Once the eggs have been dyed they are placed before the Icon until Easter Sunday when the eggs are passed around and the aged old game of tsougrisma/τσούγκρισμα is played.  The idea being that each person takes a red egg and gently taps someone else’s egg.   The aim being to crack their opponent’s egg.   Usually just before the tapping the words Christos Anesti (Christ is risen) with the reply Alithos Anesti (truly he is risen) are exchanged.  The last egg to remain in tact is the winner with its owner having good luck for the year.

When we were not in Athens for Easter we would go to Saint Sophia’s in Moscow Road, London.  Usually for both Good Friday and then on the Saturday for the midnight service.  The Saturday service is very moving and the church is usually packed with little room to move let alone hold a candle.  Everyone is waiting for the Resurrection and just before midnight the church is plunged into darkness and silence.  At exactly midnight the priest will light his candle announcing ‘Christos Anesti’.  From his candle the flame is passed around the church, and the choir starts to sing and the Easter celebrations begin.  Before leaving the church which was always a mad panic we would collect our red eggs and holy bread offered on trays and baskets around the church.  The bread was then promptly wrapped up by my mother and put into her handbag never to be seen again.

The first year I joined my mother in observing Lent I didn’t quite realise how hard it would be and how hungry I would become.  All I could think of on the Saturday midnight service was what I would eat when I got home.  I think that the mad dash afterwards might have meant that others had the same idea.  When I was given my red egg and holy bread  I made sure to hang onto them myself and not pass them to my mother to look after.  I had been told to wait until I got home before I ate anything.  As my mother was busy waving to everyone and shouting greetings to all,  I slipped into the back seat of the car.   I quickly started to peel my egg,  eating it whilst taking nibbles from the holy bread stored in my coat pocket before my mother could turn round and stop me.    The taste was not that good but it was well received by my stomach.

Red Eggs

Using a red dye kit

Boil as many eggs as required for eight minutes.

Cool

Mix the dye powder with cold water and dip the eggs in.  The instructions say 3 minutes ONLY but I dipped mine in a second time to achieve a slightly darker colour.

To make the shape of the Cross I cut out the shapes from white address labels and struck them on, after dipping the eggs in the dye and waiting for them to dry I peeled off the label.  I did find that a good rub removed any stubborn traces of glue.

Then with a piece of kitchen paper and a tiny bit of olive oil I polished all the eggs.

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