Sunday, 27 June 2010

A sigh of relief

Today brought many a sigh of relief. Firstly, it is the first Sunday in a long time that I have not been working, and so meant a full day of N's company. It was spent in a very typical manner, him being crafty at the table, me being crafty on the sofa, but even this silent time, spent in mutual contemplation of our tasks, and the cricket, made everything feel aligned again.

Speaking of cricket, a huge exhalation went up when the final ball was lofted over the outfield for four, and England won the series. It was touch and go at the end there, and two people and one cat held their breath as they prayed that it wouldn't be a truly dreadful day for English sport.

Because yes, unless you've managed to blissfully avoid World Cup mania, you're probably aware the England went out of the tournament today. I know it is controversial to admit, but I breathed a sigh of relief at this too. Frankly, now we can stop pretending to believe the hype that England are going to win (which they never were, let's face it), we can all sit down, relax, and enjoy the rest of the competition, whilst watching some teams who actually can play football.

Phew, mini-rant over. Sorry about that!

What I really wanted to tell you about was the sauce I made for our pancakes this morning. I didn't plan the pancakes, but the lack of bread and unwillingness to miss a single moment of any sport today meant that I needed to come up with a breakfast option fast. I used my go to recipe (which I've tweaked a bit over the last six months) and would have added blueberries to them, except I suddenly decided instead to whip up a sauce. I'm so glad I did! It would have produced a sigh of happiness, had it not been for us both stuffing stacks of pancakes and sauce in our mouths!

It's super simple, quick and uber tasty. It goes incredibly well with a subtly flavoured pancake, and a dollop of creme fraiche, so that the sauce is the star of the show. I'm sure it would be equally delicious on waffles, ice cream or French toast.

Blueboozy sauce - serves two for pancakes, liberally.

2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen.
1 large glug of creme de cassis, or for a non-alcoholic version, a dark berry (or elderflower) cordial
1 tbsp water
3-4 tsp cornflour

Place the blueberries in a small saucepan with the water. Begin to heat gently until they release their juice. Then add the cassis or cordial. Continue to cook gently until the blueberries are bursting and there is a large amount of liquid in the saucepan. Add the cornflour a teaspoon at a time, through a sieve (to avoid lumps forming) mixing as you add. Wait for the mixture to thicken slightly in the heat. You can continue to add cornflour until the sauce reaches your desired texture. I had mine fairly thick so that it sat well on pancakes, but if I was using in on ice cream I'd leave it much thinner.

Pour over hot pancakes, toast or waffles, or scoops of vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!

Monday, 21 June 2010


...It seems that maybe, just maybe, Britain might get some summer. For some reason it hasn't felt like there's been much summer here yet, despite the slightly depressing fact that it was apparently the solstice yesterday. Perhaps I missed it all being stuck in the office, whereas in previous years I have been blissfully at home and therefore able to appreciate each and every day when the sunshine peeks out and the temperature creeps above ten degrees Celsius.

I'm sure it was Molly who once mentioned that bloggers can have a habit of posting less during the warmer sunnier months. I think particularly for those of us who are less used to all this gorgeous weather, and who only get about three days of it a year (yes, I am indeed a jaded Brit), it is imperative to leave the computers behind and head out and frolic.

That's not quite what I've been doing. I would definitely be up for some frolicking in principle, however I have mostly spent the last week and a bit working. The shop I work in has been moving to a larger premises (hurrah!), but being a small business the shifting of boxes was done by us. There is part of me that relishes being back to physical work after months of being in a office. It reminds me of when I was working on the market and shifting palettes of bread every morning. It is a wonderfully satisfying way to spend a day.

But my muscles the following day were not amused, especially when I hauled them out of bed to do it all again!

However, despite the aches and pains and exhaustion that seem to be following me around, there is a huge plus to all this dashing around. You have full license to eat as much as you like! On the actual moving day, when myself and the lovely M shifted box after box and bag after bag from the van to the new shop, dodging pedestrians as we went, I probably ate my body weight in baked goods (and then we discovered the amazing local frozen yoghurt place! I LOVE our new location!), and that's not an insignificant amount. And yet, when I got home, I was still ravenous! Total result. I can once again bake my heart out and stuff my not-so delicate little face with cookies, cakes and tarts and totally justify it (did I mention that the new stock room is on the top floor...I've got a new love affair with all those stairs!)

With all this in mind I decided my co-workers and co-box-sifters might need a little sugar rush to keep the spirits lifted. On our first day open in the new shop I brought everyone cinnamon rolls, topped with my amazing new-found (Thanks Rosy!) cream cheese icing. The days before this, there was a endless supply of cookies.

Why? Because thanks to the advice of a certain young American, who knows her cookies, I was finally pointed in the direction of the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe. I shall forever be indebted to her, and her French source, for what will quite possibly now always be my go-to cookie recipe. It's crispy yet still chewy, better on the second day, and held up to some adapting. I made them last week, and we ate the remainder today (the recipe makes a LOT) and they were still good. In my eyes, that's the perfect cookie. They even stood up to what is my high water mark of cookies, the pecan and chocolate chip ones from Ottolenghi.

Go, bake and be sated...nom.

The almost-Nestle Tollhouse cookie - Makes enough to feed an army of movers.

2 1/4 cups strong white bread flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light muscovado sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups dark chocolate (I used 70%) chopped into chunks
1 cup chopped nuts (I'm a pecan gal myself, but walnuts, hazelnuts etc would work fine)

Preheat the oven to 190C and line all the baking trays you have in the house! No, seriously I used all four of mine a couple of times over as you only really want about six on each sheet in case of spreading. 

Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. In a mixer, or by hand beat together the butter, sugars and vanilla until light and fluffy. Then gradually beat in the eggs one at a time. Gradually add the flour mixture and combine. Then stir in the chocolate and nuts. 

Place rounded teaspoons of dough on the baking sheets a couple of inches apart. Bake for aprox. 8 - 9 minutes until they are just golden brown at the edges (this tip was thanks to M, who pointed out this would maintain a chewy centre. mmmm...)

They will keep for quite a while in a air tight box, but I would recommend them either just warm, or the next day with a nice cup of tea.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

I've served my time

I tried, I really tried, but 9-5 office work really isn't for me. At first I loved it. I was in and out of the office running training sessions, and meeting new people. But as the months went on, and the time in the office longer, it became clearer that this wasn't going to be something I could do long term. I loved the people in the office and have made some great new friends, but sitting down staring at a computer screen is downright depressing, and even a little soul-destroying for me.

Who knows, I might go back to it, but yesterday, after much deliberation and financial pondering and deep philosophical conversations with N, I bid farewell to my colleagues and gave it all up.

Eek! So I am taking almost a 50% pay cut and am swapping the office for a (gorgeous) shop job. It sounds strange, but it seems to be working for me at the moment. It's a incredibly creative environment, and I am surrounding by a wonderful group of crafty inspiring people. It also means that for the most part I have my four day weeks back, hurrah! So hopefully I will be here a little more often with all sorts of baking and crafty goodness.

Despite my desperate desire to get out of the office, I was a little sad to leave it behind, and it's very difficult to take such a massive risk. I will no longer be in an academic environment, and I certainly won't have much loose change kicking around. But I'm hoping it will be the start of a new chapter, and some exciting new ventures.

As a little thank you to all my amazing friends and colleagues in my office I baked them one last treat. Little chocolate fairy cakes topped with cream cheese icing and sprinkles. I called them chocolate cheesecake cakes, as that's exactly what they tasted like. Yum! We had a picnic at lunchtime and then wine at the end of the day. A lovely farewell.

The cakes went down a storm and were gobbled up in no time. I won't post the recipe, instead I shall direct you to it's source, as I can't take any credit the delicious cake was all thanks to my lovely friend Rosy. The only thing I can boast about is the decision to put the cream cheese icing on it. It wouldn't be my usual topping, but I couldn't resist and the result was delicious. Make them this weekend and treat yourself, but beware, you'll want to make British fairy cake size ones as they are incredibly rich!

Well, I am off to enjoy my day of freedom with some housework. I'm so rock and roll!

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

"We don't like cricket...oh no! We love it!"

Nothing quite epitomises summer for me than cricket. If you've hung around here, or indeed spent much time in my company, it probably hasn't escaped your attention that I am a massive cricket fan.

There's just something so gosh darn civilized about a gentlemanly game that takes places at an almost leisurely pace over an entire day and include a break at 3.40pm for afternoon tea. If you're familiar with other bastions of gentlemanly culture, cricket may well conjure up images of fluffy clouds in blue sky, teams all decked out in white, and spectators politely clapping at the end of each over between mouthfuls of strawberries and cream and swigs of Champers. All of which should be accompanied by the soothing tones of Test Match Special (minus Boycott of course, nothing soothing there!)

The reality of course looks rather more like this:

Five hours of drizzle, rain and inclement weather. If you go to the cricket in England (rather than sensible places like the West Indies, or Australia) chances are you should pack for the arctic. N laughed as he saw me stuffing a quilt, raincoat, hat and scarf into my bag on Saturday, but true to my expectations I spent five hours at Lord's huddled underneath the aforementioned bedding wishing I'd bought some gloves as well.

That's the reality of the British summer. And I embrace it. Partly because I have to, and partly because no matter what at 3.40pm there is a break and out comes the tea and cake. If I do nothing else in preparation for an afternoon of cricket it is to prepare a cake. I've talked about this before, and fruit cake is almost always what I make.

But sometimes I need a little sunshine, and so sometimes I make something a bit brighter in the hope of tempting out the rays and casting off the raincoat. If you need a little sunshine, especially after a damp bank holiday weekend, I suggest you dust off your mixing bowls, search out some good lemons and have a crack at this. It's a great cake for transporting because it is incredible dense and holds up well. I think I might add a strongly lemony buttercream next time. But then again I might not.

Lemon Vanilla Yoghurt cake - makes one 9x5 loaf. (Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

1 1/2 cups Plain Flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup vanilla yoghurt
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3 large eggs
Juice and zest of two unwaxed lemons
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 9x5 inch loaf pan.

Whisk together the cups flour, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, mix together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, lemon zest, and oil. Slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, but mix thoroughly.

Pour the batter into the  pan and bake for about an hour, or until a toothpick of skewer in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Meanwhile, cook the lemon juice and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set aside.

When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto a rack. Carefully place on a baking rack over a baking tray. While the cake is still warm, gently poke wholes all over it with a toothtpick and then brush the lemon syrup over it with a pastry brush until all the syrup is absorbed. Cool and then enjoy, preferably in front of the cricket.