Sunday, 27 March 2011


I have a tendency towards a competitive nature. This is why I am no longer allowed to tempt N to play two-player games on our games console, and indeed why he gave up any attempt to play football games on it with me. I have this ridiculous inability to pass the ball to anyone else, it just feels, wrong.

I bring this up because this week we had a bake sale at work in aid of the Japan Red Cross, and I was desperately hoping that my contribution might take a starring role . Then I learned that Ottolenghi was contributing! At first I was in awe, then I realised that my humble offerings would have to take a back seat. I thought I would be gutted at this, but actually I realised that sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and accept defeat to the better opponent!

Well played Mr Ottolenghi, well played:
Then again, my own didn't look that bad, and it was very pleasing to be served alongside one of my heroes, probably for the only time in my life.

But the main reason I was completely chuffed and bowled over this weekend, was because not only did Ottolenghi's cakes sell out, but so did mine, and so did all the rest of the beautiful contributions, and as a result a whole load of money was raised, which, after all, is exactly what we all hoped for. Thank you to any and everyone who not only bought or baked cakes, but has been doing everything they can for Japan. Every little helps.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Meet Stan the Second...

This is Stan II. The first Stan had an unfortunate accident. He went mouldy and I threw him out in disgust, before reading all the helpful websites that say that actually he could have been saved. Oops!
But it's alright, because Stan II is alive and well and lives in the fridge. He's my sourdough starter.
I've been wanting to dabble in making my own sourdough for about six years. Every since I worked for a bakery on Borough Market and smelt the sourdough baking and enjoyed it almost everyday. I LOVE sourdough. For all my love of baked goods, I do love truly savoury, and often slightly sour foods. I adore lemon juice on just about everything, happily munch on grapefruits with no sugar, much to N's horror, and the slight tang that sits subtly below the other flavours in sourdough is something I could rhapsodise about all day.

A few years ago my parents kindly brought me a book whilst on holiday in Alaska, all about sourdough. It even included a little sachet of dried starter to get me going. I was too scared to try it for fear of failure. I kept looking at it, and other bread books I had, and continually put it off, citing "not enough time" to maintain the starter, or "it's too cold" or in fact mostly "but what if it doesn't work, or dies?"

Then for Christmas N bought me the River Cottage Bread Book, and I decided I could put it off no longer. The new house has marked the beginning of many new adventures, why not add sourdough to it?

So I did! It turns out that with a little persistence, and a lot of reading up and bowing to other people's experience, plus a tiny dash of trusting your instincts, and you can have beautiful sourdough. No, really...look!
I can't tell you how proud I was when I pulled this loaf from the oven. It had taken bloody ages (if you're following the River Cottage recipe you prove the bread for four hour-long sessions, before a final two-three hour rise!), but is definitely worth it.

And, it being me, I couldn't help but immediately start experimenting. Last weekend we had this for breakfast:
A sourdough fruit loaf! I can't wait to get going on experiments with sourdough hot cross buns!

I can't really offer a sourdough recipe here, as I'm basically following word for word what the books says...but I'm hoping to have the fruit bread and hot cross bun recipes ready in a little while, in both sourdough and dried yeast versions. (This is all assuming I continue to keep Stan II alive of course!)

Right now I'm off to drink some coffee and revel in the first day of spring and the glorious sunshine that is streaming through the open - yes, actually open to let air through - windows, before heading into the garden to plant some onions. I hope you're all having great weekends too.

Friday, 18 March 2011

I give good pie.

According to our calendar spring doesn't officially begin until Sunday. And it seems that the weather is in complete agreement. Yesterday I walked up the hill to work shrouded in cold fog. I was not amused. There was only one response. Pie.
Take roasted mixed vegetables, coat in a slightly cheesy white sauce, encase in shortcrust pastry and bake for 20 minutes. Enjoy with a cold ginger beer and realise that having a final spell of cold weather isn't all bad.*

*but if you're listening Joe, I'm done with the bad weather now, please to have some spring?

Friday, 11 March 2011

Pour, wait, flip, wait, fill, nom...

Pancake, with a hint of vanilla, filled with freshly made spiced apple butter. Now...maybe I do need to give up something for lent *looks longingly at jeans that don't fit ...*

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Flippin' 'eck!

So today's post really ought to be about pancakes, given that it's Shrove Tuesday, and I will indeed be flippin' some cakes in a pan later this evening. However, I've spend most of today in the kitchen doing other exciting things, and would rather share those with you right now.
Let's talk honey. It's a super food. It's a natural anesthetic, and used to be placed directly on wounds. It also comes from bees. How amazing that a tiny little furry buzzing things can produce something as wonderously sticky as honey! It comes in all sorts of varieties, not only due to area, but often due to the specific plant the little bees were feeding on. And it's absolutely delicious. At least I think so. I love it on yoghurt, porridge, in a mug with hot water and lemon, and especially in a tasty spicy cake.

I know it's nearing spring, and the spices should be taking a back door to lighter flavours, but oddly I often feel at this time of year that they need one more outing, or two, or three, before heading back into the cupboard until autumn. That's not to say I won't be dipping into them over summer, just a lot less than those chilly autumnal days, when all you can think of is warm apples and cinnamon.
This cake is wholesome and heady with spices and honey. It is definitely and afternoon pick-me-up, and as with many things laced with that golden elixir (like baklava for example) a little goes a long way. It's super moist in the middle (I was convinced mine was undercooked, but it tastes perfect) and a tiny slice with a cup of tea around four o'clock is exactly what a girl (or guy) needs to re-motivate themselves for another repeat of test knitting!
One last thing before I go...what will you be spreading on your pancakes tonight? Are you a sugar and lemon purist, or will it be all out with the maple syrups and chocolate sauces? We've got some homemade chili chocolate spread to try out, plus some roasted rhubarb! Much as I'm usually all about the lemon and sugar we're shakin' it up this year!

Spiced Honey Cake - serves 10-12 as you only need small slices

300g soft unsalted butter
250g golden caster sugar
150g wholemeal flour
150g ground almonds
4 eggs
4 tbsp clear runny honey
4 tsp spices (use a mixture that suits you, I used one each of cinnamon, black pepper, mace and mixed spice)
2 tsp baking powder

Preheat the oven to 170C and line a 23cm springform tin, place this on a baking tray as some butter seeps during cooking.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs one at a time, adding a tablespoon of flour with each. Fold in the almonds, rest of the flour, spices and baking powder and mix gently until combined.

Put the batter in the pan and smooth the top. Place in the oven and bake for 45min, or until a skewer comes out clean (mine came out clean but could have stood another five minutes, it depends on how moist you want the centre, baring in mind it will get wetter when you add the honey).

Remove from the oven and drizzle over the honey. Leave to stand for 10 minutes then remove from the oven and serve still slightly warm with a cup of strong tea and a smug smile.

Monday, 7 March 2011

It's begun

Today I walked to work in a light frost, accompanied by beautiful sunshine. It really felt as if finally the long slog of winter is over, and spring has decided that it might be time to show it's face.

The bright beginning to the day lifted my spirits and got me thinking about the coming year and the new beginnings. More so than new year, spring feels like the truly new start for me, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.
This spring the newness is even stronger than usual as it is the first year tackling the new garden, and experiencing the seasons unfold both in (hopefully) the produce we bring from garden to table, but also in simpler things, like experiencing how the light changes in the house, which we have never seen in spring and summer. It's all very exciting.
Today the first baby steps for our new beginnings have been started. I potted a selection of things and placed them carefully on the kitchen windowsill in the hope of tempting them to begin growing. Oh and I've begun tackling the monster that is sourdough! I've always wanted to make it, and for the last couple of weeks I've been feeding and tending a pot of sourness as practice for feeding and tending my plants. On Thursday evening the first batch of bread came out of the oven. It wasn't quite as light and airy as I'd hoped (it's still not that warm in the house for proving and rising) but it tasted distinctly like sourdough! So this week I'm attempting a batch with malted flour. Fingers crossed please, and updates to follow.
In the meantime, I hope you've all enjoyed a splash of spring sunshine in your lives, and are looking forward to the new season...anyone growing things this year too?

p.s. spiced honey cake tomorrow...nom.