I’ve really enjoyed the ‘summer spice’ recipe inspiration arriving in my inbox during July in response to last month’s Spice Trail challenge. So much so, I’ve decided to extend the theme into August.
We’ve been back from France for a week now but to be honest, although my body may be home I think I might have left my brain back in the Dordogne somewhere. It’s taking me a little while to get back into the swing and routine of normal life. Which I guess is the sign of a good holiday.
We ate well in France and so I have returned home both round and brown. You can’t really spend time in France and not take advantage of the good food now, can you? We ate out quite a lot and when we cooked for ourselves we generally kept things pretty simple with gorgeous barbecues and delicious salads. When you’re on holiday, you don’t want to spend all your time over a hot stove – far better to be sat by the pool with a cold beer and a good book. But I can’t go a whole fortnight without wanting to play around in the kitchen. One of our first meals was the fabulous Elizabeth David classic, poulet a l’estragon, and another dish I simply had to try my hand at was the French upside-down favourite, tarte tatin.
I’ve wanted to make tarte tatin for a long time but somehow have never quite got around to it. And as our house was surrounded by apple trees absolutely heaving with fruit, it seemed the obvious thing to make. The only slight problem was that our kitchen wasn’t the best equipped; only after buying all the ingredients did I discover there weren’t any weighing scales or a rolling pin. So I had to improvise with an empty wine bottle and by googling conversions for grammes to tablespoons. But I got there in the end.
When my daughters came in from the pool to see what I was up to, I was clearly having so much fun baking they just had to join in. They created their own little delicacies from the leftover pastry and apple pieces, which they left out that night to feed the fairies.
I used Nigella Lawson’s tarte tatin recipe from How to be a Domestic Goddess. It’s not a particularly authentic recipe as it uses Danish pastry, which you’ll need to make up the day before, but I think it worked really well and it got a big thumbs up from the rest of the family, and if you’ve got the right equipment it’s not all that difficult either.
Serves 6 to 8
For the Danish pastry
60ml warm water
125ml milk, at room temperature
350g white bread flour
7g sachet of easy-blend yeast
1 tsp salt
25g caster sugar
250g butter, cold, cut into tiny pieces
For the filling
150g caster sugar
1kg eating apples, peeled, cored and quartered
A 22cm tarte tatin dish or similar-shaped ovenproof frying pan
Start by making the Danish pastry. Nigella makes hers in a food processor but as I didn’t have one available, I made mine by hand. Pour the water and milk into a jug and add the egg and beat together with a fork.
In a large bowl, place the flour, yeast, salt and mix together. Add the pieces of butter, mix again and then add the contents of the jug. Use your hands to combine everything, until you have a gooey, lumpy mess. Don’t worry – it’s supposed to look like this. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave in the fridge overnight.
When you’re ready to make the pastry, remove the goo from the fridge and let it come to room temperature before rolling it out to a square 50cm by 50cm. At this stage I discovered my mixture was still incredibly wet and so I had to add quite a bit more flour before I could handle it. I assume this problem was down to my lack of weighing scales.
Fold the dough square into thirds, like (as Nigella puts it) a business letter. Turn it so that the closed fold is on the left. Roll it out again to a 50cm square, and then repeat this three more times. Cut the pastry in half and wrap in clingfilm, and leave in the fridge for half an hour before using. The tarte tatin only uses one half of the pastry, so use the other half for something else. I used mine for plum Danish pastries – I’ll post the recipe for this soon.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6. Pop in a baking sheet to warm up.
Put the butter in a tarte tatin dish or a heavy ovenproof frying pan on the hob and melt the butter. Add the sugar. When it starts to foam add the apple quarters and arrange them in a circular pattern, curved side down. Cook on a fairly high heat until the buttery juices turn a beautiful golden colour and the apple begins to soften. Remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool a little for 10 minutes.
Roll out the pastry into a thin circle slightly larger than the pan. Lay it on top of the apples and tuck the edges down the sides under the apples. Place the pan on the baking sheet in the oven and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and the caramel syrup is bubbling.
Place a large plate on top of the pan and with great care (and wearing oven gloves) turn the pan and plate upside down. Remove the pan to reveal your beautiful tart. OK, so probably a few pieces of apple will probably have stuck to the pan, but that’s not a problem – just pop them back into place. Slice and serve with a large dollop of creme fraiche.
And as tarte tatin is a classic French summer pud, I’m also entering it into the fabulous new Four Seasons Food challenge, hosted by Delicieux and Chez Foti, where the theme for August is Summer Puds.
Here’s my slightly seasonal take on the humble but very delicious bread and butter pudding. What could be a more festive combination than oranges and spices? The orange in this pud comes in the form of marmalade and zest, while the spices are ginger, cinnamon and mixed spice.
I wish I could share with you fond memories of eating this as a child but, to be honest, the first time I ate bread and butter pudding was only a few years ago when I tried Nigella Lawson’s ginger-jam version from her Nigella Bites cookery book. It was a pudding that never really appealed to me when I was younger. It sounds, well, a bit boring really. I mean, bread? In a pudding? And butter. Who’s going to get excited about that?
But oh! Now I’ve tried it, I can safely say it is delicious and now one of my favourites. Crunchy and slightly chewy on top, soft and gooey underneath. It might not have been one of my nursery food memories, but it will be one of my children’s. Plus it’s so simple to make and comes with its own ready-made custard. What’s not to like?
This recipe is loosely based on the one in Nigella Bites.
Spiced orange bread and butter pudding
3 tbsp apple juice
1 tsp ground ginger
10 slices thick white bread
half a jar of orange marmalade
4 egg yolks
5 tbsp demerara sugar
1 tsp mixed spice
500ml double cream
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp runny honey
Preheat the oven to 190°C/gas mark 5.
Grease a medium-sized pudding dish with some of the butter.
Put the sultanas in a small bowl and mix with the apple juice and ginger. Pop in the microwave and heat on medium power for a minute and then leave to stand. This is Nigella’s trick for plumping up the sultanas. She uses rum but I didn’t think the kids would be too keen on that.
Make up sandwiches with the white bread, spreading the butter and marmalade generously. Cut in quarters into triangles and then arrange in your dish, some pointing up and some pointing downwards. Sprinkle over the sultanas and pour over any remaining gingery apple juice.
Lightly whisk the egg yolks and egg in small bowl and mix in 3 tablespoons of the demerara sugar and mixed spice. Then add the cream and milk and combine. Pour over the marmalade sandwiches and leave for 10 minutes or so to give the custard a chance to soak into the bread.
Dot some butter onto the visible bread. Mix the ground cinnamon with 2 tablespoons of demerara sugar and sprinkle over the top. Finally drizzle the honey over the top too.
Place the dish on a baking tray and cook in the oven for around half an hour until the custard has set and the crusts poking out are browned and caramelised. Leave for 10 minutes before serving. It will be agony waiting that long as it smells so good!
I’m feeling strangely patriotic. I’m actually thinking of putting up some Union Jack bunting around the house. Now anyone who knows me will understand how out of character this would be. But I have to admit – I’m being swept along with this Jubilee fever. Or perhaps the sun this week has simply gone to my head?
Everywhere you go, the red, white and blue theme is all pervasive. Every shop window, every catalogue, every advertisement – it all makes you proud to be British, in a kind of embarrassed, rather British sort of way, when we’re not sure we should but we want to go along with it anyway.
I’m not sure how much my children understand what it’s all about. It’s something to do with the Queen. It’s not her birthday but it’s something similar. Whatever the reason, it’s a good excuse for a party and what kid is going to knock that?
Most food blogs I’ve visited recently are getting into the full Jubilee spirit, sharing amazing and clever culinary creations for impressing the neighbours at the street party. So I began to think maybe I should be doing something too. In fact, it’s been the last thing I’ve been thinking about as I drop off to sleep for the last few nights now.
As you know, I’m not a particularly talented baker, so I’ve come up with a easy party cake to suit my limited baking skills, which still delivers the ‘wow’ factor for a juvenile audience. It’s not sophisticated, it’s not refined. It’s quite simply a big, white cake with red and blue running right through it. And it’s sweet and gooey and moreish with a tonne of Smarties on the top.
My daughter Jessie walked into the kitchen just as I finished decorating it, and her reaction was “Wow!” which was exactly the response I was after. From a child anyway. My husband on the other hand was rather less complimentary about my efforts. But I hadn’t made it for him so I didn’t care. Much.
It’s three tiers of simple Victoria sponge (based on Nigella Lawson’s recipe), smothered in red, white and blue buttercream, and embossed with red and blue Smarties in a crude Union Jack design. Great for Jubilee parties, especially the kind involving lots of young children.
Queen’s Jubilee Party Cake
For the Victoria sponge
330g soft butter
330g caster sugar
juice of half a lemon
300g self-raising flour
40g corn flour
1½ tsp baking powder
6 tbsp milk
For the buttercream icing
280g soft butter
560g icing sugar
3-4 tbsp milk
red and blue food colouring
Lots of red and blue Smarties to decorate (I needed three ‘share’ bags to get enough reds and blues)
Preheat the oven to 180ºC/gas mark 4.
This couldn’t be easier. Put all the Victoria sponge ingredients except for the milk into a food processor and whiz until you have a smooth mixture. Then add the milk a spoonful at a time, whizzing to combine each time, until you have a good dropping consistency.
Grab your three 20cm sandwich tins. If they’re not non-stick, grease and line them, but if they are, job done. Pour in the cake batter across the three tins equally. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the cakes are golden and springy to the touch, and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Leave to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove the cakes from the tins and leave on the rack to cool completely.
To make the buttercream icing: beat the butter until soft in a large bowl. Add 70g of icing sugar and beat until smooth. Add another 70g and beat again. And again add the remaining 140g of icing sugar and beat well until smooth.
Finally add the milk and beat again to loosen the mixture. Put half the mixture into a separate bowl and set aside.
Split the remaining buttercream into two more bowls. Add red food colouring a few drops at a time to one lot until you get a colour you’re happy with the tone. Repeat with the other bowl with the blue food colouring.
If you’re cakes are well-risen and peaked, you’ll need to use a sharp knife to shave them a little until they’re nice and flat. Enjoy the sponge shavings as a chef’s perk, as Nigella would say.
Put your first cake layer on a large plate, and carefully smother with the red icing almost to the edge but not quite. Place the next sponge layer on top and repeat again with the blue icing. Then add the next layer of cake and smother with a generous topping of the plain coloured buttercream icing.
Decorate the top of your cake with your red and blue Smarties. I attempted a Union Jack style motif but go with whatever takes your fancy – concentric circles, spirals, stripes, random patterns – go crazy!
And just in case you’re reading this, a very happy Diamond Jubilee your majesty!
Talk about highs and lows this week – more like the sublime to the ridiculous!
I haven’t come down from the ceiling since Thursday when I discovered I am a finalist for a national blogging award. Don’t worry, I won’t go on about it again here. I’ve been doing enough of that already on this blog and on Twitter, so suffice to say I am really rather chuffed.
I’m not the only spod in the family though. Just a few days earlier my daughter Jessie received a Blue Peter badge for a poem she had sent in. She’s already working out how to achieve her next one. I was a huge Blue Peter fan when I was little, so as you can imagine I’m a very proud mum…
But back to the food. I’ll get the hideous low out of the way first.
We had good friends over to stay at the weekend, who have really encouraged me in my blogging antics. There was a lot of good humoured banter in the week running up to their visit about high expectations of the culinary delights in store.
So I thought I’d impress them with a retro feast of posh ham, eggs and chips. While the home-baked ham was very good, my homemade chips were an absolute disaster. They completely disintegrated on attempting to serve. Wrong kind of potato possibly, or was the oven too hot or too cool? Serves me right trying to make my own chips for the first time instead of doing what I usually do and cooking the shop-bought frozen variety. At the last minute I had to send the lads out to the local fish and chips shop in order to salvage the meal. Whoops.
Thankfully though the ham got a big thumbs up. I did Nigella Lawson’s ham in cola again – I last tried it at Christmas and absolutely fell in love with it. I know it sounds crazy but baking a ham in coca cola is fantastic and you end up with a beautifully moist, smokey, almost barbecue-flavoured piece of meat.
My next high point in the kitchen was a potato, cabbage and smoked bacon soup. I accept it doesn’t sound exactly like food porn but it was incredibly tasty and very satisfying.
Another highlight was my oregano and roast tomato pizza. I slow roast the tomatoes for about five hours in the bottom oven of the Aga, giving them an incredibly intense flavour and gorgeously sticky, slightly chewy texture. Simply sublime.
So now time for the detailed meal plans. Oh and if you do have any tips for homemade chips (in the oven rather than a deep fat fryer), I’m all ears!
Monday 30 April
Lunch: butternut squash soup
Dinner: pasta with wild garlic pesto
Tuesday 1 May
Lunch: cheese and chutney rolls
Dinner: sweet potatoes stuffed with cream cheese and spring onions
Wednesday 2 May
Lunch: pitta bread with hummus and salad
Dinner: fish pie
Thursday 3 May
Lunch: wraps with carrot, sultana and coriander salad
Dinner: potato, cabbage and smoked bacon soup
Friday 4 May
Lunch: Thai-style cauliflower soup (F)
Dinner: chilli con carne
Saturday 5 May
Lunch: bread and cheese
Dinner: cola ham, egg and chips followed by raspberry chocolate mousse
Sunday 6 May
Lunch: pub lunch
Dinner: bread and cheese
Monday 7 May
Lunch: pasta salad
Dinner: oregano and roast tomato pizza
Tuesday 8 May
Lunch: salad wraps
Dinner: wild garlic pesto and spaghetti
Wednesday 9 May
Lunch: pitta bread, hummus and salad
Dinner: cous cous, courgette and broad bean salad
Thursday 10 May
Lunch: ham and salad rolls
Dinner: bangers and mash bake (recipe to follow)
Friday 11 May
Lunch: grilled chicken and rice salad with artichoke hearts
Dinner: mushroom omelette
Saturday 12 May
Lunch: slow roast beef, roast potatoes and vegetables, followed by rhubarb crumble
Dinner: bread and cheese
Sunday 13 May
Lunch: warm bean and potato salad with leeks and smoked bacon
Dinner: bread and cheese
F = from freezer
As a 20-something career girl, I loved entertaining and experimenting with new dishes. But cakes and puddings were always the elements of a meal I would buy in ready-made.
With baking you had to be so precise and careful. So patient. So WI.
I liked cooking because you could throw in whatever ingredients you had to hand, try out new combinations, not worry too much about exact measurements. Jamie Oliver, as I’m sure you can tell, was a big influence.
But baking, well, that was different. It was more of an art to be mastered, a skill, an exact science. It was something you had to learn.
Like many women of my generation, my mother didn’t teach me how to cook, and certainly not how to bake. My only memory of cooking with mum as a child was being shown how to whisk up Angel’s Delight.
Working women, like my mum, didn’t spend a whole lot of time in the kitchen. And she certainly didn’t want to glamourise the kitchen to me in any way. Mum wanted her daughters to study hard and become successful doctors or lawyers. Showing her girls the basics in the kitchen was not high on her agenda.
So while I’ve always loved eating cakes and puddings, back then I had no interest in or desire to create them myself. That was for women of my grandmother’s generation.
Then Nigella sashayed onto the scene and baking was suddenly sexy and fun. Women wanting to spend time again in the kitchen somehow became legitamised. We could surround ourselves in pretty retro accessories and Cath Kidston cake stands. Baking was a way of showing our creativity to delight and impress friends and family. We were allowed to feel feminine, rather than subservient, in the kitchen.
Nigella’s appearance on my radar coincided with social, and probably hormonal, changes in my own life. It was when I was pregnant with our first daughter Jessie that I truly began to embrace and enjoy baking. Was Nigella aiding and abetting my biological need to nest build?
A real turning point in my attitude to baking was when I joined my local NCT group in Bristol and got to know other mums-to-be. Whenever we met up, both before and after our babies were born, we’d all contribute dishes of food, much of which would be baked confection. There was probably a competitive element to this; who could bake the best while coping with sleep deprivation and mastitis? But I didn’t care. It was a lovely distraction from the sometime mundanity of life with a newborn and something to look forward to each week.
I remember when the lovely Jenny appeared with a large plate of Nigella’s decadent chocolate-cherry cupcakes at one of our NCT sessions to celebrate my 30th birthday. No-one had ever baked especially for me before. I was so moved. It was then I realised then the power and the beauty of the homemade cake.
I’ve been hooked on baking ever since.
Now I’m not saying a master baker. Baking hasn’t come naturally to me. But practice makes perfect as they say and I’m having fun trying.
While I’m not restricted to Nigella’s recipes, I do find myself returning to her books again and again, in particular How to be a Domestic Goddess. I love her banana bread, brownies, madeira cake (or rather her mother-in-laws), rocky road and chocolate loaf cake. And of course those gorgeous chocolate-cherry cupcakes.
But probably the recipe I come back to most often is Nigella’s dolly mixture fairy cakes. She says that all children love them and never a truer word was said. Although I’d only agree with her on them being “curiously therapeutic to make” if the children aren’t actually around. I do enjoy baking with the kids. But when I make these little treats with them, they always demand to do the decorating and won’t let me get a look in!
These beautiful fairy cakes have become a staple ingredient of my girls’ birthday parties. A stack of little cakes looks magical on the birthday tea table. And so much easier to send home with the guests in their doggy bags.
So, in case you don’t happen have a copy of How to be a Domestic Goddess, here’s the recipe…
Nigella’s Dolly Mixture Fairy Cakes
125g softened butter
125g caster sugar
125 self-raising flour
½ tsp vanilla extract
2-3 tbsp milk
For the icing:
250g instant royal icing
Food colouring – the choice is yours
250g dolly mixtures (or really any little sweeties that take your fancy and look appealing)
Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.
Simply put all the ingredients, bar the milk, into a food processor and whizz until smooth. Then pulse while you add the milk a little at a time through the funnel, until you have a lovely dropping consistency.
Line a 12-bun muffin tin with 12 paper muffin cases and spoon in the mixture.
Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the cakes are golden on top. Leave to cool for a couple of minutes in the tin, then transfer to a wire rack.
Cut the peak off each cake to give it a flat top. Make up the icing according to the packet instructions and blend in your chosen colouring. Obviously divide the icing into more than one bowl if you are using more than one colour.
Ice each cake and use the back of a spoon to achieve a smooth finish. After a minute or two, once the icing has set slightly but is still tacky, decorate with the sweets. There, couldn’t be easier.
I am entering this recipe into the Forever Nigella Recipe Challenge over at Maison Cupcake. There have already been lots of great entries – you can see the others by clicking on the picture link below.