This blog is, on the whole, about charting my successes (and occasional failure) in the world of baking. It’s quite straightforward really. However, the other day I began thinking about why I enjoy baking so much. If it were just about having something sweet to eat, surely I’d just pop to the local cafe or bakery as an easier means of getting my sweet fix!
The truth is the very act of baking is the part of the process that I find most enjoyable. I find it therapeutic and calming. Unlike life, you know that, for the most part, if you follow a set of instructions and processes you’ll get a known outcome. I miss that sort of certainty in the rest of my life at the moment – my PhD feels a bit like one large amorphous being without clear stages and, at times, with no end in sight. I’m not entirely sure where my life will head after I finish either. I know I’ll get married next year, but from then on it’s a bit of a mystery. That’s okay – at 30 I don’t need to chain myself to the spot just yet, but a bit of directionality is always comforting. Those afternoons when I can easily spend a few hours pottering around the kitchen, or just reading recipe books, planning when some new doughy delight will make its mark on my world, make that train of life slow down a bit and give me some real ‘me’ time just to think, enjoy life, and take in what’s around me.
This made me think a bit deeper (I know, dangerous territory) about how so many of life’s important moments are punctuated by memories of food. Now this may just be relevant to me, but I have a feeling there are other people out there who have memories made of taste and smell, as much as sight and sound. I hate to admit it, but my earliest memory is of being in some sort of fast food restaurant (might have started with Mc – you’d have to ask my mother). There were tables shaped like trains, and on that day I was more interested in driving the train than eating the food; a habit that didn’t last but I was only three.
Brought up in a traditional Jewish household, it’s unsurprising that food has plays such an important role in my life. The old saying that Jewish tradition is all about fasting and feasting is no joke, although I’ve never been one for the fasting. Seder nights are one of my favourite times of year. Yes I will always will the service forward at break-neck speed so that we can get to the eating part, but having that evening, when the whole family gets together and we share in the joy of stuffing ourselves silly over a long, drawn out night together can’t be beaten.
I remember my great-grandmother via the smells of roast dinners and the memory of salads with grapes in (terribly exotic when you’re five), my first proper holiday with Mr. Bandit included a beautiful night spent eating barbequed suckling pig and local red wine that our lovely landlady brought us – it literally tasted like holidays.
Food also plays a part in the bigger events life throws at us. When my grandfather passed away a few years ago the day of his funeral was spent mostly helping my mother butter what felt like a million bagels, and through providing all his loved ones with some culinary comfort, yet another person in my life became linked to foodie memories (although he was already famous for his refusal to eat anything that might have been remotely good for him. At 87 my mother way lying to him about what went into his dinner to get him to eat his greens).
This brings me to the food item most wholly associated with marking a life event – the wedding cake. Now a lot of people these days aren’t that bothered with a wedding cake. On the whole they are extortionate if you buy them from a bakery, and most sensible people don’t want to be making one in the days leading up to their wedding. But for me, this is one of the few wedding day traditions that I genuinely love. Cutting a cake, feeding each other’s souls both symbolically and physically and having something big enough that all your loved ones can join in that feast is a special and poignant moment. It’s not about how much icing, what tops the cake, how many tiers or what flavours – it’s about sharing a moment that engages all the senses.
So in a week that has brought life changing news to several of my nearest and dearest, news that will change lives for better and worse, I’ve thought a lot about how I remember the people and moments in my life. Some may read this and think I need to remove my head from my backside, others may identify, but I just wanted to put it out there, and share my thoughts on how something so simple as making a cake, baking a loaf or just sitting down to a meal with the people who mean most to you, can give you a moment to breathe, think and get a little perspective on what’s important.
Normal service will resume in the next post. For now, thanks for listening.
Recipe adapted from the BBC Good Food Magazine.
I discovered this weekend that when it comes to baking, no doesn’t always mean no (although at 2am when I’m trying to sleep and Mr. Bandit comes in reeking of booze and kebabs it certainly does). Having told me not to bake anything for a while because he was enjoying the cake a bit too much, this weekend, in his hour of cakey need, I was told that just because he said don’t make anything doesn’t mean I should have listened. So I sent him off to the shops and moments later was busily making chocolate and raspberry brownies.
I love soft fruits and at this time of year and generally find brownies a bit cloying so a hit of lovely tangy fruit was just what the doctor ordered. Mr. Bandit likes white chocolate with raspberries so I adapted the recipe a bit for him.
Now I was debating whether or not to blog about these brownies, because, frankly, things didn’t go to plan. But baking doesn’t always go to plan and even when things aren’t quite right, they are often salvageable. That’s what happened with these, so here’s what happened….
- For the brownies you need 200g dark chocolate, 100g milk or white chocolate, 250g butter, 350g soft light brown sugar, 4 large eggs, 140g plain flour, 50g cocoa powder, 200g raspberries.
- Heat the oven to 180 degrees and line a tin about 20 by 30 cm with baking paper. Or, for ease, use two smaller tins.
- Put the sugar, dark chocolate, half the white chocolate and butter in a pan and heat gently until the sugar has disolved and everything else melted.
- Remove the pan from the heat and when its cooled a little, add each of the eggs one by one and whisk them into the mixture. Don’t do this when the mixture is too hot or you’ll get scrambled eggs.
- Sift in the flour and cocoa and stir with vigour!
- Stir in half the raspberries and then pour the mix into the tin/s. Scatter the rest of the raspberries over the top and do the same with the remaining white chocolate (but chop it into chunks first!).
- Pop in the oven for 40 minutes and then check. There should be a spring in the brownies, you don’t want them too cakey, but they shouldn’t be runny either. If they’re still too runny, put them in for another 10-15 minutes but keep an eye on them.
So here’s what happened to mine. The original recipe said to cook for 30 mins. This was WAY too short a cooking time for the size of the tin. So the middle was still totally raw. However, I wasn’t paying attention, took them out the oven and left to cool, assuming they’d harden as they cooled. It was not to be – when I cut into it an hour later it was still totally runny in the middle. 😦
So, back into the oven it went, and 15 minutes later – because I’d let it cool in between – it still wasn’t completely cooked. However, by this point we’d been smelling the amazing chocolatey goodness for too long and we were too impatient. So out it came and we decided to dig into the hot, squidgy sort of finished brownies for a dessert.
So, although this didn’t quite work initially as brownies, they made the most amazing dessert. The image doesn’t quite show but the middle of the piece is still a wee bit too gooey. However, the eggs are cooked so its totally ok to eat. This was like a giant chocolate fondant and would make an amazing pud with some ice cream or creme fraiche.
I then put the rest of the brownie tin back into the (now switched off) oven for 20 minutes and then they were cooked perfectly.
So, these brownies didn’t quite work initially, but I’m pretty sure that 40 minutes in the oven followed by a check and then possibly another 10-15 minutes would work perfectly, or just 40 minutes if you fancy them as a dessert. Remember that even when cooked, they don’t properly harden until cool. I will have another go at these in the future and will update this post on cooking times once I’m 100% sure what works best. If you placed the mix in two smaller tins, 30-40 mins would be fine. These will keep in the fridge for a few days.
And the most important thing? It worked in the end and I discovered a very nice dessert in the process! And I also learned that in baking, no doesn’t always mean no. Having said that, Mr. Bandit is off to France next weekend, so I might have a weekend off baking then.
I hope everyone had a lovely weekend.
Bake well my friends
Today I am trying to embrace our great British weather and I’m already on my second set of clothes for the day, having taken the dog out in torrential rain earlier! July? Summer?! I laugh in the face of summer…. To combat that feeling, here’s a little injection of summer in cake form.
Yesterday I had the delight of attending a lovely little celebration for two very special ladies. Donna and Kaz were celebrating 10 years of making beautiful jewellery at their Edinburgh studios and what celebration, I ask you, is complete without a cake?!!? Oh, and maybe some wine…. but they had that bit covered.
So I took a little time out on Friday afternoon to make a lovely layered lemon cake. Now I may have had a slight ulterior motive for making them this cake. As well as celebrating their success, I was keen to try out this recipe as a possibility for a lemon cake for our wedding next year. I am liking the idea more and more of a proper cake table, with a variety of smaller cakes at the wedding, so I thought I’d test this one out on some willing guinea pigs!
This recipe was adapted from the excellent Primrose Hill Bakery’s ‘Cupcake’ book.
Cake ingredients: 225g caster sugar, 225g self raising flour (sifted), 225g butter (room temp), 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder, 25g cornflour, 4 large eggs, zest of 2 large lemons and juice of 3 large lemons.
- Preheat oven to 170 (fan oven) and prepare 2x 20cm round cake tins. I grease and line the sides and base so that the cakes come out with a smooth finish. This is important for presentation because the sides aren’t covered in icing.
- Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy in one bowl, and mix the dry ingredients in another bowl.
- Add the eggs one at a time to the butter/sugar mix and beat between each addition. Then add the floury mix a bit at a time, mixing after each addition. The mix will seem quite stiff but add the lemon juice and lemon zest and it will be come a bit more runny. Its not a particularly runny cake mix though, so don’t worry.
- Divide between the two tins and then pop in the oven for 25 minutes. Poke a cake with a skewer to check they’re done after this time. The cakes will be pale gold but not particularly dark.
Pop the cakes on a rack, still in their tins, for about 10 minutes and then take them out the tins and peel of the paper. You should have two lovely smooth-edged cakes. Now leave them to cool. Don’t be tempted to ice a warm cake – it’ll go horribly wrong!
Icing ingredients: 120g butter (room temp), juice of 1-2 lemons (depends how lemony you like it. About 3 tablespoons works well), the zest of those lemons and 500g sifted icing sugar.
- When the cakes are cool, place the one you decide to be the base on your serving plate. You can turn the cake over so that you have a flat layer to work on. My cake had risen quite dramatically in the middle, so I cut the top off to make it flatter – it just depends how professional you want it to look.
- To make the icing, put the butter, lemon juice, zest and half the icing sugar into a bowl and beat. I do this by hand with a spoon to stop the icing sugar flying everywhere, but you can use a mixer or even the food processor. Then slowly add the rest of the icing sugar until its all combined. If you think the mixture still looks a bit stiff add a bit of water or some more lemon juice, but remember you want a thick mix that won’t run.
- I spread a layer of lemon curd over the first cake, to add another level of lemony-ness and then followed with a layer of icing – about 1/3 to 1/2 of what’s in the bowl.
- Plop the second cake on top – again you can invert it to get a flat top on your cake, but thats just about preference. Personally, I like the top a little rounded.
- Spread the rest of the icing over the top of the second cake. Use a palette knife moving in the same direction all the time to create a swirl in the middle of the cake.
- You can leave it like that, or finish it off with some nice sugared lemon slices.
I forgot to take a photo until I had already put the cake in the box to take with my to the gallery, so this is what it looked like from above:
On the night, I didn’t have any (I had eaten the bits I’d had to cut off earlier in the afternoon) but several people at the event commented how nice it was, so hopefully we have a winner! Next time, when I have a little more time to plan, I may make some nice sugared daisies to decorate, just for that real celebration feel.
Have a good weekend everyone – don’t forget your wellies!