Festive gingerbread – take two

Gingerbread-icedWhat was I thinking when I made a tin full of gingerbread Christmas cookies over a week ago – that they would last until Christmas! More fool me and, of course they’ve already all been eaten and now a second batch are required. Just as well I enjoy a Sunday afternoon bake.

It’s quite an easy recipe. After melting together butter, muscovado sugar and golden syrup you mix in the dried ingredients flour, spices and a little bicarbonate of soda.


Following a light kneading the gingerbread dough is given a 30 minutes chill in the fridge before rolling out and cutting into shapes. The recipe I use says 12-15 minutes in a moderately hot oven, but I’ve found if you like a crispy snap then 20 minutes is needed.


Finally, pipe a few swirls of royal icing decoration. My piping skills are minimal and made worse for this batch as I cut the hole on the icing bag too big, but by then I’d filled it with the icing and wasn’t going to start again. Sometimes near enough will just have to be good enough.


Fun, but also enriching

Well, this week in UK telly land sees the final of the Great British Bake Off. Not to everybody’s taste, but I have enjoyed this pleasant and rather quaint diversion from all the bad news filling the airwaves.


The GBBO has also nudged me into having a go at baking off-piste shall we say. That is I’ve been experimenting and devising new combinations for old recipes. My latest weekend bake was a version of sticky buns.

Yeast cookery isn’t too difficult it is mostly about not being in a hurry. These sticky buns are made with an enriched dough studded with stem ginger and hazelnuts and baked with a coating of my buttery, caramel sauce. It’s the caramel that gives these buns the glossy, sticky finish.

Enriching a dough means adding butter, sugar and eggs which makes a softer, heavier dough. However, the addition of fat and sugar also slows the action of the yeast and therefore the proving time has to be longer. But the waiting is worth it when you sample the finished sticky buns.

enriched dough buns
The bite of the stem ginger cuts through the sweetness of the sticky caramel coating.

GBBO – European Cakes – How about a Dobos Torte?

Cooled-caramelDuring the run of the BBC’s ‘Great British Bake Off’ there are some weeks when I watch and think, yes, I’ll have a go at that. And, naturally, I do like cake. Here are a few photos taken over the course of several hours as I followed Mary Berry’s recipe for a Dobos Torte from her book ‘Mary Berry’s Ultimate Cake Book’.

As you can see my copy (bought 1994) is rather tatty and well-used, but this was one recipe I hadn’t tried. Spelled, in error Doboz not Dobos and hailing mistakenly from Austria when József Dobos was actually Hungarian, this recipe was still worth trying out!

Firstly, you have to prepare the cake layers. In this recipe they are made using a simple fatless sponge recipe although I noticed on the GBBO they suggested a Genoese sponge. Either with or without butter the mixture has to be whisked for some minutes to get the volume. Mmm – I was supposed to get six layers, but obviously misjudged the amount of mixture for each circle and only ended up with five. Of course, each layer was then not as thin as it should be, but still they were quite thin and baked really quickly and so a couple (perfectionists look away now) were OVERBAKED!

Whilst the circles of sponge cooled I made the ‘fancy’ butter cream. This involved whisking egg whites with icing sugar over simmering water, adding to softened beaten butter and then incorporating carefully melted dark chocolate. At this point I thought if I make this again I’ll sandwich with chocolate ganache instead.

Moving on to the caramel.

‘Photographing making caramel’ = ‘Watching paint dry’
Well, it is a waiting game and then because I was fussing with camera – oohh it so nearly burnt. And, I didn’t want a ‘bin’ episode. Caramel all fine – it should be I’ve been making it since I first made peanut brittle as a 13 year old at school. Don’t think that would get past health and safety these days.

I think the most tricky part when making this cake is achieving the clean cut caramel wedges for the top. You do need to be vigilant and catch the moment for marking and then slicing the top caramel soaked layer.

Time to assemble, invite other cakeaholics round for coffee and biscuits, sorry cake, and cut.


At midnight tonight!

CelebrationGosh – a mini celebration here on the old blog – at midnight tonight it will be one year since I started blogging. I kind of started by mistake, experimenting, thinking if you don’t tell anybody then nobody sees it, and I remember being quite amazed when I investigated the stats info and discovered that there had been visitors! Well, I’d just like to take the opportunity to thank all the readers, likers and comment makers for their ‘activity’. And, also to offer an inclusive thank you to all the bloggers I view and read who are so interesting and often inspiring. – Speech over –

A slice of celebration cake then?

Celebration cake

New Year’s Eve, London, 2013

Regent St lights 2013
Walking down Regent St, New Year’s Eve, 2013.
Trafalgar Square, London
Across Trafalgar Square, London at about 10.30 pm on New Year’s Eve.
Embankment New Year 2013-14
New Year’s Eve fireworks – view of the London Eye from Embankment.
London Eye New Year's Eve
Fireworks fire out from the London Eye.
Just visible in the burst is the London Eye
Just visible in the burst is the London Eye giving you sense of the scale of the display.
Firework finale
More is more – edible and scented!!
Happy New Year

Some Light Lemon Curd

Chardin - Silver Goblet
The Silver Goblet – Chardin
Oil on canvas, 33 x 41 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris
Eggs, lemons, butter and sugar.
Eggs, lemons, butter and sugar.
(Not quite a Chardin!)
After a few too many chocolates and nibbles over Christmas I felt like something tangy. So, a little bit of prep.

Mix it all together.


Let it cook very gently for 20 minutes over a pan of barely simmering water and there you have it. Lemon curd. And, time for me to return from the 18th century and leave Monsieur Chardin in Paris.


What? You didn’t have a helmet!

Sorry re focus, but taken by friend on their iPhone (no Sports Action setting!!) Yes, I'm laughing too.
Sorry re focus, but taken by friend on their iPhone (no Sports Action setting!!) Yes, I’m laughing too.
Just a little update – snowboarding fun, but scary. But, for some worrying reason she didn’t wear a helmet. And, she did fall over and hit her head, but got away with it.


Quick check with a selfie to see face hasn’t been rearranged – yeah okay.

The Art & Design of Gift Wrapping

parcel ribbons gift wrapThere is definitely an art to gift giving. Sometimes you are hunting around for inspiration under time pressure and the whole process becomes a chore. But on other occasions the stars align and you find or make something you think perfect – a natural fit for the recipient. When you’re in this bubble the icing on the cake is wrapping the present in a pleasing and enticing manner.

blue hydrangea bay leaves unripe fig

Expense is not always necessary. I think one of the most memorable gifts I’ve received was an old, bakelite clock wrapped in a combination of crisp brown paper, old newspaper and string. It was very artfully done and the wrapping complemented the clock. The giver was an architect and so even the writing on the tag was beautiful. Receiving carefully presented gifts is so pleasurable as somebody has taken the time and effort and was thinking of you. When parcel wrapping myself I attempt to return the gesture.

decorate hydrangea bay and unripe fig

Mind you sometimes our hopes for the finished look outstrip our capabilities!

one homely gift wrapped present
Bit lame, I know, but in my defence I sincerely believe in recycling – and recycling again.

Arctic Summer

Another planet Arctic SvalbardWhen my mother was about 11 years old she won a drawing competition. The prize was a children’s version of ‘The Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights’. These exciting, vivid stories along with their beautiful illustrations fired a passionate interest in Arabia and 15 years later she left England to live in Kuwait on the edge of the desert. Like my father she loved living in the dry heat. So it has been a ‘genetic’ surprise to find my daughter does not tolerate the heat well and preferentially heads for the colder parts of our planet. She has just set off to the Alps to have a go at snowboarding.

Her passion is the polar regions (one reason why she is studying Geophysics) and during Sixth Form she went on an expedition to Svalbard in the Arctic. Snowboarding in the Alps should be exciting, but not quite as thrilling as ice climbing in the wild and desolate Arctic.

crevasse arctic svalbard
Summer in Svalbard and this crevasse is easy to see.

Running through the usual safety stuff I thought I’d just remind her that though there are no polar bears in the Alps all the other risks are serious. Rock falls, avalanches, white-outs and crevasses are all possibilities. Of course, falling off the snowboard is a given – fingers crossed on that one!

Gift Prep, Postal Dates & Noel on the Horizon

MummersI know it’s only November, but Christmas is now visible on the horizon and for any of you folks, like me, who send gifts abroad to family and friends forward thinking, planning and then making activity are now in full swing. Last recommended posting dates for surface mail are flying past as I write and the airmail dates are looming, and as I like to make gifts such as sweets or preserves I am already busy in the kitchen in my spare time.

coffee hazelnut fudge
Potential Christmas gift – coffee and hazelnut fudge.

I have just made this coffee and hazelnut fudge – a test run – and it looks good and is more interesting and flavoursome than regular fudge. This year I’m also going to try and find a traditional recipe for panforte. This Italian speciality is a rich, nutty sweetmeat from Siena and is thought to date from the 13th century.

Panforte Siena Italy
Panforte – plenty of nuts and dried fruits.

Gift giving is such an integral part of being human, and, at Christmas, it is also uplifting to know you are on the long continuum of Christmas traditions and rituals.

And, now for a little explanation of the top picture. It is an illustration from a 14th century manuscript held at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and shows ‘Mummers’. The medieval mumming traditions include entertaining stories of death and re-birth and the triumph of good over evil enacted by disguised/masked participants. Although mumming had been a 13th century village, folk activity, by the 14th century more elaborate and sophisticated mummers’ plays were incorporated into the Christmas celebrations at the English Court of Edward III. This depiction of Mummers comes from ‘The Romance of Alexander’ a text in French verse illustrated by the Flemish illuminator Jehan de Grise. You can see all the pages from the manuscript at the Bodleian Library online and a brilliant enlargeable photo of this specific manuscript page MS. Bodley 264, fol. 21v

Christmas stamp mummers
A UK Stamp showing Medieval Mummers – a Christmas tradition from the Middles Ages.