‘Queen of the Carbs’ Makes a Comeback during an Extra-ordinary Easter

It is a long time since I’ve posted a ‘food/baking’ piece. It isn’t that I don’t do any cooking or baking these days, but more that food doesn’t have much to do with my creative work.

Obviously, blog posts about my professional work show the development and process of painting a silk scarf. Posts about art, sculpture, architectural details and East Anglia’s cultural heritage in general, indicate from where I find much of my inspiration. Then there are my flower and garden posts full of colourful floral arrangements as if you were in any doubt where quite a few of my colour combinations come from.

Then there is the odd time I write a review of a play or a film I’ve seen because I just can’t help myself despite reviews having nothing to do with painting silk. These reviews are the result of a momentary glitch when my grumpy alter ego manages to slip the leash.

But this has been a very strange and disconcerting Easter and like everybody else I have been indoors, a lot, and I found FLOUR in my store cupboard. That’s a selection of opened, half-used bags of plain, self-raising, strong, wholemeal, seeded, rye and spelt. So I’ve had a bake up.

Panini, scones and biscotti.
  • Plain flour – that will be some almond biscotti made with two-thirds white to one-third muscovado sugar.
  • Self-raising flour – some Mary Berry scones perhaps.
  • Strong flour – easy, naturally, hot cross buns!
Yes, fresh yeast. It was Hobson’s choice so not quite as fresh as it could have been.

Fortunately, along with the strong flour I also had yeast, eggs, butter and the dried fruit and spices needed for hot cross buns. Another stroke of luck was finding at the back of the cupboard the whole citrus peel leftover from my three attempts at making panettone. My first effort was made for last Christmas. Then I had another go in January and then another in February.

Anyway, let’s forget Christmas and get back to Easter! Compared to panettone hot cross buns are easy. Mix up the dough, give it a good knead and the only thing you have to remember is that as this is an enriched dough, it’s a good hour and a half for the first prove rather than the usual hour.

Dough mixed and kneaded, then after first prove shaped into buns for second prove complete with their ‘runny’ crosses – baking in the time of Covid.

This year the only issue I had was that the flour paste for the crosses was too runny and whereas I would normally keep ladling in the flour to make it thicker, with the current flour shortages, runny it stayed.

No family visiting from the depths of the West Country or even down from London this Easter holidays, but hot cross buns freeze well and will be a welcome carb treat with the morning coffee for the next . . . . . three weeks of lockdown.

Winter, Seville Oranges and Marmalade

seville oranges marmalade
Homemade marmalade made with Seville oranges.
Every year during January and February Seville oranges (Bitter oranges) arrive in our local fruit shops and supermarkets. I’m not sure if it’s because I recently saw the film ‘Paddington’ (and he does love his marmalade sandwiches), but this year I decided to make some marmalade.

Paddinton loves his marmalade. From the film 'Paddington'.
Paddinton loves his marmalade.
From the film ‘Paddington’.

Of course, alternatively it could be having all the glamour of the Tudors every where you look, that I unconsciously made a few connections – Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots – marmalade! It’s one of those English things we were told at school that the word marmalade comes from Mary Queen of Scots when a French cook concocted a preserve from Seville oranges for a sickly Mary – ‘Marie est malade’. Not true, (doesn’t surprise me) a far more accurate history of marmalade suggests Henry VIII would have known the preserve which was imported from Portugal and made from quinces. Then it appears that gradually this recipe was adapted to use other fruit including bitter oranges.

buttered marmalade teacake
Split marmalade teacake toasted, buttered and topped with marmalade.

I used a BBC Good Food marmalade recipe which I’ve made before. And, in for a penny in for a pound I found an interesting recipe for ‘marmalade’ teacakes (light yeasted buns with dried fruit). It was really a basic teacake recipe with 150 grams of HOMEMADE marmalade dissolved in the milk that is added to the flour to make the dough. The finished teacakes looked nice and were pleasant when toasted and buttered, but I couldn’t specifically taste the marmalade flavour unless a bite included a chunk of shredded peel. Well, you know, why not spread with extra marmalade!

Marmalade-atop-buttered-marmalade-teacakes

A little indulgence on New Year’s Day

Welcome-cheesecakeDo we need an excuse to bake rich, indulgent treats? Sometimes it is easy to believe all the hype in the media that everybody is the same the planet over. But that is plainly not true as we can see in the ‘Blogging World’. Not everyone celebrates Christmas and of those that do not everybody celebrates in the same fashion. We don’t all have turkey, Christmas pudding and mince pies.

Living in East Anglia there are plenty of Christmas traditions, however the traditional mid-winter celebration and feast predates Christianity. Our weather may not be as harsh as the northern regions, but a mid-winter treat certainly brings a glow of pleasure in the midst of all the grey and gloom.

The New Year was my excuse for an indulgent treat and I baked a white chocolate and stem ginger cheesecake (the Mary Berry version).

Crushed-biscuits

Firstly I made the cheesecake base with melted dark chocolate and butter mixed into some crushed digestive biscuits. Then, I finely diced four bulbs of stem ginger (that is ginger preserved in syrup).

Chopped-ginger

Then I beat together two tubs of cream cheese with half a pot of sour cream and two beaten eggs in the whizzy machine.

Cream-cheese-sour-cream

Finally I mixed in a couple of bars of white chocolate that had been gently melted over hot water along with the prepared stem ginger and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. After pouring all the mixture onto the biscuit base the cheesecake was baked for about 45 minutes.

Into-oven

Delightfully easy to make and delightfully easy to eat!

New-Year-afternoon-treat

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.

Mix-in-flour

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.

Cut-out-shapes

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.

Gingerbread-second-batch

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.

Ingredients

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.