Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Nostalgic baking

 I have mentioned before that my Mum is an old fashioned Yorkshire woman. She was born a few years before world war II, grew up with rashioning and "make do and mend"  being reinforced by all around her. Mum still had these attitudes while I was growing up.  If she was a housewife and mother today she would be feted as very cool and ecologically sound.  We had an allotment which Dad looked after and we would spend weekends picking peas and other veg ( strange that in all my memories of the allotment, the sun was always shining!).  Mum used to knit lots of our jumpers, she baked cakes for us and made most of our dinners from scratch. Of course my opinion of my Mum whilst growning up was that she was old fashioned and deeply un-hip. Thank goodness I grew up and realised how lucky I am to have had such wonderful experiences, some of which I am trying to re-create for the young master Vander-Cave. Mum was very patient in teaching my sisters and I her home making skills (I fear I may not be as patient) although we didn't all pick up the skills that easily! I can't sew for toffee but instead I got the cooking bug, whereas my sister got the sewing and knitting bugs. My sister can cook and bake but it isn't her passion. Give her a sofa to recover or a window to dress and she is in heaven.

One of the cakes I remember the most from my childhood was my Mum's boiled fruit cake. It was moist, fragrant and bursting with fruit. I remember my mum baking one of these cakes for me to take on my junior school trip to Somerset as my donation to the midnight feast. When I moved into my own home my Mum gave me the recipe for her boiled fruit cake which I attempted but it was never as moist as the cake from my childhood. Yesterday whilst trawling the internet for good recipes to try I found a recipe for a boiled fruit cake. Reviews of the recipe all said it produced a beautifully moist cake. I compared the recipe with my handwritten notes and found the recipes identical apart from one very big difference.  The recipe I had copied down from my Mum didn't have any eggs in it. I fear I have been attempting to make an incomplete recipe off and on for many years! I cannot explain how excited I was finding the "lost" ingredient and I felt like I was one of the code breakers of the second world war who cracked the enigma code!

So finally here it is Mum's boiled fruit cake, only 18 years after my first attempt!

Boiled fruit Cake

210 grams light brown sugar
250ml hot water
56 grams unsalted butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
425 grams dried fruit, (raisins, currants, sultanas)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
200 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Butter a 9 x 5 x 3 inch (23 x 13 x 8 cm) loaf pan.

Preheat oven to 170 degrees C. (Note: if using a dark colored pan reduce the oven temperature to 160 degrees C)
In a large saucepan, over medium heat, bring to a boil the sugar, water, butter, spices, and dried fruit

Boil for five minutes, remove from heat, and let cool till lukewarm.

Stir into this mixture the lightly beaten eggs, flour, baking soda and vanilla extract. 

Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 45 - 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. After 40 minutes I covered the top of the cake with a piece of foil to stop the top becoming too brown.

Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. Cover and store, if possible, for a few days before serving. This fruit cake can be frozen.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Let it snow!

Last weekend we had our first significant snow fall of the Winter. We had thought we were going to miss out on some snowy days this Winter as up until recently it has been fairly mild in the back of beyond. The snow arrived in the lull between lambings on the farm which meant young master Vander-cave and the farm boys were able to spend all their free time finding the best sledge run amongst all the hills around the quarry. Some of the hills the boys throw themselves down are not for the faint hearted and I find it is best not to watch when they fling themselves head first down an almost vertical slope.

 The best sledge we have found is a huge compost bag that is stuffed full of hay and tied up with string. This can carry two or three children or a couple of adults.  Most of the family and some friends have had a go on the bag sleigh.

The boys had to be retrieved from the quarry as darkness fell and temperatures fell even further. Whilst they had been having fun, getting wet and cold, I had made up a batch of double chocolate chunk cookies so that when the  wet and bedraggled gang came trudging back home they were quickly warmed up with fresh baked cookies and hot chocolate. The boys verdict was that the cookies were "awesome!"

This cookie recipe has a yield of about 30 cookies. If this is too many to bake in one go, I have found that the mixture will sit quite happily in a sealed container in the fridge for a 2 or 3  days so you can have a fresh batch whenever you need it.

Double chocolate chunk cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup caster sugar
1 cup soft light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups of plain cooking chocolate 70% cocoa solids or a mixture of plain and milk chocolate chopped up until resembling gravel.

Preheat the oven to  190 degrees C. Grease baking sheets.
In a medium bowl, cream together the butter, caster sugar and brown sugar until smooth.

Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla.

Sift in the flour, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder; mix well.

Stir in the chocolate chips.

Roll tablespoonfuls of dough into balls and place them one inch apart onto the prepared cookie sheets.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. They should be slightly gooey in the middle.  Allow cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.


One from the vault!

Mr Vander-Cave and I have been together for a very long time!  We met when Madonna was the new next big thing, Paula Abdul had a singing career and permed big hair was 'de rigueur'. We are quite different in lots of ways, but opposites attract as they say. One of our biggest differences is chocolate preferences. He is a Galaxy man and I am a Dairy Milk woman. In a house full of chocaholics this is a real issue! My husband is so passionate about chocolate that he can convince even the most health conscience people that chocolate is a complete food with all major food groups accounted for. Ask him if you ever meet him, it is quite a spiel!

When we first moved in together nearly two decades ago a friend gave me this recipe for chocolate biscuit cake which became Mr Vander-Cave's favourite cake. I have been making it for him pretty regularly ever since. Over the years my baking has refined and my belief in quality ingredients cemented and so the recipe has been adjusted accordingly. I do believe that when baking simply it's the quality of the ingredients that make a good cake sublime. Being Mr V-C's favourite I have to make this cake topped with melted Galaxy, which is ok but I always feel it would taste even better if made with Dairy milk!

So before you start, choose you favourite chocolate for the topping and give it a go.

Chocolate biscuit cake

This recipe is in imperial measurements. (I did say it was old!)

You will need a baking tin measuring 18cm x 18cm. I use a silicone tin but if you haven't got one, line the tin with foil.

3oz  unsalted butter
3tbsp golden syrup
3oz icing sugar
2tbsp good quality cocoa powder ( I use green and blacks )
9oz  digestive biscuits (crushed)
4oz raisins
8oz eating chocolate

Melt the butter and syrup together in a heavy based pan.
Remove from the heat, sift in the icing sugar and cocoa. Stir mixture well.
Stir in the crushed biscuits and Raisins.
Press the biscuit mixture in to the prepared tin and leave to cool in the fridge.
Melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water.
Once completely melted pour and smooth over the biscuit base and return to the fridge until set.
Chop into pieces and enjoy!