Category: Baking

Aug 24

Blackberry brownies

 

 

Brownies

Brownies

 

 

Blackberry season seems to have arrived, so here’s a magnificent way to use them.

These brownies are a-m-a-z-i-n-g. The basic recipe is now a family heirloom, developed from one my mother found in the 1970s. As an American who had moved to Europe in the late 1960s, she felt chronically frustrated by the absence of both brownies (bland British chocolate cake – more of a tinted Victoria sponge – was really no substitute) or any brownie recipes that would work with the ingredients available here. She finally found this one in a supermarket cookbook and declared that it passed muster, producing something with the necessary richness as well as the right texture: essentially a crust with some goo underneath, verging on the undercooked. 

I’ve substituted spelt for the regular wheat flour of the original recipe, but you can use almost anything to hand – rye, for instance, adds an interesting nuttiness. And I’ve added the handful of blackberries, but blackcurrants or raspberries will also work very nicely. The black fruits, in particularly, act as a wonderfully sharp foil to the rich, smothering chocolate.

This is enough to make 16 brownies. Enjoy!

 

You’ll need…

2 oz cocoa

4 oz butter

2 eggs

8 oz caster sugar

1 tspn vanilla extract

2 oz spelt flour

half a teaspoon baking powder

a handful of blackberries (or blackcurrants or raspberries – or whatever you happen to have to hand – you can use frozen ones too)

 

How to make…

1. Pre-heat oven to a moderate 180 degrees.

2. Grease and line a 20 cms/8-inch square pan with grease-proof paper/baking parchment.

3. Carefully melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat. Then add the cocoa to this and blend (it will smell really wonderful). Set aside to cool.

4. In a mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together till light and fluffy.

5. Add the cocoa/butter mixture to your eggs/sugar mix, along with the vanilla extract. Mix well.

6. Sift the flour and baking powder over this, and fold in gently.

7. Throw in a handful of blackberries (or whatever else you’re using) and fold just enough to distribute the fruit.

8. Turn into your prepared tin and bake for about half an hour. No need to test that it’s cooked all through the centre – it should be gooey, still sizzling, and be slightly squishy when you prod it.

9. Cool in the tin before cutting into 16 pieces (4×4). Drench with icing sugar and decorate with some extra fruit, if you like. I can recommend these served as a desert with more fresh fruit and a dollop of mascarpone.

 

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Oct 15

Spiced apple cake

 

Apple+cinnamon+walnut+cardamom+sesame cake. #gardenapples #speltflour #spelt #comfortfood #autumnbaking

A photo posted by Scrapiana (@scrapianagram) on

 

It’s at about this time every year (mid-October) that the eating apples I lovingly picked from the garden tree back in August or September start to become a nuisance. Now shrivelling and/or rotting in little yellow heaps around the kitchen, they are attracting fruit flies and exuding the vague waft of ethanol decay around the house.

But, before jettisoning the wizened lot to the compost heap, this spectacular and comforting autumnal apple cake is the perfect use for at least some of them. I found the parent recipe in one of the Moosewood cookbooks about 15 years ago, and have experimented a little over the years with both the ingredients and the method. I love the use of warming cardamom as well as the more conventional cinnamon to spice the apples, and the fact that the cake is crispy on the outside (thanks to a sesame seed crust) and really succulent on the inside (the apples and oil see to that). I’ve chosen to use spelt for the less gluten-tolerant, but any general purpose flour will do. Sunflower oil is both an economic fat and also makes that ‘cream fat and sugar’ stage really quick and easy. An electric mixer is helpful; though it’s possible to work this by hand, but your cake probably won’t be quite as light. Peeling, coring and chopping the apples can take a while, but you can do that a day ahead and refrigerate your apple/spice mix until you have time to use it.

 

Apple cake to be. #bundtcake #caketin #sesameseeds #applecake #bakeyourgarden #autumnbaking #funnel

A photo posted by Scrapiana (@scrapianagram) on

Ingredients

  • 6 or 7 (500g) small eating apples – the average garden eating apple is perfect – equivalent to 3 cups of chopped apple
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 4 or 5 green cardamom pods, equivalent to 1/4 teaspoon of ground cardamom
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 375g (3 cups) spelt flour
  • 1 teaspooon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 400g (2 cups) brown sugar 
  • 350ml sunflower oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 100g (1 cup) walnuts (or you could use pecans, almonds etc)
  • 3 tablespoons apple juice (or milk or water)
  • 1 teaspoon of butter (or a dollop of vegetable oil) for greasing your tin
  • 3 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • icing sugar with a little cinnamon added, to dust finished cake (optional)

 

Apple cake. #applecake #apples #gardenapples #lowfoodmiles #cinnamon #cardamom #spices

A photo posted by Scrapiana (@scrapianagram) on

 

Method

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees.
  2. Grease a 10″ bundt tin and scatter sesame seeds in the bottom, turning the tin until the seeds have all stuck. Set aside.
  3. Peel, core and chop the apples, placing them in a medium-sized bowl as you go.
  4. Grind the cardamom pods in a mortar and pestle, discarding the husks.
  5. Add the spices and vanilla to the apples and stir. At this point, you can cover with cling-film and store for a day, if need be.
  6. Sift together the flour, baking powder and bicarb into a medium bowl.
  7. Place sugar and oil into the bowl of mixer and beat until creamy. Don’t worry if it doesn’t get creamy – just ensure that you give it a good couple of minutes of vigorous beating as it’s this stage that’ll give lightness to your eventual cake.
  8. Now add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each.
  9. Add the flour mixture, just mixing until it’s all incorporated (this is when you don’t want to knock out all that air you’ve just worked in…).
  10. Add the apple juice (or equivalent).
  11. Fold in the apples and walnuts.
  12. Dollop your mix into prepared tin and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or till a knife/skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
  13. Allow to cool 15 minutes in the tin before turning out onto a rack to cool; it will be heavy so move it with care.
  14. When cool (if you can wait that long…), move your apple cake to a cake plate and sprinkle with cinnamon icing sugar before serving.

 

 

 

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Dec 31

What 2014 has taught me

 

Here, in no particular order, are some things I’ve discovered in 2014:

1.

That very serviceable lotions and cosmetics can be homemade from nothing more than wild flowers, cooking oil (I used sunflower oil), beeswax and an old enamel bain-marie. Thanks to herbalist Zoe Hawes and Alice Park Community Garden for this revelation. I’m still using the Elderflower and Calendula lip-salve made at your workshop, Zoe, and it’s brilliant stuff. Homemade cosmetics and natural beauty products are definitely the way to go.

Elderflower and Calendula

Elderflower and Calendula

 

 

2.

That you can make yourself a really sturdy plant support from indigenous hazel branches and willow, provided you keep the pre-soaked willow sufficiently damp, and possibly cheat with the judicious application of cable ties. Thanks to Annie Beardsley for this new knowledge, and to APCG again.

Making plant supports at Alice Park Community Garden

Making plant supports at Alice Park Community Garden

 

3.

That you can make a perfectly functional barbecue from a large terracotta pot, a couple of bricks, some chicken wire and a discarded rack from a broken microwave. I had all these things lying around and pressed them into service on my allotment for Midsummer’s Eve. Look! It cooked chicken! 

 

An old flower pot, some bricks and a rack from a broken microwave.

An old flower pot, some bricks and a rack from a broken microwave.

4.

That even I can grow yellow courgettes, ruby chard, tomatoes, leeks, garlic, and sweet dumpling squash from scratch.

Grown on my allotment.

Grown on my allotment.

5.

That if you post a picture of your rear end in inside-out jeans on Twitter for Fashion Revolution Day, the sight might well collect 17,000 views. Blimey…

Rear-end selfie in inside-out jeans - all for a good cause.

Rear-end selfie in inside-out jeans – all for a good cause.

 

6.

That it’s possible to stop traffic on the A4 through central Bath wearing inside-out clothing. Nuff said.

 

7.

I hate to bang on about this, but I’ve found that it’s still possible to attract wolf-whistles when you’re 49. And I mean when not dressed provocatively or in inside-out clothing but, ironically, with minimal grooming: I’m down to an annual haircut, and you’ve already read about those homemade budget-beating cosmetics. This positive attention seems to be happening more of late but I suspect that some people might just need their eyes testing. Though one of my best friends has paid me the compliment of describing me as ‘like a teenager with wrinkles’. Please bear this in mind, all you TV producers; you’ll find my contact details in point 10.

8.

That it’s nice to make people happy, but that you certainly can’t please everyone so may as well stop trying. Do what you feel is right and ignore those who just don’t get it. There will be plenty.

 

9.

That if you require someone to knit a sweater for a real live Jersey cow, I’m a very good person to ask; I may not be able to do it myself but have all kinds of useful connections in the craft and making world. I was delighted to be able to connect the wonderful Send a Cow charity with the equally wonderful knitter Elise Fraser in Bristol (whom I met at the beginning of the year thanks to the Briswool project). And what a glorious jersey Gloria wore!

 

10.

That one might be asked to front a national BBC TV show, to write a book, and also to produce a regular column for a national craft magazine, but none of them may pan out for a host of painful and highly annoying reasons. Happily, I’m currently still available and open to offers, but you’d better get in quick before the rush. You might want to check out my professional website and contact me there to discuss any potential projects. I’d love to hear from you.

 

11.

That I can live without my beloved little car, the cuticle (‘cute’ + ‘vehicle’). Farewell, my little white Fiat! You are gone but not forgotten.

The cuticle always raised a smile.

The cuticle always raised a smile.

12.

That cycling is probably better for keeping me and my legs in shape anyway. And I love it, most of the time (barring uphill, or in horizontal rain, or when carrying very much). Here’s Violet, bought when I was carrying some very precious cargo: my younger son Joe in utero; he turned 15 years old earlier this month, so the old girl ain’t doing so bad.

 

Back to pedal power.

Back to pedal power.

 

13.

That, imho, my youngest son is a rather fine graphic designer already. He was aged just 14 when he sorted out a logo this summer for the Big Mend. Now studying Art GCSE. Anyone need a summer 2015 intern for an art-related opportunity? Do get in touch.

The Big Mend logo plus coffee.

The Big Mend logo plus coffee.

 

14.

That the ‘free’ coffee for Waitrose customers is a very useful thing indeed, and that people seem to like doing their mending in such public spaces. Thank you, Waitrose, for being so accommodating and allowing us to land on you for World Environment Day! And a big thank you to our happy band of menders! You know who you are. The Big Mend has now been going for almost 3 years, astonishingly. I wonder where it will head next?

Flash mend event

Flash mend event in Waitrose

 

15.

That if you put enough pressure on a carbon life form, it may well become a diamond – eventually. It’s been a very tough year or so and the screws have definitely been on. But I’m wondering if a ‘diamond life’ might possibly be in store for me after all in 2015. I really do hope so.

 

Thanks so much for reading my all-too-infrequent posts here on the subject of mending, thrift, textiles etc. Take care and have yourself a very happy 2015.

 

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Mar 20

Would the real Mrs Beeton please stand up?

 

 

I’ve been reading a biography of Mrs Beeton, arguably the nation’s first domestic goddess. The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton by Kathryn Hughes was published by Harper Perennial in 2006.

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Hughes’ biography of Mrs Beeton

 

As recent events have served to illustrate, the life lived behind the edifice of a lifestyle brand is rarely as it appears, and this book has been an eye-opener. Some interesting things I’ve discovered about Mrs B:

1. Isabella Beeton’s image was the first ever photographic portrait accepted by the National Portrait Gallery. Maull & Pollyblank’s 1857 plate, which the NPG accepted from her son Mayson in 1932, reveals a slim, striking 19-year-old Bella, not the stout, flour-dusted matriarch with a rolling pin that you might have imagined. Mrs Bridges from Upstairs, Downstairs she definitely was not.

2. Her first baby died a few months after birth, very likely of syphilis: a disease which she appears to have contracted from her husband in the early days of their marriage.

3. Bella’s husband, Sam, originally a printer by trade, made a killing publishing an unauthorised British edition of Harriet Beecher-Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, exploiting a time when there was no copyright agreement between America and Britain. He and Bella together proved cunning publishing entrepreneurs, successfully exploring the new markets, trends and opportunities created by an expanding middle-class in Victorian England.

4. Bella Beeton was far from an experienced cook when she took on writing the Book of Household Management.

5. Which is why she plagiarised widely yet skilfully for the book; all this is documented in fascinating detail by Hughes.

6. Elizabeth David was particularly galled by Bella’s light-fingered borrowings from Eliza Acton.

7. Bella liked her red wine.

8. She had a great eye for fashion and pioneered the popularising of dress patterns  in the ‘Practical Dress Instructor’, a regular feature in the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, capitalising on the boost to sewing created by the recent invention of the sewing machine.

9. She died very early, age 28. But that didn’t stop the ‘Mrs Beeton’ brand marching on. And on. And on.

10. Without her able management, and with the encroaching symptoms of tertiary syphilis, Sam went to rack and ruin after Bella’s untimely death.

She certainly packed a lot into her short life. I’d recommend this biography: snappy, witty, sensitively written, and especially riveting if you’re interested in publishing and journalism (particularly the history of lifestyle publishing, cookery writing and fashion journalism), and if you want an insight into the burgeoning Victorian middle classes and what made them tick.

 

 

 

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Jan 03

Christmas leftovers

 

How to knit your own dishcloths

 

Christmas is over, bar a few lords a-leaping and the waft of pine needles from the vacuum cleaner. I usually hang on until 5th January, just ahead of Twelfth Night, before taking down the decs, but this year I’m itching to move on and put the last vestiges of 2013 well behind me. My goodness, I even feel drawn to a spot of spring cleaning! Which is why I started eyeing my large cone of Christmas baker’s twine* with intent. Here’s an idea, I thought. Why not try creating baker’s twine dishcloths?

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Knitting with Christmas leftovers

 

Perhaps not the obvious conclusion to draw, but if necessity’s the mother of invention then post-Christmas boredom is her efficient midwife.

In case it’s new to you, baker’s twine is a twirling barber’s pole of a string which has become incredibly popular in recent years, thanks largely to the efforts of Martha Stewart and others. It gets used for anything, it seems, except its original purpose of crisply tying up boxes of baked goods. The classic red-and-white combination has a jaunty Scandinavian cheerfulness, but you’ll find the string in an array of other colours now too. Hard to beat it for jazzing up simple brown paper or white tissue gift-wrapping.

I bought in a huge reel from the US a few years ago, but when it arrived I was disappointed to discover that it was  a lot thinner than I’d hoped. A good baker’s twine needs to be a certain bulk and preferably all cotton. This was puny and an inferior poly-cotton blend – not what I’d hoped for at all. So, I had a lot of thin twine on my hands. What to do with it? Well, I’ve wrapped endless gifts and parcels with it, and tied up lots of packets of cookies. But this was a big reel and I’d barely made a dent. I needed a bigger project.

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Red and white twine makes a cheery Scandi-style dishcloth

 

Sitting down this New Year’s Eve, I cast on 40 stitches on size 3.5 mm needles, started knitting and just kept going. Turns out that working baker’s twine in garter stitch is relatively easy, and I really like the marled effect.

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Knitting with baker’s twine

 

You can, of course try other materials to make dishcloths: linen yarn, or dedicated dishcloth cotton yarn (yes, it really does exist) which looks great in ecru or white with occasional alternating stripes of red or other contrast colour in the same weight/fibre yarn, as shown here in this charming Purl Bee tutorial. But you don’t really need a tutorial: just cast on a few dozen stitches as the mood takes you. Knit until you have a square. Or a rectangle. Or knit a square from corner to corner, increasing then decreasing. Dishcloths are a really great vehicle for sampling new stitches: border details can be included, and all kinds of fancy stitches will add a functional texture:  But plain old garter stitch is all you need if you’re working with a patterned yarn such as baker’s twine. And, whatever the stitch, dishcloths make very portable projects to carry around with you for that inevitable idle moment. I’m admittedly not much of a knitter, but even I find 5 minutes of knitting surprisingly relaxing.

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Baker’s twine dishcloth

 

I tested this square in the washing-up bowl to see if my Christmas occupation-creation scheme really had any point, other than reducing my towering twine-mountain and proving a mindlessly relaxing pass-time. Could laboriously knitting these babies really offer any noticeable improvement on the shop-bought machine-produced-dishcloth experience?

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Putting it through its paces

 

Well, the answer’s yes. It was definitely pleasanter scrubbing my plates with this highly textured, nubbly, stretchy textile. And, as a considerable quantity of one’s day is taken up with mundane domestic tasks such as washing up, why not make this inevitable chore as pleasurable as possible? My heart gladdens a little just seeing this dishcloth hanging up to dry.

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Handmade dishcloths drying

 

It stands to reason that if you knit your own dishcloths, you’ll be motivated to take slightly better care of them, hanging them up to dry rather than maybe leaving them to their fate in the washing-up water. Other than that, you can just throw these in the washing machine when it’s time to hotwash your tea-towels. I have a dedicated cloth saucepan in which I boil out dishcloths with a certain brand of ecologically sound oxygen bleach, though I remember my mother-in-law using just a spoonful of salt.

I’ll certainly be looking at string and twine a little differently from now on, sizing up its dishcloth potential. By the way, the other cloth there on my drying rack is knitted with much thicker cotton dishcloth yarn (a DK to the red-and-white twine’s 4-ply) edged in a chunkier blue/aqua baker’s twine which came from an Anthropologie sale a couple of years ago. It makes a much thicker, spongier textile and is a lot quicker to work up into a good-sized cloth.

 

Q. Do you already knit your own dishcloths? If so, I’d love to hear how and with what. If not, would you be tempted now to give it a go? Have a healthy, happy and well scrubbed 2014!

 

 

*baker’s twine, or should it be bakers twine? I am never quite sure. Today I’ve gone with an instinctive possessive apostrophe. Just a hunch. But if you know otherwise, please leave me a comment to set me straight. Thanks.

 

 

 

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Dec 27

Trees and stars

 

My unscheduled absence has been necessary. I’ve had stuff to do.

There have been pies to make.

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Trees to cut.

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Mountains to move. Well, some peaks to scale, at least.

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And stars to wish upon.

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I’m still busy with those stars.

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Hope your Christmas has been full of good things. See you in 2014!

 

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Jul 08

Crystallised rose petals

 

Everything’s coming up roses just now, so let me show you something magical to try with roses from your garden. Yes, more thrifty edible flowers! I’ll get back to textiles again soon, honestly, but you have to make hay when the sun shines.

I worked on Claire Kelsey‘s ice cream book Melt last year (more of that to come in another post) ensuring that all the recipes were put through their paces. My task was to assign them to a happy band of volunteer testers and collate feedback. Some recipes were harder to place than others, perhaps because they seemed time-consuming and/or fiddly, required expensive/hard-to-find ingredients, or the testers just didn’t fancy them.

In the time-consuming/fiddly group was a recipe for Raspberry and Rose Pavlova which involved making a meringue nest, and crystallising some rose petals. Time-pressed testers spotted a time-sink and declined, so I tried it myself. We were well into autumn, but I still had some late-blooming roses in the garden. I found a couple with good fragrance. If you’re trying this at home, just be wary of using roses which have been sprayed with anything noxious, or are growing close to a main road.

Garden roses

The process really wasn’t so hard, or that time-consuming. All I had to do was detach the petals from the roses…

Red and white rose petals

…dip them in lightly beaten egg white, then into caster sugar, then lay them on an oven tray lined with baking parchment…

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…and bake them in a very low oven for less than an hour before allowing them to cool completely.

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It was really surprising to see those bright orangey-red petals turn a deep rose in the oven — not what I expected at all.  Mine tasted of rose too and the final frozen pavlova won over my family completely. Crystallised roses will keep for about 3 months too if you pop them in an airtight tin, separating the layers with greaseproof paper or baking parchment. You can use them to decorate cakes, desserts and confectionary, or (might I humbly suggest) nibble them decadently during a long soak in the bath. Because you’re worth it.

I tested a handful of recipes but this frozen pavlova was definitely the crowd-pleaser of the bunch. It didn’t hang around long.

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We all agreed that it would make the perfect summer wedding dessert; the final dish, topped with crystallized rose petals and ice-frosted raspberries was quite spectacular to look at: as if Titania herself had sprinkled it with fairy dust. And, best of all, it was heavenly to eat.

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Melt by Claire Kelsey is published by Simon & Schuster, RRP £18. It may also be available in your local supermarket.

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Feb 14

The Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook

 

Shhh! Don’t tell anyone but this Valentine’s Day sees the publication of a book I’ve had a small hand in. Way back last summer I was asked to supply some props (table coverings, plates, cake platters, etc) and assist (including various episodes of cake/mug-holding to camera) on a couple of photo shoots for The Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook by Lynn Hill, out today from Quercus Books. It was a brilliant, fascinating experience.

The team of independent creatives and editors working on the book was wonderful: funny, fabulously talented, really welcoming, but also incredibly hard-working. I can offer you an illicit glimpse behind the scenes: some clandestine shots of a clandestine cookbook. How meta-secret is that?

Here’s Jane styling one of the more surreal images featuring a giant lemon fondant fancy. It’s sitting in a mini table-top set backed by the front of a doll’s house (supplied by moi) and accompanied by tiny chair place-markers (also supplied by you-know-who). The tablecloth was mine too.

 

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prepping Giant Lemon Fondant Fancy shot

 

Here’s Emily, checking her shots. The little cloth with the lace mouse pattern hanging over the box is one of mine.

 

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Checking if we nailed it

 

And here’s Anita, peering through one of my dodgier props (crocheted lace minus the linen tablecloth insert – aherm).

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Prop linens

 

This may sound incredible, but arranging and shooting so much cake caused the whole team to suffer from a serious case of cake fatigue; by the end of each day, we  couldn’t bring ourselves to consume any more of the spongey stuff. Can you believe it? I know! Tragic.

Here’s some of the massed ranks of prop crockery, waiting to be pressed into service.

 

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Prop crockery

 

And here’s a prop I was asked to rig on the spot: a vintage linen tablecloth* with transfer embroidery marks which I whisked up into an impromptu notice board. It may look finished but was actually entirely held together at the back with straight pins. It was destined to hold pictures from local Clandestine Cake Club groups, but didn’t make it into the final book. I thought I’d show it to you anyway.

 

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Prop notice board

 

The base was two thicknesses of card cut from a chunky cardboard box. I padded it out with wadding cut from an old sleeping bag, then stretched the old linen over that. The ribbon (scraps, of course) is pinned to the cardboard with some drawing pins onto which I’d hot-glued plain plastic shirt buttons. I was rather pleased with the finished item’s Scandi styling. And, yes, that tiny wooden coffee pot hanging from a string is one of mine too.

 

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Scandi notice board, created on set

 

I had the good fortune to meet Lynn Hill, the book’s indefatigable** author, who came down from Yorkshire to Bath for one of the shoots. She established the Clandestine Cake Club a couple of years ago, and its amazing success story is told over here. You can check out the CCC site to find a local club; if there isn’t one, you’re welcome to set up your own. Consult the website for details.

I’ve had a chance to look over the finished volume, playing ‘Spot My Prop’ with childish glee. But what really struck me is how dense this book is, packed to the endpapers with intriguing recipes, filled with the combined cakey know-how of the nation’s enthusiastic amateur bakers. You can view an extract from the book over here: that’s me holding the Strawberry Butterfly Bundt on page 223. A couple of my personal favourites (as tasted on shoot) were Lime & Coconut (wonderfully zingy) and Green Tea with Orange Icing (subtle and delicate); here’s a slice I took home and just managed to find room for.

 

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Green Tea & Orange

 

The Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook launch events are happening across the nation. Take a peek over here for details of one in your neck of the woods.

 

 

*actually, I think it was a sofa antimacassar, but we wanted it to look like an old tablecloth

**I have to use this adjective periodically, just to remind myself how to spell it

 

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Dec 29

For the love of gingerbread

 

“Maybe my passion is nothing special, but at least it’s mine.”

― Tove JanssonTravelling Light

 

I’m guessing I’m not alone in adoring gingerbread. Spicy, warming and irresistible, it also comes with a raft of great stories, often intertwining themes of love and death. Fine medieval ladies offered their jousting knights gingerbread favours, sometimes pressed into heart shapes. In German fairytale, Hansel & Gretel were lured by the cannibalistic witch’s gingerbread house. And America gave us the Gingerbread Boy who ran away from the old couple who’d made him, but who would also eat him. Why the link between gingerbread and cannibalism? If there’s a psychoanalyst in the house, please make yourself known.

As befits a foodstuff that’s been with us since the middle ages, there’s quite a range of recipes. We have gingerbread: the cake and gingerbread: the biscuit. And before that we had gingerbread: the pressed mix of ground almonds, breadcrumbs, honey and spices (or just some of the above), from which the pre-impalement knightly nibbles would have been constructed. Here’s a nice article about some of the oldest gingerbread, complete with recipes. Different nations and regions have boasted gingerbread superiority. It’s a wonder we don’t need a dedicated Gingerbread Council at the United Nations.

For the past decade or so I’ve been making the biscuit kind of gingerbread for my own family at Christmas time. I may be in denial, but it’s my observation that it engenders a simple pleasure response from my nearest and dearest and very little, if any, conflict. Sometimes I go to town and ice the gingerbread to hang from the Christmas tree. Sometimes I just leave it plain for eating right away, warm from the oven. It’s got to the point where Christmas doesn’t feel quite right without a batch, the scent of the spiced baking suffusing the house. Mince pies I could do without, but I would really miss gingerbread. This is a little curious because it wasn’t something my own mother made.

Gingerbread hearts

Gingerbread cooling

This year’s batch was plain and simple, and my youngest helped stamp out the shapes.

Another thing that I’ve fallen for over the past decade or so is the Moomin books of Tove Jansson. I didn’t encounter them as a child, but my own kids have loved having them read to them. Besides a pleasing blend of cosiness and adventure, and a variety of quirky characters, there is an extraordinary emotional honesty within those books which is rare in children’s literature. If you’d like to know more, there’s a wonderful documentary about Tove Jansson currently viewable on BBC iPlayer. I’ve only recently discovered that she wrote books for adults too; reading them is one of my least onerous new year’s resolutions.

 

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Feb 15

Sea Sew

 

I found this delightful little music video while searching for sewing-related films. Turns out I Don’t Know isn’t about sewing at all. The song captures perfectly all the delicious little unknowns you experience when falling in love (apologies Valentine’s Day phobics – just when you thought it was safe to venture out again!). As a bonus there is a pair of scissors at the beginning and some energetic snippety-snipping of paper throughout. Like.

I hadn’t heard of the singer before, though it’s three years since the very charming Lisa Hannigan‘s solo album Sea Sew was released.  Somehow I managed to miss her appearances on Jools Holland, Steven Colbert,  the Mercury Awards, and also her vocals on Greys Anatomy. But, hey! Better late than never!

There’s a Daily Telegraph interview with Lisa over here. It begins: ‘ She knits the artwork for her album covers with her mother, and plays broken-down, wheezy old instruments. Her blog posts contain not bitter tirades, but cake-making recipes.’  What’s not to love?

Fabulously unstarry, she says that her genre is best described as  ‘plinky plonk rock’. More of her very watchable videos over here. Am I really the only person in the universe who hadn’t heard of Lisa before today? Do let me know if you like her too and feel free to point me in the direction of any favourite songs.

 

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