Just Go With The Season

Some things are my fault; others aren’t. I think rain comes into the latter category but it’s hard to be sure. I hope that the Queen can forgive me if my Lemon Almond Sundrops have inadvertently jinxed the weather for her Diamond Jubilee celebrations …

Today’s rain has come as a reflection of my own unseasonal cravings for deeply rich plum chutney and dark treacle toffee brownies this week. But perhaps it has also come as more than this. It would be easier for me to pretend that my kitchen has remained resolutely cheerful and sunny in the face of such an unsporting downpour however, that my children and I have whipped up storms of cream cheese frosting and hung the festive bunting from every muffin top and trifle – for telling you about the chutney and the brownies is also to tell a little of my own raincloud. Perhaps today’s rain has inched me towards this.

You see, my jar of plum chutney is a necessity. I know it’s not autumn and that we’ve barely made headway into the summer season of fresh plum tarts and salads. I know I should be embarrassed about posting a recipe for chutney in June. It’s just that … well … my jar of plum chutney has become a talisman of sorts in my painful daily battle against my ongoing anorexic voice – the internal voice that accompanies me everywhere, seeking to lock me in an eating disordered world. I developed my own recipe for this chutney, I chopped and stirred and boiled it, I tasted it, I potted it, and now it sits there in my fridge with ‘Eat Me!’ written all over it. And I do – eat it, I mean. It’s good.

But if I tell you this about my plum chutney, I also dare to show you a little bit more of my reality. The real person, the true ‘me’ that hides behind whatever face a blog is able to provide. If I share my plum chutney recipe with you now, in June, then I’m admitting my vulnerability. Being open is to be vulnerable – if I let you know me, I risk letting you reject me. And hurt me – the real me, that is. The one that feels the plugs in the heart. I have lashing rains of doubt and self-loathing already. I don’t want to encounter yet more.

And if I talk about these sinfully dark, sticky treacle toffee brownies I created, then the face will disappear. It’s just me there instead. I’ll tell you how treacle toffee reaches right back into my childhood, how it’s a taste that is at once both bitter and restorative. These brownies have tears folded inside them. But … “Jeez, Kate – it’s summer!” you’ll say. “Save them for the cold evenings of bonfires and frosts. Give us some meringues, some tipsy trifles, some cucumber sandwiches. There’s a party on, you know!”

You’ll be right though. There is a party on after all – and I didn’t set out to be a damp squib. Rain might have stopped play for a while but it’s brightening up now and there’ll still be time for a few overs before tea.

Just don’t mind me if I sit here on the sidelines with my pot of plum chutney and plate of treacle toffee brownies for a bit longer. Perhaps someone might like to join me – there’s plenty to share.

Ploughmans Plum Chutney

5 oz caster sugar
75 ml white wine vinegar
25 ml malt vinegar
3 large plums, stoned and diced
1 apple, peeled, cored and diced
1 1/2 oz sultanas
1/4 tsp salt

For the spice bag
1 star anise
1/4 oz fresh, peeled ginger
1 large clove garlic
1/2 oz peeled red onion
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp black peppercorns

Put the sugar and vinegars in a medium saucepan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved.

Tie the ingredients for the spice bag in a square of muslin and crush them all up a bit with your fist. Add the spice bag together with the other remaining ingredients to the saucepan.

Bring slowly to the boil, then simmer gently for an hour. Stir regularly so that the syrupy mixture doesn’t stick and burn.

Test for readiness by drawing a wooden spoon through the mixture – it’s thick enough when the chutney parts briefly to reveal the bottom of the pan.

Pot while still warm in a sterilised jar. The chutney will probably improve if left to mature a while, but I haven’t managed to test that theory so far – my jar is empty within a week or so …

Treacle Toffee Brownies

4 oz butter
8 oz dark muscovado sugar
5 oz light muscovado sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 oz wholegrain spelt flour
2 oz cocoa powder
3 eggs

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Grease and baseline a 9″ x 12″ pan.

Melt the butter, then stir in all the remaining ingredients until thoroughly combined.

Scrape into the pan and smooth. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until risen but still a little gooey.

Cool completely in the pan before removing and cutting into squares.

Lemon Almond Sundrops

Will the summer sunshine disappear if I comment on it? Or perhaps it’s about to disappear anyway. The weather right now certainly seems too good to be true for all things Jubilee …

But then, as the sun him(her?)self once told Frank O’Hara:

Just keep on
like I do and pay no attention. You’ll
find that people always will complain
about the atmosphere, either too hot
or too cold too bright or too dark, days
too short or too long.
If you don’t appear
at all one day they think you’re lazy
or dead. Just keep right on, I like it.

A sun with attitude.

“Awesome!” as L would say (and she should know, being someone not unfamiliar with the concept of attitude).

I made some little sundrops for the children’s school summer fête last weekend. They didn’t really look chock-a-block full of attitude, but I have to tell you that there was no way they were going to let me dress them in anything other than their natural, feisty golden colours. And when you consider that these could be just about the only sweet celebration treats you’ll find right now that don’t come in various shades of red, white or blue …

Now – that’s attitude for you 😉

Lemon Almond Sundrops

7 oz butter
7 oz caster sugar
4 eggs
zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp orange flower water
2 oz plain flour
7 oz ground almonds

6 oz icing sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp water

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Grease and baseline a 9″x12″ rectangular baking tray.

Cream butter and sugar, then add eggs gradually. Stir in the lemon zest and juice, and the orange water.

Carefully fold in the flour and ground almonds.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth evenly. Bake for 30 minutes until golden and springy. Leave for 5 minutes to cool before turning out onto a wire rack.

Prepare the glaze by mixing together the icing sugar, lemon juice and water.

When the cake is just cool enough to handle, use a circular biscuit cutter to cut out … well, circles really (what else can I say?). I used a diameter of 1 7/8″, which made 24 circles.

Dip the tops of each sundrop in the glaze and return to the wire rack to set. Lick your fingers (because they’ll be very sticky by now).

Boom Boom Ain’t It Great To Be Floury

If you’d asked me ten years ago whether I thought I could ever get excited over a bag of flour, I’d have died laughing. No way! I mean, come on – are you serious? A bag of what?  My thoughts on flour (not that I ever lost any sleep over them then) were more along the lines of, “Where the hell is it?” in a supermarket rather than of an ecstatic, jump-up-and-down-with-glee sort of variety.

But that was before I came across an old, slightly dog-eared copy of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Cake Bible in a second-hand shop in Kirkcudbright.  That was back in 2007. I soon became embroiled in a search to find a replacement for the bleached cake flour that seemed to be so crucial to the success of her most-raved-about recipes. Not that I’m obsessive or anything. Just saying …

Cake layers baked with untreated (L) and heat-treated (R) flour.

I couldn’t simply ship in a whole load of cake flour from the US because the bleaching of flour had been prohibited in the UK since 1997. A bit of online research (okay, googling) revealed that the heat-treatment of flour provides a viable and successful alternative to bleached flour for use in high-ratio cake recipes. Eh Voilà! (I thought). Only, no. After tracking down a supply of heat-treated cake flour at Carr’s Flour Mills Ltd, I phoned them and was frustrated to be told that they only sold it in vat-sized amounts, and they wouldn’t sell any to me anyway because I’m not a business. To be honest, I think they were highly suspicious of my inquiry. They probably thought I was some sort of rival milling industry.

One thing led to another and my poor microwave came in for a bit of a battering as I nuked batch after batch of different flours in an attempt to recreate the heat-treatment process at home. When my hair-brained experiments actually began to generate visible improvements in the cakes I was baking, I started blogging about my results. I was surprised to find that I wasn’t the only one desperately seeking cake flour …

Why on earth were the UK flour mills so reluctant to sell their heat-treated cake flour to home bakers? John Lister from Shipton Mill popped over to A Merrier World to explain a bit of the background:

From the merry Miller in the wood…..Greetings…..stunned by the ingeniuity in the world, happily chortling here to learn of such madness and can hardly believe what happens in the kitchens of England……brilliant news on the cake flour, some years ago the global millers used to spend their time pumping chlorine gas through flour to denature and bleach it to make a perfect functional flour suited to cake making……in the last few years the process was outlawed for health reasons and heat treatment replaced it…..industrial sauce and cake manufacturers now use soft flours that are heat treated, such heat treatment processes are not readily available to smaller millers, still struggling with stone age technology, (Mill stones etc) so the idea of microwaving the flour is fascinating and a perfect solution by the sounds of it, am off to try this out, and will let you know the progress, John

Despite the obvious demand for heat-treated cake flour among home bakers, it seemed likely therefore that supplies would be restricted to commercial use for the foreseeable future.

So … does that explain why I’m so delighted to discover that at least two mills are now selling bags of heat-treated cake flour to individual consumers? (If you still don’t get my excitement, then you probably won’t have read this far anyway).

Dasha kindly left a comment on A Merrier World to let me know about the 16kg bags being sold by FWP Matthews Ltd.  She says, “You need to place the order over the phone as it is not listed in their online shop. The woman I spoke to was super helpful and said that they usually despatch same day with a next day courier.”

The second supplier came to my notice via a comment from AliceL on Rose’s blog. This heat-treated cake flour is being sold in 2kg bags as The Ultimate Cake Making Flour by Cinnamon Square. Furthermore, Alice reported the results of her comparison of the variously-treated cake flours:

Inspired by Rose and Kate, I baked and compared 3 versions of [Rose’s Favorite Yellow Layer] cake:
– one with USA Cake flour (imported via eBay at significant cost 🙂
– one with Kate Flour (made using UK Shipton Mills cake flour, no cornflour)
– one with UK “Cinnamon Square” heated Treated Cake flour (9.65% protein, no cornflour)

Results were all excellent. All three had good x2 rise and were tasty, moist and melting.
USA Cake Flour slightly higher in the centre (~2mm) and marginally finer texture.
Kate and Cinnamon Sq Heat Treated flour cakes were indistinguishable from each other. Just very slightly more fluffy/crumbly than USA cake flour – a tiny bit of Xantham gum would work there I suspect.

Can you hear my feet banging now as I jump up and down with glee?!

Sorry – must dash. Off to buy some flour …

Not A Chocolate Fudge Birthday Cake

My oven and I have had a serious falling out. I want cakes with smooth tops. My oven obviously prefers cakes with cracked tops – because that’s what it keeps giving me. Volcanic eruptions and craters to rival those on Venus.

I know the theory. Peaked and cracked tops = oven temperature too high so the sides set too quickly and the uncooked batter pushes up through the top of the cake.

Simple, no?

I baked four chocolate fudge cakes last week, hoping to resolve my disagreement with my oven in time for T’s 5th birthday.

Cake 1: Having already discovered that my oven has a rather blowy fan, I reduced the temperature for the first cake by 10 degrees C. The top cracked.

Cake 2: I reduced the temperature to 160 degrees C. The top cracked.

Cake 3: I kept the temperature at 160 degrees C and used magi-cake strips. The top cracked.

Cake 4: I reduced the temperature to 150 degrees C and used magi-cake strips. The top cracked.

Cake 5: There wasn’t one. Or a cake 6 or 7 or 8. Huh.

I know for 99.9% sure that there isn’t a problem with either the recipe or with my mixing technique. And my oven thermometer is accurate. So, it has to be something the oven is doing. O said it didn’t really matter – T’s birthday cake would taste fine anyway. But that’s not the point – it DOES matter! (Well, it matters to me if not to O).

Frustrated (an understatement), I fired off a tirade of abuse against my oven in an email to Rose. She sympathized (phew, at last – someone who understands!) and wondered if there’s an upper heating element in my oven that kicks on every few minutes. She suggested putting the cake on the bottom rack and putting a sheet pan on the upper rack to protect the top. I’ll try that next time … if I can ever bring myself to forgive my oven for its attitude problem.

As for T’s birthday cake – well, I salvaged the two least-volcanic examples, grouted the cracks with generous dollops of buttercream, smothered the entire cake and crumbled a chocolate flake over the top. Far from disappointing, the extra chocolatey gooiness filling the cracks delighted T and his party friends. There’s no accounting for taste, I guess.

No, I didn’t snap any nude shots of the cracked cake tops – you’ll just have to image what they looked like underneath their chocolate clothing.

My recalcitrant oven did manage to pull off one redeeming success however. Conceived originally as nothing more than an attempt to use up the various odd bits of things in my baking cupboard, it’s a happy miracle that I actually kept some sort of account of what I was throwing into the mixing bowl. Without that, I wouldn’t have a clue how to make them again. And L has demanded more of these – even though she can’t say ‘Chocolate Cookie Choc Chip Bounty Bar‘ without getting her tongue in a twist.

Chocolate Cookie Choc Chip Bounty Bars (aka Not A Chocolate Fudge Birthday Cake)

Cookie Base
7 3/4 oz butter
5 1/2 oz caster sugar
6 oz light muscovado sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
9 oz bread flour
4 oz cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

Coconut Topping
7 oz desiccated coconut
4 oz caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
12 oz chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C (depending on your relationship with your oven. Ha) Grease and base line a 20 x 30 cm baking tray with parchment (leave a couple of handles if you like so you can hoik the whole thing out of the tray when it’s cool).

Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl.

Lightly beat the eggs together with the vanilla and add gradually to the creamed mixture.

Mix together the dry ingredients, then stir into the dough until just combined.

Drop large spoonfulls of the dough into the baking tray. Bear in mind that the dough will spread during baking – aim to place the spoonfulls so that they will spread into each other and cover the base of the baking tray. I had enough dough left over to make 6 or 7 cookies or so (sorry, I haven’t adjusted the cookie recipe so that it makes exactly the amount you need for the base. Just enjoy the extra cookies).

Bake for 7 mins until the cookie is just beginning to set but is still underdone underneath the upper crust. Set aside to cool a little.

Make the coconut topping. Mix the coconut with the eggs until they are well combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Carefully spread the coconut mixture over the cookie base. Pat it gently with the back of a spoon but don’t press it so hard that it falls through the cookie.

Bake for a further 10 to 15 mins until the coconut is golden and set.

Leave to cool in the tray, then cut into bars.

Rocky Road Sticky Toffee Crispie Cakes

Don’t make these.

Just don’t.

Rocky Road …

Sticky toffee …

Crispie cakes …

You’re going to regret this.

Okay then, you can’t say I didn’t warn you …

Rocky Road Sticky Toffee Crispie Cakes

375g (x3 boxes) Cadbury’s Chocolate Fingers
225g pitted dates
300g Green and Black’s 72% cook’s chocolate
300g Green and Black’s white chocolate
200g butter
100g mini marshmallows
115g Rice Krispies

Line a 20x30cm cake pan with baking parchment, leaving flappy bits hanging over the sides to use as handles for pulling the cake out of the pan.

Chop fingers into small, bite-sized pieces (the Cadbury’s chocolate fingers that is – not your own).

Whizz the dates in a food processor until they turn into a smooth paste.

Melt the chocolates and butter in a bowl set over a pan of warm water.

Stir in the dates and mix until combined.

Add the chopped fingers, marshmallows and crispies. Stir to incorporate evenly.

Scrape into the prepared cake pan and spread with a spatula. Leave the cake to set in the fridge for an hour or so, or for as long as you can put off eating it (whichever comes sooner).

Unmould and cut into squares.