Squishy Lemon Squares

Name this common kitchen appliance …

Yep, that’s right. It’s our fridge.

T sat down at the kitchen table yesterday evening and drew a garden full of beautiful flowers. Or ‘flauers’ as he first started to spell it (except you can’t see that because he hid it under the telephone-box magnet). Perhaps he intended his flowers to be tasty treats for his dinosaur. Looking at his picture again though, perhaps he meant the flowers to catch the T-Rex. You can never be too sure how his mind works.

It’s a shame that the weather isn’t quite as summer-conscious as T apparently is right now. Almost a week into July and we’ve seen little but rainclouds and puddles. And T is missing school today because of a winter-like cough. He’s asleep at the moment, curled up in bed and snuggling into his soft toy frogs (one big, one small).

The squishy lemon squares that I baked this morning would have been perfect for a scorching, sunblazing summer afternoon. As it is, they’ll be just right for a small, sleepy-headed boy when I have to bundle him into the car in an hour or so to collect his sisters from school.

Perhaps the weather will take the hint.

Squishy Lemon Squares (or Rectangles, depending on how you cut them)

4 oz plain flour
7 oz caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
5 1/2 oz butter, room temperature
3 medium eggs (5 oz without shells)
zest of 2 lemons
3 tbsp lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Grease and baseline a 7″x11″ baking tray.

Beat the flour, sugar, salt and butter together in a big bowl until smooth.

Crack the eggs into a jug and beat in the lemon zest and juice.

Add the lemony eggs gradually to the floury butter mixture, beating to incorporate after each addition. Continue beating at medium speed until the batter is smooth and creamy.

Scrape into the prepared baking tray and smooth the top evenly.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 25 minutes until golden and risen. Don’t overbake.

Leave to cool in the baking tray, then cut into squares (or rectangles – but Squishy Lemon Rectangles doesn’t sound as poetic as Squishy Lemon Squares, so call them whatever you wish).

We Heart Gooseberry Pie

O is quite happy to describe himself as a bit of a Luddite, so I hope I’m not betraying any confidences when I tell you so. It relates to the extent to which he is comfortable (or not) to embrace new technologies. Perhaps the best illustration of this is his endearing persistence in starting all emails to me with a formal, ‘Dear Kate …’ in avoidance of anything more casual. I even received text messages from him in this way until either our need to keep in more regular contact strained his texting thumb or he relaxed his perception of correct wife-husband correspondence.

Anyway – why am I telling you this? Only because I know that the title of this post will either have confused the hell out of him or he’ll be reaching for the psychiatrist’s phone number thinking he’s got a psychotic wife on the loose again. Relax – it’s only a doffing reference to txtspk or emoticons or whatever (you see, I really don’t know any more than O does) because a) we really do love gooseberry pie, and b) I really did make my little pie in a heart-shaped ramekin. And really, how many reallies can you fit into one paragraph without sounding insincere anyway?

So, having completely tied myself up in knots (or should that be ‘tied up myself in knots’?). Ug. Who cares? The pie was good.

Which pie?

Didn’t I tell you?

Oh, sorry. I got a bit side-tracked.

Here’s the story.

O picked our first crop of gooseberries.

I made gooseberry pie.

Which would have been a very short post.

Gooseberry Pie (makes one very small ramekin-sized pie for a first crop of gooseberries)

Your favourite shortcrust pastry
8 oz gooseberries, topped and tailed
4 oz caster sugar
juice and zest of 1 small lemon
2 tsp cornflour
1 oz butter

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Put the gooseberries, sugar, lemon juice and zest in a saucepan. Cook over low to moderate heat until the gooseberries are looking very relaxed and chilled out with life.

Strain the mixture then put the strained gooseberries into a bowl and mix with the cornflour until fully incorporated.

Return the sugary juice to the pan, add the butter and simmer until thickened to a jam-like consistency.

Line your ramekin with pastry.

Mix the gooseberries with enough jam to make a not-too-soggy filling, and scrape into the pastry-lined ramekin. (I had a little extra jam, so made gooseberry snails with the leftover scraps of pastry).

Top the pie with a layer of pastry and seal.

Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes until the pastry is golden and flaky.

This recipe (for what it’s worth) is dedicated to Rose, to whom I sent a heart-shaped ramekin not so very long ago.

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.

The Best-Ever Apple Cake Recipe

Perhaps I should qualify this before the lawyers come knocking on my door. I’m going to give you the best-ever apple cake recipe, the only recipe you’ll ever want to use from now on, the recipe that beats all other apple cake recipes hands down … according to my husband.

I’ve written before about my husband’s peculiar lack of a sweet tooth, so the fact that he endorses this recipe wholeheartedly should be merit in itself. It wasn’t a snap decision on his part, either – this recipe is the result of many failed and not-quite-right trials over the course of several years of trying to match my apple cakes to his specific expectations. It had to be moist and taste of apples rather than spices. Not too sweet. No faffy crumbly topping stuff. No sultanas or raisins. Noticeable apple chunks – none of that puréed muck. And it didn’t stop there. Nothing baked in a round cake pan – he wanted his slices to be square.

Not demanding in the slightest then, huh?

Anyway, I’d given up. And then we moved to a house with an orchard at the bottom of its garden.

As autumn turned into winter, I sent my three children out to collect the windfalls in T’s little red wagon. Seven truckloads later, I faced a showdown situation. If I couldn’t create that perfect apple cake recipe with such an abundance of readily-available fruit, then I would have failed forever as a loving, doting wife and homemaker. Well, whatever – you get the picture.

The pressure wasn’t entirely self-induced. O did point out that his birthday was coming up and please, could I bake an apple cake for him to take into work …?

So I stayed up late, burnt the midnight oil, sweated and slaved, worked day and night …

Actually, I hit on the bright idea of mixing a few appple chunks into my favourite yellow cake recipe, tossing it all into a rectangular cake pan and slamming it into the oven for 40 minutes or so to see what happened.

What happened was the best apple cake ever … according to my husband.

PS – Chris from Green Valley Cyder said that he’d eaten many apple cakes but that this was “one of the best.” So you don’t have to take just my husband’s word for it.

The Best-Ever Apple Cake (by me and according to my husband)

13 1/4 oz peeled, cored and diced Bramley apples
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 to 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 to 1/2 tsp mace (or grated nutmeg)
7 oz unsalted butter, room temperature
13 1/4 oz castor sugar
5 1/4 oz eggs (weighed without shells), room temperature
2 3/4 oz egg yolks (weighed without shells), room temperature
1 tbsp vanilla extract
8 oz plain flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
160 ml whole milk, room temperature

Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C (165 degrees C for a fan-assisted oven).

Grease and base-line a 9″ x 13″ rectangular cake pan.

Peel, core and dice the apples (c. 4 largeish Bramleys). Toss in the lemon juice, cinnamon and mace (add as much or as little of these spices to suit your own taste). Set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl until they are very light and fluffy (start to beat slowly and then gradually increase the speed – this allows air bubbles to be incorporated and expanded without popping).

Combine the whole eggs, egg yolks and vanilla in another bowl. Mix with a fork, then add gradually to the creamed butter and sugar, beating well to combine after each addition.

Whisk the dry ingredients together in yet another bowl. Beat 1/3 of the dry ingredients into the batter, then 1/2 of the milk. Repeat and then add the final 1/3 of the dry ingredients (ie. dry/wet/dry/wet/dry).

Combine half of the apples with the batter, mixing gently to distribute evenly. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Scatter the remaining apple pieces over the top of the batter.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes until the cake is golden and springy, and a tester comes out clean (unless you’ve speared an apple, that is).

Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn the cake out of the pan and cool on a wire rack. Trim the sides and cut into squares.

No-Bake Chocolate Ganache Tart

Although we don’t have a television, which possibly makes us a slightly unusual family, we do watch a variety of TV programmes via BBC iPlayer and 4OD. Recently, we enjoyed Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall’s latest River Cottage series in which he gave up eating meat for four months over the summer. The programmes in this series charted his discovery of new vegetarian combinations and dishes, ranging from simple soups and salads to lavish banquets and wedding feasts.

Perhaps the most intriguing creation from the entire series however was Laura Coxeter’s raw chocolate ganache tart. Prepared with a heady mix of pecans, medjool dates, avocados and cacao powder, it really is a work of pure genius.

The idea behind the tart is that it can be served to raw food eaters, vegans and anyone wishing to avoid dairy, gluten and soya in their diet. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t normally associate such a recipe with something that turns out to be richly chocolately and sinfully sumptuous. But Laura really did appear to have pulled it off, judging by the velvet gooiness of the ganache and the fervent lip-smacking of its tasters. I was inspired to give it a go.

Now, I have to confess that I’m not a raw food eater. Okay, it’s probably not such a huge confession – Laura’s the first raw food eater that I’ve ever come across. I did therefore make a few changes to the tart, which will no doubt have raw foodies shuddering in their graves. In essence, my recipe is more or less true to the original although not an exact replication.

The secret behind the ganache is avocado. Whizzed up in a food processor with cocoa powder and sugar, avocados form the basis of a smooth, luxurious texture that is normally achieved by mixing chocolate and cream. The whole tart is ridiculously easy to make – you just need to make sure that you’ve allowed plenty of time for it to chill and set before serving.

The finished tart got a thumbs-up from my children, and I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to present it as the pièce de résistance at the end of a more grown-up dinner party. All in all, this recipe is just in time for the festive season. Happy Holidays 🙂

No-Bake Chocolate Ganache Tart (adapted from a recipe by Laura Coxeter)

For the base
300g/10 1/2 oz pecans
1 tsp salt
200g/7 oz medjool dates

For the filling
4 medium, ripe avocados
150g/5 1/2 oz rice bran oil
Seeds of 2 whole vanilla pods
200g/7 oz cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
300g/10 1/2 oz castor sugar

Blend the pecans in a food processor, then add the salt and dates. Whizz them all together until the mixture balls into a dough.

Press the dough into the base of a 9″ springform pan. Chill in the freezer to harden.

Peel and de-stone the avocados, then blend the pulp in the food processor. Add the oil, vanilla seeds, cocoa, salt and sugar and process until smooth.

Scrape the filling onto the base and spread evenly with a spatula or palette knife.

Set the tart in the freezer for an hour before serving.