The Wooden Spoon Adventures

Let’s all sing …

Happy 5th Blogiversary to A Merrier World,
Happy 5th Blogiversary …

Hmmm. Maybe not. It doesn’t quite scan, does it?

But it really is my blog’s 5th birthday (despite the fact that the Choc Chip Cookie Brownie Cake above has seven candles. I was never very good with numbers).

Five years ago today, I clicked ‘publish’ for the first time and held my breath as my chocolate brownie tentatively announced my new, official status of ‘food blogger.’ Since that day, I have discovered friendships among an online crowd of passionate food bloggers and bakers, I have entertained Rose Levy Beranbaum and her assistant, Woody Woolston at home and abroad, and even conjured up a surprise at Dart’s Farm for two of my most loyal readers over the years, Melinda and Jeannette. My Great Pumpkin Cake seems to have spread far and wide across the internet whilst my Rainbow Cake and Unicorns post has inspired other Mums looking for party ideas for their young children. And WordPress tells me that this is my 150th post (gosh, how did that happen? A nice round, significant number like that? 😉 )

To celebrate this milestone (and five years is not so very short a time in terms of internet history), I’m sending a wooden spoon off into the big wide world to stir up some trouble.

Here’s the plan …

A few weeks ago, I snail-mailed a wooden spoon to one of my first-ever blog readers, Melinda. She had very generously agreed to come out of blogging retirement to write a post on her own blog about the adventures this wooden spoon would have with her when she used it to bake a tasty, local treat. She had also agreed to hound down, pester, cajole or bribe another willing food blogger to accept this wooden spoon afterwards and to take it on a further baking spree.

True to her word (for which I will be forever grateful), Melinda has introduced my wooden spoon to the delights of a Lemon Blueberry Buckle, nostalgically reminiscent of her roots in Oregon. She has also coined a new word – spoonee. Thank you, Melinda, for being such a wonderful first spoonee!  Next stop, Portland …

And so the wooden spoon’s adventures will hopefully continue, passing from baker to baker around the globe and whipping up a storm of regional specialities.

If all goes well, I will chart the Wooden Spoon’s Adventures here on A Merrier World by building up a page of links to all the delicious recipes the spoon has met on its culinary travels.

As for the lavishly-named, seven-candled Choc Chip Cookie Brownie Cake … here’s the recipe as a special birthday present from me to A Merrier World and its readers 🙂 .

Choc Chip Cookie Brownie Cake

Cookie Base
3 oz butter
2 oz caster sugar
2 1/2 oz light muscovado sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 medium egg
5 oz plain flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
5 oz chocolate chips

Cream the butter and sugars in a large mixing bowl.

Gradually beat in the vanilla and egg.

Stir in the flour, baking soda and salt.

Stir in the chocolate chips.

Spread the cookie dough in the base of a 9″ springform pan. Put in the fridge while making the brownie batter.

Brownie
3 oz plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp cocoa powder
5 1/2 oz plain chocolate
4 oz butter
1/4 tsp coffee granules
5 oz caster sugar
2 oz light muscovado sugar
2 large eggs
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Whisk together the flour, salt and cocoa powder. Set aside.

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bowl over a pan of hot water. Stir in the coffee granules.

Turn off the heat and whisk in the caster and muscovado sugars until completely combined.

Take the bowl off the pan of hot water and whisk in 1 egg, the egg yolk and vanilla.

Whisk in the second egg, but be careful not to overbeat at this stage.

Sprinkle the flour mixture over the top and fold in with a spatula.

Pour the brownie batter over the chilled cookie base.

Bake for 25 minutes until the brownie is just setting. Leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

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).

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).

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.