Raspberry Crumb Bars

When M was little and I used to collect her from Preschool at lunchtimes, I could only ever find out how she’d spent her morning by a process of elimination.

Me: Did you have a good morning?

M: Yes.

Me: What did you do?

M: I didn’t do the cylinders (she went to a Montessori Preschool)

Me: So … what did you do?

M: I didn’t do any painting.

Me: And instead you did …?

M: I didn’t polish the mirror.

And in that way, I’d eventually discover that she had had a thoroughly enjoyable morning absorbed in weeding the garden, climbing the apple tree and pegging out woollen socks to dry on the clothes line.

L has a similar habit. As part of her recent science project for school, she decided to label a picture of a capybara to show “their adaptations to an aquatic lifestyle” (a phrase that featured often in the course of working on this project). After highlighting their webbed feet, highly-placed eyes, ears and nostrils, and water-resistant fur, she took great pleasure in adding a label to show ‘no tail’. I’m not convinced this lack has anything to do with an aquatic lifestyle, but she found the idea of labelling something that wasn’t there particularly amusing.

I think there are similarities here somewhere to Lacan’s theory that la femme n’existe pas, but it would be a bit of a conversation killer if I go any further along that line of thinking …

Anyway, if you ask M what she’ll be wearing to school next term, she’ll probably tell you, “Not a yellow jumper.” Which will be true. It’s the end of term and the end of key stage 1 for M. In September, she will be growed up enough to wear blue instead of yellow – only you’ll have to find that bit out by a process of elimination.

It being the end of term, I baked a couple of trays of raspberry crumb bars for my children to take into school for their teachers. There very nearly weren’t any of these left after L and I ‘sampled’ them last night. It was just to make sure we weren’t going to poison the staff – honest! Scientific measures of quality control.

At least, that’s the line we’re sticking to. We didn’t eat three slices each straight from the oven, we didn’t burn our tongues on hot, gooey jam and Captain Blackadder definitely did not shoot the delicious plump breasted pigeon, sir.

Raspberry Crumb Bars (adapted from a recipe by Joanne Chang)

12 oz unsalted butter
3 1/2 oz caster sugar
3 tbsp icing sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 oz plain flour
6 1/4 oz cake flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 jar of raspberry jam (with seeds)

Cream the butter with the sugars until the mixture is light and fluffy.

Beat in the egg yolks and vanilla.

Whisk the dry ingredients together, then add gradually on low speed to the buttery sugary eggy mixture. Stir just until the flour is incorporated and evenly mixed.

Remove 8 oz of the dough, wrap it in clingfilm and put it in the freezer.

Press the remaining dough into a flattish disc shape, wrap it in clingfilm and chill it in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Roll out the fridge dough to a 9″x13″ rectangle between two lightly-floured sheets of baking parchment. Leaving the dough on the lower sheet of parchment, transfer the dough to a 9″x13″ baking tray. Neaten the edges and trim any excess overhanging parchment.

Bake for 20 minutes until golden.

Let the shortbread base cool for 10 minutes and then spread the jam evenly over the top. Use a large-holed grater to grate the frozen piece of dough over the top of the jam.

Bake for a further 20 minutes until the top is bubbly and golden.

Leave to cool completely in the tray on a wire rack before removing and cutting into bars.

Apple Plum Pie

I’ve had several requests for my apple and plum pie recipe, so here it is (perhaps it should really be Apple Plum Pear Pie, but that sounds a bit of a mouthful).

Oh – and the Catalan quote …?

Let’s look down the coast, not up; it doesn’t rain fish.

Apple Plum Pie (an unseasonal pie for a rainy day in summer)

For the pastry
7 oz oz plain flour
3 oz self-raising flour
6 oz butter

For the filling
2 Bramley apples
6 ripe plums
3 small pears
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 oz light muscovado sugar
2 oz caster sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 oz butter
1 tbsp cornflour

Rub the butter into the flour and stir in just enough water to form a dough. Divide into two pieces, one for the bottom crust and one for the top crust of the pie. Wrap each piece in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge.

Peel and dice the apples and pears. Dice the plums. Toss all together in a large bowl with the lemon juice, sugars and cinnamon. Leave to macerate for at room temperature for at least an hour.

Strain the juices from the fruit and sugar mix into a small saucepan. Reserve the fruit (obviously – or it would just be a jam pie!).

Add the butter to the juices and bring them to the boil. Simmer gently until the juices are syrupy and reduced to about 1/3 cup.

Sprinkle the cornflour over the reserved fruit and toss to combine thoroughly.

Pour the syrupy jam over the fruit and toss again to mix everything together evenly.

Roll out the pastry for the bottom crust and use it to line a 9″ pie dish.

Scrape the fruit mixture into the pie. Roll out the pastry for the top crust and use it to cover the fruit. Seal and crimp the edges. Make four or five slashes in the top, or prod it several times with a fork.

Cover the pie loosely with clingfilm and leave it to rest in the fridge for an hour or so.

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C.

Bake the pie for 45 to 55 minutes until the pastry is golden and the juices are bubbly.

Allow to cool slightly before eating …

De Peixos, No En Plouen

Let’s talk about the weather.

No, let’s not. It’s raining. Again.

Is it really July? Without the endings that bring expectations of holidays and sunshine – the end of ballet classes, the end of the school year, the end of chorister duties …

– we could easily be hoodwinked into building bonfires and counting down the days to Christmas.

The BBC called us ‘deluged Devon‘ today. Apparently, a month’s worth of rain – up to 80mm – fell in the past 24 hours and more bad weather has been forecast. Thanks.

This eternal drizzle makes everything difficult. Bookbags and papers get soggy, hair turns frizzy, cooped-up children become grumpy. Okay, that’s probably more a description of my own problems with the weather than of anyone else’s … but I’m sure you know what I mean.

What’s that saying …? When life deals you something-or-other, make something-or-other? Fry fish? Make bagels? There’s a saying there on the tip of my tongue, but I can’t quite get hold of it.

Never mind. Here’s another I’ve just made up on the spot: when it rains instead of shines, make apple and plum pie.

Which is made just like Gooseberry pie really, only bigger. But if anyone wants the exact recipe, give me a shout.

Mirem més ensota que endalt; de peixos, no en plouen.

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.