It is well-known that when friends give birth, the appropriate gift (in addition to cute teeny tiny clothes) is home-baked goods. (Sleepless parents need the sugar.) I was reminded of this fact unashamedly by my lovely friend Hannah, when she saw this photo of some recent baking exploits:

London themed bakingIn honour of a Matryoshka Haus community meal at our place, which included a Texan visitation, I felt the need to bake London-themed treats…

This particular baking exploit occurred at the start of what felt like a week of non-stop baking. For the same gathering, I baked my second loaf of bread (better than the first and last week’s third was better again – I’m loving this bread baking lark). Next, I baked 20 cupcakes for a Bring & Share lunch at church. Then, Hannah and I confirmed a day for me to meet their lovely new daughter, and I got to work again – making my classic ginger flapjack and the Clutterbuck family favourite, Be-Ro lemon biscuits.

I’ve blogged about these biscuits before, but now they have an official name. Hannah’s husband Dan loved them so much that he decreed that they would henceforth be known as “Clutterbiscuits”, which I’m totally ok with. They are fabulously simple, yummy and versatile, which are three excellent characteristics in a baked good.

The recipe is as follows…

200g SR Flour
100g Caster Sugar
100g Margarine
1 egg (beaten)
Grated rind & juice of half a lemon

Mix flour and sugar together. Rub in fat [till it looks like fine breadcrumbs].
Add in lemon and enough egg to make a stiff dough.
[Do this gradually, sticky dough’s a nightmare. You won’t need all the egg.]
Roll out thinly and cut. [Obviously, use a floured surface & rolling pin.]
Place on a greased baking tray and place in oven at 180c for 15 minutes.

Egg hunting biscuitsEgg shaped biscuits baked & decorated for our Egg Hunting day out in 2012 – I even went to the trouble of making initialled ones for everyone there. (It must have been a study day…)

Decoration is optional. If I’m making them for an activity where they may get bashed around, I probably wouldn’t bother. In the case of the Big Bens above [yes, I know that’s the bell inside, but for simplicity’s sake!] I went with a simple lemon water icing outline of its features. Hannah & Dan’s biscuits were a little more lurid as I learnt it’s a bad idea to try and make delicate blue icing after 11pm.

Jo's birthday biscuitsPretty teapots for a 30th birthday outing to see Matilda. Again, it must have been a study day for this level of decoration…

Obviously, an interesting set of cookie cutters is an added bonus. In case you’re wondering, the Big Ben cutter is from a set of ‘world landmark’ cutters which also includes the Sydney Opera House, Pyramids, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower. (Mine were from Lakeland but they no longer stock them. I’m sure Google could help…)

Happy baking!

Friday Fun with photos, singing lessons & biscuits

There is a plethora of TfL fun this week. Obviously, you’ll already have seen the football themed underground map? But, have you ever wondered what the map might look like in German? No, neither had I, but thanks to Katie E for sharing a link with me, we all can!

The map is a large one – excluding the DLR and Overground, there are 270 stations. Such a vast number of locations can be tricky to memorise (though it’s got to be said, I’ve never tried). However, there’s now a song to help you! Fellow TfL nerd and comedian Jay Foreman has written a song that features all 270 stations. [You may remember Jay from his fabulous Unfinished London videos – one on the Northern Line, the other on a road building scheme. Both are fascinating.] So your challenge is to learn them:

But it’s not just the tube that’s had all the attention – this week has seen the launch of a website on which you can track the movement of buses across the capital. A transfixing and addictive occupation. Pick a route and voila! The current location of every bus currently moving along it. (For visual purposes, I’ve chosen the most scenic route in London – the RV1.)

Live RV1 Movement

Nicely segueing into my next discovery is this very early photograph of a Metropolitan Line train:

Metropolitan railway steam locomotiveMetropolitan Railway Train. (Credit.)

This is one of a set of photos from the National Media Museum collection, taken with the world’s first consumer-accessible camera – the Kodak No.1. It has to be said, I’d no idea that the first photos were circular! The set is fascinating, not least because the photographers had no form of view-finder, they simply pointed the box and hoped for the best. This was a favourite, as it looks like it was taken not too far away from my flat:

Hansom cabI’m disappointed that the caption’s been cut off – I’m nearly positive it’s Mecklenburgh Square.

Penultimately, we have a rather retro site – in that it doesn’t appear to have been updated since 2002 – that still has a great deal of charm. I have to thank Andy S for this find (I’d love to know what he was doing when he discovered it), as it’s a peculiarly compelling series of biscuit reviews (that link will take you to a page featuring the utterly awesome Tunnocks tea cake). Obviously, it’ll make you crave biscuits – so why not follow the direction of the website name and have a nice cup of tea and a sit down while you watch my final offering?

To round off this week, I highly recommend sitting down (with your tea and biscuits) and enjoying this for the phenomenal comedy that is Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Merchant & Joseph Gordon-Levitt having a lip-synching contest. SO many genuine laugh out loud moments – trust me! Anyone who can mime to Boom Shake the Room has my respect for an eternity…

Expiry date?

A few days ago, while in the middle of a riveting meeting, I noticed that the packet of biscuits on the plate in front of me had a Best Before date of my impending 30th birthday. As I reflected later that day via Facebook/Twitter, it was a metaphor for life…

Yesterday, back in the same room, I sought out the biscuits and located one with the auspicious date on it. It’s now tucked away in my desk drawer with a Post It attached reading: “Do Not Eat (Sentimental Reasons)”.

Maybe I’ll eat it on my last day of being 29, before it and life as I know are past their best.

I’m not being entirely seriously, obviously, though hitting the big 30 is something of a black cloud on the horizon. It’s almost a shame I’m doing my 2010 Firsts thing, as otherwise I could have created a “Things to do before I’m 30” list. In actual fact, I’d probably be happier if I stopped thinking about the things I’d hoped to have done by then.

If anyone has any ideas of stuff I ought to try before then, do let me know – I’m always open to suggestion! Oh, and if you’d like me to try and find some biscuits that expire on your next birthday, I’ll have a go.

Il fait pleut

Or, more accurately J’espère qu’il ne pleut pas, and specifically, that I hope it doesn’t rain next weekend because I’ll be under canvas (again).

In preparation for my annual weekend of fun, frolics and friends in the green fields of Cheltenham, I’ve spent the evening doing a little bit of baking – not cupcakes because they don’t transport well – lemon biscuits, to be precise.

It’s a recipe from my mother’s Be-Ro cookbook (c. 1965) that I have scribbled onto a scrap of paper and is super-simple, given as it’s in the letting children loose in the kitchen bit of the book. It reads as follows, but I’ve included some expansions on the directions:

Lemon Biscuits

200g SR Flour
100g Caster Sugar
100g Margarine
1 egg (beaten)
Grated rind & juice of half a lemon

Mix flour and sugar together. Rub in fat [till it looks like fine breadcrumbs].
Add in lemon and enough egg to make a stiff dough.
[Do this gradually, sticky dough’s a nightmare. You won’t need all the egg.]
Roll out thinly and cut. [Obviously, use a floured surface & rolling pin.]
Place on a greased baking tray and place in oven at 180c for 15 minutes.

And what of the rain reference (other than the obvious camping link)? Well, months ago I purchased a few new cookie cutters, which I’ve not got round to using till today. My favourite’s the umbrella, which may be appropriate – but to wish us luck with the weather I’ve also made some four-leaf clovers.

Then I got a little musical and pretentious with my quaver cutter, deciding to create some semi-quavers and a semi-demi quaver too. (I tried some triplets, but that turned out to be a little over ambitious, as was the hemi-demi-semi quaver.)

And finally, with the last of the dough, I wrote my name – because when you’re using a recipe designed for 6 year olds, you act like a 6 year old.

They’re so yummy it’s a good job I’m intending to shove them in the freezer till Friday, otherwise there’s a high chance they would have all been consumed by then!

In defence of the custard cream – updated

This post is totally inspired by the sermon I heard last week at church, but it’s actually not God-related in the slightest (except that if we’re being theological about it, God is in everything, but we’re not…). It’s taken so long to get it written, because being the methodical researcher that I am, I wanted to check what I remembered against the talk once it was available online. However, for some reason it’s not gone online, so I can’t. As it’s now been a week I’m liable to forget what I wanted to say if I wait much longer, so here goes.

In 2007, the humble custard cream was voted Britain’s favourite biscuit. Last week’s talk was making the point that this illustrated just how fond of moderation the British are. The speaker said the following:

“The custard cream is the most mediocre of all foodstuffs…it has a very bland filling, whose flavour is almost impossible to describe and it’s held between two biscuits of equally tasteless character which nonetheless manage to usurp the blandness of the filling by being less interestingly creamy and more uninterestingly biscuity than the filling itself. The custard cream is so unoffensive that I thoroughly despise it.”

I was a little upset by this, as I’m rather fond of custard creams myself and don’t really want to think of myself as being mediocre! On the way home from church, I sought reassurance from a friend that this wasn’t the case, and yet was told that in their opinion the biscuit was truly indicative of mediocrity.

I’d hoped that the fact that I preferred dunking my custard creams into Early Grey (no milk) as opposed to ordinary tea would elevate me above mediocrity, but apparantly this isn’t the case. Incidentally, this friend also claimed that there should be no justification for buying ‘generic’ custard creams, which puzzled me as I can’t recall there being a particular ‘brand’ custard cream. In fact, over the last week I’ve checked in both Asda & Tesco and couldn’t find anything other than supermarket own brand.

Anyway, I’d like to reclaim the custard cream from its mediocre label. Surely if it provides any level of enjoyment it can’t really be considered mediocre?

And, just in case you’re interested in how on earth this topic found a place in a sermon, it went something along the line of this:

By persuing mediocrity we are denying ourselves what we truly deserve & what God actually wants for us. There is something much greater out there for us, so we shouldn’t settle for mediocrity. We also shouldn’t be looking for mediocre things in our relationship with God – if we ask for great things, there’s a chance we might get them. I guess essentially the argument would be: “why choose a custard cream when you could have a Green & Blacks dipped plain chocolate ginger biscuit instead?”.

If this is the kind of logic that you’re interested in & you’re in the London area, why not check this out – there’s probably custard creams on offer too.

Update 6/10: As sod’s law would dictate, the talk in question was uploaded this morning. I’ve therefore verified the precise custard cream quote (it was much better than I’d remembered). You can listen to the talk yourself here, just click on the 7.30pm service on September 28th.