When life hands you two jars of stem ginger…

…get baking.

The flat in which I now live was previously occupied by the church’s curate. Unlike a normal house move, when I arrived at the flat there was a pile of things benevolently left to me by my former colleague – a dvd player, a copy of LOTR (how I laughed), a wealth of cleaning materials, an umbrella and a huge range of jars containing all manner of goodies. Previous curate was a skilled cooker of roast dinners, so many of the jars were condiments suited to such meals (red currant jelly, mint sauce etc), all of which will come in handy once I finally get around to cooking my first ever roast dinner.

Also amongst the selection were two jars of stem ginger in syrup, which presented something of a challenge. What can you use two (large) jars of ginger for? Too much ginger is overpowering, but surely there had to be ways of getting through it? Logically, my mind turned to baking – specifically, ginger biscuits. Everyone loves a ginger biscuit, no?

So I tried out a recipe for ‘best-ever’ stem ginger biscuits. They were fine, except they only used one ball of stem ginger and each jar appeared to contain twelve of them. It would take many, many batches of biscuits before I’d erased the ginger stash.

In the week leading up to Greenbelt, I had a bit of a brainwave: ginger flapjack – surely that had to use more ginger than the biscuits did? I successfully located a recipe that required three times as much ginger as the biscuits, tried it, took it to the festival where it was met with joyous acclaim from my camping companions. [When camping, flapjack is a completely legitimate breakfast food.]

Now that it’s properly autumnal – nay wintery – I’ve whipped the recipe out and modified it for my own uses.

Stem Ginger Flapjacks

175g Butter
175g Golden Syrup
175g Light Brown Sugar
355g Porridge Oats
1/2 tbsp Ground Ginger
1tsp Cinnamon
3 Pieces of Stem Ginger

1. Mix butter, syrup & sugar in a large saucepan. Melt over a low heat.
2. Bring to the boil and remove saucepan from the heat.
3. Add oats, ground ginger & cinnamon. Mix thoroughly until combined.
4. Chop ginger pieces and mix into the porridge mixture.
5. Pour mixture into a square tin (approximately 15cm x 15cm).
6. Place into a pre-heated oven at 150C/Gas Mark 2 for 40 minutes, until golden.
7. Leave to cool before cutting into pieces.

I prefer my flapjacks on the squidgier end of the spectrum, so I’ve slightly reduced the quantity of oats. I am also a huge fan of autumnal spices, so added a dash of cinnamon to the mix. Not too much, but just enough to complement the ginger. The end result is something equivalent to perfection on a cold, blustery afternoon.

Before the oven; after the oven & ready to eat.

Festively baking & boozing

It really isn’t Christmas without a party, and without a party there is no (real) excuse for festive baking or, more importantly, festive boozing. Our flat’s having one such party tomorrow night, courtesy of our Germanic part-planner who sadly leaves the Big Smoke next week. In preparation, I spent last night trying out a new Christmas cookie recipe [baked while watching Love, Actually to get me in the mood]. Having sampled some of the results I can testify that it’s worth sharing, so here it is:

Discovered via googling ‘cinnamon biscuits’ and landing here, I amended slightly to suit my cinnamon fetish tendencies…

Christmas in biscuit form

150g (5 oz) self-rising flour
150g (5 oz) plain flour
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
125g (4 ½ oz) butter
100g (3 ¾ oz) sugar
1 egg beaten
Caster Sugar & cinnamon – for sprinkling
1. Set oven at 160 degrees C (Gas Mark 3).
2. Sift flours and cinnamon into a large bowl.
3. In a separate bowl, mix butter and sugar until smooth. Add egg and mix well.
4. Stir in the dry ingredients and mix into firm dough. Lift on to a lightly floured board, knead until smooth.
5. Roll to 5mm thickness and cut into shapes.
6. Sprinkle sugar & cinnamon onto a plate and coat biscuits before placing on baking sheet.
7. Bake in the preheated oven until light golden colour, 10 to 15 minutes. Let cool and harden.

As an afterthought, this morning I decided to add a drizzling of cinnamon icing – not too much, just enough to make them even sweeter and even more cinnamony [as I said, it’s an obsession].

For all parties, it is obligatory to have booze. At Christmas, this is often of a spiced, mulled and hot variety, but why not branch out and go cold? So cold, that it actually involves ice cream. You may recall that at my first ever Thanksgiving the other week, I had my first ever egg nog – I now have the recipe, so I’ll share it with you: 
D’s Holiday Egg Nog
(It’s an American holiday so obvs, it’s an American recipe.)
(Also, it sounds lethal, but it’s yummy – honest!)

12 eggs – separated
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. Salt
2 tbsp. Nutmeg
2 cups bourbon
2 oz. Rum (The Booze is optional! Most of the time he makes a mixture of bourbon, rum, and brandy.)
½ c. powdered sugar
4 cups heavy cream
4 cups milk
½ gallon vanilla ice cream

1. Beat egg yolks until creamy; beat in sugar, salt, vanilla , and nutmeg. Beat in bourbon and rum slowly.
2. Whip egg whites until stiff peaks form, beating in powdered sugar. Add cream and milk to yolk mixture; fold in egg whites. 
3. Then use beater as you add ice cream. (The ice cream makes it cold and frothy). 
[The mixture can be made ahead and refrigerated for several hours – then add in the ice cream.]
Pour it into a classy glass, grate some nutmeg – et voila!!
Did you know that nutmeg is a hallucinogenic? 
(Turns out you’d need to eat an awful lot before it took effect though…)

The linguistics of baking

It’s another full-on baking week and luckily, my baking mojo is in pretty full residence [there was a minor incident on Sunday involving brownies and 1 egg instead of 2, but it wasn’t a total disaster]. Special requests were made by departing students and there’s an exciting tea party on Thursday, so there’s lots to be done and exciting new recipes to try…

However, high on the list was an old favourite. In fact, it is a true heirloom of a recipe for a truly classic English delicacy: fruit scones. I love a good scone (I usually arrange my Belfast flights to ensure that I arrive in time for college elevenses as they involve spectacular scones of a wide variety of flavours) and honestly believe that there is little better on this earth than a scone, fresh from the oven, with butter and jam. The advantage of getting my scone baking in early meant that this is exactly what I consumed for a late breakfast on Sunday. Yum.

We have a family recipe that originated with my Great Grandmother – ‘Grandma Clarke’, though realistically it’s likely to have existed for a couple of generations prior to that. My mother’s copy is an aerogramme stuck into her recipe book, as Grandma Clarke sent it to her grand-daughter-in-law when they were in Tonga. It’s super-simple and produces delicious results. I’m almost loath to post it publicly, but I suppose I should share the joy.

Grandma Clarke’s Scones

10oz Self-Raising Flour
2oz Sugar
6oz Butter
1 egg – beaten with a little milk
Small handful of raisins
Rub together fat & flour. Add sugar and fruit. Mix in egg.
Roll out onto floured surface, 1″ thick. [Thickness is vital!]
Bake for 12 minutes, at Gas Mark 7, until golden.
The thing is, once you get talking about scones, no matter how beautiful the baked goods are, an ugly issue rears its head – that of pronunciation. Britain is divided, are scones to rhyme with ‘Joan’ or ‘John’. Personally, I’m a Joan, but many of those arguing with me on Twitter on Sunday were firmly Johns.
Someone suggested that I look up statistics on the issue (perhaps knowing that I rarely dispute statistical evidence, being a good researcher) and lo and behold, googling ‘scone pronunciation stats’ revealed a UCL study from 1998 entitled ‘Pronunciation Preferences in British English: A New Survey’. As someone who is regularly mocked for their supposedly ‘wrong’ pronunciation, this article was a revelation. 
Its contribution on the scone debate revealed that I was in the minority, 35% of those surveyed preferring Joan to John. However, the proportion of Joans was higher amongst younger respondents, indicating that it may overtake John in the future (here’s hoping). Interestingly, 99% of Scots surveyed prefer John – this being the only significant regional difference discovered (i.e. it’s not like the bath debate in which there’s a clear north/south divide). Should you be interested, this research also explored ‘garage’, ‘February’, ‘princess’ and ‘schedule’ – honestly, it’s possibly the most fascinating article you’ll read this week. 
I’m secure with being in the minority on this one, as one thing I’m more than secure about is the fact that my scones taste fabulous, and that is the most important aspect of the debate!

A week of baking travail

Last week it felt like every time I found myself with a spare moment, I ended up in the kitchen doing something that involved cake. I baked on Monday and Wednesday night (having already stashed half the results of a baking session the week before in the freezer in readiness); frosted after midnight on Thursday night and was wielding the piping bag again by 8am the following morning – it was extreme. The things I do for friends and country…

Big plans were afoot for the long weekend – and not just Royal Wedding related ones – the forthcoming wedding of two commoners was much more distracting, in the shape of the bride-to-be’s hen weekend. Organised by someone who doubles as a primary school teacher, the event was planned with military precision – for the afternoon tea/lunch on Saturday we were allocated a specific food item to bring and share, much in the way our class parties were organised, back in the day. Somewhat unsurprisingly, I was allocated cupcakes.

Thing is, life’s been slightly on the stressful side lately and when such times hit, I find that my baking mojo ebbs away, so I cheated. Yes, I did the unthinkable and sought the aid of Betty Crocker (well, they were on special offer too). I figured I could get away with it on two counts:
(i) Her mixes do taste good.
(ii) The cake wasn’t going to be the most important part – the frosting was.
[Incidentally, I trialled two non-Betty vanilla mixes at the same time and they were not good.]

I didn’t skimp on the frosting (ok, well I did on the chocolate one, but only because BC’s came free with one of the mixes) and made vanilla buttercream Hummingbird style, dividing it up so I could colour it in pretty colours. (Also meaning I could create a system by which to identify three different cake flavours. Oh yes, I’m even that anal when it comes to cake.) Several hours of effort, which I loved and enjoyed immensely, seemed to be successful and I feel looked particularly good in the midday sun and on a new, travel-proof, cake-stand (my parental Easter gift).

Honestly, you can’t go wrong with some pink sparkles & writing icing…

To make up for my cupcake-cheating, I went to town for my other baking task – a contribution to the Royal Wedding street party. I took a risk and tried a brand new recipe, which was particularly dangerous as I wouldn’t be able to taste it until it reached its intended destination. Having spied a simple and yummy looking recipe on the fabulous Caked Crusader blog a few weeks ago, I decided to bake a Golden Crunch cake – essentially a vanilla sponge with a coconut and jam topping.

 

The many stages of cake…
sponge with jam; coconut mixture (in lovely pink Avoca bowl/jug); ready to bake; finished.

Simple it was and definitely something I’ll make again. The only addition I’d make to the recipe (linked above) is that you can afford to be more generous with the jam, I think mine could’ve done with more. Once at the dessert stage of the gathering, I made a dash to find it and check that it actually was edible and not poisonous – sure enough, it really was quite moreish. (I did then spend some time hovering at the table encouraging others to try it, I think I might now be eligible for the WI.)

FYI, this cake doesn’t need to be served with coriander – it’s just that I used the same plate for my savoury as my sweet and hadn’t quite finished my Moroccan salad…

Some final tips/thoughts/suggestions:
  • Read The Caked Crusader. The recipes are great, she writes in a hilarious fashion and it’s generally only updated once a week, so not awfully overwhelming. (I will forgive her for featuring Mayor Boris’ favourite cake recipe a few weeks back.) 
  • Check out Asda’s baking paraphenalia section. I only discovered this yesterday (so several days too late) but it is both varied and cheap. Lots of different kinds of sprinkles and writing icing that comes in sparkly pinks and purples. (Although it does also sell pink food colouring, which I feel is slightly pointless.) 
  • Cupcakes react very well to being frozen and then frosted. Helps make optimum use of limited time. 
  • I still have 24 large carrot cake cupcakes in my freezer and no occasion with which to get rid of them. Suggestions welcome. 

Acting on instructions

When I found a random cutting from The Times lying on my desk a couple of weeks back, I was firstly touched that someone had thought of me. Then I looked a little more closely – it was a series of recipes involving chocolate and cake…it seems a colleague had found a recipe they liked the look of, thought I’d like it too and hoped I might bake it and bring the results into the office. What a cunning plan!

Of course it worked. There’s a meeting on Friday for which I sporadically bake, so this seemed to be a good opportunity to try out one of the recipes – in fact, the very recipe which caused the colleague to snip out the article: Double Chocolate Marshmallow Muffins. [In fact, when I quizzed her she said: “well, I know how much you love cupcakes…” – I had to explain the significant difference between cupcakes and muffins.]

Some of you may remember that for my birthday tea-party I trialled Hummingbird’s marshmallow cupcakes. These are a slightly different variation on a theme. For a start, as I mentioned above they’re muffins not cupcakes (key ingredient difference = oil not butter), plus the inclusion of marshmallows happens in a slightly different fashion – included in the batter, as opposed to inserted into the cooked sponge. 
I can’t link to the recipe thanks to the Times’ paywall, but it’s one from Home Bake (Eric Lanlard) which I’ve adapted slightly. In his recipe, the muffins are frosted with Marshmallow Fluff. I’m not keen on the concept of frosting of muffins and didn’t see the point of wasting (!) a jar of Fluff on colleagues. If it had been for a tea-party then perhaps I’d have had a go, but otherwise… Plus, I happened to have both dark and white chocolate chips, so I used both and added extras on top (before baking) to make up for the lack of frosting. 
Double Chocolate Marshmallow Muffins
2 x large eggs
175ml Vegetable Oil
300ml Milk
500g SR Flour
Good pinch of salt
2tsp Baking Powder
4tbsp Cocoa
250g Caster sugar
4tbsp Chocolate chips
150g Mini-marshmallows
Pre-heat oven to 200c/Gas Mark 6 & line 12 cake tin with muffin papers.
Put the eggs & oil into a large jug, mix, then add the milk.
Sift flour, salt, baking powder, cocoa& sugar together into a bowl. Add jug of liquid.
Mix until liquid & dry ingredients comes together. Fold in chocolate chips.
Spoon enough batter into cases to fill half-way. Sprinkle marshmallows between centres of muffins and cover with remaining batter.
Bake for 20mins. Cool on wire rack.

I had one minor incident. I was using my mini-cupcake pan and some cases I found in Ikea. They’re actually designed to fit some random Swedish tin that I didn’t buy at the same time, figuring I’d still be able to use them. I was kind of wrong – at least, it was too much for this recipe and that tin. Opening the oven, I discovered this: 

Oh dear. A top heavy muffin over-spill situation. Ooops.
Fortunately, they generally turned out ok and tasted significantly better than ok. Hopefully the colleagues will be suitably grateful tomorrow.