Friday, 25 December 2009

Merry Christmas

I'm sure I don't know what took me so long - I've certainly spent enough time surfing the internet in the past - but I only discovered food blogs several months ago.

It has been amazing to discover how many people out there, all over the world, are blogging about and sharing their passion for food and cooking and baking.

I would like to wish everyone in food blogger land a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Christmas Gifts

Goodness how the time flies! It seems like just the other day it was the beginning of November and I was just beginning to think of Christmas carols and what to bake this Christmas, and suddenly Christmas is only a few days away. Office Christmas lunches and parties have come and gone, Christmas cards have been sent, even the Christmas baking is nearly all done. I have spent several relaxing evenings in the kitchen mixing up batches of cookie dough and baking cookies while listening to Christmas carols on Classic FM. Is it my imagination or have the evenings (afternoons really) already started to get longer? Yesterday and today when I looked out the window around 4 o'clock, expecting it to be dark, it was still daylight. As I write this it is snowing big fat snowflakes outside, and added to the snow that's been there since Thursday night, it looks like a magical white fairyland. I'm not sure if we've actually had any white Christmases since I've been in England. This time we may just get one. Even if the snow melts before Christmas day, I think it will still feel like we've been having a white Christmas since the snow has come while we've been in the process of making Christmas preparations.

Of course, it is a lot easier to appreciate the beauty of the snowy landscape when one is warm and cosy indoors, rather than stuck in traffic for hours because the snow has brought everything to a halt, which is what happened to my other half, D, on his way home.

Back to the Christmas baking and edible gifts. This year I have been baking Pecan Bonbons, Chocolate Balls, Cherry-Nut Cookies (see the previous post), all from Dolores Casella's book, A World of Baking, and Honigkuchen, from the The Cooking of Germany, in the Time-Life Foods of the World series. I am also planning to bake Candy Canes (cookies) from Margo Oliver's Weekend Magazine Cookbook. For those who have never heard of Margo Oliver, here is a good biographical link.

The Pecan Bonbons and Honigkuchen were first attempts, since I had never made them before. The Chocolate Balls and Candy Canes I had not made since I lived at home with my parents many years ago, but I used to like them back then. The cherry-nut cookies I have made several times in recent years, and they are always very moreish.

The Pecan Bonbons are a sort of pecan macaroon, made with sugar, eggs, finely chopped pecans and a little flour, very crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside.

The cookies were baked in mini-cupcake liners in a shallow bun tin. The recipe gives the option of decorating each cookie with a pecan half, so I baked the first tray without, and the subsequent batches with a pecan on top. D decided that he prefers the pecan-topped cookies, because they have a more intense pecan taste.

I decided that I prefer the way the plain top cookies look, though. The pecan halves sank into the batter while the cookies baked, and caused the tops to cave in and crack more. The photo above shows one of the few pecan-topped cookies where the pecans didn't sink down into the batter.

Chocolate Balls are crumbly chocolate and walnut cookies topped with a walnut half. The dough contains finely chopped walnuts and cocoa powder or chocolate. The dough is shaped into balls, rolled in sugar, placed on cookie sheets, flattened sightly and a walnut half is pressed into the top. The cookies flatten out a bit as they bake, and the tops acquire a crackled appearance.

I found that I still like these cookies as much as I did when I used to make them years ago. They are rather crumbly, and tend to fall apart when you bite into them, but still taste quite buttery.

The recipe calls for 2 Tablespoons of cocoa powder or 3 ounces of unsweetened cooking chocolate (unless I made a mistake when I copied it out, which is always possible, since the usual substitution is about 3 Tablespoons of cocoa powder and 1 Tablespoon of butter for 1 ounce of unsweetened chocolate). I remember I first made them using cocoa powder, but I can't remember whether I ever made them using chocolate. So this time I decided to try using 1 ounce of unsweetened chocolate, which seems to have worked out fine.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Christmas Baking, Part 2

It hasn't been a very nice day out there today, most of the morning and early afternoon it has been wet and dark.

Just the right time of year to stay indoors and make the house warm and cosy by baking.

So here is a recipe for Cherry-Nut Cookies, another one of my Christmas baking favorites. These are lovely, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth cookies full of cherries, dates and pecans.

I copied the recipe out from a book I borrowed from the public library when I was a teenager (photocopiers in those days did not produce copies of the quality we expect today!) - Dolores Casella's A World of Baking. I first baked these about ten years ago and they became an immediate favorite. I have another recipe from A World of Baking for cookies called Hermits, which are very similar to these except that they are made with raisins, dates and walnuts. I tend to alternate the two in my Christmas baking, making Hermits one year, and Cherry-Nut Cookies the next.

Cherry-Nut Cookies
recipe from A World of Baking by Dolores Casella.

4 c. sifted plain flour
1 t. bicarbonate of soda
1/2 t. salt
300 grams softened butter
2 c. soft light brown sugar, packed
3 large eggs
1 t. vanilla extract
1 t. grated lemon zest
1 1/3 c. chopped pecans
1 1/3 c. quartered candied cherries (I prefer to use the ones with natural coloring)
1 1/3 c. chopped pitted dates

Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Sift the flour together with the baking soda and the salt.
Cream the butter with the brown sugar until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs to the butter mixture one at a time and beat in thoroughly.
Add the vanilla and lemon zest, then add the sifted dry ingredients.
Work in the chopped fruit and nuts.
Drop by teaspoonsful onto buttered baking sheets.
Bake at 375 F for 12 - 15 min until lightly browned and done.

Makes about 10 - 11 dozen cookies.
The dough will keep in the refrigerator for several days.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Christmas Baking

No chocolate today, but a recipe for Christmas cookies.

Some years ago, after a trip home when I had brought back with me a notebook of Christmas recipes that I had copied out by hand as a teenager, I started the tradition of giving home-baked Christmas cookies as gifts to my in-laws, friends and co-workers.

I tried this recipe for Zimtsterne for the first time last year. Zimtsterne means cinnamon stars, and these are supposed to be traditional Christmas cookies from Switzerland. As you will see in the photo, they didn't turn out quite as they were supposed to, but they were nevertheless delicious, and have been added to my repertoire of Christmas baking favourites. Enjoy.

recipe from Betty Crocker's Cooky Book, ca. 1970.

3 T. butter
1 1/2 c. caster sugar
2 large eggs
1 large egg, separated
1 t. lemon juice
2 1/3 c. plain flour
2 1/2 t. baking powder
1 1/4 t.cinnamon
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/2 c. walnuts, finely chopped

Pre-heat the oven to 375 F.

Mix the butter, sugar, 2 eggs, 1 egg yolk and the lemon juice and beat until fluffy.

Sift together the flour and the dry ingredients.

Blend the flour mixture into the sugar mixture. Stir in the walnuts.

Roll out one third of the dough at a time to a thickness of 1/16" on a lightly floured board. Cut out cookies with a star cutter.

Beat the remaining egg white until frothy. Brush the tops of the cookies with the beaten egg white.

Bake on well-greased baking sheets for about 8 minutes.

Makes about 6 dozen cookies.

I found that the dough was very sticky, even after being chilled in the refrigerator, and in any case I didn't have a star-shaped cookie cutter. So I decided to make them as drop cookies. I dropped small teaspoonsful of the dough onto the greased cookie sheets and omitted the egg-white glaze.

Be careful when removing the cookies from the baking sheets, they have a tendency to tear or stick to the baking trays on the bottom.

The result was a crisp cookie, essentially a walnut macaroon, with a subtle cinnamon flavor.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Chocolate and Cupcakes

Today a couple of links from the Olympic city of 2012 to the Olympic city of 1976 - Montreal.

There is a chocolate trade fair on in Montreal at the moment - Salon Passion Chocolat, at the Bonsecours Market in Old Montreal.

See the links here and here.

There is also a cupcake contest/charity fund-raising event on Sunday, Cupcake Camp Montreal. The chosen charity this year is Jeunesse J'ecoute/Kids Help Phone, a telephone helpline for children.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Mini Book Review - Adventures with Chocolate by Paul A. Young

The other day I came across chocolatier Paul A. Young's recent cookbook Adventures with Chocolate while browsing in Waterstone's. They had set up a table with a sign saying grEAT Britain, featuring a selection of British cookbooks.

This book is a must-have for any chocoholic's cookbook collection. As the cover says, the book contains 80 recipes. The book is divided into several sections, not based on courses or sweet versus savoury, but based on different ingredient/flavour combinations.

There is an introductory section on tempering chocolate, and a few savoury recipes like chocolate chili chicken. Not surprisingly, since it is a book on chocolate, the majority of recipes are for sweet dishes - puddings (i.e. desserts), chocolate ganache, and chocolate truffles. I think it would be an excellent book for anyone wanting to try making some chocolates at home, because there are many recipes for different flavors of ganache and truffles. One recipe that sticks in my mind because of the illustration is White chocolate truffles with wild strawberries and pink peppercorns. Another recipe I remember features the currently very trendy sea-salted caramel.

The list price for the book (hardcover) is £17.99. The book was printed and bound in China.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Vino Cotto

Our weekly grocery shopping this afternoon included a trip to one of London's Turkish food shops.

Fiordizucca recently posted a recipe for traditional Italian Christmas sweets from Apulia, calzoncelli dolci ai ceci, which uses vino cotto di fichi, vino cotto made not from grapes, but from figs.

I don't recall ever having come across vino cotto di fichi, but I have bought vino cotto (called pekmez) in Turkish food stores before, I used it to make some traditional Siciian Christmas cookies, so I thought it would be worth checking out, just in case.

No vino cotto di fichi, as it turned out, but they do sell a variety of molasses-like sweeteners. In addition to vino cotto from grapes, they sell date syrup, carob syrup, and mulberry 'molasses' (dut pekmez). I decided to buy a jar of mulberry molasses, probably in the vain hope that it might taste just a little like the mulberry jam that we used to buy from this shop, but which they no longer seem to sell. D, my other half, was of the opinion that it would just taste like molasses.

When we got home I decided that rather than putting the jar of mulberry molasses away in the pantry, to sit there for months or sometimes years before I get around to actually doing something with it, which I have a habit of doing, I would open it and taste it right away. This led to the idea of doing a 'molasses' tasting, since we currently had opened jars of Grandma's molasses (American) and Turkish vino cotto (pekmez) in the fridge.

D turned out to be right, the mulberry 'molasses' does taste like Grandma's molasses, and not at all like mulberry jam. For those of you who don't know what Grandma's molasses is like, it is dark brown in color, not black like treacle and blackstrap molasses, and not as strong-tasting or as bitter as treacle, but a lot darker than golden syrup.

The Grandma's (sugarcane) molasses was thicker and more sticky than the other two, and also the strongest tasting. Both the vino cotto and the mulberry 'molasses' were a bit runnier, and did not seem very sticky. The mulberry 'molasses' tasted remarkably similar to the Grandma's molasses, just not quite as strong, whereas the vino cotto had a rather milder taste.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Cocoa Butter

Yaaay! I think Christmas came early this year!

I was browsing in Planet Organic yesterday afternoon, and was about to decide that it was time to call it quits as I had seen most of the shop, and I should really be getting on my way home as I was rather tired, when what did I see on a shelf in front of me but several tubs of pure cocoa butter!!!

I have been searching for cocoa butter for years. I thought it would be fun to try experimenting with a small amount of it to make some lotions and potions - skin cream, face cream, that kind of stuff. But I had no idea where to find it. These days we have the internet, and a couple of years ago I saw 3kg tubs of Valrhona cocoa butter for sale on a UK-based website that sells chocolate to the general public, but a) I only wanted something like 100g of the stuff in the first instance, to see what it's like, and b) the cocoa butter was only for sale to the trade, so not being a chocolatier, I wouldn't have been able to buy it from them anyway. A few days ago, while reading about the Chocolate Week that I had just missed, I came across a website - Choc Chick - that sells chocolate making kits (in small quantities!). I had never heard of them before, but they seemed to sell small amounts of cocoa butter as well. This was an interesting development, and I duly bookmarked the webpage so that I could go back and have a better look at it later. But with the strikes the postal system is having at the moment, I wasn't about to order anything over the internet just at this time.

But all of a sudden, here were these tubs of cocoa butter unexpectedly in front of me. They only had them in one size, 500g, which was admittedly more than I really wanted for an initial trial. On top of that, this was not just any old cocoa butter, but organic, raw, cold-pressed cocoa butter, so it was also very, very expensive (£20). What to do. I could go home and think about it, perhaps compare the price with the cocoa butter for sale on the internet, and come back a few days or weeks later. But I decided to carpe diem. I decided I could justify the purchase if I called it an early Christmas present, so I am now the happy owner of 500g of cocoa butter.

Although my initial interest in cocoa butter was to try using it as a moisturiser/skin cream, since I have ended up with organic cold-pressed cocoa butter, and there is quite a lot of it, I think in order to do it justice (and justify the expense) I will have to try cooking with it or making some chocolates. It's a hard life!

Sunday, 1 November 2009


Now that it's November, it's not too soon to start thinking about Christmas and making a Christmas cake (fruit cake). It's been a few years since I baked one, so I would like to make one this year,but I'm having a hard time deciding whether to make a fruit cake, or a panettone, which I've never tried making before. I also keep meaning to try making a Gateau des Rois, and I've only made a Buche de Noel once, years ago when I lived at home. But I think the fruit cake will win this year.

Speaking of Christmas, a couple of weeks ago I managed to upload some photos of last year's Christmas baking to my Flickr account. The link is on the right hand column. If I have time I will upload some more photos of Christmas goodies from previous years.

Chocolate Week

Aargh! I've just discovered that I missed Chocolate Week. Apparently it was a couple of weeks ago, October 12 - 18, 2009. I'm not sure that I would actually have managed to attend any events, but now I'll have to wait until next October. Still, I suppose that it wasn't very well publicised if I could have been completely oblivious to the fact that it was on.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Just at the moment it's a glorious sunny afternoon out there.
From my window I just saw a little fox curled up in the sun at the base of one of the apple trees in the garden next door. Very cute, like a pet dog or cat.
Not so cute this summer when they seemed to be determined to dig up any vegetable plants that I managed to transplant into the garden. That was quite unusual though, as mostly we just see them curled up quietly in the sun and they hadn't previously caused any significant damage.
Must get out and go for a walk while the sun is out, the days are getting much shorter now and this weekend the clocks go back.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009


Yay! We had two saffron crocuses today when I looked in the garden.
A number of years ago I decided it might be fun to grow some saffron. Since the town of Saffron Walden in Essex got its name because they used to grow saffron in those parts, we thought it ought to be possible to grow saffron in the UK.

After a few years of searching, whenever we found displays of bulbs in the garden centres (the internet wasn't yet what it is now), we found some packets of Unwins' saffron crocus bulbs in a display of spring bulbs one August bank holiday.So we planted our twelve bulbs, and waited. And waited and waited and waited. Every year the leaves would come up, but no flowers. Instead of flowering, the bulbs were dividing into smaller and smaller bulbs, so that from twelve, we now had over a hundred very small bulbs, but no saffron.

Then one autumn, after the leaves had come up as usual, we found one solitary crocus flower. We nearly missed it, as we were under the impression that the flowers were supposed to come up before the leaves, so once the leaves had come up, we had resigned ourselves to another year without any saffron. The following summer we had the heatwave of 2006, and in early October - at last - we got about 50 crocus flowers - at 3 strands of saffron per flower, enough saffron for two or three dishes, after more than ten years.

The following summers weren't so scorching, however, so our saffron production again went back to zero. Last summer we found some nice large crocus bulbs at a bulb stall in a local farmer's market. We planted them according to the seller's recommendations, and each bulb produced two or three flowers.

This year we have been anxiously watching the crocus leaves come up, and wondering whether or not they would flower, since these newer crocus bulbs had also subdivided into several smaller bulbs each.

Thursday, 10 September 2009


As I was in central London today, I dropped in to Waterstones on Gower Street on the way home. This branch of Waterstones has one of the largest cookery book sections I've seen and it's always enjoyable to browse through their collection. The highlight of this session was The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, and discovering that the Hummingbird Bakery is, in fact, here in London. The book has plenty of traditional American recipes like blueberry pie, blueberry muffins, chocolate chip cookies, carrot cake, and also some more modern recipes like white chocolate and pecan cookies, green tea cupcakes and lavender cupcakes. Mmm. This book is going on my wish list. Am temporarily having a moratorium on cookbook buying though, as we don't really have space for many more - I counted up the cookbooks we have and it was already over 100.
The International Cookery section had a number of Grub Street re-issues of old favorites - Arto der Haroutounian's North African Cookery,
Mary Taylor Simeti's Sicilian Food, Anissa Helou's Lebanese Cuisine, Margaret Shaida's The Legendary Cuisine of Persia, Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Cookery, and The Book of Latin American Cooking by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz.
Next stop was the Oxfam bookshop on Gower Street - they have a pretty large selection of vintage cookbooks. Came across a recipe for Tarte au Sucre in a little book called The Little Canadian Cookbook. It's been so long since I've seen a tarte au sucre in a shop that I can't remember whether they were one crust pies like pecan pie, or like the pie in this recipe, or double-crust pies.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Sweet Potato and Pecan Bread

Made Sweet Potato and Pecan Bread from Rachel Allen's Bake last night. First time that I've used raw sweet potato in baking, although I have used cooked pumpkin, raw zucchini, and of course carrots. The cake tastes wonderful, I think the pecans go really well with the sweet potato. I decided to use only 50g of pecans though. Only one problem. The texture of the cake is nice and even, and it tastes cooked, the pecans taste toasted, but it is very, very wet, even though I baked it for 1.5 hours and when I tested it the skewer came out clean. More like mashed sweet potatoes than cake. Not sure what to do about this, whether using say, 200 or 250 g of sweet potato instead of 300 g would make it less moist, or whether not filling the baking tin so full would help it to come out drier.

I had another go at making the Sweet Potato and Pecan Bread yesterday. I thought that maybe my 9x5-inch tin was a bit too small, so I thought I would bake it in a 9x9x2-inch tin this time. This was actually a bit too big for the amount of batter, so if I make it again I would use an 8-inch square pan. I have an electric fan oven, and I think I may have been overcompensating for that and maybe baking things at too low a temperature. So this time I baked it at 350 F for 30 min, then turned the temperature
down to 325 F for another 15 min. I let it cool in the pan. I am happy to report that this time the consistency was much drier, with a crumb like a proper cake.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Amalfitana Chocolate and Aubergine Pudding

I like to try weird and wonderful food combinations sometimes. Not ones that I've actually invented myself, but recipes that I come across that use ingredients in somewhat unusual ways. Sometimes I have a look at the recipe, and think, you know, that might just work. Most of the time it does. Earlier this summer I made Rhubarb Ice Cream, from a Rachel Allen recipe, and Orange Marmalade Ice Cream, from a Sophie Grigson recipe from her book Sophie's Table. I've had another unusual Sophie Grigson recipe filed away for a while now - Amalfitana Chocolate and Aubergine Pudding. I love aubergines, especially fried, when they are really gooey and slimy, and I have quite a few favorite aubergine recipes - Eggplant Parmigiana, Eggplant Szechuan Style, Hyderabadi Aubergines (from Madhur Jaffrey's Eastern Vegetarian Cooking), and Caponata are at the top of the list. This Amalfitana Chocolate and Aubergine Pudding is rather unusual, to say the least. It combines fried aubergine slices with layers of vanilla custard and chocolate custard. But when I got a couple of large aubergines from a market stall in central London last week, I thought I would give it a try.

The recipe is
, in an article from The Independent, and here, on the UKTV website.

I used a mild olive oil to fry the aubergines, as I prefer not to use unsaturated oils for frying whenever possible. I made the UKTV version, which uses 60g of sugar in the chocolate custard, rather than 45g. I assembled the pudding in a 9x13-inch dish, making 3 layers of aubergines, vanilla custard and chocolate custard.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Today was a beautiful hot and sunny summer's day. We went for a walk around the lake at lunch time. There were two baby coots, nearly fully grown now, but still furry. We also saw a lot of bright blue damsel flies flying over the water. Along parts of the water's edge where the water was clear we could see lots of little fish, about the size of goldfish, swimming around. There was watermint by the water's edge, easily identifiable at the moment because of the purple flowers. I also noticed some nightshade, after having seen a picture in a herb book last night. We had a look at the apple tree we had noticed in the spring, but there were no apples on it at all, not even any on the ground.
Went up the hill and picked wild blackberries in the evening. I'm going to freeze some of them for making apple and blackberry pie and apple and blackberry crumble at a later date. I have three recipes that I keep meaning to try out, one from Delia, one from Rachel Allen and one from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's River Cottage cookbook.