The Last of the Summer Raspberries

Raspberry-almond bars

I don’t know how, but it is October already.  Something has changed in the air and we seem to be settling in for winter.  This morning, I unpacked my scarves from their vacuum bag and got out my winter coat, ready to be taken to the dry cleaners.  I turned on the heating.  I started thinking about Hallowe’en.

I have had a punnet of raspberries in my fridge that have been there since before I went to Germany.  Despite expecting to have to throw them away on my return, they survived remarkably well.  If I’m honest, I can’t believe I risked letting them go to waste; raspberry season is quickly coming to an end, and it will be a long time before fresh British raspberries will be available again.

could have just tipped them into a bowl and eaten them with a little icing sugar and a lot of creme fraiche, but instead I decided to bake something with them.  I swore off cake after eating so much of it in Baden-Baden, but there is something about the new chill in the air that makes me want to nest; and baking is always the biggest part of that need.  Raspberries always work so well in baking; their sharp flavour cuts through all of the butter and sugar and makes everything just a little less sweet.

My favourite combination is a classic one: raspberry and almond.  The world probably does not need another raspberry-almond recipe, but I am just going to squeeze this last one in.  These raspberry-almond bars are based loosely on Dan Lepard’s Blueberry Almond Bars from his book Short and Sweet – he suggests that you can use blackberries instead of blueberries, which is where I got the idea.  The base is a dense cake, almost biscuit-like, topped first with a raspberry jam, thickened with cornflour, and then with a brown sugar-almond crust.  The result is more biscuit than cake and lends itself to being sliced up and eaten with a strong cup of tea.  Once the raspberries have gone completely, I am going to try this with a plum jam and a hazelnut crust.

Raspberry-Almond Bars

125g caster sugar
150g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
50g ground almonds
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
180g punnet fresh raspberries
2 tsp cornflour
50ml whole milk
2 tsp honey
100g light brown sugar
100g flaked almonds

Preheat the oven to 180ºc.  Spray a 20cm x 20cm square cake tin with cake release spray (I use Dr Oetker’s).

Mix together 75g of the caster sugar, the plain flour, baking powder and ground almonds in a large bowl.  Cut the butter into small pieces and rub into the mixture.  Add the egg and bring the mixture together in a soft dough.  Press this evenly into the bottom of the prepared cake tin and set aside.

In a small pan, combine the raspberries, cornflour, the remaining 50g caster sugar and 100ml of water.  Cook over a medium heat, stirring, until the raspberries have broken down and the mixture thickens.  Set aside.

In a separate pan, combine the milk, honey, brown sugar and flaked almonds and simmer over a medium heat until thickened.

Spread the raspberries over the base layer (you probably won’t need all of it), then top evenly with the almond mixture.  Bake in the oven for 35 minutes until browned.  Leave to cool completely in the tin and then cut into slices.

One Year Ago: In Praise of Granola

Introducing My Second Blog…

gemmathomas7:

Recently I’ve been working on a second blog that focuses on my love of sandwiches in London and beyond. I named it Six Hundred and Seven Square miles, which is the size of greater London. Here is my latest post, more on the feuerwurst I had in Buhl market. I hope you enjoy it.

Previous posts can be found here.

Originally posted on Six Hundred and Seven Square Miles:

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Feuerwurst from Buhl Market

For the past few days I have been sampling the delights of Baden-Baden; namely of the food, drink and spa variety.  For those not familiar, it is a small town in the Black Forest region famous for its beer and thermal waters.  As with the rest of Germany, it is also the place to go for some seriously good sausages.

A few miles away from Baden-Baden is a small town called Buhl that has a farmers’ market every weekend.  The curse of the hand-luggage holiday always scuppers my plans for shopping in markets as almost everything is over the 100ml limit they allow for liquids on the plane.  Sure, you can buy similar stuff at the airport, but it is three times the price and never as good.  Whilst dragging me away from a stall selling German honey in beautiful glass jars, my husband consoled me…

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A Few Things from Baden-Baden, Germany

I’m not quite sure how, but it is October tomorrow.  It doesn’t really feel like it as it is unseasonably warm in London at the moment, and I just got back from holiday.

For the past few days, Ollie and I have been in Baden-Baden.  If you’re not familiar, it is a little town in Germany’s Black Forest, south of Frankfurt and close to the French border.  It is famous for its thermal waters and its beautiful spas attract people from all over the region.  We spent quite a considerable amount of time at the Carcalla Baths.  It was a holiday after all.

As well as this, there was, of course, lots of eating and drinking.  Here are a few highlights:

 

Beer
Much to my constant dismay, I have never liked beer.  Fortunately, my husband is rather a fan and got to sample quite a few different beers during our time there.  With Oktoberfest imminent, a lot of the bars were promoting their own hausbrau.  Two of the best were at Amadeus and Lowenbrau.  The latter has a really nice beer garden.

 

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Flammkuchen
This is an Alsace speciality that is also known as Tarte Flambee on the French side of the border.  It is a very thin, almost pizza-like dough, traditionally topped with sour cream, bacon and onions.  We ate at the Theaterkeller, where they have a number of different varities of flammkuchen, including this one with breasola.

 

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Black Forest Cake
No trip to the Black Forest is complete without sampling the schwarzenwalden kirschetorte, the region’s most famous cake.  Many were put off by the old Sara Lee frozen desserts of the 1990s, but the real deal is a thing of beauty.  Light chocolate sponge, slightly-boozy-slightly-sour cherries and an abundance of blousy whipped cream.

 

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Sausages
As ubiquitous in Germany as good beer, you never have to look hard to find a good sausage.  We found these at a farmers’ market in the small town of Buhl, just outside of Baden-Baden; three euros for a gargantuan sausage in bread.  We both opted for the feuerwurst, a sausage heavily spiced with paprika and chilli, and doused it in dijon mustard.  Three euros.

 

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More Cake
You could eat cake every day for a year in Baden-Baden and never be satisfied.  I cannot help but love a place that takes baking so seriously.  This was another favourite cake from the trip, from a small riverside bakery in Buhl: a chocolate and almond cake topped with sweet apricots.

 

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Burgers
Not really a German speciality, but I always like to try the local take on a burger.  This one was from Leo’s, a famous Baden-Baden restaurant where Bill Clinton apparently dined.  It was 18 euros, but it was also very good.  The meat was excellent quality and cooked medium (not quite medium-rare, sadly) and the other components worked well.  My husband had an excellent fillet steak for not much more money, that came with béarnaise sauce and dauphinoise.  A rare case of food envy.

 

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Doughnuts
There’s only so many times you can quote Ich bin eine Berliner whilst holding a doughnut.  This one came from a bakery in a small village called Steinbach.  The only thing open on a Sunday morning for miles.  Luckily they did coffee too.

One Year Ago:  Five Spice Duck Legs.

Blueberry and Brazil Nut Baked Porridge

Blueberry and brazil nut baked porridge

Blueberry and brazil nut baked porridge

I am fickle about many things, but never breakfast.  Even when I have been through phases of not eating meat, limiting carbs and doing just about every diet imaginable, I have never, ever considered skipping breakfast.  For me, the day does not begin until I have had, at the very least, a cup of strong tea and something small to eat.  In recent years I have reluctantly embraced brunch, but found waiting until late morning to eat a bit of a struggle.  I just need a jump-start like you wouldn’t believe.  It comes, as many things often do, from childhood.  My mum was adamant that breakfast was the most important meal of the day, and we were not allowed to go anywhere without having something to eat first.  It is a habit that has stuck.

Breakfast during the working week is usually something that can be prepared and eaten very quickly as, let’s face it, none of us give ourselves enough time in the mornings. Toast is my default option of choice, mainly because I can eat it whilst walking around the house (a habit that my husband despises); or cereal that can be eaten quickly.  At the weekends there is much more time to make something delicious that can be lazily devoured over the newspaper supplements.  Only under very extenuating circumstances will I have breakfast at my desk.

I can just about manage porridge, although I no longer have a microwave, so it does require a bit of watching and stirring, which is a bit of a drag.  Recently I read a blog post on baking oats rather than boiling them, and became intrigued about how this could work in the morning.  The basic principle for this is that the liquid (milk) and flavourings are added to the oats in the same way, but cooked in the oven for about half an hour rather than in a pan for a few minutes.  Yes, it does take longer this way, but it doesn’t need any further attention after the oven door has closed.  If you can bear to get up early enough, you could pop this in the oven and go back to bed (provided you had a reliable enough alarm clock to get you up afterwards!)

This particular porridge is cooked in a mixture of milk, golden syrup and egg. The syrup gives it some much-needed sweetness (I still cannot abide plain porridge) and the egg sets it a little in the dish.  You can add just about anything you like to the mixture; mine contains half a punnet of blueberries that I had left in the fridge and the last of the brazil nuts, left over from the double espresso and Brazil nut cake I made last week.  Use very ripe blueberries if you can as they disintegrate in the oven to form little jammy pockets within the oats.  Finely chopping the brazil nuts gives them the grainy texture of coconut, which works well with the softness of the porridge.

For the second batch of this porridge, I made it the night before and reheated it the following morning in the oven for 10 minutes with a splash of milk.  It wasn’t quite as good as cooking it fresh, but it does save you 20 minutes.  You win some, you lose some.

Blueberry and Brazil Nut Baked Porridge

150g rolled oats
Large handful of brazil nuts, finely chopped
125g ripe blueberries
85g golden syrup
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1 large egg
435g whole milk
30g melted butter
1½ tbsp coarse Demerara sugar

Preheat the oven to 175ºc.  Lightly grease a large baking dish with butter.  Scatter in the oats, Brazil nuts and blueberries.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the golden syrup, salt, cinnamon, egg, milk and melted butter until smooth.  Pour over the oats mixture and gently stir to ensure everything is evenly distributed.

Sprinkle over the Demerara sugar and bake in the oven for 30 minutes, until just set.

One Year Ago:  Street Food Saturdays: Brockley Market

Autumn Nights

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Root vegetable and pearl barley stew (with ham hock)

The other day I went for an afternoon nap and awoke with a shock that I had slept long into the night.  It was only 6.30pm and yet it was already dark.  The recent rise in temperatures had led me into a false sense of security that we are back in the days of glorious summer, but alas, the seasons have definitely changed.  I’ve even started to mention the ‘C’ word (not that one… the one that ends with ‘hristmas’.)

The thing is that I am rather looking forward to a couple of months of hibernation before the party season begins, spending a lot of time at home and lazily meeting friends for walks in the park or drinks in the local pub.  No elaborate plans involving picnics or trips to roof terraces preceded by a nail-biting surveillance of the Met Office in case unseasonal rain threatens to scupper the plans.  The wedding invitations have been filed, the BBQ covered for the winter and the beachwear put into storage.  Time for some nights in.

With the threat of going out in beachwear in public now removed for a few months, it is also a time to indulge in some comfort food.  Huge bowls of things that can be eaten on the couch whilst watching television; and the roast meats and billowing Yorkshire puddings on offer in pubs that fuel a good stomp in the woods afterwards.  Custard on absolutely everything.  Not a time to get fat, exactly, but a time to nourish out the threat of the cold.

I make a lot of stews and soups in the cooler months.  The vegetables that are in abundance at this time of year lend themselves to being cooked in a broth until soft.  This particular stew can be adapted to use up almost any ingredients that you have in the fridge:  old potatoes, leftover carrots, leafy greens or just about anything else.  It is cooked very simply in a mixture of stock and white wine and made substantial by the addition of pearl barley.  45 minutes on the hob and its is ready.

Using vegetable stock in this stew will make it vegetarian, but recently I have developed a bit of a habit of adding some cold cooked meat to the top after it has been served up.  The contrast in temperatures does what a spoonful of sour cream does to a soup or chilli, and it just gives it that little extra robustness.  Leftover roasted meats are good for this, especially chicken or turkey, but I also love Waitrose’s pulled ham hock.  It costs about £2.90 for two small packets and is also fabulous in pies or sandwiches.

Root Vegetable Stew with Pearl Barley

40g butter
Olive oil
1 leek, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and diced into 2cm pieces
2 parsnips, peeled and diced into 2cm pieces
1 baking potato, peeled and diced into 2cm pieces
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried thyme
100g pearl barley
75ml white wine
1l vegetable stock
1 tbsp tomato puree
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Heat the butter in a large saucepan with a little olive oil.  Add the leek, carrots, parsnips and potatoes and cook over a medium heat for around five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the bay leaves, thyme, barley, white wine, vegetable stock and tomato puree.  Bring to a simmer and cook for around 45 minutes until the vegetables and barley are tender.  Remove the bay leaf, stir in the parsley and check the seasoning before serving.

Double Espresso and Brazil Nut Cake

Double espresso and brazil nut cake

Double espresso and brazil nut cake

I seem to be making a lot of cakes lately.  Perhaps it’s making up for lost time in the lead up to my wedding where I barely made any.  Also, making cakes in the summer is a bit of a nightmare, isn’t it?  I made four for a friend’s wedding this year and had to ice them in a marquee on the hottest day of the summer, whilst decorations were put up around me, bands soundchecked and the wine began to arrive, also needing fridge space.  My icing kept melting, which resulted in several dashes to said fridges to try to chill it before the cakes were ruined completely.  If I ever came close to understanding the stress of the contestants on The Great British Bake Off, it was then.  Worth it in the end, though, as the wedding was amazing.

Anyway, last weekend I made this cake for my brother-in-law, his girlfriend and her parents who were busy renovating their flat.  They’re not just painting and doing a bit of moderate DIY, this is the ripping-down-walls-rebuilding-new-ones kind of renovating which, I imagine, is pretty hungry work. 

This cake is one I have made time and time again, and it comes from my favourite baking book, Dan Lepard‘s Short and Sweet.  It is a great alternative to a coffee and walnut cake and uses so much coffee that the flavour is really quite strong.  The finely chopped brazil nuts and spelt flour give it a coarse texture all the way through, rather than a cake studded with nuts, which is often the way. 

It also has coffee water icing.  Which is basically espresso and icing sugar.  What’s not to like about that?

Double Espresso and Brazil Nut Cake

For the cake
100ml whole milk
2 tsp instant espresso powder
1 tbsp fine-ground coffee beans
175g unsalted butter, softened
100g soft light brown sugar
100g caster sugar
2 large eggs
100g plain flour
100g wholegrain spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder
75g brazil nuts, finely chopped, plus extra for decoration

For the icing
200g icing sugar, sifted
3 tbsp strong espresso

Preheat the oven to 180ºc.  Grease two sandwich tins and baseline with greaseproof paper. 

In a small saucepan, combine the milk, espresso powder and ground coffee and bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little. 

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a freestanding mixer, beat together the butter and the sugars until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until fully incorporated.  Beat in the coffee mixture.

Fold in both flours, the baking powder and the brazil nuts until you have an even smooth batter.  Do not overwork it. Scrape the batter into the two tins and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the tins for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, mix together the icing sugar and espresso until smooth and thick.  If it is too runny, add more sugar; similarly, if it is too stiff, add more coffee, a little at a time.  Using a palette knife, spread the icing over the top of the cooled cakes.  Place one cake on top of the other and decorate with the remaining brazil nuts.

Chocolate Orange Cupcakes for National Cupcake Week

Chocolate orange cupcakes

Chocolate orange cupcakes

There was a time in London where vertiginous cupcakes were everywhere you looked.  I would often see people walking through the city on the way to their offices, carrying boxes with sugar-hued icing swirls, ready to delight their colleagues.  When there was nobody on hand to make them, companies could send boxes of them directly to your desk, decorated with everything from edible glitter to fondant handbags.  The Hummingbird Bakery, arguably the pioneer of London’s cupcake fixation, became a household name and sold thousands of cookbooks.  We were hooked.

It all makes perfect sense really, as the cupcake trend came at roughly the same time as the recession hit London.  It was the perfect environment for small, affordable treats to take hold.  Bakery windows across the city were filled with these brightly coloured treats, ready to lift us out of the gloom of the dire economic climate.  As well as this, people were baking more, inspired by shows such as The Great British Bake Off.  The cupcake seemed unstoppable.

Inspired by this wonder-product, many tried to supersede the cupcake with other baked goods.  I remember the campaign to crown the whoopie pie as the new king of the shelves.  The macaron was hailed as a classier alternative, and the craze for the cronut in New York sent many London bakeries into a spin trying to replicate it.  After a few years of reigning supreme, the cupcake was knocked off its perch, but it never really went away.

This week is National Cupcake Week, which was started by industry magazine British Baker and is “designed to promote the popularity of cupcakes in order to help bakery businesses boost their sales.”  As well as this, they aim to raise money for the charity Wellbeing of Women through encouraging the public to fundraise with bake sales. For the rest of us, it’s an excuse to bake and eat.

I volunteered to bake some cupcakes for the office this week in celebration of National Cupcake Week.  These chocolate orange cupcakes were baked by Jo Wheatley on the second series of The Great British Bake Off.  They are a soft chocolate sponge, brushed with an orange juice and granulated sugar soak whilst warm, and topped with a delicate orange buttercream.  This recipe makes eight if you use normal-sized muffin cases, or will make 12 if you use the smaller cupcake cases.  Don’t be shy with the orange sugar soak, it makes the cupcakes wonderfully moist.

Chocolate Orange Cupcakes

For the cakes
120g plain flour
140g caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
40g unsalted butter, at room temperature
50g dark chocolate, melted
1 large egg
120ml whole milk
1 orange, juice only
3 tbsp granulated sugar

For the buttercream
125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
300g icing sugar
2 tbsp whole milk
50g white chocolate, melted and cooled
Zest of 1 orange
Dark chocolate, for grating

Preheat the oven to 175ºc and line a 12-hole muffin tin with muffin cases or cupcake cases.

Place the flour, sugar and baking powder in a large bowl.  Rub in the butter until fully combined.  In a jug, whisk together the eggs and milk, then stir into the dry ingredients.  Mix in the melted chocolate.

Spoon the mixture into the cases, filling them two-thirds full, and bake in the oven for approximately 20 minutes.  Mix together the orange juice and granulated sugar and, once the cakes have been removed from the oven, brush the mixture over them whilst still hot.  Set aside to cool in the tin for ten minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Do not throw away the orange juice mixture.

To make the buttercream, beat together the butter and icing sugar in a bowl, or the bowl of a freestanding mixer, until light and fluffy.  Beat in the milk, white chocolate and orange zest.

Brush another layer of the orange juice soak over the cooled cakes, then pipe or spread the buttercream on top.  Finish with some finely grated dark chocolate.