I forgive you for being rude to my children two Christmasses ago. You couldn’t help lacking the social awareness to realise that you simply do not snatch things from out of people’s hands even if they are children who wouldn’t know how to complain.
You guys probably have gathered by now that I’m not originally from around here. I’ve only been living in England since 1999 when I came here on a full scholarship to do my degree. When I received the phone call offering me the scholarship, I was 18, bored, fed-up, despondent and had just returned home defiant after having walked out and disappearing for a few weeks. It was a definite yuuuuusssss moment.
On this coming Wednesday, that is.
So this wins the longest name for bastardised macarons, yeah.
I had this bowl in my fridge with some egg whites for a while now, well since the Secret Cake Cavalry meet. I’ve run out of butter. I have no caster sugar left and I need some fridge space back.
What I am going to be sharing with you here is not some flour confection genius. It’s just using up stuff. What I have found in all the years of raising feral sproglettes is that sometimes you only have half an hour to achieve something and that is all that you will get. So this blog was not pre-meditated, I had no plans as to what I was going to write or bake for that matter. This recipe is perfectly achievable in under an hour from start to finish.
From time to time, I come across friends who declare that they just simply cannot bake, and I can sympathise with that because 15 years ago, I couldn’t either. In fact, 15 years ago I couldn’t even cook. As a student, I used to rely on the charity of my housemate who would cook for me. Breakfast was some bizarre concoction of rice krispies, chocolate and butterscotch sauce with Frijj chocolate milkshake. If I were feeling swish, I had shop bought croissants which I warmed on my extra hot radiator.
In fact, 5 years ago, I still wasn’t really baking. I did do some baking but it was sporadic. I was often pleased with the result but I didn’t consider myself a baker because in my head, a baker was someone who would turn out some elaborate and fanciful and beautiful creations. Perfection every time.
I don’t have childhood memories of my Mum teaching me how to bake some wonderful exotic cakes and biscuits when I was little. My Mum kept her pots and pans in the oven. It was never used. She had a tabletop round oven which would only be used at the end of the Ramadhan month to bake biscuits for Eid Mubarak and occasionally when she felt that my Father earned her special vanilla sponge cake. The only part of the process I had ever been involved in was the creaming of butter and sugar. I don’t think I graduated past that stage.
What turned me to baking was the fact that I got fed up of being so disappointed with the quality of cakes I was buying. You must know that feeling when you can recall the taste and flavour of a certain cake that you had had as a child, only to be sorely cheesed off at how foul the shop bought version is. I can’t find a substitute for my Mum’s vanilla sponge cake. I can’t buy it. I can get close enough if I were to make it myself but it’s not the same, is it, when you have to make it yourself.
The biggest motivation is the absolute glee and excitement radiating from the sproglettes when they realise that the oven is being fired up, the butter is out and I am shouting at them to tie up their hair and to stop asking me if it’s their turn to lick the bowl this time. I love the fact that my children think (and I know they are biased) I am the best baker in the world. That they can appreciate the subtleties of a good scone and that they can still have Grandma’s rock cakes two years after her passing because I’m now making them. These are the stuff that childhood memories are made of – the impromptu night time baking when the children get to stay up late and brush their teeth twice because the rice pudding is hot out of the oven and it won’t be as special if eaten cold the next day. Our family experiences together are held together by countless moments around the dining table, eating together, over-eating together and generally settling squabbles due to sugar induced rushes.
The point I am trying to make is, before I digressed yet again, that it doesn’t really matter if you can’t bake. If you fancy doing it then do it cos you ain’t gonna get any good doing nowt. Nothing taste better than cake fresh out of the oven, no matter how rubbish you are at baking. I’ve eaten a lot of first attempts of home bakes before and I am still standing. Just take baby steps. Have a stab at the basics – some scones, sponges and shortbreads. Seriously, get a tried and tested recipe and follow it. In time, you will learn to work out what is a good recipe that will work, and you will learn to trust your sense of smell and go by how things look. It is not rocket science. Invest in a good oven thermometer – I am not joking about them self opinionated ovens, they are the kitchen equivalent of the pariah printer.
The recipe is from Hugh Fernleigh-Whittingstall. I chose it because it was easy. I wasn’t too convinced that it was going to produce the super shiny chic French macarons but these tasted divine. I sifted the ground almond once and once more after it was mixed in with the icing sugar and cocoa powder. It was a true chocolate hit, chewy and moist and went well with a glass of cold milk. They are perfect to store in the fridge for a few days(occupying the space that the bowl of egg whites had earlier) I did do a few substitutions – I added some morello cherry jam into the chocolate ganache and I used light muscovado sugar instead.
Ingredients (makes 12 sandwiches)
125g icing sugar
3 tbsp cocoa
165g ground almonds
3 egg whites
caster sugar light muscovado sugar ¼ tsp vanilla extract I didn’t use any
– Preheat oven to 150c.
– Take the icing sugar, cocoa and sifted ground almond and mixed them in a bowl.
– Whisk the egg whites til stiff and gradually add the muscovado sugar til the mix become stiff and glossy.
– Beat gently half of the icing sugar, cocoa and almond mix into the meringue mixture til well combined.
– Fold in the rest and mix well.
– get two baking trays, line them with baking parchment, and this is the clever bit courtesy of Hugh FW. Rather than drawing out 24 4.5cm circles on the baking parchment, just get a cutter about 4.5cm size, dip it into cocoa powder (Hugh suggested flour) and stamp circles onto the parchment.
– Fill a piping bag (with a 1cm plain nozzle) with the mixture and with the tip pointing downwards, close to the surface, pipe out into the circles.
– Once you have done that, give the baking trays a firm tap (read that as a good old bang) to deflate any air bubbles.
– Bake for 15-18 minutes.
– Cool for a few minutes before turning them out onto a cooling rack.
Chocolate Cherry Ganache
100ml double cream
100g 70% chocolate, chopped into small chunks
2 tbsp. morello cherry jam
– Gently heat the double cream. You may wish to use your hob, I live live dangerously and play chicken with the microwave.
– Chuck the chocolate chunks in and just stir. I use the time to contemplate my bank balance, consider how I can justify a £300 pair of quad skates and how long many more patrons of the tattoo studio can I con into believing that I am actually a she-male. Good times, indeed.
– Add the morello cherry jam, stir to mix well and chill in the fridge for about 20 minutes.
– I heap a teaspoon for each sandwich, never mind if you end up with leftovers. Eating it neat is a perfectly acceptable option.
I’d really encourage you to try this recipe. It is very forgiving. Undercook it, it really wouldn’t be that obvious. Have it warm with vanilla ice cream and salted caramel sauce. Overcook it, you have the ganache to compensate for it. Really overcook it, then you’ll just have crisp cookies that you can dunk in milk.
I’ve been to some pretty vibey Farmers Markets in my time. The type grabs you just as you turn the corner and drags you away from that Caramel Cream Macchiato and has you giddy with the sights and smells of all things fresh from out of the ground, hand made and passionately put together.
And then there’s Chichester Farmers Market. A Market that comes across as almost apologising for attempting to sell you real food. What??? Buy something and take it home to cook?? Staid looking stalls peppered on East Street and North Street, narrowly avoiding the doorways of retail shops, some barely visible if you were to look down the street from the Cross. Some of the stalls you could hardly even see their banner, or worse, there wasn’t even one. No identity, nothing eye-catching that would make them discernible, noticeable and memorable. Some of the stall keepers actually looked like they drew the short straw when it came to who’s turn it was to deal with the natives at the Farmers Market.
Obviously, there were exceptions to the rule. There was the Mud Food People with beautifully crafted pies piled up high. The Picnic & Hamper People with their beautifully laid out wicker baskets of delicious and well priced sweet tarts. The sausage man!!! How I love the sausage man. During last year’s Chichester Food Fare, I spent a wee while chatting to him about my interest in taxidermy after finding out that he is one of the few remaining taxidermists left.
I’ve always felt, in my own humble opinion, that the stalls need to be closer together. They need to come forward more to the middle of the streets. That, I think would create a livelier atmosphere. Maybe then the sourpuss faced passers-by could avoid racing pass, looking like they were so worried that they might catch the eye of a stall keeper. If the stalls were to be moved toward the middle, food hostile natives could just avoid the stalls altogether and inch their way down the street with their backs against the outside shop wall just so they could make sure that they are not ambushed by some taster olive.
I think Market shopping requires quite a different set of retail skills. You actually have to interact with each other and I do wonder if that is why there is an air of being dragged kicking and screaming with the Chichester Farmers Market. We just don’t know how to shop that way anymore. Whilst the Farmers Market may be outdoors, it doesn’t have the feel of a Market. It’s terribly quiet, the stall keepers can be cagey (dare I say that with a small few, you do walk away feeling like they’ve done you a favour by selling you their wares!) and noone really is pushing the boat out as far as challenging the palate with more innovative flavours and varieties.
What small businesses like this need to remember is that the public needs persuading and educating. The vast majority is not used to this type of retail therapy. This is a time of pre packed, pre-cut, partially prepared or part baked food – so so far away removed from its original form. The public needs to be enticed into wanting to try new flavours. That fresh food does not to be scary. That this neurotic food hostility and ambivalence towards cooked from scratch food is just downright pathetic.
And damaging to the health of our children.
These guys, however, seem to be on the right track.
Tuppenny Barn Organic is based in Southbourne and has been going since 2005. I saw them a few weeks back and was pleased to find them on Twitter. I often do a Twitter search on businesses operating in Chichester which caught my eye, if only to find out how they are utilising social media in getting their business more known locally. Tuppenny Barn Organic is using Twitter for more than just a one way free advertising service. They are actually interacting with their community. They also have a very well thought out website which serves more than just to put forward what they do as a business, but also what they a trying to achieve together with the local community as a social enterprise. Plans are underway to establish an education resource centre and the farm is already opening its doors to organised visits from schools.
And how did I know this? Because the woman running the stall told me about it. She was selling me the vision behind the suggestible turnip and the cosmic calendula. Their stall caught my eye. It was beautifully laid out. The arrangement was made for visual impact, rather than trying to cram as much produce on the table as possible. They made rhubarb look sexy and butternut squashes look deliciously obscene.
I actually bought some rhubarb. Not because I particularly wanted them for anything, I just thought they looked beautiful. When I got home, I decided against doing the typical rhubarb crumble and found this recipe.
So, there are a few things you guys need to know about this recipe. It was moist, tart, not overly sweet but you gotta love rhubarb. You are not going to be able to hide your rhubarb animosity under a mound of buttery sweet crumble with this one. It is definitely rhubarb through and through. If you think cooked rhubarb is just mutant sweet stewed celery, then step away from the recipe.
And like many of the recipes I share with you on here, it really isn’t as complicated as it looks. Just mere process. Don’t be disappointed after roasting the rhubarb to find that the rhubarb haven’t really caramelised with the sugar. I don’t think you can really caramelised rhubarb without turning them into hollow tubes of crispy nothingness. I also didn’t have any tins of ready made custard so made some with the egg yolks I had leftover from making lemon chiffon cake. I don’t think it affected the result and it certainly made a very lovely, rustic looking cake.
Say hello to me if you see me at the next Farmers Market. I’ll the that crazy haired woman wrestling with a baby on my hip.
(All photos of the Farmers Market are by Nadia Stephens)
And what happens when you don’t.
Sometime just before my 38th birthday, I declared that I NEEDED a pair of quad rollerskates. I was going to relive the happy childhood I had, get fit and HAVE FUN doing it, goddammit.
My father was a Headteacher at a boarding school. We lived in a semi-haunted bungalow on top of a hill in the school compounds. I say semi haunted because I never saw anything but I gathered differently from the whispers I heard from the adults. My older brother, 8 years older than me was obviously privileged to these sort of information and everytime there was a power cut (this happened often) and he was in sole charge of me, he would frogmarch me down the hill to the guard’s Hut at the frontgate and insisted that we sat the until the power returned. Not that it really helped his nerves being there as there was one particular guard who saw it fit to reel out his spooky, eerie ghost stories about how the school field used to be the burial ground for Japanese soldiers and that some nights, he could actually see the tombs.
From time to time, normally during national exam periods when stress levels were spiking high, my father would be dragged out of the house at around dusk because the girls dormitories have relented to the Mexican wave of mass hysteria. It was hilarious, and eerie at the same time. You would hear one scream and before you know it, there would be a cacophony of screams and wailing and inconsolable sobbing emitting from numerous teenaged girls. Being a co-ed school, this is about the ONLY time it was permissible for the male students to enter the girls’ dormitory block and this they did. Swathes of
10st 8st puny boys rushing over, some still trying to secure their sarong (typical attire for evening wear) whilst putting forward their best attempt to be chivalrous. So, my father would get there and together with the Dorm teacher on duty, they would root out the ones who were being hysterical just because they could and finally get to the source of the hysteria. I’m not really sure what happened and what was done about it as it was never discussed, especially not with young girls like me then.
Anyway, I digress. What I was trying to get to was the fact that I never went to this school. In fact, I was being chauffeured daily to a Church owned Convent School in town, a school called the Holy Infant Jesus Convent School. It’s one of the privileges of having a head teacher for a father – strings could be pulled to make sure that you get into the best school around.
During my time off, I would spend a lot of my time cycling over to the neighbouring all male boarding school where my best friend lived. Her father was the head teacher there. Together with her little sister tagging along, we would cycle back from the main gate of my father’s school to the other side of the school, heading out the back gate and turning right down some undeveloped clay road leading to a small village on the outskirts of a forest. We would drop our bikes at the end of the village, which was fenced off from the forest and climb over.
You couldn’t really see the ground of the forest as it was overgrown with vegetations. Huge, leafy towering trees overpowered the surroundings and you could hear rustlings in the growth on the ground but I certainly never saw anything. There was a massive water pipe that ran from the gate to the never-never and my friends and I thought nothing of how dangerous it was that we were tiptoeing along this pipe which was probably some 10 feet above ground, going as far as we dared before turning back and returning to our bikes again.
I don’t think my parents knew that I even knew the village existed, let alone that I visited it often.
As I got a little bit older, and more chicken shit, I moved on to rollerskates – especially as the reality finally hit me that I was rubbish at cycling. I thought nothing of skating along the corridors of the classrooms while class was in session, and I would grant my father impromptu visits where I would sit in his chair at his table, maybe persuade him to take me to the canteen for a little of something. My favourite was the open basketball court. I was perfect for a good couple of hours of going round and round in circles, carried away in my thoughts, just existing and oblivious to the pupils who were trying to concentrate on their lesson.
The basketball court at Sekolah Menengah Tunku Ampuan Durah, Seremban
On my birthday, Slaveboy took me to Worthing so that he could buy me my first pair of adult rollerskates. Boy, haven’t they moved on a fair bit since I last owned a pair. Slaveboy didn’t really have any clue as to whether I could skate and was more than surprised to find me whizzing round the shop floor moments after lacing up the first pair. I left the shop with a pair of skates, elbow pads, knee pads, wrist guards and a bright yellow helmet with a silver skull design on it. It was badass. I felt like I was 7.
Two days later, I’d already made plans to go to my first roller derby fresh meat training. Slaveboy thought it might have been prudent for me to actually spend a few weeks getting my bearings but seriously, if I were that kinda girl, I wouldn’t have married him 6 weeks after getting together with him, would I?
The fresh meat training was at the most armpit arse end part of a particular town. Not Chichester. It was held at a Community Centre where they locked the door after 8pm. Slaveboy actually witnessed two youths walk into a grocery shop after him who went to get two crates of beer from the shelf and walked out again, only pausing long enough to assault the shopkeeper with a string of expletives.
But the roller derby girls were magnificent. They were encouraging, vibey and passionate. They came from all walks of lives and there wasn’t any Lycra in sight. Apart from at tattoo conventions, I’ve never seen more tattoos on a collective of females. The talk was filthy and locker-room style. Random quips about sniffing sweaty elbow pads and picking scabs. Supergirl y-fronts being worn as outerwear. You must have known girls in school who just didn’t play well with others? Well, they were all present and accounted for here, and they were all welcome.
Roller derby is hard, even harder when you have done NO exercise for years on end and you have just got over a major abdominal surgery. By the end of my first session, I literally had to crawl up to my bedroom and my legs were jelly in the morning. I was utterly banjaxed.
So jelly, that I fell over and twisted my thigh two days later on the way to the pub.
And did this to myself.
But I’m back there, still chugging along, realising that my body is taking a bit longer to respond to what I want it to do. Some friends who are with children and stable lifestyles think I am absolutely nuts to be doing this.
And they are probably right. I stand the chance of falling down and breaking my coccyx. There is a high probability of breaking my wrists and that would definitely affect all my plans to open a teashop.
But if you could do something that takes you back to that moment in time (and for me it was 11 year old Sponge, when my father was Daddy and he wasn’t this man who allegedly destroyed the family with his affair a year later and happiness was an a slice of cake with this ever so satiny textured buttercream icing) wouldn’t you want to do that again?
Which takes me to this cake really. Well, not so much the cake, but the icing. Back when my Mum baked, she would only bake mainly two things. Tiny little pineapple jam tarts and vanilla sponges. Her sponges were the fluffiest I’d ever tasted and it was my father’s favourite. He would extricate himself from his study where he spent a lot of his time writing and helped himself to a large strip of it. Not wedge. My Mum was never keen on baking round cakes. He would bake squares and he would have a strip of it. The only icing my Mum ever used was normal buttercream icing, if she were to use any icing but my favourite buttercream came from a cakeshop outside my primary school. It would be light, smooth and quite buttery. I never knew what it was called.
And years after moving to England, you would find me trying out cakes, hoping to rediscover this icing again. It was only when I started baking seriously myself (around 2-3 years ago) that I started reading up on Swiss meringue buttercream and Italian Meringue Buttercream. I was sure that this must be the icing from my childhood and I have not been disappointed.
Now, the main difference between the two is that Swiss meringue buttercream requires you to cook the egg white and sugar mixture while Italian meringue buttercream instructs you to turn the sugar into syrup and mix it into stiffly whipped egg whites.
The one I am going to share with you is the Swiss one as I find the Italian one a little more fiddly as you are dealing with hot sugar syrup which a) burns and numpty here can’t stop dipping her finger into it to check that it really is hot, an b) hot sugar syrup sets upon contact with the cold steel Kenwood mixer bowl.
You will need a table top mixer for this as even with one, you will be plagued with the surely life is too short moments. Just be strong, and keep the faith.
I am using Sweetapolita’s recipe, so please do give her blog some loving when you get to her link at the bottom of this post.
Set your bowl on a pan of simmering water. Do not let it boil otherwise you will scramble your eggs. Having a sugar thermometer will help significantly. What you are aiming for is 140F when the sugar and eggs are well mixed and mixture no longer grainy
One the temperature is achieved, you transfer the bowl to your table top mixer and whisk it with the balloon whisk attachment. You want to get it to the peaked meringue stage and for the bowl to be neutral in temperature
Like so. This is when it is ready. At this point, you have cooked meringue. You can lick the balloon whisk. Yes, really, you can. Go on. Get nice and sticky.
Change over to the paddle beater. Start adding the butter a cube at a time, allowing each cube to be well combined.
This is probably the time when you will be freaking out cos the misfire looks like sloppy blancmange. Have faith, young Jedi. We only have the attempt and the attempt is all that we have. Savour the journey. (Not Yoda, but some quote from a crappy B list American film with Joe Lynn Turner in it. He had long hair. Some groupie stole his knob from off his tour bus. Of the door variety.
And it actually gets like this around 2/3rds into adding the butter.
Tis done. Takes a awhile. But worth it. If you are going to chill it, whip it again before you go to use it or it will be cottage cheese-like in consistency.
To achieve this style, you need a Wilton #103 petal tip. Start from the bottom with the narrow end of the tip pointing outwards and just layer it on, moving from side to side. It is actually a relatively easy method and it looks very effective.
Honestly, this is how I felt this morning. Just not as pretty. The 7th Wonder seems determined to remind me how challenging she was once as a youngling by only staying asleep for as long as I am awake. And in close enough vicinity that she is still able to twiddle my nipple. Oh, the joy of breastfeeding.