Apparently Britain is in the grip of a cake mania. What with Nigella, Jamie and of course, our own Rachel, everyone is baking. The Women’s Institute, spiritual home of the iced occasional fruitcake, reported that interest in their baking courses was up 60 per cent; one online retailer said it was selling a cookie cutter every 15 minutes; and the nation will be further galvanised into action with the start of a National Baking Week next October.
I suppose it’s not so surprising, really: in the current climate of gloom and doom, what more therapeutic activity could there be than baking? More people are admitting that thrifty living and self-sufficiency are not mere hardship as they rediscover the satisfaction one gleans from growing, producing and cooking your own. There was a terrific response to the ‘how about keeping a few chickens in your garden’ and ‘bake your own birthday party’ pieces. Handy DIY enthusiasts all over the country are knocking up chicken coops while others are filling the void by hatching out chickens and rearing them to point of lay. For those eager to get started with breeds suitable for free range production contact Giana Ferguson 028-28231, Sophie Miall 086-0839569, or David Tyrell on 087-9123375. Check with the Department of Agriculture and you local County Council about the regulations for keeping domestic fowl. Lovely fresh free-range eggs make great cakes.
From time to time, Grub Street publishers reissue timeless cookery classics, and I’ve been delighted to see many almost forgotten treasures back in print. Recently they re-published two little baking books by George and Cecilia Scurfield, ‘Home Baked’ and ‘Homemade Cakes and Biscuits’ into one elegant hardback ‘Home Baked’ with delightful illustrations. These were listed by Elizabeth David in a Times article in 1971 as her favourite books on bread making. The book has specific advice on equipment, flours to use, baking and rising times, correct temperatures and many gems of information the home baker will want to know.
George and Cecilia got fed up with shop-bought bread and took to creating new recipes and baking their own in the early 1950s. The result was two charming and useful books which became cookbook classics that have lost none of their appeal since their original publication in 1956 and 1963.
I’ve chosen a few recipes I think you’ll enjoy…
1/2 oz/15g butter
Put 2 ounces (50g) grated chocolate into a saucepan with 1/4 pint (150ml) cream. Grate or break the chocolate and put it in a bowl with the butter. Put it in a warm place to soften. Put the eggs and sugar in a bowl over steam and whisk until thick and creamy. Remove from heat and go on beating until cool. Fold in the sieved flour, and finally the softened butter and chocolate. Put a piece of buttered greaseproof paper on to a baking-sheet, and spread the mixture on it about 1/2 inch thick. Bake until firm to the touch in a hot over, 400°F, Gas mark 6.
Remove paper while still hot. Cut into slices when cool and fill with the following cream:
Bring slowly to the boil stirring all the time. Allow to boil up once and then remove from the fire and pour into a bowl. Stir until cool. Chill thoroughly and then whisk gently until thick.
Real cream is essential and this is a most delicious filling. You can of course fill the slices with chocolate butter icing but they will not then be the genuine article.
Russian Rhubarb Cake
This is an unusual cake, good for people who like the taste of rhubarb but usually find it too sour.
4 large eggs
1 dessertspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon cinnamon
14oz/400g diced rhubarb
pinch of grated nutmeg
Melt the butter without getting it very hot. Then mix all the ingredients except the rhubarb and beat vigorously. Spread the mixture over a well-greased Swiss roll tin and cover with the diced rhubarb. Sprinkle generously with sugar and bake for 45 minutes in a fairly hot oven, 400°F, Gas mark 6—lowering the heat slightly if cake looks like getting too brown. Cut into slices and remove them carefully with a spatula to cool on a cake-rack.
4oz/110g castor sugar
juice of 2 oranges
grated rind of 1 orange
Blanch the almonds and shred them. Cream the butter and sugar together with the grated orange rind. Then mix in the flour, the shredded almonds and the orange juice. Drop the mixture in teaspoonfuls on to a greased baking-sheet leaving plenty of room for them to spread. Bake in a moderate oven, 350°F, Gas mark 4, for about 10 minutes. Allow them to cool a little before lifting with a palette-knife on to a rack to cool.
Coffee Sandwich Biscuits
1oz/25g ground rice
2oz/50g castor sugar
2 teaspoons instant coffee
1 teaspoon water halved walnuts (if you like)
Sieve the flour and ground rice together. Cream the butter and sugar. Mix the coffee with the water and beat into the creamed butter and sugar. Fold in the dry ingredients and mix together. Roll out thin and cut into rounds—if you use walnuts, put half a walnut on every other biscuit.
Put them on a greased baking-sheet and bake in a moderate oven, 350°F, Gas mark 4, for about 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
When they’re cold put them together with the following cream:
Cream 1oz (25g), butter with 2oz (50g) icing sugar and then beat in 1 teaspoon instant coffee mixed with 1 teaspoon cream.
2 egg whites
3oz/75g castor sugar
2oz/50g hazelnuts—after the skins have been removed
Put a good 2oz (50g) hazelnuts into a hot oven until the nuts are slightly toasted and the skins come off easily. Put them in a tea-towel and rub off the skins. Then grind them.
Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Whisk in half the sugar and then fold in the rest of the sugar alternately with the ground hazelnuts.
Either drop teaspoonfuls of the mixture on to a greased and floured baking-sheet or pipe them into small mounds. Bake in a cool oven, 300°F, Gas mark 2, until they are just coloured—about 1 hour.
Fool Proof Food
Rhubarb and Ginger Jam
This delicious jam should be made when rhubarb is in full season and not yet thick and tough.
Makes 8 x 1 lb (450 g) jars
4 lb (1.8kg) trimmed rhubarb,
4 lb (1.8kg) granulated sugar
grated rind and juice of 2 lemons
2 ozs (50g) bruised ginger
2 ozs (50g) chopped crystallized ginger or stem ginger preserved in syrup (optional)
Wipe the rhubarb and cut into 1 inch (2.5cm) pieces. Put it in a large bowl layered with the sugar; add the lemon rind and juice. Leave to stand overnight. Next day put into a preserving pan, add the bruised ginger tied in a muslin bag. Steadily bring to the boil until it is a thick pulp. Remove the bag of ginger and then pour the jam into hot clean jars, cover and store in a dry airy cupboard.
If you like, 2ozs (50g) chopped crystallized ginger or preserved stem ginger can be added at the end.
While rhubarb is still cheap and plentiful, cut into one inch pieces and freeze. Also make some rhubarb jam for the winter (recipe Fool Proof Food)
New Tuesday Farmers’ Market in Midleton
An exciting new mid-week Farmers Market has started in Midleton every Tuesday from 10:00am to 2:00pm outside 4Homes Superstores. There are delicious steak sandwiches, barbecued hot dogs and spicy curries to eat while you browse over thirty stalls with produce ranging from organically reared beef, ducks and chicken, freshly baked artisan breads, Irish Farmhouse cheeses, Cornish pasties, cakes, tarts, local honey, fresh fish…my mouth is watering as I write this list. Most of the stall holders are from within a 10 mile radius of Midleton.
Visit their website www.midletontuesdaymarket.com. The original Saturday Farmers’ Market in Midleton continues to go from strength to strength and is open from 9am to 2pm in the Fair Green.
The Tannery Restaurant and Cookery School, Dungarvan
Denis Cotter of Café Paradiso – probably one of the most celebrated and accomplished vegetarian cooks in Europe – will be teaching a one day Vegetarian Cookery Course at the Tannery Cookery School on Friday 26th June 2009. Why not book a table in the Tannery restaurant after the course and enjoy an excellent meal? To see the menus and details of other cookery courses visit their website www.tannery.ie or 058 45420 firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Dunmore East Festival of Food
Festival of Food, Fish and Fun is from Friday 26th to Sunday 28th June. Enjoy cookery demonstrations by guest chefs including Kevin Dundon, Eunice Power and Michael Quinn. There’ll be wine and cheese tastings, a hog roasting on the spit and catch and cook…email