Keeping something in the tin

Remember those carefree bygone days when one always kept ‘something in the tin’, just in case some friends dropped by. In country houses the table was religiously laid for tea every afternoon at 4.30, white linen or perhaps a cut lace tablecloth, silver tea pot, delicate china cups, and a little jug of cream as well as milk.
For children in particular, afternoon tea was a serious business, I remember many such outings and the strict protocol. My brothers and sisters and I were dressed up in our finest clothes. I got to wear a smocked dress and one of my angora boleros – I had two which Mummy had painstakingly knit for me from a pattern in Women’s Weekly – one was pale green, the other a soft shade of baby pink. I adored wearing my bolero and my black patent shoes, I felt like a princess.
As we drove to the tea party Mummy would remind us of how to behave, not to speak until you were spoken to, sit quietly in the allocated chair. Start with a slice or two of bread and butter, followed by a dainty sandwich or two, then one could progress to the scones, followed by tartlets and fairy cakes or butterfly buns and a maybe a ginger or fruit cake. Finally one could indulge in a gorgeous slice of chocolate or coffee cake. Careful not to speak with one’s mouth full and it was simply unthinkable to grab or to start to eat before the hostess started. How times have changed – nowadays one could be trampled in the stampede! 
Formal and elaborate tea parties such as the one I’ve just described are rare nowadays but I still subscribe to the ‘must have something delicious and dainty in the tin to tempt and comfort and share with family and friends.’ 
I love to bake and I know I’m not alone because any time my column includes cakes and bikkies, I get a terrific reaction so here are a few tempting treats to try.

Devotees of Sue Lawrence will be thrilled to hear that she has published yet another tempting book ‘Sue Lawrence’s Book of Baking’ – from Agas to conventional ovens she covers it all and her chapters deal with a range of goodies from breads and savoury pies, pasties and tarts to traditional cakes and modern ones too. For the adventurous cook who has been exposed to other cultures there are international dishes from countries like America, with their delicious cornbread and New York Cheesecake; Argentinean Alfajores (shortbread and toffee sandwiches); Australian Lamingtons; Chilean Cheese Empanadas; Anchovy Pirozhkis from Russia; Swedish Lucia Rolls, Irish Soda Bread; Welsh Cakes and of course a few Scottish dishes like Forfar bridies and Cullen Skink bridies, shortbread and tattie scones, to name but a few, plus, all our old favourites such as scones; angel cakes; brownies, custard creams and Victoria sponge are also there.
Other chapters focus on healthy alternatives and even quick bakes for those of us who find time to be more of a challenge than baking. There’s also a chapter covering festive baking - in time for Christmas and Easter next year.

Gluten – Free Strawberry Sponge Cake

From Healthy Gluten-free Eating by Darina Allen and Rosemary Kearney

125g (4 ½ oz) butter
175g (6oz) castor sugar
3 eggs preferably free-range
110g (4oz) rice flour
50g (2oz) ground almonds
1 ½ teaspoon gluten-free baking powder
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 tablespoon milk

225g (8oz) sliced fresh strawberries or home-made raspberry jam
300ml (10 floz) whipped cream
Castor sugar to sprinkle

2 x 18 cm (7 inch) cake tins

Preheat the oven to 180oC/350oF/regulo 4

Grease and rice flour the two cake tins and line the base of each with a round of greaseproof paper. 
Cream the butter and gradually add the castor sugar, beat until soft and light and quite pale in colour. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well between each addition. (If the butter and the sugar are not creamed properly and if you add the eggs too fast, the mixture will curdle, resulting in a cake with a heavier texture.)
Sieve the rice flour, ground almonds, the gluten-free baking powder and xanthan gum together and stir in gradually. Mix all together lightly and add 1 tablespoon of milk to moisten.
Divide the mixture evenly between 2 tins, hollowing it slightly in the centre. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until cooked and a skewer comes out clean. Turn out onto a wire tray and allow to cool.
Sandwich together with whipped cream and sliced strawberries or homemade raspberry jam. Sprinkle with sieved castor sugar. Serve on an old fashioned plate with a doyley.

Gluten-free Chocolate and Raspberry Torte

From Healthy Gluten Free Eating by Darina Allen and Rosemary Kearney
Serves 8 – 10

This is a very rich chocolate cake and a little goes a long way!

200g (7oz) best quality dark chocolate (Lesme, Callebaut, Valrhona)
50g (2oz) butter
3 eggs, preferably free range
50g (2oz) castor sugar
110g (4oz) ground almonds
150g (5oz) raspberries
50g (2floz) cream

Preheat the oven to 180oC/350oF/gas4

Line the base of a 20cm(8”) spring - form tin with bakewell paper and brush the sides with a little melted butter, followed by a dusting of ground almonds. Place the chocolate and the butter in a pyrex bowl, over a pan of simmering water on a very gentle heat. Separate the eggs and using an electric whisk beat the egg yolks with the sugar until pale light and fluffy. When the chocolate / butter mixture has melted add to the egg yolk/sugar mixture and mix well to combine.
Stir in the cream and the ground almonds.
In a clean Pyrex bowl, beat the egg whites until they reach the stiff peak stage. Fold in the egg whites a third at a time into the chocolate mixture very gently until they are combined. 
Now, gently fold in the raspberries and pour into the lined spring - form tin. Bake in the moderate oven for approximately 25-30 minutes. The edges should be cooked but the centre should be slightly underdone.
Allow the cake to cool completely in the tin and serve a little slice with softly whipped cream and a few extra fresh raspberries.

Lemon Fudge Cake

From Sue Lawrence’s Book of Baking
Makes 24

150g (5½ oz) unsalted butter, melted
200g (7oz) condensed milk (half a regular can size)
400g (14oz) digestive biscuits, crushed
100g (3½oz) desiccated coconut
300g (10½ oz) golden icing sugar, sifted
juice of 1 large juicy lemon

Butter a 23x33cm/9x13 in Swiss Roll Tin.

Mix the melted butter and condensed milk together in a bowl and stir in the biscuits and coconut. Spread into the prepared tin and press down. Chill well for 2 hours.
Mix the sifted icing sugar with the lemon juice and carefully spread this over the biscuit base. Using a palette knife, spread very gently to cover. Chill again, then cut into bars.

Poppyseed and Lemon Muffins

From Sue Lawrence’s Book of Baking
Makes 8 American style large muffins (ideal for breakfast or brunch) or 14-16 friands (these are little buttery two-bite size cakes which Sue discovered in Sydney)

150g (5½ oz) golden caster sugar
150g (5½ oz) self-raising flour, sifted
25g (1oz) poppyseeds
grated zest and juice of 1 medium unwaxed lemon
125ml (4fl.oz) sunflower oil
2 large free-range eggs

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas5. Put 8 American style muffin cases into a bun tin, or butter 14-16 mini-muffin or friand moulds.
Place the sugar, flour and poppyseeds in a bowl, then stir in the lemon zest. Make a well in the centre, then tip in the oil, eggs and lemon juice. Stir gently until combined.
Spoon into muffin cases or moulds. Bake for 15-20 minutes for the friends or mini muffins, and 25 minutes for the larger muffins.

Chocolate, Cherry and Coconut Slice
Makes 24-28 squares

450g (1lb) good quality milk chocolate (minimum 30% cocoa solids)
200g (7oz) glace cherries
4 medium free range eggs
175g (6oz) golden caster sugar
250g (9oz) desiccated coconut

Butter a 23 x 33cm (9x13in) Swiss roll tin.

Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of hot water or in a microwave on medium, then pour into the base of the prepared tin. Smooth out with the back of a spoon. Allow to cool and harden.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4
Halve the cherries and place at intervals over the chocolate. Break the eggs in a bowl, then add the sugar and coconut. Stir until well combined, then carefully spoon this mixture over the cherries, taking care not to push them into one corner. Pat down gently to smooth the surface.
Bake for about 25 minutes until the coconut mixture looks golden brown and feels firm to the touch.
Leave to cool in the tin for at least 30 minutes before marking into squares, then allow to become cold. Place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes until completely hard, then cut and remove the squares from the tin.

Tempting though it is, do leave this in the refrigerator for the specified times, so the chocolate can fully set, after it has been baked. If you try to lever out the pieces while the chocolate is still soft, it will collapse.

Banana Cardamon Cake

2 very ripe bananas, peeled
4 free-range eggs, separated 
2 tsp natural vanilla extract
3floz/90ml sour cream 
12oz/360g plain/all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder 
½ tsp. salt 
2 tsp ground cardamom 
6oz/180g butter, softened
6oz/180g dark brown sugar 
6 tbsp caster/granulated sugar

Heat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas 3. Butter a 9 ½ inch/24 
springform cake tin and line the bottom with a round of baking 
parchment. Mash the bananas and mix in the egg yolks, vanilla and 
sour, cream. Sift the flour with the baking powder, salt and; 
Beat the softened butter with the brown sugar until light and; 
creamy. Add about half the banana mixture and half the flour 
mixture to the creamed butter and (either by hand or on the lowest: 
speed of a mixer) work them all together until almost combined.
Then add the rest of the banana and flour mixtures, again being
careful not to overmix.
Put the egg whites in a large and scrupulously clean bowl an 
whisk until soft peaks form - that is, when you lift up some of the 
egg white with the whisk it forms a soft, slightly drooping peak.
Start whisking in the rest of the sugar, 1 tbsp at a time, and
whisking well after each addition until stiff and glossy. Gently fold
this meringue into the banana mixture in two batches. Spoon the cake mixture into the buttered cake tin and bake for about an hour, until a toothpick or skewer hushed into the middle of the cake comes out dry. Let the cake cool completely before unmoulding.

NOTE The cake can certainly be made the day before; when completely cooled, wrap it in cling film but don't put it in the fridge because chilling is quite simply death to cakes.

Foolproof Food

Mummy’s Sweet White Scones

Delicious served for afternoon tea with new season’s homemade raspberry jam and cream, or just buttered straight from the oven.

Makes 18-20 scones using a 72 cm (3inch) cutter

900g (2lb) plain white flour
170g (6oz) butter
3 free range eggs
pinch of salt
55g (2oz) castor sugar
3 heaped teaspoons baking powder
450ml (15floz) approx. milk to mix
For glaze:
egg wash (see below)
granulated sugar for sprinkling on top of the scones

First preheat the oven to 250C/475F/gas 9.

Sieve all the dry ingredients together in a large wide bowl. Cut the butter into cubes, toss in the flour and rub in the butter. Make a well in the centre. Whisk the eggs with the milk, add to the dry ingredients and mix to a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured board. Knead lightly, just enough to shape into a round. Roll out to about 22cm (1inch) thick and cut or stamp into scones. Put onto a baking sheet – no need to grease. Brush the tops with egg wash and dip each one in granulated sugar. Bake in a hot oven for 10-12 minutes until golden brown on top. Cool on a wire rack.
Serve split in half with home made jam and a blob of whipped cream or just butter and jam.
Egg wash:
Whisk 1 egg with a pinch of salt. This is brushed over the scones and pastry to help them to brown in the oven.

Fruit Scones

Add 110g (4oz) plump sultanas to the above mixture when the butter has been rubbed in. Continue as above.
Useful tip:
Scone mixture may be weighed up ahead - even the day before. Butter may be rubbed in but do not add raising agent and liquid until just before baking.

Hot Tips

Some New books not to miss -
Sue Lawrence’s Book of Baking – published by Headline
Not on the Label – by Felicity Lawrence
Shopped – the Shocking Power of British Supermarkets – by Joanna Blythman
Healing with Whole Foods - Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition by Paul Pitchford, published by North Atlantic Books.

O’Connells Restaurant at Bewleys Hotel in Ballsbridge, Dublin
Have ‘gone public’ on their greater commitment to gluten-free cooking. They have retained Rosemary Kearney (co-author of Healthy-Gluten Free Eating) as Consultant.
So good news for all coeliacs visiting the hotel and restaurant.
O’Connells – Tel. 01-6473304 
Bewleys Hotel – Tel 01-6681111

Griffins Garden Centre Restaurant, Dripsey, Co Cork
The restaurant at Margaret Griffin’s award-winning Garden Centre (5 minutes from Inniscarra Dam) is also committed to catering fro those on a gluten-free diet – their light lunches offer a gluten-free soup and main course, as well as gluten-free scones, rolls, tea cakes and apple tart, and trained staff are always ready to help. Tel. 021-7334286 email:

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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