Duck Eggs

duck eggs

Duck eggs are absolutely beautiful.  They have this almost translucent shell which looks so fragile and yet is very tough.  Harder to crack, I think, than a hen’s egg.  Moreover, they have an elegance to them which is captivating.  Rather like the difference between DIY store and Farrow & Ball paint.  And, being that little bit larger than a hen’s egg, they fit into the palm of my hand beautifully.

Not so good on toast though.

The reason why I occasionally buy them is because I love how they transform a run of the mill, everyday victoria sponge cake into something slightly more luxurious.  There is a depth of taste there that you just don’t get when you bake with hen’s eggs.   Which is what I was looking for this weekend as I spent Saturday afternoon hanging out with two fabulous women, discussing very important things.  Well, important to us.  And in my world, it is crucial to have good cake when beginning something that will change yours, and other people’s children’s future.

However, baking with the duck egg is not without it’s hazards.  I have not yet made a victoria sponge where the sponge hasn’t verged on the descent into oblivion, otherwise known as a biscuit.  Moreover, I still seem to be having difficulty with the heat of my not so new to me now, electric oven.  Work in progress I think.

So here we are on Mother’s Day, again.  The speed at which days are flying by is frightening.  It only seems like yesterday that we were bunking down for the festive season and now we are opening up for spring, and the endless conversations about not having enough time to clean.  Or is that just me?

I always try and spend some time on Mother’s Day reflecting on the beauty of both life and death.  Inevitably, the wee boy and I have a conversation about death, my favourite of which was not today, but very recently.

Wee boy:  Mummy, when you die do you want to be buried or cremated?

Me:  I want to be cremated and my ashes planted with a seed which will grow to be a tree

Wee boy:  When I die, I want to buried under your tree

 

 

 

 

 

Butterfly Buns

butterfly buns

This weekend I made a decision to bake.  Partly because I have fond memories of winter weekend baking afternoons and partly because the wee boy is quite keen to make a rainbow cake – having watched a youTube video of it endless times – so feel I’d better get the practise in before attempting said cake.  I have until February half term, which is when I have promised we will try it.

Meanwhile, I am still coming to terms with my ‘new to me’ oven.  It seems that I have not quite mastered the time needed to warm an electric oven before putting in the food to be cooked, and am still over compensating.  As a result edges are often cooked way before the middle has time to readjust itself to the heat, which can create surprising results.

For example, I recently cooked some roast white and sweet potatoes together and was taken aback when I popped my head in to have a look only to notice that the sweet potatoes had almost turned to charcoal.  Undeterred I turned them over, kept a closer eye on them and, when serving, muttered something about being well done but probably edible.  Imagine my surprise then, when they actually tasted delicious.

Similarly with mini cakes, I have not yet mastered the art of creating a mini cake that is happy to be peeled out of it’s case.  The attempts I have made so far have all resulted in the cake clinging onto the case for dear life.  However, not to be beaten, this time I resolved to create a distraction by turning the mini cakes into butterfly buns.  After all, who focuses on buncase separation anxiety when there’s a glorious buttercream to devour?  And of course, as we eat with our eyes first and foremost, creating a butterfly bun means that any flaws can be covered with a light dusting of icing sugar… but shhh, let’s keep that little gem between ourselves shall we…?

Butterfly buns aside, there are still a few truly simple but wondrous things in life that genuinely make me tingle inside, one of which is watching that first snowfall of the year.  Yesterday, as the wee boy and I gazed out of the window at the silent white blanket covering the earth around us, he turned to me and whispered,

‘This is the most incredible thing ever’

Magical.

 

 

 

Weekend Breakfast

Weekend Breakfast

American pancakes, as you may well know, are a weekend family favourite.

I’m sure, were it on offer, they would be eaten regularly throughout the week, however, as a general rule, this breakfast is specifically created at some point during the weekend.

There are many reasons for this but if I’m totally honest, the main reason for only making American pancakes at the weekend is because I cannot get my head round putting it all together, sitting around the table to eat it, finishing a wonderfully made, Bialetti coffee, and then getting ready for the school/work day.  We’d have to be up at 6am which, for me, is a time reserved for going on holiday or an emergency only.

However, today being a Saturday, we did that thing.  And I discovered a lovely little combination of foods which I would like to share with you.  American pancake, bacon, maple syrup and strawberry.  Yes, you read that correctly, strawberry.  Who would have imagined this taste sensation could linger in the mind all day, but I’m telling you now, it’s an absolute treat and one that comes highly recommended.  Which is a good thing, as the repertoire of weekend dining has been severely slashed due to completely unforeseen circumstances.

Why?  Well, the oven has made a unilateral decision to go on strike without any prior warning.  And how, you may ask, did I find this out?  Whilst making a batch of sausage rolls which, having languished in a supposedly hot oven for over an hour, were still looking ever so slightly peaky.  Not right at all.

Thankfully the hob still works, and we are very close to summer which will allow us time to reassess the situation and begin our search for yet another vehicle of heated wonder.

Until then, prepare yourselves for an array of salads and one pot dishes…

Distraction Baking

tomato pepper oregano bread

Although I am back to work, things are a little less busy as all the boys are on holiday this week.  Let me clarify that.  They’re at home.  Last time the wee boy and I discussed the Easter holidays he asked where we were going and was deeply disappointed that we weren’t all going away for the duration.

Anyway, I have also recently picked up a bag of the fabulous Orion bread flour from Bradshaws, and as I haven’t dabbled in bread flavours for a while, I decided to make a loaf of sundried tomatoes, picante peppers and fresh oregano.  I know, sounds delicious.

All was going very well, and although the dough was a little ‘wet’,  it got itself together well, and shaped beautifully.

Meanwhile, we recently had some dead and diseased trees cut down in our back garden thanks to my lovely in-laws.  Once again, let me clarify, they didn’t cut the trees down but paid for it as our birthday and Christmas present.  However, as the weather has been constantly dark and damp we haven’t been able to burn the bits of tree we don’t need for other things.  Not until this week.

In fact, it was turning out to be a very productive day all round. Bread, tree burning…

Women are renown for being able to multi task, it has even been scientifically proven that our brains are wired differently and can therefore, much more competently juggle more things at once, than men.  I’m not sure whether this research was done by men though, which may point a suspicious finger at the whole scenario.  After all, if you become competent at something, you are often the ‘go-to’ person for that thing.  But I digress.

So, I placed the dough on a baking tray under a tea towel and put it in the grill part of the cooker with the oven on underneath it, to prove.

I then went outside to join himself in the big burn.  We have one of those fabulous holy metal bins.  And by that I don’t mean it’s religious.  It is one of those old fashioned style dustbins that some design genius realised would be perfect for burning outdoor stuff, as the air drafts through and makes the wood, especially, burn extremely quickly.

There is something deeply satisfying about burning stuff.  All kinds of stuff.  I remember one Easter weekend I had hired a skip to clear the house and garden of un-necessaries.  As it was a bank holiday, one of my cousins popped over for the weekend and we ended up having a cheekie glass of wine outside and lit a fire in order to take the evening chill off.

As darkness descended we took out a couple of blankets and nipped down for a rummage in the skip to see if there was anything we could keep the fire going with.

By the end of the evening the skip was almost empty.

I love fire.

I am married to a man who also has a penchant for fire.  Together we lost ourselves in the sacramental art of fire.  And then it dawned on me that the bread was still snuggled in the grill section.  It had exploded and flattened, but, not to be disheartened I popped it in the oven with a mental note to self that I should come back and check it within the next twenty minutes or so.  An hour or so and a plethora of sticks burnt later, I remembered.

Although not what I expected, it hadn’t burnt to a cinder.  Turns out it’s pretty tasty dipped in olive oil.

Hilariously, it seems that fire isn’t my only non negotiable distraction.  I have just done exactly the same thing again today. Different circumstances, same scenario.  Almost.

I think I will revisit that multi tasking theory, and delve a little deeper…

Coffee and Walnut Cake

coffee and walnut cake

It has reached the time of year in our household that, for 10 months prior to November, always sounds very romantic.  Until it starts to get closer.  And then the reality sets in.   Not only that, every year, without fail, we are not prepared for the shock.

‘What on earth is she talking about?’  Whispered the voice at the back.

Well, for us, we are just about to hit celebration season.  And this is how it goes:

Me, him, the little ray of sunshine, the day we met, youngest brother-in-law, wedding anniversary, mini him, another brother-in-law, Christmas.

I know.  How lovely all to be born within a month of each other…

As a direct result of this birthday montage, there is also an onslaught of cake to be made to compliment said birthday celebrations, and this year, for me, it’s coffee and walnut cake.

My favourite bit of this cake, as a child, was the icing.  I enjoyed the cake out of politeness, but honestly it was really just seen as the bit to endure, to get to the bit I loved.  So much so, I used to sneak into the kitchen when I thought no-one was looking, dip my finger in the tin holding the cake, and swipe a good dollopful of icing, before quickly closing the lid.

On reflection, this technique was not the cleverest really, as when my mum next opened the tin, there would often be a large crevice where icing once was.  Like every good thief, I would completely deny any knowledge of the incident, although it was obviously one of us.

Back to the cake.

So, I mix 225g of butter and 225g of castor sugar together, although sometimes I half and half the castor sugar with soft light brown.  I then add 50g of walnuts and whizz them altogether in my trusty Kenwood.  Add 3 eggs, one by one, 3 dessertspoonfuls of espresso coffee, 225g of self raising flour and a teaspoon of baking powder.

Divide between two prepared cake tins and bake, gas mark 4, for around 25 minutes depending on your oven.  As mine is a little contrary I tend to open the oven way too early on, and spend the next 10 minutes hoping that, as I’ve turned up the heat a little, this will counterbalance the cake dip.  It’s not the most successful technique, but you can’t blame me for trying.

That is a down side to being an eternal optimist.

Once cooked, let the cakes cool on a rack for around 10 minutes before turning out and peeling the greaseproof paper off.  Once again, my over eagerness often catches me unawares and I take the cakes out of their tins way too early, so they stick to the cooling rack.  But hey, I figure it will have icing on it to cover any glitches and life is way too short to get in a tizzy about such things.

The icing is a combination of 300g icing sugar, 175 butter and a dessertspoonful or 2 of espresso coffee.

Here’s a little tip for icing sugar.  Sieve or give it a whizz round in the trusty Kenwood before adding the butter, otherwise it is an absolutely devil to get smooth.

Dollop half in between the cooled cake sponges, and half on top.  If you’re feeling particularly fancy, you could create a lovely pattern on top and sprinkle on some walnuts.

Either way, this is an absolutely delicious cake for any time of year, so cut yourself a good slab, make a cuppa, put your feet up and enjoy.

 

 

 

Flakey Pastry

flakey pastry

I rather enjoy the fact that a certain type of pastry is called ‘flakey’.  Aside from the obvious reasons, I do like to think that it may also carry an alternative set of characteristics.  That of ‘conspicuously or grossly unconventional or unusual’, as The Free Dictionary describes the word.  Perhaps, at one point in it’s history, it was indeed a ‘flakey’ pastry.

Similarly, I wonder if short crust pastry was so called because it was a little terse?

The wonderful thing about pastry these days is that you don’t have to make it yourself.  It is so much better when purchased from a supermarket or other outlet, where they bus it in by the caseload.  Anyway, I think you probably need quite a large surface area to make a flakey, and my kitchen is too covered in other essentials.  Like small bits of Lego, unopened letters, Connect4 counters and conkers.

The other beautiful thing about shop bought flakey, is that it tastes as crisp as an autumn day when it comes out of the oven.  Even when it comes out of my oven, which is saying something as most of the time one side is cooked more than the other, but in this case it does seem to add to the authenticity of the dish.

So, next time you’re stuck for something to impress, buy yourself a roll of flakey, roll it out, put stuff on top and pop in the oven.  Alternatively, just put it on top of some ingredients that are lounging in a dish – that always works well.  And if you’re feeling very fancy, wrap a bit of meat or fish in it, with a slither of something in between the meat/fish and the flakey.  You’ll have yourself a winner right there.

Let me know how you get on.

Hummingbird Cake

pecan brittle

Sometimes a recipe just catches my eye and and I think to myself, ‘I’d like to have a go at that’.

Hummingbird cake is such a wonderful name for a cake I just had to try it.  Today, having spent a lovely few hours with a friend tackling a mountain of damsons and jamming them up, I came home and decided the moment had come.  So, I assembled all the ingredients and set off.

Everything was going wonderfully well, step one was accomplished with absolutely no hiccups, ingredients combined and mixture divided into the cake tins. Step two: making a brittle topping.

Now I have often seen people on the television heating sugar in a pan, and to be honest, it never looks that difficult, so I duly measured out the sugar, added a splash of water and waited.  As explained in the recipe, I shook, and did not under any circumstances, stir the sugar until it began to melt and go a golden brown.  All good.  I added the pecans and a pinch of salt, using a spoon to coat the pecans, and poured the concoction out onto a piece of greaseproof paper. Once again, it seemed fine.  And then I made the mistake of scraping out the last few bits and a small globule of molten sugar jumped out of the pan and landed on my thumb knuckle.

Mistake number one.  Blimey, it’s hot hot hot.  I now have a glorious blister emerging despite shoving said knuckle under warm water.  Yes, warm water.  I always thought it should be cold water, but, as someone explained to me not so long ago, warm water takes the heat out of the burn.  And do you know, they’re right.

Moving on, I prepared the zesty cream cheese icing.  Which brings me on to mistake number two.  The recipe states 400g of icing sugar.  It turns out I only had 359g so decided that this wouldn’t be a problem, I’d adjust the other ingredients accordingly.  Which I promptly forgot to do.  This left me with a slightly liquid zesty cream cheese icing.  No problem, I’ll pop it in the fridge to solidify slightly.  It should be fine.*

And then I hit mistake number three.  My oven is not big enough to take two round tins on one shelf.  Normally I squeeze them together and hope for the best.  This time I decided to put one on the shelf underneath the other.  Good plan, I hear you cry.  Well yes, in theory.  However, I hadn’t factored in the cake rising, so when I looked in the oven, cake number two was beginning to seep over the edges of the tin as it had nowhere else to go.  In my attempt to rectify the situation I had to move tin number one from the upper shelf to the bottom of the oven, put tin number two onto the upper shelf, and move shelf number two down, before placing initial tin number one back onto it and closing the oven door.

I managed all this juggling, but singed both forearms in the process.

It can be quite hazardous this baking malarkey.

 

*I ended up having to go out and buy more icing sugar