Book Review: Melt

Here’s another review that’s way overdue! Procrastination is the thief of time etc. etc. Or the thief of Tim, if you let autocorrect have its own way. It doesn’t help that I’ve developed gallstones, and I’m really not supposed to eat ice-cream anymore (starts weeping softly).

This is a book of fairly unusual ice-cream recipes, dreamt up by Claire Kelsey, who started selling her creations from an ice-cream van, called Ginger’s Comfort Emporium, in 2009. Well, here we go then!

Melt, by Claire Kelsey. Simon and Schuster, 2013.

Ice-cream sensations to make at home

So, why did you buy it?

I love ice-cream and inventing/trying new and interesting flavours. There’s a lot of those in the book, from olive oil to camel’s milk!

Judge a book by its cover…

Stylish, retro, with hints of a carefree alternative lifestyle. Right up my street.

Do you use it?

Ah! Not really. I’ve found I don’t get on with the recipes, especially the no-churn ones. I didn’t by a super-duper, all singing and dancing, extra fancy ice-cream maker, to do no- churn. I find the recipes very over sweet as well. Instead, I use the recipes as inspiration and a starting point for developing my own.

What did you make?

Um…definitely olive oil, which was probably our favourite out of all of them, coriander leaf (interesting, not unpleasant), fresh mint stracciatella (couldn’t taste the mint), and ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven’. Named after a song by The Pixies, that one contains roasted banana, salted caramel and peanuts. It sounds great on paper, but the texture was a bit odd, wasn’t keen on the banana part, and it was very ugly and unappetising to look at. I daresay that’s my fault, though.

Is it still in print?

It doesn’t seem to be.

Is it worth buying?

If you’re adventurous, and experienced with making ice-cream, you’ll probably love it. I wouldn’t recommend to beginners.

Olive oil and sea salt

Coffee Cake

Another cake based on a vintage recipe, I really must get round to telling you all about my pet project. Oh, and it’s worth mentioning that in America, coffee cake is cake served with coffee, while in England, coffee cake is cake that is flavored with coffee.

Anyway, the ingredients were very intriguing; treacle, raisins, cinnamon…not your usual additions to coffee. I changed the amount of treacle as I don’t think modern palates can cope with that much, and I had to leave out the raisins because of Eldest Son being a raisin hater. You can always put them back in if you like the idea. Buttermilk was added to keep things moist. The recipe didn’t mention icing, but the coffee flavored glacé icing was a wise addition.

This is quite a rich and sophisticated little number, perfect for a grown up tea party.

Coffee Cake serves 8-10

  • 120ml strong coffee (allowed to go cold)
  • 180g light brown sugar
  • 120g soft butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1tbsp treacle
  • 240g plain flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 150ml buttermilk

Grease and line a 20cm (or thereabouts) cake tin. Preheat the oven to 160⁰c (150⁰ fan/ gas mark 3).

Beat the butter and sugar to a cream. Beat in the eggs and treacle.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, and cinnamon. Add half of the flour to the mixture and mix well, then add the coffee.

Beat in the other half of the flour, then the buttermilk.

Scrape the mixture into the cake tin and bake for around 50 minutes, but check after 40 minutes, or until a skewer poked in the middle comes out clean. If the top of the cake is getting too brown before the middle is cooked, then cover with a piece of baking paper (not foil).

Allow to cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.

If you want to ice the cake, combine 90g of sifted icing sugar with 1tbsp of soft butter and a spoonful or two of cool coffee, enough to make it a spreadable consistency. You can ice the cake while it is still hot, if you want.

Walnut and Maple Syrup Cake

At some point I’ll get round to telling you what I’ve been up to since…(checks notes), December? I’ll give you a clue, it’s something to do with vintage recipes. Also, I’ve been putting stuff on Ko-fi, in the misguided hope that someone might toss a few coins my way. Never mind.

Some flavour combinations are a match made in heaven; orange and chocolate, salt and vinegar, pineapple on pizza…and a particular favourite of mine, walnut (or pecan nut) with maple syrup.

This cake is based on, or perhaps, more accurately, inspired by a recipe from 1909, and definitely influenced by the fact there was a bottle of maple syrup in the fridge that had been open for a while.

Nuts can go a bit soft when cooked, so I like to toast them first to get rid of some of the moisture. You can skip this step if you want, but I do think it improves the flavour too.

Walnut and Maple Syrup Cake serves 8-10

  • 120g walnuts
  • 100g butter
  • 120g caster sugar
  • 240g plain flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 eggs
  • 150ml buttermilk
  • 160g maple syrup

Chop the nuts into small pieces and toast in a dry frying pan, over a medium heat, for 3-5 minutes (optional).

Prepare a 8″/20cm cake tin. Preheat the oven to 160⁰c (140 fan, gas mark 3).

Beat the butter, sugar and eggs together. Add the maple syrup.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and bicarbonate of soda into the mixture and beat well.

Beat in the buttermilk. Stir in the chopped nuts. Scrape the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for about an hour (though it’s best to check at the 40 minute mark).

Check to see if it’s cooked through by poking a skewer into the middle. If it comes out clean the cake is done, if it’s still sticky put it back in for another 5 minutes.

If the cake is getting too brown on top before the middle is cooked then cover the top with baking paper, not foil.

When cooked, cool in the tin for 15 minutes and then put on a wire rack to finish cooling. Ice with 90g of icing sugar mixed with 1tbsp of maple syrup, and enough milk or water to make the icing spreadable. Spread on top of the cake and leave to set before adding walnut halves as decoration. If the icing is still runny then the walnuts will, slowly but surely, slide to the edge of the cake!

Book Review: A Cook’s Year

I’ve been putting off writing this review for so long! Honestly, it’s a beautiful book; gorgeous pictures, engaging prose that makes you want to ditch everything and move to a remote country farmhouse…but for some reason I just get a mental block when it comes to using it. It’s time to let it go and move on.

First I had to rule out recipes where awkward members of the family would refuse to eat it (goodbye everything with mushrooms), then the ones with hard to get or expensive ingredients (venison, squirrel, etc), then finally everything that my ADHD brain classified as too much bother. It didn’t leave much.

Another issue, fairly common with books written by “posh” people (yes, I’m looking at you, Nigella) is a lack of serving suggestions. It not always obvious what vegetables or carby side dishes will go well. I’m sure that white bean and foraged herb salad, for example, is delicious, but not by itself. Posh person food often seems to me to be a little unbalanced nutritionally.

But, it is a beautiful book, and worth keeping just for the recipe for Hedgerow Jelly – a wonderful mix of wild autumn fruits. Maybe one day I won’t have to worry about who I’m cooking for, and will be able to make the things that appeal to me?

A Cook’s Year in a Welsh Farmhouse by Elizabeth Luard. Bloomsbury, 2011.

Why did you buy it?

Good question. It’s pretty, and I’d been following the author in her articles in Country Living magazine, which is where I discovered the recipe for Hedgerow Jelly.

Judge a book by it’s cover…

I am supremely jealous of the author’s lifestyle.

Do you use it?

Next question please.

What did you make?

It’s been so long since starting this one that I can’t remember! Only apple bread and lemon liqueur spring to mind. They were nice enough, but not remarkable.

Is it still in print?

I don’t think so, but is easy to get second hand.

Is it worth buying?

That’s a tricky one. If you like reading cookbooks, or you have ready access to fancy ingredients (and plenty of cash), or you enjoy foraging, then yes. If you want simpler, easy to cook meals that won’t scare off picky eaters, then probably not.

Cardiff Pudding

Why is it that some traditional puddings stand the test of time, while others are largely forgotten? Some may be overcomplicated, others may not suit modern tastes. Maybe the ingredients are hard to come by now, maybe they’re just kind of boring?

It’s fun to try puddings and desserts from the past, just for the novelty and nostalgia, so it’s even better to find a pudding which is so amazing you’ll want to make it again and again. I found this gem in a book from 1935.

I really don’t understand why Cardiff Pudding isn’t at the top of the list of well loved traditional puddings. A quick Internet search brought up one result, from another blogger in 2011. But why? It’s no harder to make than Bakewell tart, has a deliciously unctuous texture like treacle tart, AND has meringue on top. To think what we’ve been missing all these years…

I promise you will not regret making this one!

Cardiff Pudding serves 4

Ingredients

  • 60g butter
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 90g breadcrumbs
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • Grated zest of half a lemon
  • Half a jar of raspberry jam
  • Shortcrust pastry (if you want to make your own, use 150g flour and 75g fat)
  • Another 2 tbsp of caster sugar for the meringue.

Method

Line one standard tart tin, or four small ones, with the pastry. Spread the jam over the pastry.

Beat the sugar, butter and lemon zest together. Beat in the egg yolks.

Add the breadcrumbs. The mixture will be quite stiff, so you may need to use your hands to knead the ingredients together.

Press the breadcrumb mixture over the jam.

Bake in the oven at 190⁰c/170 fan/gas mark 4, until the mixture is set, and browned on top.

Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. Sprinkle the sugar in and whisk till firm and glossy. Pile the meringue onto the tart (or tarts) and sprinkle with a little more sugar.

Return to the oven. Bake until lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.

Spread the word: there’s a new pudding in town.

Rich Sweetmeat Gingernuts

Ok, before we go any further lets clear something up. SWEETMEATS are articles of confectionery; not to be confused with SWEETBREADS which are gross bits of an animal (some kind of gland, I believe). Meat comes from the Old English ‘mete’, which basically means any kind of food. Right! Let’s get on.

You’ve probably noticed that I’m really into vintage cookbooks. As well as being fun to read, they’re a great source of inspiration. The recipes can be a little bit hard to interpret though.

Take, for example, this recipe for Rich Sweetmeat Gingernuts; found in the first edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management. The list of ingredients is a little bizarre from the point of view of a modern reader.

There’s 1lb of treacle, 1lb sugar, 4 ounces of melted butter etc. But no quantity is given for the flour, just the tenuous direction to add as much as “may be necessary”.

Believe it or not, accurate lists of ingredients weren’t even a thing until Eliza Acton’s groundbreaking Modern Cookery for Modern Families was published in 1845. A book which was liberally plagiarised by Mrs Beeton.

Flour aside, that’s a lot of treacle. Like, A LOT. And it’s pretty powerful stuff. I knew I’d made these before for a Victorian tea party, and found them a bit strong (even though I’d cut the amount right down). The trouble is, I really can’t remember what I did with the recipe, so it was back to square one. Using a recipe for Cornish Fairings as a base, and interpreting the original quite loosely, I think the end result has turned out rather well.

While homemade candied peel will give the best results, use shop bought if you need to. The same goes for angelica, which can usually be found at this time of year, in those shops that specialise in gigantic bags of prunes and stuff. They could also be left out entirely if you’re not keen on that sort of thing.

Rich Sweetmeat Gingernuts makes 12-14

Ingredients:

  • 180g Plain flour
  • 2tsp ground ginger
  • 1tsp ground coriander
  • 90g golden caster sugar
  • 90g butter
  • 1tsp caraway seeds
  • 30g candied peel
  • 30g candied angelica
  • 4tbsp golden syrup
  • 1tsp treacle

Method:

Preheat the oven to 200c/180 fan/gas mark 4. Grease a couple of baking trays.

Sift the flour and ground spices into a bowl. Stir in the sugar. Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs.

Chop the peel and angelica into small pieces. Add to the bowl. Stir in the caraway seeds.

Gently warm the syrup and treacle in a saucepan or microwave until they are runny. Pour into the dry ingredients and mix together till it forms a stiff dough. If it seems a bit dry you can drizzle in a bit more syrup.

Divide into pieces about the size of a walnut, or just divide into the number of biscuits you want. Roll into balls, put on the baking trays, flatten slightly with your hand, and pop in the oven.

Bake for around 15 minutes, or until a rich golden brown. If you want a decorative effect on top, once the biscuits have puffed up and are starting to brown, squash them down the middle with a fork. This is purely optional.

They will still be soft when they come out the oven. Allow to firm up a little before transferring to a wire rack. Once cool, they should be crispy on the outside and delightfully chewy in the middle.

Cake of the Month: Raspberry Butterscotch

I’m always impressed when people can decide on favourites. Favourite album, favorite film and so on. In a world so full of amazing stuff, how do they do that? For example, if you asked me what my favourite book was; I could perhaps break it down by genre and time period, and give you a list from each one. But an overall best book ever? No chance.

Which of course, brings us to cake. Oh, yes it does. So many great cakes to choose from, how could you possibly choose one?

You may or may not know that I spend an inordinate amount of time on Twitter. You meet some interesting people, it’s not all crazy trolls. One of these interesting people suggested raspberry and butterscotch as a flavour combination. I wasn’t sure to begin with but it really worked. After a couple of ice-cream experiments it was time to try a cake, and oh boy! It must be one of the best things I’ve ever tasted. Definitely in the top five, at least…

While raspberries aren’t a very autumnal fruit, there are some in the shops still, and you could always use frozen berries.

Butterscotch is basically caramel made with brown instead of white sugar. If you feel confident making your own caramel then do, but remember it’s harder to tell when it’s ready because it’s brown already. You can make an educated guess, or use a sugar thermometer. Otherwise, buy a jar of butterscotch sauce.

Raspberry and Butterscotch Cake serves 8

Ingredients:

  • 180g soft butter
  • 120g brown sugar
  • 90g golden caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 240g Plain flour
  • 1 tsp each of baking powder and bicarbonate of soda
  • 140ml buttermilk
  • 100g raspberries

For the butterscotch sauce:

  • 100g brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 30g butter
  • 150ml double cream
  • (Or a jar from the shop)

For the filling:

  • 1/2 jar of good quality raspberry jam
  • 90g butter
  • 180g icing sugar
  • 3 tbsp butterscotch sauce

Method:

Grease and line two round sandwich cake tins. Preheat the oven to 180c/160 fan/gas mark 3

1. Beat together the butter, brown, and golden sugar. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.

2. Sieve the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into the bowl and mix well. Beat in the butter milk and raspberries, it doesn’t matter if the raspberries break into small pieces.

3. Divide the mixture between the cake tins and bake for around 20 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a skewer poked in the middle comes out clean. Cool in the tins for 15 minutes, then remove from the tins and finish cooling on a wire rack.

4. In the meantime, make the butterscotch sauce. Put the sugar and water in a small saucepan and stir over a low heat until dissolved.

5. Turn up the heat to medium. DO NOT STIR AFTER THIS POINT. Allow the butterscotch to come to the boil, and let it simmer for 2 minutes until it becomes caramel (it may take slightly more or less time than this, I’m afraid you’ll just have to use your judgement).

6. Remove from the heat and quickly stir in the butter and cream. Leave to cool, stirring occasionally.

7. Make the buttercream. It’s easiest to do this with an electric whisk or small hand blender, if you have one. Sieve the icing sugar to remove lumps. Add the butter and butterscotch sauce and blend till smooth.

8. Assemble the cake. Spread the top of one of the cakes with raspberry jam. Spread the underside of the other cake with the buttercream, and sandwich them together.

9. Liberally spread the top of the cake with butterscotch sauce.

10. Enjoy!

A Walk in the Black Forest

Do you remember a couple of years ago, I made a post about what a marvellous bit of kit a deep sided tray bake/roasting tin was? I hope you were paying attention because we’re about to put it to use!

I was doing a bit of research, on Black Forest gateau and nostalgia, and was rather surprised. Apparently it was the desert beloved of ’90s kids’. Well, I thought it was the party dessert beloved of 80s kids; and I daresay 70s kids might have something to say about that! We all have fond memories of a frozen gateau of some kind being whipped out on special occasions.

Schwarzwalder kirsch torte was invented in the first part of the 20th century and named after the alcohol, not the mountain range. Personally, I’ve never understood why it has such a devoted following. But, I’ve never tasted the real thing, and have never been keen on frozen gateaux with soggy crumbs and mushy fruit.

First of all I wanted to have a go at making the real thing, but it seemed a bit of a faff, lots of steps and advanced techniques ( I can do it, I just don’t want to); so, instead here’s a homage to Black Forest gateau that anyone with a roasting tin and a whisk can make in a matter of minutes. You can use cherries in syrup, tinned cherries or even cherry pie filling if that’s all you can get. The cherry liqueur is optional, but does improve the flavour.

Black Forest Pudding serves at least 6

For the chocolate muffin base:

  • 250g Plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp of cocoa powder (I like Green & Black’s)
  • 140g golden caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 8 floz buttermilk (or milk, or natural yoghurt)
  • 3 floz vegetable oil
  • 3 tbsp cherry liqueur (if you can’t get any, use juice or syrup from the cherries)

For the sauce and toppings:

  • A jar of cherries in kirsch syrup (or alternative)
  • A bar of dark chocolate
  • A jar of cherry conserve or jam
  • 200ml double/whipping/heavy cream
  • 3 tbsp icing sugar
  • Cherry liqueur (optional)

Method:

Grease and line your tin. A deep sided tray or roasting tin about 30cm x 20cm will do nicely. Or a square casserole dish, or cake tin, would be fine.

1. Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarb, salt and cocoa powder, into a large bowl. Stir in the sugar.

2. In a separate, smaller bowl, beat together the egg, oil, buttermilk, and liqueur.

3. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir, NOT beat, with a fork until only just combined. Muffin batter does not need to be smooth and aerated like sponge cake batter.

4. Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 10 to 15 minutes at 180c/160 fan/gas mark 4. It will be firm to the touch, and a knife poked in the middle will come out clean.

5. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then finish cooling on a wire rack.

While it cools down, whip the cream and icing sugar until it’s nice and thick. Chill in the fridge.

6. When the cake has cooled down cut it into chunks. I cut mine into 35 chunks, there’s plenty left to nibble on.

7. Set out your serving dishes. Put a tbsp of syrup/juice/liqueur in the bottom of each dish. Add a heaped teaspoon of cherry conserve to each one and mix well.

8. Using 3 or 4 chunks of cake per person, depending on size and appetite, dip the cut edges in the syrupy jam, and pile into the dish.

9. Top with a generous blob of cream, some grated or chopped chocolate, and some cherries from the jar.

Ice-Cream By Hand

I’m lucky enough to have a super-duper, self freezing ice-cream maker. It’s ace, best kitchen gadget ever, even plays a tune when it’s finished. It took a lot of saving up for though. There are other, less expensive, machines out there, usually the type where you have to put the bowl in the freezer overnight. I used to have one of those, it was fine, but you had to take out one of the freezer drawers to get the bowl in, which was a nuisance.

The good news is, it’s perfectly possible to make ice-cream without anything more complicated than a plastic tub and a fork. Simply follow this incredibly informative infographic:

Please bear in mind that while this method works it will not give you the same results a machine would. The ice crystals will be larger, so the ice-cream will have a grainier texture, with bits of ice in it. It will also set a lot harder, so give it time to soften before serving, or you’ll end up bending the spoon!

The first patent for an ice-cream maker was granted to Nancy Johnson, of Philadelpia, in 1843.

Crumbles

When Buttered Crumbs left home at the tender age of 17, the first recipe I had to call home and ask Old Mother Crumb for was apple crumble.

There’s nothing like a good crumble to invoke feelings of nostalgia, home and comfort. Even better, it’s hard to make a bad crumble (though it does happen) because they’re so wonderfully easy, no fancy equipment or special ingredients required. In fact, it really gets on my nerves when food writers try to add “cheffy” touches to a pudding whose best feature is it’s humbleness.

It’s easy to give in to the “curse of knowledge” and assume that somehow everyone instinctivly knows how to make something so simple. But, of course, they don’t. We all have to start somewhere. Does the world need another crumble recipe? Probably not, but I’m going to give you the benefit of my (quickly counts on fingers) twenty-six years of crumble-making, recipe-tweaking experience; and give you the recipe for the best crumble I, at least, have ever tasted.

It might seem strange and a lot of bother to use a mixture of butter and margarine, but you get a crispier crumble that still has plenty of flavour. All butter can give you a dry crumble that tastes too rich, all margarine and it lacks flavour and sets quite hard. Obviously you can use one or the other if you prefer.

Quinces are quite hard to find these days. Check your local farmers market, ethnic supermarket (they’re much more popular in Eastern Europe), or maybe someone you know has a tree in their garden. You could replace the quince with a large pear if you like.

Apple and Quince Crumble Serves 4-6

  • 3 cooking apples
  • 1 quince (or a large pear)
  • 90g golden granulated sugar
  • 150g (5oz) plain flour
  • 30g (1oz) rolled oats
  • 45g butter
  • 45g margarine (you can use 90g of butter or 90g of marg if you need to)
  • 2tbsp sugar

You’ll also need a casserole dish that holds at least 1lt. Mine measures 25x15x6cm.

Method:

Peel, core and slice the apples. Slice them fairly thin so they cook at the same rate as the crumble, too thick and they might still be hard when the topping is cooked.

Cover the base of the casserole dish with half of the sliced apple. Sprinkle one third of the sugar over the fruit.

Thinly slice the quince (or pear) and layer it over the apple. Sprinkle another third of the sugar over the fruit.

Finish with another layer of apple and the rest of the sugar. Set aside while you make the crumble topping.

To make the crumble:

Combine the flour, oats and sugar in a bowl. Add the butter and margarine.

Rub the fat into the flour with your fingertips, until it resembles bread crumbs. Seriously. If you can’t imagine what that looks like, see the picture below.

Spread the crumble mix over the fruit. Bake in the oven at 180/160 fan/gas mark 3, for 40 minutes to an hour. The crumble should be golden brown, and you will be able to see the soft fruit bubbling around the edges.

You can serve straight away, but it will be VERY HOT! It’s better to let it cool for 15 mins, or while you make the custard. This amount of crumble will need a pint (600ml) of custard.

It’s generally accepted that crumbles were invented during WW2, when rationing made it difficult get enough ingredients to make a traditional pie.