Brownies and Beans?

Brownies – gooey, chocolatey, squidgy, wonderfully indulgent, but not terribly good for you. Does that really matter? After all, all cakes and biscuits should be eaten in moderation. However, recent months have seen all manner of “healthy” brownies parading virtuously around Internet Land. Gluten free, sugar free, grain free, made with beetroot, beans, courgettes, mayonnaise, mashed avocado, mashed banana, and my personal least favourite – cauliflower (that person was quickly unfollowed on pinterest).

Call me crazy, but isn’t the whole point of brownies that they are just a bit naughty and decadent? So I was looking forward to reviewing the next book on the shelf. I even bought this one twice; the first one was lent to a friend and never found it’s way home again. Was it worth it?

Blissful Brownies Love Food. Paragon books Ltd, 2007

“Delicious and luxurious recipes for mouthwatering brownies”

So why did you buy it?

I love brownies, and the recipes sounded really exciting. The deciding factor was a recipe for chocolate peppermint squares, a much loved staple of school dinners.

Judge a book by it’s cover…

Fairly ordinary, close up of brownies and the kind of graphics typical of the noughties.

Do you use it?

I seem to recall using it a lot at first, then it went on holiday to a friends house and was never seen again. Since then I’ve been using a different recipe.

What did you make?

Although I had big plans, in the end I just made Rocky Road Brownies (too sickly) and Cinnamon Squares (too greasy). Both were fairly uninspiring so i decided to quit while I was ahead.

Is it still in print?

No, but can be bought second hand on Amazon for 1p.

So is it worth buying?

Not really. While there a couple of gems in the book, most of the brownies are very un brownie-like. Eldest son even came out of his lair to exclaim “These aren’t brownies, they’re cakes!” Better recipies abound, I always use the Hummingbird bakery one now. Another big problem with this book is the quantities, which are often way out. The rocky road brownies were so thin I had to double them up layer cake style to get a decent sized square. So yeah, don’t bother, I’m glad I only spent a penny (plus p+p) to buy it again.

The gooeyness of brownies is down to their high sugar to flour ratio.

A Proper Seed Cake?

I first posted a recipe for seed cake waaay back in 2015. Having been thinking about Agatha Christie recently I thought I’d give it another go. This time I hadn’t got the right ingredients, and couldn’t be bothered to go to the shops. Not to be deterred I made it anyway, and you know what? – It was even better…

“Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…It all started one afternoon. Buttered Crumbs was taking a well earned tea break in front of the telly, watching “At Bertram’s Hotel”, a 1987 BBC adaptation of the Agatha Christie novel of the same name; starring Joan Hickson as Miss Marple. For me she is the definitive Miss Marple, none of the others can quite match up to her performance.

Anyway, Bertram’s Hotel, as well as being a hotbed of crime and intrigue, is known for it’s excellent afternoon teas and traditional cakes. When one of Miss Marple’s cronies is offered seed cake, she asks “Is it proper seed cake?” Hmmm. So what constitutes a “proper” seed cake? Miss Marple must be pretty old by this point; the book was first published in 1965 and she was described as a “white haired old lady” in 1930! We can assume then, that a “proper” cake would be one that they remembered from childhood or the recipe that they used as young women in their own homes, so you’re looking at Victorian times then.

The oldest seed cake recipe I have is from the well known Mrs Beeton, not that it was her recipe of course, she merely collected recipes for publication. Her seed cake is flavoured with (caraway seeds, obviously) nutmeg and copious amounts of brandy. Recipies from my 1930’s and 1950’s collections are flavoured with lemon and mixed peel. A modern “traditional” recipe from Darina Allen, is flavoured with vanilla.

Adapting the Mrs Beeton recipe to contain less brandy and so on, gave a moist buttery cake with a lovely flavour of caraway seeds.”

Here is the recipe for a good old fashioned seed cake, updated for 2019.

“A Very Good Seed Cake”

  • 7oz (210g) Self raising flour
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1oz (30g) ground almonds
  • 5oz (150g) caster sugar
  • 6oz (180g) butter
  • 2tbsp caraway seeds
  • 1tbsp fennel seeds (optional)
  • ½ tsp ground mace or nutmeg (mace is nicer)
  • 100ml Amaretto (almond liqueur)
  • 3 eggs

Grease and line an 8″ round springform or loose bottom cake tin. Pre heat the oven to 170ºc (150 fan, gas mark 3).

Cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs. Sift over the flour, groand almonds, bicarb and mace, and mix well.

Beat in the amaretto and caraway seeds and fennel seeds if using. Scrape the mixture into the cake tin and bake for 30 to 40 mins. If the cake is browning too much before it’s cooked in the middle, cover with a piece of baking paper.

Cool on a wire rack and invite your Maiden Great Aunt to tea.

Miss Marple first appeared in a short story in 1927 and her first full length novel was “The Murder at the Vicarage” 1930.

Garden Party Ice Cream Part 2

Apparently ‘Poirot and the Bear’ was an epic two parter. Oh, and the ice cream didn’t really feature in the dream. Please see previous post!

Many people have a romantic view of the past. There is a word for it, which for the life of me I can’t remember, meaning a yearning for a past time, a golden age, which perhaps never really existed. For me it’s the inter-war period – the twenties and thirties – which I tend to view through rose tinted glasses; mainly because all of my knowledge has been gleaned through British novels of the time, 90% of which are dectective stories from the likes of Agatha Christie and Margery Allingham. There may be a body in the library, but there are garden parties, house guests, afternoon teas and the feeling of an endless English summer, populated by independant young women and handsome heroes, making eyes at each other in a secluded area of the vicarge garden.

Who needs reality anyway? Forget your troubles for an hour or two with a classic novel and a big bowl of homemade ice cream that tastes like a dream of summertime. Layered with strawberry sauce, studded with shortcake and meringue, drizzled with a cheeky lemon syrup, and no cyanide, sparkling or otherwise. July’s Ice Cream of the Month.

Who do you call when bears invade you garden party? “Why, Hercule Poirot of course!”
(See previous post)

Garden Party Ice Cream

For the ice cream:

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 300ml milk
  • 80g sugar
  • 300ml double cream
  • 1 tsp cornflour
  • 1/2 tin of condensed milk
  • 6 shortbread biscuits
  • meringue – either made using the left over egg whites or a couple of bought meringue nests.
  • 500g fresh strawberries
  • 1tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 tbsp sugar

First chop the strawberries and put them in a saucepan with the lemon juice. Heat gently until the berries are soft, mash them a little, then stir in the sugar. Allow to cool then pop in the fridge.

Break the biscuits and meringue into chunks (if you made your own using the left over egg whites, you will need about 1/4 of it. The rest can be used as a garnish later). Chill the chunks in the freezer.

Put the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour in a bowl and whisk to combine. Heat the milk to boiling point.

Pour the milk onto the egg yolks, whisking the whole time. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and heat gently, stirring the whole time with a wooden spoon or spatula (the whisk won’t make enough contact with the bottom of the pan, risking a burnt and lumpy custard) until the custard has thickened to the consistency of cream and remove from the heat.

Pour into a large jug and add the double cream and condensed milk. Cool in the fridge.

Make the ice cream following the instruction for your machine. If you don’t have an ice cream machine you can pour the custard into  a 1.5 litre tupperware container and put it in the freezer. Every couple of hours, stir with a fork to break up large ice crystals. When it is fairly thick but still stirable, add the ripple as below.

When the ice cream is ready and working quickly, spoon half of the mixture into a tupperware type container, spread with spoonfuls of strawberry sauce and sprinkle over half of the chunks. Repeat for a second layer. Using a palette knife or simliar, ripple the two mixtures together. Don’t overdo it or it will lose the ripple effect!

Freeze for a few hours or overnight.

Meanwhile make the optional lemon syrup.

Lemon Syrup

  • 400g golden caster sugar
  • zest and juice of 6 lemons, preferably unwaxed.
  • 200ml water

Sterilise a large glass jar or bottle and keep it hot. This can be done in the oven at around 120 degrees, in the dishwasher if you have one, or by heating in boiling water. Wear rubber gloves to avoid burns.

Put the sugar and water into a saucepan and heat very gently until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 mins

Add the juice and zest and simmer for another 5 mins.

Very carefully pour into the hot bottle. It has to be hot, otherwise the heat of the syrup will cause it to crack. Remember boiling sugar is INCREDIBLY HOT, please be careful and keep pets and children out of the way.

Allow to cool, then keep in the fridge. As well as a dessert topping you can add soda water to the syrup for a refreshing drink.

Strawberries aren’t actually berries but “accessory fruits”.

Garden Party Ice Cream Part 1

Sometimes recipe inspiration can come from the strangest places…

Written by not-so-small boy, aged 12. Based on a dream which occurred after reading Agatha Christie and Rudyard Kipling in the same week.

POIROT AND THE BEAR by R.H 6th July 2019

“It was a wonderful sunny day at Mrs White’s garden party. The guests were enjoying themselves immensely, as Mrs White had made everybody’s favourite ‘Garden Party Ice Cream’. Delicious!

Suddenly, disaster struck! Out of nowhere a grizzly bear appeared! Proceeding to kill first, Mr Percy, then Mr Brimble and finally poor Miss Bickford – Smith, in a most ungentlemanly manner! The bear then crawled away in the direction of the school playing fields.

Now, Mrs White, a quick thinking woman, decided that something must be done before anyone else was hurt; so she called the best bear catcher in Britain – why, Hercule Poirot of course!The great man promptly arrived and saw what he had to do. He had to wrestle the bear! It was an epic battle, which seemed to last for many hours. Poirot struggled valiantly until he gained the upper hand. Unfortunately the bear escaped Poirot’s grip, and ran away in a cowardly manner.

Poirot wondered where it would strike next, and who could stop its tyranny…

Recipe to follow soon!

He’s going to be a great writer some day. I know because he said so.

Perfecting Pastry

Do you suffer from soggy bottom? Does blind baking give you a burnt crust? Our discreet and confidential blog can help you with your pastry problems.

Mince pies

It makes me sad that most recipes for pies and tarts start with telling you how much ready made pastry you will need, or worse a pre baked case, when homemade pastry tastes so much better and really isn’t as hard or mysterious as some baking T.V shows would have you believe. Unless you are an expert I would recommend buying ready made puff or filo pastry; but shortcrust, sweet pastry, suet crust and rough puff can all be made successfully at home.

I’ve always been pretty good with pastry, which I put down to two factors:

  1. Impatience.
  2. Cold hands.

Impatience: Being keen to get that sucker in the oven prevented overhandling. I didn’t know this for years, but overhandling pastry warms up the fat too much and activates the gluten in the flour, so you end up with pastry that is greasy and tough. Likewise, gathering up and re-rolling the scraps too many times will give you tough pastry that shrinks in the case.I try not to re-roll more than twice.

Cold Hands: Normally a problem, but great for pastry. All ingredients should be cool or chilled, to prevent the fat melting. Once the pastry has been kneaded till smooth (but not too much remember!), chill in the fridge or a cool place for half an hour. Try not to chill for much longer or you will have the problem of the pastry being too hard to roll out. If you suspect it has been over chilled, let it warm up for 15 mins.

Apple Amber Pudding

Lets do a bit more troubleshooting.

Fat: All butter pastry sounds great, but it really isn’t ‘all that’. All butter can be overly rich with a surprisingly bland flavour and cloying texture. Keep ‘all butter’ for your sweet pastries. For normal shortcrust pastry with a nice crisp texture use a 50/50 blend of butter and another hard fat, either lard or white vegetable fat (such as “Crisp ‘n’ Dry”). I strongly advise against margarine unless you have some kind of dietary issues that mean you can’t use butter.

Suet crust is amazing the day it is made, but goes tough and mealy the next day. Beef or vegetable suet are both good but beef tastes better.

Soggy bottoms can be avoided in two ways. First and most common is ‘blind baking’ where you cover the inside of the pastry case with baking paper or foil and weigh it down with ceramic baking beans or actual dried beans. Don’t use rice, if any gets stuck to the pastry it’s really annoying to get off. The biggest problem is the exposed crust gets baked during this process and then burns when the tart is cooked. You can cover the edges with foil, or a special silicone thingy made for this purpose. I’ve never used one, so I don’t know how effective they are.

Second, and my prefered method, is to make smaller, indiviual sized pies and tarts. These don’t need blind baking at all. Just fill ’em up and bake, putting them on a baking tray to aid even heat distribution. It may seem like a hassle to make individual tarts but it’s worth it. You also don’t get the problem of all the filling squidging out when you cut the first slice.

Remember to cool the tart for 10 mins or so in the tin, but then take it out to finish cooling on a wire rack or the trapped steam will make your crispy bottom moist again!

Ratio: Half the weight of the weight of the flour, in fat. So if you have 260g of flour (which will make four 15cm tarts or pies) you will need 130g of fat, preferably 75g each of butter and white vegetable fat. Some rich pastry recipies might suggest more, that’s ok, but it will be much more delicate and require careful handling.

Lining the case: Rolling the pastry out nice and thin and then trying to transport it to the tin draped over the rolling pin often leads to tearing, breaking and anger. Use this handy method stolen from Mary Berry:

Place loose base on floured surface. Roll out the pastry until you can just see the base showing through.
Fold the excess pastry into the centre.
Carefully lift the base and put inside the tin. Unfold the pastry and press against the edge of the tin.
Trim the excess pastry level with the edge of the tin. Now add the filling and bake.
A lovely crispy bottom!

Puff Pastry was invented circa 1645 by apprentice pastrycook Claudius Gele