Category Archives: Baking & Desserts

Commitment Issues

Dear Herman,

I’m sorry it has to end this way – before its even started really – but I just don’t think this is going to work.  I know there was that weekend away at our mutual friends’ country place in Wiltshire where I flirted with you a bit and brought you back to my place in London.  I got swept up in your cinnamony, appley, moist, cakey goodness, I guess, but this really can’t be a long term thing.

Its me, not you.

I think it stems from the late ’80’s when Mum brought home that jar of Friendship Muffin starter.  They were great at first – big plumpy, fruit-filled muffins.  But then, the muffins never ended.  Ever.  Friendship Muffin starter took over and soon there were large wooden bowls of the stuff, lounging about under teatowels and bubbling away happily in its own sour pong in every warm corner of the house.  I can’t remember who eventually moved out first – us or him?

I guess I was emotionally scarred by that experience and although I’ll always wonder what you and I could have achieved in our baking partnership, I guess I just can’t commit.

Also, I’ve read about you online.  Like any modern girl, I Googled you after the first encounter and I found out what you were called.  I know all about you now.  Back in the ’70’s you were really popular and women passed you from kitchen to kitchen, where they fed you and cared for you.  But you can’t fool me – nowadays you’re not cool anymore and the only place you’re talked about is in naff places like Mumsnet.com and The Daily Mail.  They say that before you’re baked, you smell of old socks and that you take days to get ready.  Ten days in fact.  I just don’t have the time for you; I have a life to get on with and frankly, I don’t think my friends would like you.  You smell.

Someone explained you to a five year old recently.  She just frowned and shrugged, and then declared “That’s silly. Why don’t we just make a proper cake?  Then we can eat it today.”

Indeed.

So goodbye, Herman the German Friendship Cake.  I hope that you may continue to happily gurgle and bubble across the world for decades to come.  Really, I wish you well.  Just not in my kitchen.

With kindest regards

Mrs Harris

When Life Gives You Lemons…

Lemon HeadWhen life gives you lemons, don’t make lemonade.  (This is London, not Miami, for Pete’s sake.)  Make lemon drizzle cake.  Its much tastier.  That’s what I did yesterday on a rainy, cold & windy Sunday afternoon here in Bermondsey.  One of the last Sundays I’ll spend here in my little Bermondsey kitchen.  We’re moving at the end of the month.  To the suburbs, I might add.  I’m happy we’re moving into a bigger space and that we’ll have a garden to lounge about in on the one or two languid hot days we’ll have to look forward to over the course of the glorious English summertime.  But our little urban pad has been a wonderful space to spend the last four years.

L has been spending the better part of the last few months negotiating our property exchange, and so he doesn’t get fired before we can pay for the place, he had to spend the day catching up in the office.  Meanwhie the dog and I lounged about all the morning; me in my jammies, putting the Nespresso to good use and the dog sighing and staring mournfully out the window at the fifth consecutive day of rain.

Sometime around 3pm I rolled up my sleeves, marched into the kitchen, cleared the counter and fired up the…computer…and proceeded to spend the next 30 minutes researching recipes.  But after THAT, I made some lemon drizzle cake.  I found a great recipe by a fellow blogger (click here for (Mostly) Yummy Mummy’s original recipe), but I’ve spent enough of my life as a professional recipe developer that I can’t help but mess with recipes, and I love my lemon cake to be extra lemony – which in this recipe you really need to cut the intense butteryness.

So here’s what you’ll need to cook this cake…

  • 6oz spelt (or wheat) flour (sifted)
  • 6oz caster sugar
  • 6oz butter
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 2 very juicy medium unwaxed lemons
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp of icing (powdered) sugar

And here’s how you do it…

1.  Grease & flour a small loaf tin & line base with parchment.  Preheat oven to 190C/375F/Gas Mark 5.

2.  Cream butter & sugar until pale in colour and fluffy in texture.

3.  Add 3 eggs, one by one; mixing each egg thoroughly before adding the next.

4.  Add the zest & juice of one whole unwaxed lemon straight into the wet mixture.

5.  Add the sifted flour, salt & baking powder and fold in gently.  Don’t overmix it or you’ll overdevelop the gluten.  (You want a tender cake, right?)

6.  Spoon the cake mixture into the loaf tin and pop it into the middle shelf of the oven for around 40 minutes.  Once its golden brown, test it with a wooden skewer – if it comes out clean, its done.

7.  Let the cake cool for a few minutes while you prepare the drizzle.  The drizzle is prepared by whisking together the icing (powdered) sugar with the juice of the second lemon.

8.  Remove the warm cake from the tin and turn it upside down.  Make plenty of holes (20-30) with a wooden skewer and pour the drizzle all over the bottom of the warm cake.  Let it sit upside down for a few minutes as the drizzle works its way down, flavouring the cake with the lemony sweetness.  Once its cooled a bit, turn the cake around and let it totally cool before cutting.

. . .

So, in summary, a few of these…

Eggs

 …and a couple of these…

(girl with smeared mascara optional)

Lemon Head

…gives you one of these…

Nummy Cake Bon Appetit!

A Surfeit of Blue Eggs & Lemons

I have rather a lot of eggs in my fridge right now.  Three boxes, in fact.  I mean, there’s only two of us, so three boxes of eggs is a bit ridiculous.

One box I bought last Saturday morning from folks at the Demeter farm in East Sussex – they come to the Bermondsey Farmer’s Market as well as Borough Market every week.  The second box is something I think L bought from somewhere depressing, like Tesco.  (Its organic & free range, but still…)  The third box of eggs are these gorgeous babies from my future in laws’ farm in Buckinghamshire.

I also seem to have a mysterious surfeit of lemons.  I think a lemon drizzle cake is on the horizon…

blue eggs

blue eggs

Flour Art on Bread Street

I work in the City of London.

For those who don’t live in London, it doesn’t mean the city of London.  That includes places like Oxford Street, Knightsbridge and Covent Garden.  I’m talking about the City of London – with a capital ‘C’.  Its the old Roman square mile which is now one of the world’s major financial districts.  And to those who work there, it feels more like working in a small town.  On Cheapside, at the western edge of the City near St Paul’s Cathedral, the streets still are named for the goods which would have been sold there in Wren’s day.  (‘Cheap’ meaning ‘market’ in Medieval English.  Apparently in Medieval times, the conduits of Cheapside would flow with wine on state occasions.  Now its just filled with swish American-style champagne bars and celebrity chef restaurants.)

There’s Milk Street. Honey Lane. Poultry.  Old Fish Street (as opposed to Fish Street Hill leading up from Old Billingsgate Fish Market near London Bridge).  And Bread Street.

I work closest to the last of these, and having qualified as a baker many years ago, I was delighted to see an artist – I didn’t catch her name – setting up her temporary exhibit there.  Sound, texture, visuals, history, food, recipes and poetry – A charming mingling of baking, art and history stencilled in white flour on the street.  I found it shocking to see the other City workers walking through the display, scuffing the flour poetry under their Louboutins – too busy with their BlackBerries and urban stress to notice.

I asked if she minded if I took a few photographs.  She was more than happy for me to do so, and I thought I’d share them here.

What you won’t be able to appreciate from the photographs is the accompanying background soundtrack of 17th century bustling market sounds, echoeing off the walls of this small alleyway off Bread Street.

Strudel

Apefelstrudel

Apfelstrudel at a cafe in Innsbruck

“…Oh, Cream colored ponies and crisp apple streudels. Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles. Silver white winters that melt into springs. These are a few of my favorite things…”

Actually, doorbells aren’t one of my favourite things. They give me anxiety because they’re usually being rung by evangelists or delivery boys dropping off delicious takeaways for other flats. And I don’t eat schnitzel. Nor do I particularly like when winter melts into spring – its usually slushy and my boots get wet and muddy. But I do like ponies and I absolutely LOVE crisp apple strudel. Not to mention Mohnstrudel with poppy seeds. And Topfenstrudel which puts any other cheesecake to shame.

I remember, years ago in culinary school, my instructor, Chef Jean-Luc, a native of Alsace, who was intensely serious about both his French and German patisserie, taught me to perfectly pull and stretch a small elastic ball of this supple dough out to the size of a tablecloth, big enough to cover a card table. I was really proud of that skill, though I haven’t done it for years now.

As we walk through through unsuitable house after unsuitable house, in our attempts to find a new home, I look at the kitchen and I think “could I stretch a strudel dough in here?” Its just as well I don’t say this out loud really because I think our agents are getting a bit fed up with me as it is.

[“Gosh, this room’s really tired, isn’t it? But there’s a lot of scope here.” I say as they show me a run down mess of a conversion, infested by students and damp. Or “It would just be gorgeous if you converted this second bedroom back into a dining room.” Two bedroom flat, my arse. Oh, and don’t get me started on the ‘shared’ gardens. If I still wanted to have a communal living space, I’d still be at uni, living in halls of residence.]

But I digress.

On a recent trip to Tirol, I recently indulged my fondness for this semi sweet-savoury pastry accompanied by a short dark coffee with thick crema.

And now I long for a house where I can stretch a strudel. And that’s not even a euphamism.

A Sunday Lunch in December

I find more and more now that I create meals which are blended components of Candian Maritime cuisine and other North American classics with the new recipes which I’ve learned since moving to London.  The comforts of my own childhood blended with the culinary memories of my boyfriend from his Sussex youth and boarding school.

As we speak, in the oven I have a sausage stuffed turkey roulade baking (an experiment, inspired by Gordon Ramsay’s method of cooking the Christmas Turkey), which will be accompanied by baked sweet potatoes and jalapeno cornbread.  And perhaps a little cranberry sauce on the side.  I used to make this same jalapeno cornbread in huge sheet trays when I worked at a fine dining restaurant in Canada, but now I only make a small batch in an 8″ pan – enough for the two of us.  (If I hadn’t put jalapenos in the recipe, I’d be sneaking a warm slice with butter and Crosby’s molasses.)

This will be our Sunday Lunch today – a rather late Sunday lunch I’m afraid – which we will enjoy with a glass of Chat-en-Oeuf and perhaps afterwards a bowl of my boyfrirend’s excellent apple crumble.

Couldn’t Wait for Stir-Up Sunday

Stir Up Sunday is the day in the UK when the preparation of Christmas Puddings traditionally begins. This year it will be on 20 November.

But really, who wants a ‘fresh’ pudding when you can have one where plumped up currants, prunes, raisins, cranberries, dates and cherries all start to melt into each other in a liquor of muscovado sugar and brandy. So I’ve started my work a few weeks early.

In fact, as I understand it, my boyfriend’s late mother used to make her Christmas puddings a year ahead of time.

It all started last Sunday when I mixed the fruits and dark, molasses-rich moscovado sugar together. As my usual cherry brandy wasn’t available at the shop, I used calvados. After a few days of macerating together, the smell was heavenly, and on Wednesday I added the spices and some roughly chopped marcona almonds. Only last night did I finally add the eggs and bread crumbs to prepare the final puddings for potting and steaming.

If you have a full time job, as I do, finding the time to steam a large pudding for 5 or so hours is nearly impossible. It usually involves setting an alarm for 2am and rather alot of stress about whether the steamer will run dry. After years of this anxiety I have finally found the solution, as well as a use for the naffest thing in my kitchen – the Crock Pot! 10 hours overnight on the low setting in a Crock Pot bain marie and your large pudding will be ready, and satisfying plumped up on top.

As rather a hectic Christmas season awaits me – with many friends and family to see – I made a double batch of pudding this year. One large pudding, two medium and six small puddings all have designated homes, but not before I’ve spent the next month ‘feeding’ them with brandy.