Tag Archives: cake

Nova Scotian Hot Water Gingerbread

rain gearAfter three weeks in the 30-odd degree sunshine of Guatemala and Belize, I have returned to an England which might not be unfamiliar to the Bronte sisters. Its late May, but there has been snow in some parts of the country. In London its 9 degrees Celsius and its raining; its been this way – more or less – over the last fortnight.

The good news about the cold, rainy weather – the only good news about the cold, rainy weather – is that I have an excuse to wear my new wellies A LOT and I get to eat porridge for breakfast every morning. (By now I would normally have switched to a bircher muesli for the summer) The café in my building makes excellent porridge. I know, I could make it myself at home for pennies – but for £2.50 I get a pot of porridge, a skinny cappuccino and a chat with Alvin, fellow foodie and café manager.

I had been desperately hoping to host a BBQ this coming long weekend. In anticipation of that, I had a builder come round last Saturday to construct a wooden deck in the back garden and I employed my husband to put together the John Lewis BBQ we were given as a wedding present last autumn. The rattan outdoor sofa set with matching coffee table has been artfully arranged on the deck and I’ve attempted to give the place that smack of Pottery Barn style with conch shells, pillar candles in glass hurricane vases and throw cushions…none of which have any business being outside in cold, wet English gloom. And as its now looking less and less like BBQ weather, I may be trading in prawn kebabs and sunscreen for central heating and comfort food. In fact, I might make some gingerbread.

This is old fashioned Nova Scotian gingerbread. I’m fairly sure it came off the back of a packet of something or other sometime back in the 1950’s because my best friend Sarah’s grandmother’s recipe is exactly the same as my own grandmother’s recipe.

Hot Water Gingerbread

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup Crosby’s fancy molasses (Brits – you’ll need to use a blend of golden syrup & dark treacle here)
  • 1/2 cup hot water (near boiling)
  • 6-8 Tablespoons melted butter

1. Mix dry ingredients.

2. Beat egg and add molasses, sugar and hot water.

3. Combine the dry and wet ingredients.

4. Add butter

5. Pour in 8 by 8 inch square cake tin.

6. Bake 350 for 45 minutes.

Sarah’s Mom says that this recipe doubles really well (their family is much bigger than mine). Also the old, dark metal tin which used to belong to Sarah’s Nana has gone missing, so if you see it, please send it back to her.

Bad Wife Cupcakes

The funny thing about marriage is that whatever action one spouse decides to take, it has an impact on the life of the other.

For instance, if Mr Harris decides to spend all day Saturday holed up in the living room with a case of Corona and a bag of pretzels watching the last leg of the Six Nations, it kind of affects my plans to spend a romantic afternoon, hand in hand, perusing Borough Market day.  And if I decide to catch up with some girlfriends for dinner at the Covent Garden Hotel one evening after work, that means Mr Harris orders a takeaway Chinese and eats it on the sofa in front of the TV while feeding prawn crackers to the dog has had his day impacted by my actions.

So at 4 o’clock on a Sunday afternoon when my husband excitedly pointed out to me the recipe for Skinny Red Velvet Cupcakes he had found on a foodie blog, I was…well, slightly taken aback by the sudden interest in cupcakes, but happy to go with his plan to stop by Sainsbury’s to buy the ingredients.  Mr Harris – on the rare occasions he does visit the kitchen – never bakes or cooks using what’s in the cupboard.  Any recipe requires a major shopping trip and an entire restock of our pantry WHETHER IT NEEDS IT OR NOT.  At quarter to five when we arrived home, the sudden passion for making cupcakes had somewhat disappeared and the lure of watching a week’s worth of CSI episodes on Sky Plus had become a far more attractive alternative.  It was at this point that I found myself in a kitchen full of mixing bowls and muffins tins, elbow deep in pink batter.

So, I made the cupcakes.  And they turned out fine.

It was at this point that Mr H wandered into the kitchen and interest in the recipe suddenly reignited.  He decided to take over the real man’s work – frosting.  He insisted that I leave ‘his’ kitchen while he prepared the cream cheese frosting.  I felt distinctly nervous about the whole thing for several reasons.  Mainly because Mr H didn’t have much experience eating cream cheese frosting, let alone making it.  The whole thing smelled of disaster.  With a self satisfied look on his face, he proudly produced a bowl of thin, gloopy…not frosting…possibly icing?  It tasted of cream cheese and wasn’t really all that sweet.  Worried he’d predict my lack of faith and duplicitous nature, I waited until he’d gone back to the living room before quickly grabbing what was left of the icing sugar, dumping it in the bowl and rapidly transforming the sweet soup into a slightly thin, but acceptable form of frosting.

I joined my husband in the living room several minutes later.  “See?” he said, with a self-satisfied look on his face.  “I told you it would be fine and YOU didn’t think I could do it.”  I apologised and told him I was wrong.  I told him his frosting was excellent.  And quickly returned to the kitchen to finish decorating the cupcakes before he suspected the truth – that I am a bad wife.

So, I return to my original point.  The funny thing about marriage is that whatever action one spouse decides to take, it has an impact on the life of the other.

Oh, and by the way, by the time I was finished with these cupcakes, they weren’t ‘skinny’ anymore.  Here’s the recipe.  With good cream cheese frosting.

Bad Wife Red Velvet Cupcakes

2 1/2 cups cake flour

1 cup moscovado sugar

1 tbsp unsweetened dutch-process cocoa

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp white vinegar

1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce or mango puree

1/4 cup butter, softened

1 egg

2 egg whites

2 tsp vanilla

1 1/3 cup light buttermilk

1 tbsp red food colouring

1.  Preheat oven to 350. Line cupcake tins with liners.

2.  In a large mixing bowl, stir together flours, salt, cocoa, and baking powder.

3.  In another large bowl beat sugar, applesauce and butter. Beat in eggs and vanilla.

4.  In a separate bowl mix baking soda and vinegar. Add half of the dry ingredients into the egg mixture, mix well. Add buttermilk, red food colouring and mix well. Add the remaining dry ingredients and fold in vinegar and baking soda.

5.  Pour in prepared cupcake liners 3/4 of the way.

6.  Bake 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool, then frost with low fat cream cheese frosting.

Good Cream Cheese Frosting

300g Icing Sugar, sifted

50g Unsalted Butter, at room temperature

125g low fat Cream Cheese, cold

1.  Beat the icing sugar and butter together in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) on medium-slow speed until the mixture comes together and is well mixed.

2.  Add the cream cheese in one go and beat until it is completely incorporated. Turn the mixer up to medium-high speed.

3.  Continue beating until the frosting is light and fluffy, at least 5 minutes. Do not overbeat, as it can quickly become runny.

Upside Down Breakfast Cake

They say you should start the year as you mean to go on.

me 3I don’t know about that; that sounds like a challenge for tomorrow morning. But if how you end it says anything, I should worry.

My shoulders are permanently knotted from work stress and they make a range of snap, crackle, pop and clickity noises whenever I move my head, neck, arms or shoulders.

My memory is so bad, I have a near total dependence on the Google function of my iPhone to recall the most basic of facts. (“That actor who was in that movie…he was also in that…other movie. With the other guy. I can’t remember his name either. Hang on, let me Google this…”)

Yesterday I spent 10 minutes – 10 solid minutes – nattering on to my husband about various train/tube/overground routes and the lack of consistency in Oyster charging policy across the Greater London TFL network yesterday. (At this rate, I fully anticipate by the end of 2013 I’ll be standing at the end of Platform 1 at London Bridge station with my pencil and notebook in hand, engaging in heated debates with my new – and by then only – friends, the other trainspotters: “Clapham Junction; its just not a junction!”)

And finally, this morning I appear to have left the house dressed, well…really not that dissimilarly to Mr Tumnus (tweed jacket, cashmere turtleneck jumper, long scarf and carrying a cane umbrella). Possibly a side effect of watching too much Narnia on Channel 4 this Christmas.

One good thing, however, is that I started the day with a slice of my excellent upside down breakfast cake.  And unlike the name of that actor who was in that movie with the other actor, I actually have this recipe committed to memory.

Ingredients

3 oz butter
3 oz low fat crème fraiche
6 oz caster sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 oz flour
½ tsp salt
2 ½ tsp baking powder
A quantity of cut fruit, a few small extra knobs of butter & 3 tbs dark brown sugar

Method

Step One: Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing thoroughly between each addition, followed by the crème fraiche and vanilla extract.

Step Two: Sift the flour and baking powder and add the salt. Fold the liquid with the dry ingredients and mix only until the ingredients are moistened and there are no flour lumps left.

Step Three: Prepare two small loaf tins by greasing the sides. (I also line mine with a long strip of parchment, the width of the loaf tin, to help the cake avoid sticking to the sides when turning the loaves out.)

Step Four: If the fruit you are using is a small berry, such as a blueberry, use it whole, but larger fruit, such as apples or pears will need to be cut into small manageable chunks. Place the fruit in the base of both tins, around an inch thick, and then evenly scatter a few small knobs of butter and 1.5 tbs of dark brown sugar on top of that, so it can create its own caramel as its baking. Pour the batter on top of each loaf tin.

Step Five: Bake the loaves, undisturbed, in an oven at 190C for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let sit for no less than 5 but no more than 10 minutes before inverting onto a baking rack or serving plate. Let cool before slicing into thick slices – a perfect accompaniment to a cup of strong black coffee.

Cake

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!

Red Velvet Cake

Hummingbird Bakery Red Velvet Cupcake

Hummingbird Bakery Red Velvet Cupcake

In the last week I have made the jump from being 32 to 33.  I’m not certain, but I think that may have taken me from being in my early thirties to my mid thirties.  If I am still exempt from mid thirties, my boyfriend, who today turns 34, certainly isn’t.  But we don’t mind.  Its a week full of birthdays and that means one thing – a visit to the Hummingbird Bakery and an opportunity to eat Red Velvet Cake.  Twice.

Each year on my birthday we go to The Dorchester for a champagne afternoon tea.  Its a delightful tradition.  We always seem to have the same wonderful waiter (Edward, I think, is his name) who at some point brings me out a rich chocolate cake with birthday candles while the pianist plays Happy Birthday to me.  The Lapsang Souchong and cucumber sandwiches are all wonderful, as is the glass of Laurent Perrier at the start of the tea, but the terrible truth of the matter is that I might be just as happy if they plopped down an 8-inch Red Velvet Cake in front of me and handed me a bib & a spork.  I know – I’m a cretin!

Despite my tendencies of spending every spare moment in my kitchen, trying every idea that pops into my head, I have never baked a red velvet cake.  One reason is that I have a distinct fear that if I did, I would very possibly eat the whole cake in one sitting.  The second reason, is that, why bother when Hummingbird Bakery does such a smash up job of making them?  There are many bakeries in London trying to be all American and cupcakey, but none of them do a particularly good red velvet cupcake other than Hummingbird.  And they don’t stop at cupcakes – they make the real deal – the whole cake.  When I turned 30 I ordered one of their 10″ red velvet cakes to take to the birthday dinner party my friend was throwing for me at her home in Highgate.  I’m not certain what my English friends thought of this American atrocity, seemingly composed of sugar, fat and e-numbers, but when I ended up having 2/3 of the cake to take home with me at the end of the evening, I wasn’t disappointed at all in their lack of interest, and I spent the next 2 days eating nothing but slices of cake with cups of coffee.  I’m sure that weekend will have to answer for any future osteoporosis I might develop.

Those who avoid eating wheat & gluten (but also have a deep pocket book I might add) will be pleased to know that Hummingbird do their red velvet cake and cupcakes, as well as their vanilla and chocolate cakes, in a gluten free version.  Expensive at £46 for an 8″ cake, but worth it, so you too can develop a taste for this cult status cake.

*Image obtained from http://www.goodtoknow.co.uk/recipes/475341/Red-velvet-cupcakes

Brighton & Hove Food & Drink Festival (1 Sept – 4 Oct 2011)

Saturday, 10 September at 11:55am

In typical fashion, I’ve accidentally found myself in Brighton during a food festival…and with no camera.

I have, however, brought my notepad and a pen, so I’ve perched myself in a sunny spot under a palm tree behind the royal pavilion and its here that I’m eating a blueberry muffin and drinking my very belated morning coffee.

So far today I’ve wandered the Lanes (lusting over all the lovely antique diamonds) and I’ve perused the offerings at the food festival (which I also lust over) on New Road and Regent Street, narrowly avoiding a rather dangerous encounter with a Cypriot food stall selling only four types of pastries; the savoury options being spinach & feta and halloumi & onion, and the sweet options being a sort of almond custard with cinnamon and an anari filled empanada-like pastry, drizzled with honey and sesame seeds.  (I love anari – it should be an incredibly dull cheese, but it makes everything you serve it with, feel special.)  All of them were very tempting and oddly enough, they were gluten free as well.  There are dozens of stands selling American style cupcakes, old fashioned English tea cakes, freshly spun cotton candy (the staff wear massive bright pink wigs), local cheeses (including some Sussex Charmer, which I’ve bought to take home) and there’s also a man selling organic, biodynamic English fruit wines.

By the way, as I write this, I’ve been eavesdropping on an elderly Australian family who have accidentally made their way to this quiet end of the garden and have been deciding whether or not to negotiate jumping the 6-ft high fence that separates the Royal Pavilion grounds from the art deco bus stop at Old Steine.  Thankfully they have reconsidered and have taken my recommendation of walking to the other side of the garden and taking the exit onto Church St.  I love how Australians behave like 25 year olds, even when they’re 65!

Many of my favourite pleasures of Brighton are food-based; Montezuma’s chocolates, the fudge cake at Chockywockydoodah, the mountain-sized summer salad and the eaton mess at Bill’s on North Road and fish & chips with a can of coke on the pier.  As I’m here on my own today, its unfortunate that I’ll  probably avoid indulging myself with a single one of these decadences, but I may wander my way back up to Regent Street to buy one of those beautiful Cypriot pastries.

Saturday, 10 September at 2:35pm

I’m sitting in Pavilion Gardens, at the front of the palace, rather than the back this time, nibbling on my spinach & feta pastry and listening to the electric sitar player.  At one point, I thought it would be terribly romantic if I fell in love with the sitar player and lived with him in a ramshackle flat in Brighton while he busked & gigged and I ran a yoga commune or taught at a Waldorf school or something, but this fantasy stopped the moment he stopped for a smoke break with his friend the Rastafarian (who you also sometimes see playing his steel drums in the Pavilion Gardens) and started whinging about the Council in the truly whiniest voice you’ve ever heard.  Love is a fickle thing, and my loyalties immediately returned to my lovely boyfriend…even if he does work in insurance.

Sunday, 11 September at 12:10pm

The Brighton & Hove Food & Drink Festival continues until 4 October and there are plenty of foodie events between now and then, although the Big Sussex Market, which I’ve been at, will finish on Sunday 11 September at 6pm.  Its a beautiful autumn day and all the major Brighton restaurants have food stalls, there are loads of local suppliers of food and drink, and there’s a whole pavilion for Mexican Independence Day.  So, eat & drink your way to Jubilee Square and then watch some Mexican dancing or wander into the Pavilion Gardens and listen to the brass band (or the electric sitar player!) whilst enjoying a glass of prosecco from the Hotel Du Vin stand.  Just hurry up and go…now!