Request a Bake
I'm hoping to make this blog more interactive by offering to make your requests. So, sweet or savoury, click on "request a bake"
This month I received a York themed parcel. Little did Cat know that I went to University in York and have a Yorkshireman for a husband. I always wax lyrical about the foodie penpals parcels, but this one was a winner from a heart point-of-view as well as from my stomach. Lots of really local treats from York and the area around a letter which started by apologising for the amount of glitter (you can never have too much glitter) and one particular item that made Mr B very happy…
A bonafide Yorkshire Parkin, with a comfortingly short list of ingredients. Made by Lottie Shaw. Sadly I wasn’t fast enough off the mark to check what it tasted like compared to my own recipe, and before I could say “hold that parkin”….. it was gone.
In addition to the Parkin there was:
Jalfreizi curry mix – earmarked for my treat when Mr B is away. It has all lots of spices and bits mixed in like a flavoured risotto mix and you jus add the meat. yum.
Sugar mice – I’ve never actually had these. I’m quite excited… I may bounce off the walls with the sugar rush.
Peanut brittle – all for me. I love nuts
A mini panettone just ready for Christmas (Cat apologised for the festive nature of the parcel but I was secretly hoping I might get Christmassy things!)
A mini chocolate, fruit and nut wreath made by White Rose Bakes who are an artisan confectioner based in York. It was good chocolate and the mixture of pistachios, cranberries and white chocolate drizzle worked really well. I’ll be telling my York-based friends.
Thanks Cat for a really wonderful parcel and for a trip down memory lane.
More about Foodie Penpals
Started by The Lean Green Bean, Foodie penpals is a way for food bloggers and blog readers to get to know each other, via a lovely parcel in the mail every month. This is Rock Salt has brought it to the UK and Europe. Here’s the rough outline of how it works:
- All interested parties in the UK and Europe – bloggers and blog readers alike – sign up by the form available at the bottom of the Terms and Conditions post
- Participants are matched on the 5th of the month
- Penpals send thoughtful, food related parcels, on or before the 20th of the month. The parcels can include home baked treats, shop bought treats (especially local or unusual things), cake cases or decorations – use your imagination. The parcel must include something hand written – a note explaining the box’s contents, a recipe card, whatever you like. The price limit for the boxes is £10 – this is a limit, the point is not the cost, but the thought (no, really!)
- Penpals open their boxes and rejoice!
- At the end of the month, everyone blogs about their box, or writes a guest blog post if they are usually a blog reader and not writer. Everyone reads one another’s posts and rejoices some more. Posts are made available on Lindsay’s blog so we can all find each other easily
It was suggested to me a while back that Jules Destroooper’s delicate biscuits and waffles would make for excellent canapé bases. This suggestion got me thinking…and thinking… and not doing. I kept having ideas that involved having to go out and buy special ingredients and somehow I never got around to it (quelle surprise). This is exactly what happens with having friends over spontaneously at Christmas – it all involves too much planning and just never happens.
So, I decided the other evening that I was going try to make nice nibbles using only foodstuffs that we already had in our relatively bare fridge. I think the result makes for a pretty good showing and proves that I *could* have people over a no notice and still make a good show with minimal effort. Also, it includes the easiest (and possibly healthiest) chocolate mousse recipe ever.
Hurrah for De-strooper, you have De-stressed Christmas hosting.
Here you can see:
Almond thins topped with figs, whisky and dried fruit Wensleydale and a drizzle of grape molasses
Chocolate covered hazelnut florentine with crispy rice topped with cheats chocolate orange mouse, boozy fruit and festive nuts.
Other ideas I had:
Icecream piped between two almond thins and then the sides coated in toasted coconut.
A fake mille-fuille: layers of cream, fruit, almond thin, cream, fruit, almond thin.
Crushed Maltesers with mascarpone piped onto the butter waffle biscuits
Serano ham, rocket and cranberry sauce on the almond thins.
Mix chestnut puree and creme fraiche to top the hazelnut florentine then top with sliced roasted chestnut or dried cranberries.
I also think their apple thins offer some interesting ideas.
Cheats Chocolate Orange Mousse
2 heaped tbsp greek yoghurt
3 tsp hot chocolate mix (you can use either full or low-cal ones as long as it’s the kind that you make up with water – you need the milk powder)
1 or 2 drops of orange essence, or the zest of half an orange
Mix the ingredients together vigorously. The chocolate will give the yoghurt a grainy texture to start with but if you keep on mixing away it will get smoother.
Tadaa! Easy, isn’t it?
I put a mixture of sliced almonds, whisky soaked glace cherries (stollen from the fruit stewing for my christmas cake) and peanut brittle on the top.
You can also see an elegant Sagaform wine carafe (which came from RedCandy) filled with Spiced Berry Cordial (Bottlegreen). I thought I wanted to put Port in the carafe, but actually what I particularly like about the design is that a non-alcoholic drink looks really grown up when served from it. The lines are clean and the oak stopper is pleasingly solid, yet the whole thing looks very delicate.
Thanks very much to Jules Destrooper, purveyors of tasty biscuits and Red Candy, which has stacks of brilliantly designed homeware products, for sending me the biscuits and carafe. I wasn’t asked to write a review and I am definitely voicing my own opinions here. The empty boxes and the pride of place for the carafe will vouch for that!
Ah the smell of freshly baked bread, the sign of a well organised, domesticated home. Nope. Not in this house – it’s the sign that I’ve not had chance to go to the shops and we’ve got people staying over. Still, if that’s what it takes to get me making fresh bread then that’s fine by me. I did admit this to the people staying over, so I promise I wasn’t trying to pretend I’m a domestic goddess when actually I’m more of a domestic mess.
I didn’t want to make a fully wholemeal loaf as they always turn out like a brick (my bread skills aren’t that good yet) so this is a half and half loaf. I also added some honey to give it a more interesting flavour. I knew that the sugar would activate the yeast faster, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the bald-headed bloomer that emerged from the oven. Ihad to resist the urged to draw a face on it.
The texture of the loaf was quite tight, but that meant it made for a good toasting and sandwich loaf.
Wholemeal Honey Bread
325g strong wholemeal flour
325g strong white flour
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp honey
1 x 7g sachet fast action yeast
450ml lukewarm water
Keeping the yeast and salt on opposite sides, put the flour, salt, oil and yeast in a large bowl. Stir together.
Dissolve the honey in the lukewarm water and stir into the dry mixture. You should have a soft dough.
You may need more water – it will depend on the weather and your flour. I used about 475ml in the end.
Knead or use a dough hook to knead it for you until it is smooth and silky looking. Roughly 5mins by machine or 10mins by hand.
Shape into your desired loaf shape and place on a greased tray.
Cover with a greased bag or a damp teatowel (but not touching the dough) and leave to rise until doubled in size.
Preheat your oven to 230C/450F/Gas Mark 8.
Uncover and bake for 30-35 mins until golden brown and it sounds hollow when you tap the underneath.
You could slash the top of the loaf before baking to make it look more interesting and let it spread more.
If you want a crunchy crust put a tray of water in the bottom of the oven for the last 10mins.
If you want a soft crust, wrap in a moist teatowel when you take it out of the oven.
This is an German-Italian cake made by a home counties English girl (me). How European.
My Italian friend at work made this for me several times before he left, it was always my favourite cake from our various baking exchanges. I asked him for the recipe, so he translated it for me from his mum’s notes in Italian. Sometimes he used to caramelise the pears beforehand to give them colour. I quite like the fact that it looks a bit pale and puny but is actually a really robust and meaty cake. I think the wholemeal flour is what makes it.
I made this cake for a bring and share lunch this weekend. I was worried that it had come out too dry and nearly didn’t take it. I’m so glad I did though as a (very talented) German violin player friend collared me to say that the cake reminded him of the best apple/pear cakes from his mum’s kitchen and that he missed them and was really enjoying the taste of home. I think that’s the best compliment a baker could wish to receive. I know some cakes look impressive and I know it’s a cliché but all I ever really want is to make people smile. I don’t want my bakes to be the focus, I want them to be a social lubricant, the unexpected boost on a boring day, or something to bring back pleasant memory. Thanks Italian Gent and Violin Virtusoso – I’ll be making this again.
German-style Wholemeal Pear Cake
135g unsalted butter, softened
120g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
Pinch of cinnamon
75g wholemeal self raising flour
75g ground almonds
3 pears, firm, not too ripe
Grease a spring form tin and line the bottom with parchment paper. (you don’t have to, but it makes the cake easier to take out. If you use a regular cake tin, probably only need to grease it with a bit of butter)
Cut the pears into quarters, peel and core them; set aside. In a mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy, then add the cinnamon. Add 1 egg at a time, adding a small spoonful of the flour each time, so the mixture doesn’t curdle. Mix the eggs in well, then add the remaining flour and almonds. Mix until well combined, and spoon into the cake tin. The mixture is pretty thick, so you will have to push the batter around to make sure it is evenly spread in the tin.
Place the pears on top, fanning out around the tin. (small thin end facing in) The weight of them will make them sink a bit, but the cake also rises a lot. You could sauté them in a bit of butter and sugar before this, if you have really unripe pears and need them to soften up.
Bake at 170C for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean in the middle. It’s best to let it cool for a bit before eating, the flavor is better.
Well now, have you all seen the John Lewis advert? Does it leave you wondering about the ethical and ecological debate surrounding waking a bear mid-hibernation? Or wondering if Hazel and Fiver will make it to next Christmas? And what about that alarm clock – is it a digital one that can be set to a specific day, or does it go off every day?
Whether you love it, hate it, or just wish it had waited until December, there is no denying that John Lewis are gearing up for Christmas. A wonderful side effect of this is that they asked me if I would like to receive one of their hampers to review.
I recieved the Alcohol Free Hamper (£60) which is great as Mr B doesn’t drink. I opened it and was excited to see a range of styles and flavours of items, but all colour co-ordinated so that it looks great. On picking up a couple of things to investigate, I realised that there was more underneath. Now, I have never received a Christmas hamper before so maybe my expectations were too low, but I assumed that they are only filled on the top layer and that the rest is packaging. Not the case! Look at how much was packed into this one:
There’s Mediterranean (olive twists), Indian (spiced nuts), festive (mulled drinks, truffles and pudding), classic British (shortbread and tea), Middle eastern (cumin and corriander olives) and good solid chocolate fudge. A great range that’s useful for different situations and ages. At £60 I genuinely think this is good value. I’d definitely consider sending it to some relatives who I won’t get chance to see (though I might get an alcoholic version for them).
Ps. look at this small part of JL’s ingenious Christmas window display.
Thanks to John Lewis for the hamper. It was free but as always, I offered to write a review under the proviso that I would only give my honest opinion. I was genuinely surprised by how good this was (sorry JL…I should know better!)