The Warm Embrace of Nostalgia

Malt loaf

Malt loaf

Last night was a very special Band of Bakers event – the first of its kind.  Due to my inept scheduling, I had accidentally planned the event for the same night as The Great British Bake Off final, so we decided that, instead of cancelling the event or forcing everybody to miss the show, we would instead create the ‘Band of Bakers/GBBO Final Mash-up’.  Our venue, The Clockhouse, kindly allowed us the use of their television and we all sat down together to watch it.  Congratulations to Nancy, a very worthy winner and my favourite all along.

The theme for last night’s event was ‘Childhood Favourites’, so we invited our bakers to delve into their memory banks and bring something along that is a part of their past.  Since starting Band of Bakers a couple of years ago, I have always found nostalgia to be a really big part of baking – people will often bring along old family recipes, or something that reminds them of a particular time.  The things we loved as children may not be the best tasting or most accomplished bakes, but they are often those that give us the best memories.  It is also interesting to see how bakers of different age groups work with this theme – those who grew up in the 1970s, for example, will have a different repertoire to those who grew up in the 1990s.  What is also interesting is the influences in the baking of those with parents of other nationalities.

My bake for this event is something that has been a favourite of mine ever since I can remember: malt loaf.  And there is, of course, a bit of a backstory.  I spent a lot of time at my Nan’s house growing up in the late 80s and early 90s.  Like many grandmothers, she would often allow us more treats than we would get at home.  She would also allow us to eat our lunch in front of the television, something we were seldom allowed to do in our own house.  She would make us sandwiches of corned beef or polony, cut into eight tiny triangles, and would give us slices of malt loaf, thickly spread with butter.  It sounds fairly ordinary, and I suppose it was, but the memory of it always makes me smile.  Nan passed away a couple of years ago and I would trade any of the beautiful food in London for a corned beef sandwich and a slice of malt loaf in front of her old television.

Despite being an excellent baker and home cook, it would never have occurred to Nan to make her own malt loaf.  Having such a large family, she baked more for necessity and sustenance than for pleasure; desserts for Sunday lunches, tea loaves to give to visitors and pies for weeknight suppers.  Malt loaf came in those yellow packets from the supermarket, and that was the way she liked it.

I love those too, but I wanted to try my hand at making my own for the first time.  This recipe by Paul Hollywood looked like the most authentic and straightforward.  This recipe is very simple to do and, if you allow the usual time for proving, is fairly quick to make.  The biggest difficulty was finding malt extract, an ingredient I had never used before.  I had heard that some supermarkets do stock it, but seemingly none that I went to.  Luckily, the wonderful bakers of Twitter pointed me towards Holland & Barrett, who did indeed have a jar.  It’s very thick, a bit like honey and after the first use, you will forever have a sticky jar in your cupboard.

This malt loaf does not look much like the ones you get in the supermarket – it is far lighter in both colour and in texture, however the nostalgic taste is there.  Glaze it with honey, slice it up and spread thickly with good Irish butter.

Notes:  I made this malt loaf in a freestanding mixer as, to quote last night’s GBBO winner Nancy, I don’t have the strength to pummel it around.  You can make it in by hand if you wish, just knead it for a bit longer.

Malt Loaf

1 tbsp demerera sugar
3 tbsp malt extract
2 tbsp black treacle
25g butter
350g strong white bread flour
100g strong wholemeal flour
Pinch of salt
2 x 7g packets instant yeast
225g sultanas
250ml warm water
1 tbsp honey, to glaze

Prepare a 1lb loaf tin by greasing it with butter or spraying it with cake release spray.  Set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat together the sugar, malt extract, treacle and butter over a medium-low heat until the sugar has dissolved and the butter has melted.  Set aside to cool.

Combine the flours, salt, yeast and sultanas in the bowl of a freestanding mixer.  Add the warm water and cooled malt extract mixture and mix using a dough hook until the dough comes together.  Continue to knead with the dough hook for an extra couple of minutes.

Scrape the dough into the prepared loaf tin, it should come up to about ¾ inch below the edge of the tin.  You may not need all of the dough.  Place the tin in a plastic bag and leave to prove in a warm place for a couple of hours.  The dough should rise up just slightly above the tin.  Preheat the oven to 190ºc.  Smooth off the top of the dough to the top of the tin and bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes until browned and risen.  Leave to cool a little in the tin before transferring to a wire rack.

Heat the honey in a small saucepan over a low heat until it loosens in consistency.  Brush over the warm malt loaf using a pastry brush.

One Year Ago:  In Praise of Banana Bread

Leek and Cheddar Pie

Leek and cheddar pie

Leek and cheddar pie

I have a bit of a confession to make.  One of my favourite topics of office conversation to have at those pivotal points where the seasons are changing is the inappropriate attire of my fellow commuters.  It is barely ten degrees in central London today and I saw three people on Regent Street in summer dresses and sandals.  They must have an incredible immunity to cold or not look out the window before leaving the house in the morning.

Yes, London is under its familiar clouds once more.  It takes little more than a sharp gust of wind for me to start swaddling myself in knitwear and putting on the heating.  I think I have become more like this the older I get.  I love the cold weather, I just don’t like to be cold.  This is one of the reasons I am grateful for the abundance of coffee shops in London – a great, if slightly expensive, handwarmer.

Last night I was faced with three leeks and a defrosted pack of puff pastry that I took out of the freezer for some apple turnovers that never were.  There was nothing else for it but to make a pie.

There are a lot of debates flying around the internet at the moment about pie: most notably about whether it is a real pie if it has only a top crust.  Purists believe a pie should have both a top and a bottom crust to be given the moniker, claiming that a pie without a pastry bottom is merely a stew with a pastry lid.  Although I am inclined to agree, both do have their place, and the latter is often a good way to use up a small amount of leftover puff pastry that would not stretch to a top and a bottom.  Whether my pie would please the purists, I don’t know, as it is made on a baking tray and not in a pie dish.  However, it does have a top and a bottom.

This pie is from Nigel Slater’s Tender, one of my favourite cookbooks of all time, despite my inability to grow my own produce.  Grouping the recipes by ingredient, not by course, really helps give you some inspiration for leftover vegetables.  It is an incredibly simple pie to make – just perfect for a week night.

Leek and Cheddar Pie

650g potatoes, sliced ½cm thick
3 large leeks, white and light green parts sliced
50g butter
Olive oil
200g creme fraiche
175g mature cheddar, grated
A pinch of ground nutmeg
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
500g puff pastry
1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 200ºc.  Lightly oil a baking sheet.

Boil the potatoes in a large saucepan of lightly salted water until tender.  Meanwhile, heat the butter and olive oil, in a deep frying pan, or chef’s pan, and add the leeks.  Stir, cover and cook over a low to medium heat for about 10 minutes until tender.  Transfer both the potatoes and the leeks to a large bowl.  Allow to cool a little.  Stir in the creme fraiche, cheddar, nutmeg, sea salt and ground pepper.

Divide the puff pastry in half.  Roll out one half on a lightly-floured surface and use to cover the bottom of the baking sheet.  Spread the filling out on top of this, leaving a border of an inch on all sides.  Roll out the second half of the pastry and lay over the top of the filling.  Pinch and crimp the edges to seal in the filling.

Brush the pastry with egg wash and then use a sharp knife and any pastry trimmings to decorate.  Bake in the oven for approximately 30 minutes until the pastry is golden.

Adapted from a recipe by Nigel Slater.

One Year Ago:  Southampton: a Tale of Two Burgers

Butternut Squash, Curry and Cider Soup

Butternut squash, curry and cider soup

Butternut squash, curry and cider soup

This weekend, I was back in Southampton and went to the excellent 7Bone Burger Co. for dinner.  I’ve written a bit about this place before.  If very, very good burgers are your thing you should definitely go.  This visit was the best yet and I have written about it on my other blog, 607 Square Miles, here.

One major downside to eating a double cheeseburger of that size and a side of chilli cheese fries and a scoop of coffee ice cream from Sprinkles on the way home, is that you enter the following day not being able to face eating anything.  Being off my food is something of a rarity for me, and I am seldom ever completely full, but in this case it was 7pm the following day before I could even think about a meal.  I subsisted the entire day on coffee.

Such an indulgent feast requires something healthy and restorative to follow it.  I decided to make myself some soup.  Autumn really is the best season for soup, and not only because it is getting cooler; the crop of beautiful root vegetables make it so delicious and comforting.  Walking home from the market with arms full of big amber pumpkins and gnarly parsnips, I cannot help but think soup.  Especially good if you have some freshly baked bread in the house and a good blanket.

This particular soup is autumn itself: butternut squash, apples and onions, given warmth with a few spices and then cooked in cider.  The smell alone will be enough to rid you of any chills.  You can use other types of squash, or even pumpkin, if you prefer.  I used Gala apples as they have a good flavour, but any would work really.  Eating in front of a good movie or your favourite box set is essential.

Butternut Squash, Curry and Cider Soup

50ml olive oil
1kg butternut squash, peeled, cored and cut into 1 inch pieces
2 apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
1 tsp curry powder
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp ground cardamom
275ml dry cider (I used Weston’s Stowford Press)
1l chicken or vegetable stock
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp ground white pepper

Heat the oil in a very large saucepan and add the butternut squash, apples and onion.  Stir to coat in the oil and cook for 10-12 minutes until the onion is translucent.  Add the spices and cook for a further five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the cider and bring to the boil.  Cook for three minutes before pouring in the vegetable stock.  Simmer for 20-25 minutes until the squash is tender.

Remove from the heat and blend using a hand-blender (if you do not have one, you can use a regular blender, but you will probably need to do it in batches).  Once smooth, return to the heat, stir in the seasoning and cook gently for a further five minutes.

Ladle into individual bowls, top with a swirl of cream and a few pumpkin seeds.

Serves six.  Adapted from a recipe by Orangette.

One Year Ago:  Band of Bakers Short and Sweet Event

The Last of the Summer Raspberries

Raspberry-almond bars

I don’t know how, but it is October already.  Something has changed in the air and we seem to be settling in for winter.  This morning, I unpacked my scarves from their vacuum bag and got out my winter coat, ready to be taken to the dry cleaners.  I turned on the heating.  I started thinking about Hallowe’en.

I have had a punnet of raspberries in my fridge that have been there since before I went to Germany.  Despite expecting to have to throw them away on my return, they survived remarkably well.  If I’m honest, I can’t believe I risked letting them go to waste; raspberry season is quickly coming to an end, and it will be a long time before fresh British raspberries will be available again.

could have just tipped them into a bowl and eaten them with a little icing sugar and a lot of creme fraiche, but instead I decided to bake something with them.  I swore off cake after eating so much of it in Baden-Baden, but there is something about the new chill in the air that makes me want to nest; and baking is always the biggest part of that need.  Raspberries always work so well in baking; their sharp flavour cuts through all of the butter and sugar and makes everything just a little less sweet.

My favourite combination is a classic one: raspberry and almond.  The world probably does not need another raspberry-almond recipe, but I am just going to squeeze this last one in.  These raspberry-almond bars are based loosely on Dan Lepard’s Blueberry Almond Bars from his book Short and Sweet – he suggests that you can use blackberries instead of blueberries, which is where I got the idea.  The base is a dense cake, almost biscuit-like, topped first with a raspberry jam, thickened with cornflour, and then with a brown sugar-almond crust.  The result is more biscuit than cake and lends itself to being sliced up and eaten with a strong cup of tea.  Once the raspberries have gone completely, I am going to try this with a plum jam and a hazelnut crust.

Raspberry-Almond Bars

125g caster sugar
150g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
50g ground almonds
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
180g punnet fresh raspberries
2 tsp cornflour
50ml whole milk
2 tsp honey
100g light brown sugar
100g flaked almonds

Preheat the oven to 180ºc.  Spray a 20cm x 20cm square cake tin with cake release spray (I use Dr Oetker’s).

Mix together 75g of the caster sugar, the plain flour, baking powder and ground almonds in a large bowl.  Cut the butter into small pieces and rub into the mixture.  Add the egg and bring the mixture together in a soft dough.  Press this evenly into the bottom of the prepared cake tin and set aside.

In a small pan, combine the raspberries, cornflour, the remaining 50g caster sugar and 100ml of water.  Cook over a medium heat, stirring, until the raspberries have broken down and the mixture thickens.  Set aside.

In a separate pan, combine the milk, honey, brown sugar and flaked almonds and simmer over a medium heat until thickened.

Spread the raspberries over the base layer (you probably won’t need all of it), then top evenly with the almond mixture.  Bake in the oven for 35 minutes until browned.  Leave to cool completely in the tin and then cut into slices.

One Year Ago: In Praise of Granola

A Few Things from Baden-Baden, Germany

I’m not quite sure how, but it is October tomorrow.  It doesn’t really feel like it as it is unseasonably warm in London at the moment, and I just got back from holiday.

For the past few days, Ollie and I have been in Baden-Baden.  If you’re not familiar, it is a little town in Germany’s Black Forest, south of Frankfurt and close to the French border.  It is famous for its thermal waters and its beautiful spas attract people from all over the region.  We spent quite a considerable amount of time at the Carcalla Baths.  It was a holiday after all.

As well as this, there was, of course, lots of eating and drinking.  Here are a few highlights:

 

Beer
Much to my constant dismay, I have never liked beer.  Fortunately, my husband is rather a fan and got to sample quite a few different beers during our time there.  With Oktoberfest imminent, a lot of the bars were promoting their own hausbrau.  Two of the best were at Amadeus and Lowenbrau.  The latter has a really nice beer garden.

 

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Flammkuchen
This is an Alsace speciality that is also known as Tarte Flambee on the French side of the border.  It is a very thin, almost pizza-like dough, traditionally topped with sour cream, bacon and onions.  We ate at the Theaterkeller, where they have a number of different varities of flammkuchen, including this one with breasola.

 

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Black Forest Cake
No trip to the Black Forest is complete without sampling the schwarzenwalden kirschetorte, the region’s most famous cake.  Many were put off by the old Sara Lee frozen desserts of the 1990s, but the real deal is a thing of beauty.  Light chocolate sponge, slightly-boozy-slightly-sour cherries and an abundance of blousy whipped cream.

 

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Sausages
As ubiquitous in Germany as good beer, you never have to look hard to find a good sausage.  We found these at a farmers’ market in the small town of Buhl, just outside of Baden-Baden; three euros for a gargantuan sausage in bread.  We both opted for the feuerwurst, a sausage heavily spiced with paprika and chilli, and doused it in dijon mustard.  Three euros.

 

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More Cake
You could eat cake every day for a year in Baden-Baden and never be satisfied.  I cannot help but love a place that takes baking so seriously.  This was another favourite cake from the trip, from a small riverside bakery in Buhl: a chocolate and almond cake topped with sweet apricots.

 

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Burgers
Not really a German speciality, but I always like to try the local take on a burger.  This one was from Leo’s, a famous Baden-Baden restaurant where Bill Clinton apparently dined.  It was 18 euros, but it was also very good.  The meat was excellent quality and cooked medium (not quite medium-rare, sadly) and the other components worked well.  My husband had an excellent fillet steak for not much more money, that came with béarnaise sauce and dauphinoise.  A rare case of food envy.

 

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Doughnuts
There’s only so many times you can quote Ich bin eine Berliner whilst holding a doughnut.  This one came from a bakery in a small village called Steinbach.  The only thing open on a Sunday morning for miles.  Luckily they did coffee too.

One Year Ago:  Five Spice Duck Legs.

Blueberry and Brazil Nut Baked Porridge

Blueberry and brazil nut baked porridge

Blueberry and brazil nut baked porridge

I am fickle about many things, but never breakfast.  Even when I have been through phases of not eating meat, limiting carbs and doing just about every diet imaginable, I have never, ever considered skipping breakfast.  For me, the day does not begin until I have had, at the very least, a cup of strong tea and something small to eat.  In recent years I have reluctantly embraced brunch, but found waiting until late morning to eat a bit of a struggle.  I just need a jump-start like you wouldn’t believe.  It comes, as many things often do, from childhood.  My mum was adamant that breakfast was the most important meal of the day, and we were not allowed to go anywhere without having something to eat first.  It is a habit that has stuck.

Breakfast during the working week is usually something that can be prepared and eaten very quickly as, let’s face it, none of us give ourselves enough time in the mornings. Toast is my default option of choice, mainly because I can eat it whilst walking around the house (a habit that my husband despises); or cereal that can be eaten quickly.  At the weekends there is much more time to make something delicious that can be lazily devoured over the newspaper supplements.  Only under very extenuating circumstances will I have breakfast at my desk.

I can just about manage porridge, although I no longer have a microwave, so it does require a bit of watching and stirring, which is a bit of a drag.  Recently I read a blog post on baking oats rather than boiling them, and became intrigued about how this could work in the morning.  The basic principle for this is that the liquid (milk) and flavourings are added to the oats in the same way, but cooked in the oven for about half an hour rather than in a pan for a few minutes.  Yes, it does take longer this way, but it doesn’t need any further attention after the oven door has closed.  If you can bear to get up early enough, you could pop this in the oven and go back to bed (provided you had a reliable enough alarm clock to get you up afterwards!)

This particular porridge is cooked in a mixture of milk, golden syrup and egg. The syrup gives it some much-needed sweetness (I still cannot abide plain porridge) and the egg sets it a little in the dish.  You can add just about anything you like to the mixture; mine contains half a punnet of blueberries that I had left in the fridge and the last of the brazil nuts, left over from the double espresso and Brazil nut cake I made last week.  Use very ripe blueberries if you can as they disintegrate in the oven to form little jammy pockets within the oats.  Finely chopping the brazil nuts gives them the grainy texture of coconut, which works well with the softness of the porridge.

For the second batch of this porridge, I made it the night before and reheated it the following morning in the oven for 10 minutes with a splash of milk.  It wasn’t quite as good as cooking it fresh, but it does save you 20 minutes.  You win some, you lose some.

Blueberry and Brazil Nut Baked Porridge

150g rolled oats
Large handful of brazil nuts, finely chopped
125g ripe blueberries
85g golden syrup
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1 large egg
435g whole milk
30g melted butter
1½ tbsp coarse Demerara sugar

Preheat the oven to 175ºc.  Lightly grease a large baking dish with butter.  Scatter in the oats, Brazil nuts and blueberries.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the golden syrup, salt, cinnamon, egg, milk and melted butter until smooth.  Pour over the oats mixture and gently stir to ensure everything is evenly distributed.

Sprinkle over the Demerara sugar and bake in the oven for 30 minutes, until just set.

One Year Ago:  Street Food Saturdays: Brockley Market

Autumn Nights

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Root vegetable and pearl barley stew (with ham hock)

The other day I went for an afternoon nap and awoke with a shock that I had slept long into the night.  It was only 6.30pm and yet it was already dark.  The recent rise in temperatures had led me into a false sense of security that we are back in the days of glorious summer, but alas, the seasons have definitely changed.  I’ve even started to mention the ‘C’ word (not that one… the one that ends with ‘hristmas’.)

The thing is that I am rather looking forward to a couple of months of hibernation before the party season begins, spending a lot of time at home and lazily meeting friends for walks in the park or drinks in the local pub.  No elaborate plans involving picnics or trips to roof terraces preceded by a nail-biting surveillance of the Met Office in case unseasonal rain threatens to scupper the plans.  The wedding invitations have been filed, the BBQ covered for the winter and the beachwear put into storage.  Time for some nights in.

With the threat of going out in beachwear in public now removed for a few months, it is also a time to indulge in some comfort food.  Huge bowls of things that can be eaten on the couch whilst watching television; and the roast meats and billowing Yorkshire puddings on offer in pubs that fuel a good stomp in the woods afterwards.  Custard on absolutely everything.  Not a time to get fat, exactly, but a time to nourish out the threat of the cold.

I make a lot of stews and soups in the cooler months.  The vegetables that are in abundance at this time of year lend themselves to being cooked in a broth until soft.  This particular stew can be adapted to use up almost any ingredients that you have in the fridge:  old potatoes, leftover carrots, leafy greens or just about anything else.  It is cooked very simply in a mixture of stock and white wine and made substantial by the addition of pearl barley.  45 minutes on the hob and its is ready.

Using vegetable stock in this stew will make it vegetarian, but recently I have developed a bit of a habit of adding some cold cooked meat to the top after it has been served up.  The contrast in temperatures does what a spoonful of sour cream does to a soup or chilli, and it just gives it that little extra robustness.  Leftover roasted meats are good for this, especially chicken or turkey, but I also love Waitrose’s pulled ham hock.  It costs about £2.90 for two small packets and is also fabulous in pies or sandwiches.

Root Vegetable Stew with Pearl Barley

40g butter
Olive oil
1 leek, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and diced into 2cm pieces
2 parsnips, peeled and diced into 2cm pieces
1 baking potato, peeled and diced into 2cm pieces
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried thyme
100g pearl barley
75ml white wine
1l vegetable stock
1 tbsp tomato puree
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Heat the butter in a large saucepan with a little olive oil.  Add the leek, carrots, parsnips and potatoes and cook over a medium heat for around five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the bay leaves, thyme, barley, white wine, vegetable stock and tomato puree.  Bring to a simmer and cook for around 45 minutes until the vegetables and barley are tender.  Remove the bay leaf, stir in the parsley and check the seasoning before serving.

Plum Upside Down Cake

Plum Upside Down Cake

Plum Upside Down Cake

There are a few specific things that start happening around the middle of September that signal that autumn has arrived in London.  As we are lucky enough to live in a city with so many beautiful parks, the colour change from green to amber makes the seasons so obvious and distinct.  As the last few of us return from our summer holidays, we start settling into this new routine of putting on warmer clothes, walking the streets hugging paper cups of coffee and going home earlier at night.  Fewer people go to the parks at lunchtime, and almost nobody sits at the once-crowded outside tables of the cafes.  We collectively move inside. 

For me, it is other small things that mark the beginning of autumn:  the arrival of the circus on Peckham Rye Common, the return of schoolchildren to my morning bus journey, the slow drip of Christmas products in to the supermarkets and the complaining about it getting earlier each year.  Most of all, though, it is the change in what we begin to cook.  Beautiful summer salads, bowls of berries and barbecues give way to a more comforting range of foods:  we start to embrace the winter fruits and veg and the stews and soups that protect us from the nip in the air.  Comfort food becomes the order of the day.

Plums are one of the most-used fruits in my kitchen throughout the autumn.  They start to make an appearance in mid-August, and by September they are everywhere.  There are a wide variety of plums available and they lend themselves to being used in a variety of ways.  Two of the winter dishes I love best are a plum and hazelnut crumble and a spiced plum chutney.

I had some plums leftover from a tart I made earlier in the week for some friends, so decided to use them to make a plum upside down cake.  Some friends on Twitter told me that this is very straightforward to do.  I actually feel a little silly writing up a recipe for what is essentially a basic sponge mix poured over some chopped fruit, but it really is an excellent way for using up any fruit you have.  Once baked, cooled and turned out, the plums become incredibly tender and almost melt into the sponge, creating a kind of plum jam topping.  It would be excellent as a pudding with custard.

Plum Upside Down Cake

3 plums, halved, then cut into thirds
225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
225g caster sugar
4 eggs
225g self-raising flour

Preheat the oven to 180ºc / 350ºf / gas 4.  Grease a 8-inch loose bottomed cake tin and line the base and sides with greaseproof paper. 

Arrange the plum slices in the base of the tin.  Try and squeeze in as many as you can.

In a bowl, or in the bowl of a freestanding mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until combined.  If the mixture looks like it is curdling at this point, add a tablespoon of the flour to bring it back together.  Fold in the flour until just mixed, be careful not to overwork it.

Scrape the batter into the prepared tin, being careful not to dislodge any of the plums underneath.  Bake in the oven for approximately 40 minutes until risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the tin.

Once cool, remove the tin but keep the base intact.  If the cake has a dome, cut this off carefully using a serrated knife to create a flat surface.  This will be the bottom of the cake.  Turn upside down on to a plate or cake stand and carefully remove the base of the tin and the greaseproof paper.

The Best Meatballs Ever

Meatballs and spaghetti

Meatballs and spaghetti

As the days get shorter and the nights get cooler, I find that I spend more time at home than I did in the heady days of summer.  For one, pub gardens aren’t as fun if you have to put a coat on and huddle together.  Also, I find that my credit card bills from the holidays and living it up at a variety of weddings, festivals and trips to the seaside are so obscene that I reining it in seems the only option.

One thing I like to do on these cold evenings is fill up my freezer.  It’s probably the instinct for stocking up for winter kicking in, and all of a sudden I am digging out all of the Tupperware and filling it with things that I can eat later.  Hearty stews, soups and casseroles to be defrosted on a cold winter’s day when a trip to the supermarket is just too much to bear.  My two favourite things to keep in the freezer are meatballs and homemade tomato sauce.

Meatballs are a godsend as you can freeze them after they have been cooked and then, once defrosted, just heat them through in the sauce for about 10-15 minutes before serving.  A little fresh pasta and a sprinkle of parmesan and you have an excellent meal. 

I have tried a number of different meatball recipes, but these from the Polpo cookbook are my favourite.  They use pork and beef mince, which give them an excellent flavour, and the addition of a little pinch of chilli gives just a smidge of warmth.  The best thing about these meatballs is that they are cooked in the oven, rather than on the stovetop, which means that they do not have the crisp edges that frying gives and remain soft all the way through.  Because of this, they tend to break up less than other meatballs when cooked in the sauce.

The sauce is also from the same cookbook and uses both fresh and tinned tomatoes.  It too contains a bit of chilli for that extra warmth, which you can leave out or adjust to your own taste.  I have adapted the sauce from the original recipe by adding a little red wine vinegar and Worcestershire sauce to give it a little more depth. 

This recipe makes about 50 meatballs, which is more than any family can eat in one sitting.

Meatballs

1kg minced pork
500g minced beef
3 medium eggs
½ tbsp fine salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
150g breadcrumbs
Pinch dried chilli flakes
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Handful flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 220ºc / 425ºf / gas 7.  Lightly grease two baking trays.

In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients by mixing together with your hands until fully combined.  You can make the meatballs any size you wish, but I always weigh out 35g of the mixture for each ball.  Roll into a sphere and place on the baking tray.  Repeat until all of the mixture has been used up.

Bake the meatballs in the oven for ten minutes, turning once.  When ready to serve, poach in the tomato sauce for 10-15 minutes until heated through.  The meatballs can also be refrigerated or frozen at this stage.

 

Tomato Sauce

100ml extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ tsp fine salt
¼ tsp black pepper
Pinch chilli flakes
750g fresh tomatoes, quartered
3 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Heat 50ml of the oil in a large pan and saute the onion and garlic until soft, approximately 10 minutes.  Add the salt, pepper and chilli and stir in.  Add the remaining 50ml of the oil and the fresh tomatoes and cook on a medium heat for a further 15 minutes.

Add the tinned tomatoes and simmer on a low heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the oregano, caster sugar, red wine vinegar and Worcestershire sauce.  Taste for seasoning.  Puree thoroughly using a hand blender.

Recipes adapted from ‘Polpo’ by Russell Norman

Band of Bakers ‘Autumn Harvest’ Event, 24 October

Last night was our Band of Bakers ‘Autumn Harvest’ event and if, like me, autumnal fruit and veg is your thing, the opportunity to try 30 or so bakes containing them is something akin to Nirvana.  Of course, it is almost impossible to try all of the bakes (although some brave souls have tried), but I did manage quite a wide selection.  We were treated to cakes, biscuits, pies and tarts containing some beautiful autumn fruits: pears, plums, figs, blackberries and quince; and some delicious autumn vegetables, including parsnips, beetroot and squash.  The ratio of savoury to sweet was slightly higher than usual so we could all indulge under the collective pretence that we were eating a balanced meal.  In fact, my two favourite bakes of the night were savouries:  a black pudding scotch egg by Jon and a pulled pork slider with apple sauce by Sym.

It was our first event at the lovely Anderson & Co cafe in Peckham and we were very well looked after by Lisa, who kept us in local beer, great coffee and Sipsmith gin.

The recipe for my fig, ginger and spelt cake can be found here.

Below is a small selection of photographs from the event.

Fig, Ginger and Spelt cake by Gemma Gannon

Fig, Ginger and Spelt Cake by Gemma Gannon

Fig, Ginger and Spelt Cake by Gemma Gannon

Spiced Pumpkin and Walnut Cake by Corinne Svoboda

Courgette, Red Pepper and Brie Muffins by Sioned Jones

Courgette, Red Pepper and Brie Muffins by Sioned Jones

Plum, Almond and Cinnamon Crumble Cake by Naomi Knill

Plum, Almond and Cinnamon Crumble Cake by Naomi Knill

Chocolate and Raspberry ‘Squidgy’ Cakes

Blackberry Tart by Harley Beecroft

Blackberry Tart by Harley Beecroft

Cinnamon and Blackberry Cake

Cinnamon and Blackberry Cake

Chipotle Pumpkin Bread by Lauren Garland

Chipotle Pumpkin Bread by Lauren Garland

Peach and Ginger Crumble Cake by Chloe Edges

Peach and Ginger Crumble Cake by Chloe Edges [photo: Chloe Edges]

Eclairs with Chestnut Cream by Cherry Smart [photo: Cherry Smart]

Eclairs with Chestnut Cream by Cherry Smart [photo: Cherry Smart]

Pear, Ginger and Brown Butter Tartlets by Lucy Parissi [photo: Lucy Parissi]

Pear, Ginger and Brown Butter Tartlets by Lucy Parissi [photo: Lucy Parissi]

 

Spiced Chocolate and Pear Cake by Heather Jordan [photo: Heather Jordan]

Spiced Chocolate and Pear Cake by Heather Jordan [photo: Heather Jordan]