Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Old school.

This week I attended some training at work. It was a three hour session on Virtual Learning Environments, and was, somewhat predictable, almost a complete waste of time. Don't get me wrong, the trainers were excellent.I just didn't need the training. I have been using computers for a long time, I know people in the business, and I am, as you might have noticed, a blogger. I can use interfaces that publish and promote online learning. So I was a little baffled when it was suggested to me that my professional development might benefit from the "Getting Used to Moodle" session.

Notice I said almost a complete waste of time. Completing the ten exercises in our training pack in a little under twenty minutes allowed me ample time to investigate the tea and coffee facilites on show.

They were good. Very good in fact. Which, given the record at my institition, was a rather pleasant surprise. The coffee machine made proper coffee. And by proper coffee I mean not only strong enough to bend spoons,but flavourful too. Given the good start I expected an inevitable skimping on biscuit quality. Not so. I eyed-up, pondered, considered and chose wisely. I also chose well, as my selection blasted me into a moment of nostalgia that I'm not entirely sure belonged to me, but was very nice nonetheless.
The Shrewsbury biscuit - in this particular instance named simply the "fruit shortcake" is a small traditional English biscuit of shortbread and currents. It is cut using scalloped edge cutters and dusted with sugar before baking. And it is, quite simply, lovely. I feel that "lovely" is the perfect word as it conjures up quaint images of knitted cardigans, and afternoon tea and village fetes, and that is exactly what this simple little biscuit is about. It's not flashy, it doesn't even use vanilla extract (gasp! a recipe without vanilla extract, in this day and age!) and yet is a perfect little morsel of "lovely." Oh and yes, they are indeed traditionally little, which means that you are entitled to gobble up six or seven in the time it takes to drink a cup of tea.

This humble biscuit reared it's pretty little head in my training session and has stayed with me ever since. Fortunately I happened to mention this to a friend today, and she immediately commented that there is a recipe in Delia Smith's Book of Cakes. Naturally, why didn't I think of that.So, the minute I got through the door (before I'd even ditched my coat) I whacked the oven on to preheat, hunted down the recipe and by ten past six I had a place of quaint biscuits sitting on the table.

Sometimes it's the old recipes that are the best. The only way I changed the recipe was to put everything in a food processor. It saved all the rubbing of butter into flour and probably ten minutes of my time, and more and more time is of the essence. It also meant that there are smaller bits of currents throughout, and I liked the result.
If you have time, and are so inclined to add some quaint British biscuit charm to your weekend(or week night) whip up a batch of these. I don't think they'll last long, especially not if there is a pot of tea on the go.

Shrewsbury Biscuits - adapted, very slightly, from Delia Smith (makes about 20 small biscuits)

110g caster sugar
110g cold unsalted butter
225g plain flour
50g currents
1 large egg
1 tsp water

Preheat the oven to 180C and line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone liner.

Place the butter, flour and sugar in a food processor and whoosh until the texture of breadcrumbs. Then add the water, egg and currents and whoosh again until it forms a dough.

On a floured surface roll out the dough. It should be about the thickness of the biscuits you want to eat as there is no rising agent. I went for what I thought is "average" biscuit thickness. Cut with a small scalloped edge cutter (you can make them any size you want, but they are traditionally quite small) and then place on the baking sheets. Sprinkle with an extra dash of sugar and then bake for aprox 15mins - until golden (check though as mine became golden before the time was up)

Leave to cool completely on a wire rack and then serve.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

The Lazy Sunday Cookie

There is nothing quite like stepping out of the shower at ten past five on a Sunday afternoon and being greeted by the smell of cooling chocolate cookies. I think that's exactly what Sundays should be about.

Yes, I admit it, I did not get out of my pyjamas and dressing gown until after five pm today. And it was wonderful. I'm afraid the day just did nothing to encourage it. We did the hard stuff yesterday. We spent time in the garden, taking our lives in our hands skidding around on the wet slippery decking in order to re-mulch soil and clear up the winter carnage in the vague hope that it won't be long before w
e're planting and making new veg plans. Then N went out to see some dear friends who have been coping with much tougher battles, while I held the fort here.
It was a late late night, and so when we stumbled out of bed this morning, foraged for food (which seems be somewhat lacking this weekend - how can we have found ourselves without tinned tomatoes, olive oil, and bread in one fell swoop, along with the only vegetables in the house being celery (eurgh!) and a lone aubergine!) and guzzled enough tea to rouse us (thank goodness there is always milk and tea bags!) we discovered it was time for the match, and then it was time to make cookies, and then and only then, was it time for showers.

But the cookies, oh, the cookies! I have just polished off two with another cup of tea, and am worried that if I return for a tea top-up another couple of cookies might disappear. They were a whim. I was going to be good and not bake (yeah, right) and then I was going to be slightly good and make carrot cake, because at least that uses vegetables. But by the time I fished out the recipe and started poking around our cupboards I realised that we were missed more than a few ingredients, and suddenly grating carrots seems like too much effort.

So I decided to make some cookies. I have many many cookie recipes, and two are my standard "go to" plan depending on the specific type I am looking for (the first is a "cakey" plain cookie with chocolate chips, my second a more "cookie" cookie which will handle almost any addition and has a lovely almost caramely base). In the end I used neither. As I was admiring the mess of the baking cupboard a bag of hazelnuts caught my eye, and in a flash I was online digging out a Nigel Slater (who else?!) recipe I'd spotted last wee
They came together in a flash, baked in less time it took to throw them together, and boy did they smell (and taste) amazing. They are slightly crisp on the outside and soft in the middle. They are the epitome of the lazy Sunday. You still have time to make them, go on....

Soft Sunday Cookies (I am renaming them this as it seems very appropriate)

100g dark chocolate, melted
38g soft unsalted butter
112g light muscovado sugar
1 egg
vanilla extract
25g hazelnuts, lightly toasted and ground (coarsly, not too fine)
75g Self raising flour

Preheat the oven to 180C, line two baking sheets with either parchment or silipat stuff.

Cream the butter and sugar together, and then beat in the egg and a dash of vanilla extract. Then add the hazelnuts, flour and chocolate and combine well. If you're doing this in a mixer don't forget to scrap down the sides.

Place dollops of the mixture onto the baking sheets (I used about 2tsp dollops and got 14nice sized cookies) Bake for exactly ten minutes and then remove from the oven. Allow to rest on the sheets for about five minutes, until they stop being too soft to move, then carefully transfer onto a wire rack to cool.

They will be slightly chewy/crisp on the outside and nicely soft in the middle.

p.s. Thank you all so much for your wonderful comments about the marmalade. I'm so pleased that I might have inspired some people to have a go making it themselves. However, I'm probably not helping my business prospects as now everyone will be doing it no-one will buy mine, oops! Seriously though, I hope you're all having as much fun with it as I do. There will be more preserving to come believe me!

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Lady Marmalade

Oh yes, it's marmalade season again! Last year I got a little bit "marmalade-herical." There were oranges everywhere, jars filling every surface, and more than one little tearful moment as I feared (again) that my precious batch wouldn't set.

This year? Well, I'm having to be a bit more realistic. There are only so many free hours in my weeks now, and mass marmalade production, although wonderfully fun, can't actually fill all of them when there is laundry to get through, a hungry cat and boyfriend to feed, and several knitting projects waiting to be finished and given as presents. I am scaling down a bit.
Well, I say that now. I have a hunch that in a weeks time we'll be drowning in dirty washing, eating toast for dinner and I shall be up to my elbows in jars, sugar and sticky jam funnels.

I love preserving. Why don't more people do it? Okay, I know it's coming back as a "cool" pastime, but seriously folks, I can barely express the joy I get at putting stuff in jars! The thought that this summer if I fancy a spot of marmalade on toast I can reach for, and crack open, ajar of my very own, months after the seville season has finished. I know, I'm gushing, but I just can't help it. Get thee to the grocery, bag yourselves some oranges (sevilles if you can) and start whacking that golden stuff in jars.

You know what marmalade is also good for? Getting your baking mojo back. I kid you not. This week, over tea and cake with a wonderful new friend, I confessed to feeling like I not only don't fancy baking, but even if I did I can't think of anything to make. A shocking admission from a self-professed baking obsessive. Then a little recipe in a magazine caught my eye. Marmalade and ginger cream sandwich cookies. It's marmalade season, and I adore ginger. I had to do it.
So yesterday, in a quest to renew my mojo, I made these little cookies with last year's marmalade, while a new batch was on the stove. I am so glad I did. These are a lovely little treat, which go perfectly with a hot strong slightly sweet cup of tea. The marmalade (because I used the bitter seville type) stopped the cookie from being too sweet, and the sweet slightly hot cream in the middle balanced the marmalady kick of the cookie. Plus, as N said,"they feel almost like they should be healthy" because they are packed with oats.

I only made one change to the recipe, I didn't add any water to the cream. They suggest you add a tablespoon of boiling water to thin it out and make it spreadable. Frankly I don't think it needs this at all, and fear that doing so would actually make the cream too thin. Oh, and I used lemon zest where they suggested orange, as I had lemons on hand.Marmalade and ginger cream sandwich cookies (makes aprox 15 little cookies)
From, the Sainsbury's magazine.

50g unsalted butter
50g caster sugar
50g light brown soft sugar
zest of one lemon
1 large egg yolk
50g thick cut marmalade
50g plain flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
50g rolled oats

250g icing sugar
75ml double (heavy) cream
50g soft unsalted butter
75g stem ginger, drained of syrup and finely grated

Preheat the oven to 170C and line two baking sheets with parchment.

Cream the butter, sugars, zest and egg yolk until smooth, and then beat in the marmalade. Mix in the flour and soda, then stir in the oats.

Place rounded teaspoons of the mixture on the baking sheets, allowing space for them to spread. Make sure you have an even number! Bake for 15-20 mins (mine took 20 in a fan oven) until the edges are just golden. Remove and cool on a wire rack.

To make the filling, cream the butter and sugar until smooth and then add the ginger.

When the cookies are cool sandwich two together with a generous amount of ginger cream. Put the kettle on, make a nice pot of tea, and enjoy!

(I stored mine in the fridge overnight to stop the cream from becoming too soft, then removed them for half an hour before eating two for breakfast, oops!)

p.s. I made the crumpets (or rather pikelets,as I didn't have crumpet rings) they were lovely, but refused to photograph well. The recipe is over here, I recommend it...

p.p.s. Turns out my last post was number 300! Hurrah!

Sunday, 10 January 2010

O Hai-cookie!

Today, my cookies exploded. Or rather, they decided to spread across the baking sheet as if making a bid for freedom. While this was going I also got distracted by searching for some tracing paper, that I know I have put somewhere safe. So safe it eludes me. As a result we have some rather sad looking dark brown flat cookies cooling on the side. They overspread and in my revenge I over cooked them.

To top it all off I have also managed to break yet another mixing bowl today. The last one was lost whilst cleaning the windows (don't ask...) this one did at least have a baking-related death, albeit involving pitching itself off a radiator whilst the mixture inside it was proving. Suicidal crumpet mix anyone? It's at times like these that I am very pleased that Molly came into my life. I think either I need to move to Alaska or Molly needs to get her butt to London because I know we'd have the best time together drinking beers, browsing cook books, cooing over notepaper and stamps and generally gadding about town. She makes me laugh from all the way across the world. And she is also the creator of the Hai-cookie exchange.

It is through this that I exchanged cookies and haiku with
Helen. The deal? Send a dozen cookies and a haiku to whoever you got paired with. I totally lucked out. Not only did Helen's seriously good cookies arrive on my birthday (bonus present!) they also hit the spot exactly with two of my favourite flavours, cranberry and white chocolate and oat and raisin. Mmmm....I can tell you that I waited all of two seconds before devouring them. Delicious. I also got a great baking themed card, and the following haiku:

It's nearly New Year
Time to make resolutions
For the year ahead
Helen in return also got white chocolate and cranberry cookies (mine having macadamia nuts in them too as I can't resist them) and some of my festive stars. I also put in a small bag of homemade marshmallows and some peppermint bark as an extra treat just in case Helen didn't like the cookies. My haiku was:

Festive Happiness
Mulled wine with a dash of spice
Knitting and my cat

Thank you Molly, for being coerced into holding yet another exchange!

I shall post another time with a recipe as I don't think I'll be sharing the one for the cookies I made today, I'm sure none of you need rebel cookies. That is unless they taste amazing, in which case I shall forgive them and show them off another time. Hopefully the crumpet batter has survived despite the cracked bowl and radiator tumble, I'm off to test them now. Updates to follow!

Friday, 1 January 2010

Where I'm going...

Well, there's no denying it, it really is 2010. We welcomed in the year in our pyjamas with hot toddies, curled up on the sofa with our favourite film. Colds or otherwise we're no longer the big party types, preferring instead to sip and laugh the new year in under a thick quilt, stroking the cat and trying to explain that the fireworks can't hurt if he stays right where he is.

This morning was just as relaxed (ahem, lazy) with much of it spent under the duvet dozing and sipping lemsip. Showers and lunch however did prompt a quite flurry of activity, to match the flurry of snow that dusted the garden. Christmas crockery tucked away, a rearrangement of glasses - less wine glasses in reach, more tumblers - and the pleased discovery of a place to put our new teapot. Just the kind of start to the year we party animals like!
I'm not really one for resolutions. I know I'll break them unless I'm really determined, and usually those decisions are left for after the depths of winter. Cold, grey, damp weather that invariably makes up the British new year is no time to ditch the well needed creature comforts of red wine and baked goods in rash resolutions to ditch the gained Christmas pounds and ounces. I'd much rather keep that layer of pudge thank you, I'll need it to keep me warm at the bus stop on dark mornings. I can worry about it once the blush of spring arrives and the winter layers are discarded.

Instead this year, I have some general notions - they're not rules, more like guidelines! There will be big changes a-foot, and I think it's time. I think it's going to be an interesting year, potentially a difficult year, but one that will be filled with fun, laughter and all sorts of nice things. I hope to see old friends a lot more, for coffee and wine and chats like we used to, I want to see new friends more too, for similar times filled with beverages and gossip. I want to continue to use the best of my time, to learn new skills and develop old ones. And of course I want to continue experimenting in the kitchen. An ice cream maker, and pasta machine are going to make that pretty fun I think!

And whatever 2010 brings, I hope to be there to meet it head on with N next to me to make me laugh and tell me I'm a big silly when I cry!

I think it's going to be a good one, I hope you do too. Let's go get em!