Tuesday, 18 November 2014


In the midst of much birthday caking, it occurs to me that the cake recipe I have made more than any other this year has been Kuchen, from the Joy of Cooking.  If you don't have a copy of the cookbook,  there's a very nice blogpost with the recipe here.  Unfortunately, the ingredients are only in American measurements, so I'm hoping that the powers-that-be won't mind me including them here in metric (along with my own tweaks).
Gooseberry Kuchen, with Demerara streusel

I own three copies of the Joy -- the two volume paperback my Mom gave me for my 11th birthday,  a hardback that we got soon after we got married, which is falling apart, and a new copy of the version issued in 2006. But of late, I've been using the app more and more.  I've never used an app for recipes, but this has won me over.  There's lots of neat features, but the best one as far as I'm concerned is that it gives most ingredients in both weight and volume.

Basically this is a recipe in three parts -- there's the fruit, the cakey bit, and the streusel.  I leave the cake pretty much alone, but the other two components vary a fair bit.  Probably the best fruit we've done this year was peaches and blueberries.  But we've made it with gooseberries, rhubarb, sour cherries - pretty much any fruit I can find.  And my streusel is more likely to have muscovado sugar in it, and maybe some oats and flaked almonds, or pecans, depending on the fruit.     The recipe is a bit fiddly by my standards (3 bowls!), but once you get the hang of it, it's very straightforward. And worth it for the good taste.

I *do* try not to just copy recipes from cookbooks here, so, the text here comes directly from Megan Scott's guest blog linked to above and again here.  All I've done is add in metric measurements.  If you like it, I would encourage you to check out the app.

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F  (180C). Grease a 9-inch springform pan or 9 × 2-inch round cake pan.

Prepare the streusel topping first. Combine in a small bowl:
1/3 cup turbinado or granulated sugar  65 grams  (I use either demerara or muscovado)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour or rice flour  16 grams
2 tablespoons unsalted butter  30 grams
Blend these ingredients until crumbly. Add:
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/3 cup chopped or sliced almonds   no equiv given - a handful? 
Set aside.

Peel, pit, and slice, then spread evenly in pan:
1 pound ripe apricots (about 3 cups sliced)  450 gr

Whisk together:
1 cup all-purpose flour  120 grams
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Grated zest of one lemon  (I never bother with this...)

Beat in a large bowl until fluffy:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened  110grams
3/4 cup sugar  150 grams

Beat in:
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Beat in one at a time just until blended:
2 large eggs
Stir in the flour mixture just until incorporated.

Scrape the batter into the pan and spread evenly. Scatter the streusel on top. Bake until the topping is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake (avoiding the fruit) comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool to room temperature on a rack.

What was all the fuss about?

It's that birthday week again here - 3 cakes in 5 days.  And I wanted something special for the first of them.  So, I somewhat rashly thought I'd try a Baked Alaska.  I'd totally forgotten about the GBBO hoo-ha until I started googling for recipes.  Panicked a little, but decided to plough on.

The online recipes varied wildly, so I mostly followed the advice in my trusty Joy of Cooking.  The first stage was to make my usual family chocolate cake, but in layers the night before.  Then when I got home from work at about 5.30, I covered a tray with foil, and put one of the layers on it.  I then stripped the cardboard off the tub of raspberry ripple icecream, sliced it up and put it in the centre of the cake, leaving a border around the edge.  The cake and ice cream then went back in the freezer, with some plasticwrap on it.  I whipped up 6 eggwhites, with some sugar, cream of tartar and vanilla, until they were stiff enough to hold a peak.  I think I over-whipped, as I was a bit stressed at this point. So while it looked nice in the bowl, the actual meringue on the cake lacked much in the way of curlicues.  But back in the freezer it went, just in time, before the ravening hordes arrived.  It could only have been in the freezer for an hour max, when I popped it out and into the hottest oven that I could generate.  I was aiming at 5 mins, but after 3 mins at 220+ C with fan assist, it was looking good, so I took it out.

This isn't going to win any style prizes, but boy did it taste good.  Definitely worth a try.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Date Squares

I'll know that Newfoundland has really changed (for the worse) when you can go into a corner shop and not find date crumbles somewhere among the baked goods.  This one classic dessert has lasted and lasted, despite the invasion of Jos Louis cakes, jam-jams and rice crispie squares. 

But they're even better when home-made.  We started making them for church events here in Polwarth a few years ago and were amazed at how people loved them and asked for the recipe.

So, here it is. It's another one from the Cream of the West cookbook, which I have blogged about before.  Enjoy.  Hope it brings back good memories.


2 cups dates (250g)
1 cup dark brown sugar (160g)
1 cup hot water (237 ml)
(1 teaspoon lemon juice - optional - add after the mixture has cooled a bit)

Combine and cook until dates are very soft - you may need to mash them a bit .  Set aside to cool.


1 1/2 cups flour (190g)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda (bicarb)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups oats (165g) (we use porridge oats rather than rolled oats)
1 cup dark brown sugar (160g)
3/4 cup butter (112g)

Mix flour, soda, sugar and salt together.  Cut in soft butter with a pastry blender or a long tined fork.  Then add the oats (The original recipe says to add the butter last, but then you end up chopping up the oats more than I like. A compromise might be to add some of the oats, but keep some back to add after the butter's been mixed in and a nice crumbly mixture is formed.)  

Press half of the mixture into a greased 8 inch x 12 inch tin, or a 9x9 square one (I wouldn't line the tin. The best part of this is the crunchy edges and corners where the date filling oozes out and cooks on) We've also had good luck with a lakeland individual traybake tin for which we do sometimes use liners. 

Cover with the date mixture, then add the final crumble to the top. Bake at 375F / 190C for 25 minutes (a bit less for the small ones). Cut into squares while still warm.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

C is for....

Gingersnaps at the top; Snickerdoodles at the bottom

2 cups flour  (280 gr)
1 tablespoon ginger
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves (more?)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup shortening (crisco/trex) (170 gr)
1 cup sugar (200 gr)
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses (treacle)*  (85 gr)
Extra granulated sugar for rolling

Mix first 6 (dry) ingredients together in one bowl.  In a second bowl cream shortening and sugar.  Beat in egg and molasses. Add dry ingredients and blend well.

Form into small balls and roll in granulated sugar. Bake at 350 F on a greased or lined tray, 10-12 minutes until tops are rounded and crackly.

*my mother's tip: spray inside cup with oil before measuring the molasses

The two staple cookies of my childhood were recipes from my great-grandmother, whose family was of Dutch origin, which probably explains the snickerdoodles (another post for that recipe).  These gingersnaps are similarly a New England version of the European - chewy not crisp, despite the name.  We're making them today as a Mother's Day treat. Will try to get some UK measures up for the ingredients shortly.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Spinach-Cheese Triangles

animation thanks for Google+
This ia another one of those family favourites that I didn't really miss until I moved out. Then I had to learn how to make them on my own. I'll describe the ingredients first, then the process -- as seen in the animation  -- which seems daunting until you do it for the first time.

First you need to buy some phyllo/filo pastry, and thaw it if its frozen. Although some supermarkets carry it, I'd buy it from a Middle Eastern shop.  In Edinburgh, we usually go to Maqbouls near the central mosque. It never tastes quite as good as I remember, but most of the brands are okay.  Lately we've been buying 'Theos' which is made in the UK, or some Turkish made versions. Then you need a good sized block of butter - most recipes call for unsalted.  Make sure you also have a good pastry brush - not one that will lose bristles, or that's been used for bbq sauce. And a sharp knife. And a ramekin or glass measuring cup that can go in the microwave oven. Melt a good chunk of the better, and keep it ready. And make sure you have a clean baking tray ready. 

My mother usually makes the filling with a combination of feta cheese and cottage cheese, but I now usually use the cartons of white cheese that are sold in halaal shops for the Middle Eastern market - mostly made in Denmark or Germany.  The other main ingredient is spinach  -- I use frozen spinach that has been thawed and drained.  You can also steam or microwave fresh spinach, or saute it with onions. If it is whole spinach (fresh or frozen), make saure you chop it roughly. Either way make sure you squeeze all the excess liquid out.  To the cheese, I add a small grated onion (or half), and an egg and some pepper.  Some recipes call for nutmeg, but I don't think that's very authentic.   Mix all these together with a fork. Proportions really don't matter too much, as long as its not too liquidy (pour off any excess). 

So, now to the assembling.  Take the filo out of the cardboard packaging and cut one section off - about 2.5 inches wide. Leave the rest in the plastic for now.  Then carefully separate one strip of the pastry and lay it out at full length (as in the picture below).  Make sure your hands and worksurface are dry. Immediately brush the strip of pastry with butter, then put a small spoonful of filling in the very bottom corner.  The fold it into triangles.  This is the bit that looks hard, but really is easy (see the video below).

After you've folded one strip up, brush its top with butter and pop it onto the baking tray. Then move quickly back to the pastry and repeat until you have a full tray to bake.  They should bake in an oven around 200C, in about 10-12 minutes.  They're done when they're golden brown. Let cool a little and eat. They freeze beautifully if you have any leftover.  The one crucial thing to remember is to never let the pastry dry out - it will just crack into little bits. So you have to work quickly.  But once you've done it, you'll see how easy it really is. And, after that, you can experiment with fillings. My mother used to make an amazing version with various sorts of grated cheese, but we usually go for spinach, since the kids love them and it gets them an extra vegetable portion!

Update: had a request for a pic of the final product, but can't find one (we ate them).  But, I did find this handy video, which I've uploaded to youtube.