Friday, 24 April 2009

One MIA baker...

'where did she go?'

A brief hiatus from whisking and folding this week.  After handing in the first two of three big essays last Friday I rusticated myself from sweet Bloomsbury, armed with a suitcase of books, highlighter pens and MacBook to spend some much-needed quality time with my Mamacita here on the Canarian island of Lanzarote. 'Tough life' you sniff, and I concur. The sound of the waves crashing in and the smell of intensely saline ocean spray is indeed restorative after the cacophany of my little urban bayleywick back in London, not to mention the gaggle of noisy undergrads in the library. Yes, I'm the archetypal grumpy grad student, irascible and easily ired with the bright young things of today...

Anyway, after twenty years of coming to this place, rather uncharitably referred to by some Brits as 'Lanzagrotty', it constantly surprises me how invigorating the island is. Must be something about the volcanic nature of it. The air is dry like the desert, and the water's crystal clear - if you have hunter-gatherer inclinations the ocean's replete with bream, bass and other aquatic wonders. Just wish I knew how to catch them (note to self - next time bring a fishing rod.) Seriously, my parents have a house here and it feels more like home than anywhere else. Free of distractions, noise and fanfare, I wouldn't dream of trading in this place for the Greek Islands or any of the other trendy Mediterranean hotspots. There is something unvarnished and really down-to-earth about Lanzarote, which is why some people love it and others don't really get it and choose to spend their holidays in Bermuda.

But enough quatsch.  One fat law essay on geographical indications awaits, so tally ho and all that. After this essay nonsense is over, a big chocolate Guinness cake is in the offing. Think baking with booze could be a theme for summer 2009's scandilicious baking experiments...

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Claire Clark's Carrot Cake

This cake can't really be described as bona fide Scandinavian, but then what really is? We now get carrot cake all over the globe and everyone adapts this beloved American tradition to their own tastes and locally available ingredients. I decided to test a recipe from Claire Clark's book 'Indulge: 100 Perfect Desserts' (Absolute Press, 2007) Claire's the head of pastry at celebrated California restaurant The French Laundry and the book is a feast for confection-hungry eyes. Even if you don't care much for cake, have a look at her book, great recipes can be found therein for all manner of sweet things.

Anyway, Easter's come and gone. While most of Britain is seemingly defying the credit crunch by shopping like there's no tomorrow, my Dad and I spent the weekend with simpler, more frugal pursuits in mind. Long walks in the country, endless episodes of 'Seinfeld,' reading a few good books - couldn't have asked for a more relaxed weekend. Having had my 89-year old uncle over for the requisite Easter Sunday luncheon we're still feasting on leftovers of roast leg of lamb, roast potatoes, caramelised parsnips and broccoli. Leftover lamb on fresh spelt bread (yes I baked another one) for lunch yesterday was a treat - delicious with some mango chutney, beetroot and German gherkin. Easter pudding consisted of gently poached rhubarb, simmered in fresh blood orange juice and zest, a splash of vanilla and grand marnier, though we managed to demolish this with aplomb on Sunday so no leftover rhubarb pud.

Who said I don't take care of the men in my life ;-)

Anyway, back to the cake. I love the fact that Claire uses wholemeal flour in her recipe, something I'm converting to (as well as gluten-free flour for variation) - the taste of wholemeal is so good anyway, and combined with all that carrot, coconut, vanilla and sugar you won't know the difference. If you're looking for a slightly lighter texture sift the wholemeal to remove some of the bran...the brown sugar gives a hint of sweetness without making the cake cloying, and also keeps it moist for a few days. Will definitely be making this one again.

  • 250g wholemeal flour
  • 25g baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 125g desiccated coconut
  • 5 medium eggs
  • 250g muscovado brown sugar (I used light brown as that's what I had...)
  • 185g vegetable oil
  • 500g carrots
  • 125g raisins (soaked for 10 minutes)
  • 1/2 tsp salt (recipe doesn't call for it, but have added it anyway)

Preheat the oven to 180C

Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and spices in a medium bowl. Stir in the coconut. 

Using an electric mixer, whisk the eggs, sugar and oil together til the mixture becomes pale and doubles in volume (a large bowl will be needed for this)

Gently fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture, and then finally fold in the carrots and raisins.

Bake 35-40 minutes. Allow to cool before icing with cream cheese frosting (see the other carrot cake recipe on this blog for recipe) and sprinkle with coconut and crushed pistachios.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Spelt breadrolls

It's a glorious spring day outside, just warm enough to sit in the sun and soak up some much-needed rays after a long, cold winter. Today's luncheon was a real Scandi-nostalgia-fest: fresh wholemeal bread rolls like the ones I grew up with in Norway, topped with Swedish 'kaviar' from a tube (sounds gross, tastes heavenly. Scandies know what I'm talking about) and a soft-boiled egg. Delicious and nutritious. Not to mention thrifty.

Having raided the Scandinavian Kitchen of its fresh yeast supply last week (well, nearly all of it) and after the success of Friday's hot cross buns * I decided to make these spelt rolls. It defeats me why fresh yeast isn't readily available in supermarkets here. I once got a tip that the Sainsburys on Cromwell Road in west London sells fresh yeast, so off I went to buy some. This transpired to be the most absurd exercise in subterfuge and hushed voices I've encountered in a supermarket. When I asked for 50g of fresh yeast, the baker (I use baker in the most elastic sense of the word) questioned why I needed it - "erm, to bake bread," I replied. Not good enough apparently, the man proceeded to interrogate me on why I was really procuring fresh yeast, much to the bemusement of fellow shoppers who viewed me as some sort of reprobate. 

Anyway, good luck trying to buy fresh yeast in central London. I hear you can score some from bakers (real bakers that is) but it seems ridiculous one can't buy the stuff in a local supermarket, the way we can in Scandiland. Does the lack of locally available fresh yeast suggest Brits don't bake with yeast that much? Or are we Scandies just peculiar in our habits? Probably a bit of both.

Back to the bread though - this is a delightfully easy recipe and the breadrolls are a welcome change from the giant loaves of bread I've been baking recently...rolls freeze well and only require 5-10 minutes reheating in a 150C oven so it's worth making a large batch if you have the time and inclination to do so. And the fresh yeast imparts a much more mellow flavour than dried yeast, so worth hunting down if you care about such matters.

This recipe makes 12 medium rolls 

  • 500g wholemeal spelt flour
  • 300ml cold water
  • 12g fresh yeast
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 heaping tsp sugar

Mix the yeast and sugar in a small bowl, to see if the yeast is active. It should dissolve and look foamy.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt and make a well in the centre. Tip the yeast, oil and water into this and beat with a wooden spoon for 5 minutes. No kneading required, you just have to bring the dough together.

When the dough is thoroughly mixed and looking a little bit bouncy (give it a poke!) place some oiled clingfilm over the top and then refrigerate overnight.

The next day, take the dough out - it should have doubled in size - and knock back. Lightly oil a 12x small muffin tray. Make little even-sized buns by rolling them between your hands - it helps if your hands are wet, that way the dough won't stick to each bun in a muffin hole and then cover again with oiled clingfilm and allow to double in size in a warm place.

Preheat oven to 220C, and place the muffin tray on the upper shelf of the oven. Bake for 5 minutes, then turn down the heat to 200C. 

You can of course glaze the buns, add seeds, nuts, etc. before baking but I kept these simple because I am a lazy slug. 

* see the facebook page of Beyond Baked Beans under 'notes' from April 3rd.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Mackerel & Marmite sandwich

"Is this an April Fools' joke?" you ask.  Read on, friend, read on...

One of sitcom's all-time greatest characters, George Costanza in 'Seinfeld', is a man seemingly always on the hunt for a good sandwich. In fact 'Seinfeld' is a repository of food anecdotes - there's the episode featuring the muffin top, then there's the quest for the perfect rye bread, and the epic episode 4: season 9 titled 'Blood' in which the hilarity (not to mention aphrodisiacal qualities) of pastrami is revealed. Am sure bagels feature prominently in several episodes too.

Anyway, back to the sandwich. Who knows if George would approve of this eccentric concoction, but last weekend's barley bread had been gobbled up by Monday, so I was at a loss what to do for lunch today. Inspiration struck - as it does - while reading about Japanese Zen arts. No, I'm not going to bake a green tea bread, but I concluded there must be something to eat in the kitchen, thus saving a trip to the supermarket, or worse, to those ghastly sandwich chains. 

A brief rummage through the store cupboard revealed Swedish rye crispbread, Marmite... and then I remembered the tomato mackerel I picked up at the Scandinavian Kitchen last night (brain a little fuzzy today after the wine tasting). 


So today's luncheon is an umami-lover's sandwich, with restorative properties (headache all but gone now). Who said frugal eating was boring?!

  • couple of slices rye crispbread
  • discrete coating of marmite
  • tomato mackerel with extra ketchup 
  • some fennel fronds from a fennel I bought (parsley, dill, etc. would also be great)
You could of course gild the lily by adding anchovies, worcester sauce and parmesan for a really explosive umami-hit. All I can say is the result was a success, and that I prefer marmite on rye crispbread to regular there you go, a happy fusion of Scandi and Anglo-Saxon flavours!  

Enough musings on the joys of a good sandwich, library seclusion awaits. 

Watch this space for hot cross buns over the weekend, in anticipation of Easter ;-)