Tag Archives: afternoon tea

All Change for Autumn

Sheffield Park A's photo - colours

I love autumn, but it’s hard to predict what the weather is going to do from one day to the next! We’ve had a very mild spell recently down here in East Sussex, so the gardens are still full of late bloom and the autumn colours have been spectacular. Last weekend we managed to fit in a trip to nearby Sheffield Park (above), a National Trust property renowned for its fantastic foliage at this time of year and were rewarded with a fine sunny afternoon and plenty of photo opportunities. This weekend, it’s still unseasonably warm, but we’ve had so much rain, so no photo shoots today. Yesterday it poured all day long, just letting up in time for our annual village bonfire and fireworks – we didn’t need gloves or hats to watch the spectacle, but wellingtons were definitely in order to negotiate our way through inches of mud and slurry combined! Pity the poor girl I saw tiptoeing through the quagmire in her Ugg boots…..

Today’s been a typical November day: dank and gloomy, but at least dry enough for me to venture out and finish planting up my winter pots. I started a few weeks ago, but the remainder were full of nasturtiums and fibrous begonias and still flowering merrily away. Tulips, too, don’t mind waiting until November to go in, so I wasn’t unduly worried, but I’m glad to have that job ticked off my list now. This year, I’ve gone for two doubles, Antraciet (dark red) and Chato (a deep magenta-pink paeony-flowered beauty), and singles Jan Reus (deep crimson), Request (a scented deep blood orange) and Atlantis (ivory with purple feathering), all ordered from Sarah Raven as usual. I’d kept my daffodil and crocus bulbs from last year, so just mixed them in too. Next year I really will have to order some new oak barrels, as my faithful bulb planters must be getting on for 20 years old now and are definitely showing signs of wear…. I finished the pots off with violet pansies, still going strong in the mild weather, and primroses divided from the garden. Should be a lovely show in spring!

Autumn walk Nov 2015

There’s very little time for gardening at this end of the year once the clocks have gone back, especially by the time I’ve fitted in two dog walks in the limited daylight hours. Still time, though, to nip down to the allotment and bring back handfuls of fresh rocket, coriander, parsley and dill, a perfect head of calabrese, some giant leeks and yet more windfall apples. The beans have all but finished, after a late start, but we really need a frost before I can make a start on the parsnips!

Time, instead, to head back into the kitchen and make some cake for afternoon tea in the late afternoon – I won’t say in front of the fire, as it’s far too warm! This is one of my sons’ favourite tray bakes, originally from a Delia Smith recipe booklet issued in the early 2000s for Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day. Perfect with a cup of tea…

Marbled Energy Bars

Marbled energy bar

150g dark chocolate, chopped

150g white chocolate, chopped

100g pecan nuts (or nuts of your choice)

125g dried apricots, chopped (or dried cranberries are nice)

150g oats

25g Rice Krispies

25g bran flakes, lightly crushed (or use corn flakes for a wheat-free option*)

75g raisins (or sultanas)

1 tsp maple syrup

½ can (approx. 150 ml) condensed milk

Heat the oven to 160°C / Gas 4. Toast the pecans on a baking tray for 7 minutes, leave to cool, then chop roughly. Mix together the oats, chopped apricots, pecans, Rice Krispies, bran flakes and raisins in a large bowl. Warm the condensed milk and the maple syrup in a small pan and pour over the dry ingredients. Mix together well and turn into a baking tin measuring 30 cm x 20 cm x 5 cm, pressing down firmly. Cook in the pre-heated oven for 20-25 mins until golden. Leave to cool.

Melt the chocolate separately in bowls over simmering water as usual (or use the microwave with great care, heating for minute-long burst each time!). Put spoonfuls of each molten chocolate dotted over the cake, alternating the white and dark chocolate. Make sure there are no gaps, then take a skewer and swirl the two chocolates together using a zigzag motion to create a marbled effect. Chill in the fridge until set, then cut into 16 bars. Scrumptious!

* Note that proprietary corn flakes are not guaranteed wheat-free, so make sure you buy special gluten-free ones (and oats, for that matter) if baking for coeliacs.

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Moreish Macaroons

KitchenAidcropAll this Bakeoff fever of late has inspired me to treat myself – well, with some birthday money – to a coveted KitchenAid food mixer in shiny candy apple red. Having taken delivery a few weeks ago, I’ve been so busy with work and with going up to London every Saturday for the past three weekends, that I simply haven’t had time to christen it! Until today, that is, when I finally put it through its paces with some luscious lemon macaroons.

I’ve given a recipe for coffee macaroons before, and Nigella’s chocolate macaroons in her Domestic Goddess book are another favourite of mine, but I hadn’t tried lemon ones. It was surprisingly hard to track down a recipe that appealed, i.e. didn’t use an inordinate amount of egg whites, or sound too fiddly, so I ended up adapting a number of recipes I came across online and adding my own previous macaroon-making experience – so far so good! A number of recipes used cream, mascarpone or buttercream to fill, but I wanted the zesty, tangy hit of pure lemon to offset the sweetness of the macaroons themselves, so opted for home-made lemon cheese. Here’s what I did:

Lemon Macaroons – makes 16-18

Lemon macaroons100g icing sugar

75g ground almonds

Finely grated rind 1 lemon

2 large egg whites, at room temperature

75g caster sugar

Home-made lemon cheese to fill

 Spritz a silicone macaroon mat with oil (if you have one! See the coffee macaroon recipe for details otherwise – I really do recommend them for perfectly even-sized macaroons!) or line two baking trays with baking parchment.

Place the icing sugar, ground almonds and lemon rind in a food processor and blitz to a fine dust.
Whisk the egg whites in a large bowl until the mixture forms soft peaks, then gradually whisk in the caster sugar a little at a time until the mixture is stiff and glossy. (You can add a few drops of yellow food colouring at this point if you like, but I prefer my food to be natural, and am happy with beige macaroons!)
Gently fold in the icing sugar and almond mixture with a metal spoon, until well incorporated.
Transfer the mixture to an icing bag with a plain nozzle and pipe the mixture evenly into the macaroon tray or onto the baking parchment-lined trays. It should make about 32-36 small (say 4cm) circles.

Bang the sheets down a few times, to remove any air bubbles and peaks – that’s the theory anyway; I really struggle to make my macaroons completely flat without the little peak where you detach the piping stream – any tips gratefully received! It’s not really a problem, but completely smooth tops would be the ideal. Set aside for 30 minutes to dry out and form a skin.
Pre-heat the oven to 150°C, then bake the macaroons for about 18-20 minutes until the surface is firm and the macaroons lift off the paper or tray when gently eased with a knife or by bending the silicone mat. Leave to cool on the baking tray.

When cool, fill with lemon cheese and serve.

If lemon macaroons don’t appeal, I also experimented with another variation on the theme for my birthday afternoon tea party back in the summer, making coffee and vanilla macaroons (using vanilla extract rather than coffee essence), but sandwiching them together with a rather scrumptious salted caramel filling instead of the usual chocolate ganache. The filling is from a recipe by Eric Lanlard in Sainsbury’s magazine. Try it and see!

Vanilla Macaroons with Salted Caramel Ganache

Birthday afternoon tea_crop4oz ground almonds

4oz icing sugar

2 large egg whites

2oz caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract or paste

Mix the ground almonds and sifted icing sugar in a bowl until well blended.

Whisk the egg whites in another large bowl until they reach the soft peak stage, then gradually whisk in the caster sugar. Gradually fold in the almond/icing sugar mixture a third at a time and finally add the vanilla extract or paste until smooth and shiny.

Spoon into a piping bag with a 1cm plain nozzle and pipe 24 -28 small rounds, perhaps 1½” across, onto a parchment-lined baking tray or, even better, one of Lakeland’s macaroon moulds, placed on a baking tray for support and sprayed with a fine oil spray to prevent sticking.

Leave to set for at least 30 minutes so that a skin can form and they don’t spread during cooking.

Bake at 150°C (fan) / 170°C (conventional oven) / Gas Mark 3 for about 15 minutes or until firm and crisp on top. Another test is to see if one can be lifted gently from the tray without sticking or leaving a gooey residue – return to the oven if they do! When you’re happy that they’re done, remove from the oven and leave on the trays until completely cold.

Salted Caramel Ganache

175g salted butter

150g vanilla sugar

150ml double cream

Cut 25g of the butter into small cubes. Heat the sugar in a thick-based pan until it turns a dark caramel colour, stirring from time to time – it will happen! Remove from the heat and add the diced butter. Heat up the cream in a separate pan. Put the caramel back on the heat and gradually add the hot cream, bubbling for a few minutes – stir if lumps of caramel form and these should melt again. Allow to bubble for a few minutes. Pour into a bowl and leave to cool to room temperature. Whisk the remaining butter until pale and fluffy, then gradually whisk into the cooled, salted caramel.

This makes more than enough to sandwich both the coffee and the vanilla macaroons (i.e. a 4-egg white macaroon mixture in total) and still leave extra in the fridge to dip your finger in when passing…

Oh, and the KitchenAid, you might ask? It passed its first test with flying colours: simplicity itself to use, easy to dismantle and wash, and what a treat to be able to wander off to the other side of the kitchen whilst it’s doing its stuff!

Tray bakes – Très bon!

Thirty-minute fruit cakeOn a quiet, wet afternoon at the tail end of summer, conjuring up a quick tray bake often feels like exactly the right thing to do. Quick to make, usually with straightforward, readily available ingredients, they’re the ideal way to restock empty cake tins for afternoon tea and unexpected visitors – and your freezer too, should you so choose.

I often make my straightforward Victoria sponge mix (Delia’s classic all-in-one with 6oz SR flour, butter, caster sugar, 1 tsp baking powder and 3 large eggs – sorry, I’ve been making this for so long that it doesn’t come naturally to specify metric units!) and cook it in a deep tin (measuring approx. 30cm x 20cm x 5cm deep) at 160°C fan, Gas 4 for about 30 minutes. When cool, ice with glacé icing or spread with home-made jam and sprinkle over desiccated coconut to make quick and easy Lamingtons. In season, of course, you can add chopped chocolate to the sponge mixture, ice and decorate with mini eggs for the perfect Easter treat. The possibilities are endless.

Another of my favourite tray bakes at this time of year is a Blackberry, Lime & Elderflower Drizzle Cake that appeared some years ago in a Waitrose Kitchen magazine summer fête special. I’ve cooked quite a few of these recipes and they’re all good (see Rocky Road Flapjacks), but they do make substantial quantities, so cook for a crowd or be prepared to freeze some!

Blackberry, Lime & Elderflower Drizzle Cake

225g self-raising flour

75g polenta

250g softened butter

250g caster sugar

4 large eggs, beaten

1 tsp vanilla extract

Juice and zest of 1 lime

2 tbsp milk

150g blackberries

100ml elderflower cordial

6 tbsp granulated sugar

Juice and zest of ½ lime

Mix the first 8 ingredients in a large mixing bowl with a hand whisk until light and fluffy. Transfer to the greased and lined tin (see above), then scatter over the washed blackberries. Leave them on top of the mixture as they will inevitably sink as they cook! Bake for 30 minutes at 160°C fan, Gas 4, or until the sponge bounces back when pressed gently with a finger. Leave in the tin while you mix together the elderflower cordial, granulated sugar and juice and zest of ½ lime. Prick the cake all over with a fine skewer, then pour over the cake while it’s still hot and leave in the tin to cool completely. Slice into at least 16 – 20 squares and serve with afternoon tea and a happy grin.

This cake won’t keep more than 3-4 days because of the fresh fruit content – but it’s so delicious, that’s not normally a problem…

Another favourite tray bake when I have limited time to bake is the so-called Thirty-Minute Fruit Cake. It’s now a much-splattered cutting in my ancient recipe scrapbook, so I can’t remember where it came from originally – probably Good Housekeeping magazine. This really is child’s play to make and consists almost entirely of store cupboard ingredients. Served just warm, it’s delightful, but it keeps well in a tin for a good week if necessary.

Thirty-Minute Fruit Cake

125g softened butter

125g soft light brown sugar

Grated rind of 1 lemon (or lime)

2 large eggs

Few drops vanilla extract

150g self-raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp mixed spice

50g glacé cherries, chopped

50g each currants, sultanas and raisins

25g desiccated coconut

25g demerara sugar

50g flaked almonds

Lemon (or lime) juice to mix as required

Grease and base line a deep 28 x 18 cm baking tin. Beat together the first eight ingredients, adding the lemon juice if necessary to create a soft dropping consistency. Then gently mix in the cherries, dried fruit and coconut.

Transfer to the prepared tin and sprinkle the top with demerara sugar and flaked almonds – I don’t actually bother to weigh these, just add what looks right, but I’m sure I must have started off with the recipe amounts back in the mists of time!

Bake at 160°C fan, Gas 4 for 25 – 30 minutes until golden brown. Slice into 16-20 bars and enjoy!

Leo and the apples

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter

Wet weather on an Easter weekend – what a surprise! Still, at least my raised beds are being rebuilt down at the allotment today, so I can look forward to getting started with the new season’s planting very soon. And it’s a perfect excuse to prepare some chocolatey treats for Easter and my weekend visitors whilst I’m stuck inside. My very kind neighbour, even more baking-mad than me, if that’s possible, has just brought round some warm home-made hot-cross buns, which I’ll look forward to with my cup of tea later.

Tina's hot-cross buns

I was thinking more along the lines of Malteser Rocky Roads for my creation. I first tasted these at an open day at my son’s university (Bath) and felt compelled to hunt down the recipe online when I got home. If their aim was to sweet-talk prospective students into going to Bath, they certainly succeeded – they are scrumptious! I think the recipe I discovered (now a much-splattered cutting in my long-suffering recipe file!) was originally a Gordon Ramsay invention – but I’ve adapted it slightly as ever by adding some dried fruit and reducing the Malteser content – mainly because I couldn’t find bags with the precise Malteser content he specifies! If you want to give the fruit a miss and use all Maltesers, I can vouch for that too….

MALTESER ROCKY ROADS

250g dark chocolate, broken into pieces

50g butter

8 digestive biscuits, crushed

120g Maltesers

55g dried cranberries (or chopped dried apricots or sultanas – your choice!)

60g mini marshmallows

Icing sugar to dust

Line a rectangular 15 cm x 30 cm baking tin with foil and grease lightly.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a large glass bowl over a pan of simmering water. Remove from heat and set aside for 10 minutes so it isn’t too hot when you add the Maltesers.

Stir the crushed biscuits, marshmallows, dried fruit and Maltesers gently into the melted and cooled chocolate until well mixed.

Transfer to the prepared tin and refrigerate until set.

Dust with icing sugar before serving.

Malteser Rocky Roads

Lemon cheese – the perfect winter treat

Lemons

Whether you call it lemon cheese or lemon curd, a pot of this zesty home-made spread is one of the nicest things from the winter kitchen. I call it lemon cheese, because that’s what my mother and her grandmother before her always called it. In our book, lemon cheese was the proper home-made delicacy, whereas lemon curd was the horrible, often bitter, and sticky, bought stuff! I don’t know whether there is a formal difference, but my recipe, handed down from my grandmother, is definitely lemon cheese!

Winter is the season for all things citrus: I’m loving the blood oranges in their all-too short season just now and the grapefruit, my standard morning breakfast, are always at their best at this time of year. When local seasonal fresh fruit is thin on the ground, it only seems right to turn to citrus-inspired puddings and treats, and they are usually cheaper in the winter months too, as they are in season in their natural habitat. I’ve tried growing lemon bushes in the conservatory, but given up as the dreaded scale insect always took over, causing the poor shrubs to lose most of their leaves and take on a very sickly hue… My conservatory is too small to struggle on with ailing plants, so I’ve resigned myself to shop-bought – and very good they are too. Lidl, in particular, is a fabulous source of those elusive blood oranges; the big supermarkets and local greengrocers rarely stock them, or if they do, at such an exorbitant price that I’m sure no-one buys them! Yet I managed to buy a huge 1.5 kg net from Lidl yesterday for under £2 – a real treat and delicious for freshly juiced ruby orange juice this morning…

Anyway, back to my lemon cheese: it has become a family tradition for me to make this at Christmas (lovely with fresh stollen!), but I make it whenever I have a glut of lemons too. It keeps for ages in the fridge and, as well as being scrumptious on toast, crumpets or with fresh baked rolls, it also transforms many a pudding.

 Nanny Lowe’s Lemon Cheese

3 large lemons, grated rind (of 2) and juice of all 3

4oz butter (or margarine)

8oz granulated sugar (or 1 cup according to Nanny’s (non-American) recipe!)

3 eggs, beaten

Melt butter and sugar gently in a large pan, taking care that the sugar doesn’t catch and burn. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl, then gradually add the juice and grated zest of the lemons, whisking as you go. Add the eggs and lemon mix to the pan, stirring constantly, and keep stirring until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a wooden spoon – 10-15 mins. I sieve at this stage for a perfectly smooth result and then pour into 2 small jars or 1 large. There is often a little bit left over from 1 large jar, but I just keep it in a small bowl in the fridge and use that up first.

Recipes for lemon curd often use a bain marie to cook the mixture over a saucepan of simmering water, but my mum never did that, and it seems to work perfectly, so try it and see.

Having made your delicious lemon cheese, here is one of my favourite recipes for using it up. Be warned, though, you may want to make twice the quantity of lemon cheese as this recipe uses almost the whole jar in one go!

Lemon Roulade

Lemon roulade

3 large eggs, separated

4oz caster sugar

Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon

2 1/2oz ground almonds

1/2oz semolina (or use more ground almonds)

Filling:

Homemade lemon cheese (as above)

¼ pt double cream

¼ pt natural yogurt

Grease and line a 10×15” Swiss roll tin with baking parchment.

Heat the oven to 150°C/Gas 3.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar until the mixture is thick enough to leave a trail on the surface when you raise the whisk. Stir in the lemon rind and juice, then fold in the ground almonds and semolina.

Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl until stiff enough to stand in peaks. Fold the whites gently into the lemon mixture until blended, then transfer into the prepared tin, smoothing the surface evenly.

Cook in the pre-heated oven for 15-20 mins until golden and springy to the touch. Leave to cool, covered with a sheet of baking parchment and a damp tea-towel to keep it moist.

When cool, sprinkle a sheet of greaseproof paper with caster sugar and turn the roulade out onto the sugared paper. Carefully peel away the lining paper.

Meanwhile whip the cream until it forms soft swirls and fold in the natural yogurt. Spread the lemon cheese generously over the roulade and top with the cream and yogurt mix. Then, using the paper as a support, roll up from one short side and transfer carefully to a serving platter.

Dust with icing sugar to serve, decorated with fresh fruit of your choice, or just as it is.

Winter weekends in front of the fire

January and February are invariably the bleakest months of the year, with little doing on the gardening front and little inclination to brave the elements apart from the twice-daily dog walks. Far nicer to stay inside and gather together with family and friends in front of a blazing log fire! Fortunately it’s a busy few weeks for birthdays in my family, so plenty of excuses to get together and enjoy good food and convivial company.

Poppy in front of fire

A few weeks ago it was my elder son’s birthday and 14 of us gathered for a delicious lunch in an Indian restaurant at the foot of the castle (Mango Lounge – well worth a visit!), rounded off by a brisk walk in the wintery sunshine of Windsor Great Park to the raucous sound of parakeets. By the time we returned we’d worked up enough of an appetite for birthday cake and my contribution to the feast (as instructed in case the cake didn’t go round!) – chocolate amaretti bars. My son’s girlfriend is increasingly wheat-intolerant; she’s found that she feels so much better if she omits wheat from her diet and has progressed from just cutting down on bread and cake to abandoning it completely. She made the delicious birthday cake, a gooey and scrumptious chocolate mousse cake based on ground almonds, so my challenge was to produce another wheat-free treat.

Adapted from a Mary Berry recipe, the Chocolate and Amaretti Bars are wheat-free and deliciously rich, yet light at the same time, the perfect accompaniment to afternoon tea. I love amaretti crumbled into a mixture of whipped cream, natural yogurt and lemon cheese for an ultra-quick and delicious pudding, or squished in the base of a sundae dish as a speedy base for a trifle, or crushed with melted butter and brown sugar as a substitute for a fruit crumble (plums and blackberries being a particularly yummy combination). Here is Mary’s recipe, adapted ever so slightly to the contents of my store cupboard:

Chocolate and Amaretti Bars

4oz butter

2oz flaked almonds (or whole almonds chopped, if you prefer)

2oz pine nuts

3 tbsp golden syrup

7oz dark chocolate, chopped (I use Waitrose Belgian dark)

2 tsp cocoa powder

4oz dried apricots, chopped

1 bag (8oz) amaretti biscuits (I like Doria)

2 tbsp Amaretto liqueur (optional)

Line a deep rectangular cake tin with foil and grease lightly – my favourite one for tray bakes is 7” x 11” x 1”, but use the nearest you have. Put the almonds and pine nuts on an enamel plate in a hot oven (180°C, Gas 4) for 5 minutes or so until golden – watch like a hawk as they catch extremely quickly!). You could dry-fry them in a frying pan or toast them under the grill, but I find the oven method easiest and most reliable for an even golden colour. Put the butter, syrup and half the chocolate in a large bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water and allow to melt, stirring gently every so often. (Add 2 tbsp Amaretto liqueur if using – see below!) Remove from the heat, stir in the sieved cocoa, apricots and nuts, then coarsely crumble in the amaretti biscuits. Stir to mix evenly, then transfer to the prepared tin and level the surface with a spatula. Chill in the fridge overnight. The next day, melt the remaining chocolate (either over a pan of water as before, or I find it as easy to do this in the microwave, for 1-minute bursts, stirring after each session – it shouldn’t take more than 2-3 minutes in all, but don’t forget to stir otherwise it can burn in the centre!). Spread thinly over the top of the cake and leave until set. Cut into 18 bars with a sharp knife and serve – hopefully to general acclaim!

Next time I made these, I added 2 tablespoons of Amaretto liqueur to the chocolate mix after melting, before adding the rest of the ingredients, to make this even more almondy – even better! You can leave it out if you don’t want the alcohol hit, but it works really well. Good as an after-dinner treat, cut into daintier bars…

Amaretti bars

Rhubarb, rhubarb…

As a postscript to last weekend’s post, I finally managed to finish relocating my soft fruit to the raised beds with a view to downsizing to half a plot next year. I’d already managed to layer a couple of my gooseberry and blackcurrant plants where the laden branches had touched the soil and put down good little root systems. The raspberries are always prolific suckerers, so it was an easy task to dig up some new suckers, both autumn and summer varieties, and plant them in rows in one of the designated new fruit beds. I’d moved both the early and late rhubarb a few weeks ago, but shared more of my existing mammoth clumps with a fellow plotholder who wanted a more vigorous variety. Mine is certainly that – I’ve had to advertise it to friends on Facebook the last few years as I’ve been so inundated!

A good watering and I felt it was a job well done. Just enough time to harvest some leeks, golden Swiss chard, yet more purple-sprouting broccoli and early rhubarb – perfect in this cross between a cake and a pudding. This is one of Nigella Lawson’s recipes, so I take no credit for the invention, but it is superb if you’re a rhubarb lover like me. It also works with gooseberries in season and you can make it in a round tin if you prefer. I’ve doubled the quantities before now to feed a crowd, but it doesn’t keep for long (ha!) as it’s quite moist, so don’t make the larger amount unless you know it will all get eaten in a few days. Divine…

 Image

RHUBARB SHORTBREAD

 makes 8-12 pieces

 Shortbread:

 125g butter, softened

125g plain flour

25g cornflour

2 level tbsp icing sugar, sieved

 Topping:

 250g rhubarb (4 sticks), chopped into small pieces

2 large eggs, beaten

25g plain flour

100-150g Demerara sugar (vanilla sugar works nicely too)

few drops vanilla essence

 7” square tin, 1.5” deep, lined with foil or baking parchment

 Preheat the oven to 180°C, gas 4.

 To make the shortbread, mix the butter, flour, cornflour and icing sugar together in a food processor or by hand if you prefer. When it comes together to form a dough, press evenly into the tin, prick with a fork and cook for 15-20 mins until starting to look pale golden brown.

 Combine all the topping ingredients in a bowl and pour onto base. Return to oven and cook for 35-40 mins until the top is set and golden brown. Allow to cool, then cut into squares or bars and dust with icing sugar just before serving.

 Serve warm as pudding with cream or crème fraiche, or just with a mug of tea and a delirious grin for afternoon tea!