baking with marmalade :: 1

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I first made Nigella’s Store-cupboard Chocolate-orange Cake many years ago, and was a little disappointed by the results: it was too sweet, lacking the bitter kick I had expected from the marmalade. But, with several jars of ‘vintage’ marmalade to finish up, I decided the recipe was worth revisiting. And I’m so glad that I did. I think the mistake I made first time round was using a jar of cheap Golden Shred-type stuff from the corner shop.

This version, made with homemade Seville orange marmalade, is exactly what I was after: rich and chocolatey, with that distinctive bitter orange finish, and studded with soft chunks of peel. It smells fantastic as it cooks and it tastes delicious, especially when eaten warm. It’s quite a grown up cake and apart from Matilda the girls were not at all enthusiastic about it. But all the adult guinea pigs wolfed it down, which is why the only photos I have are rather dark ones from my phone.

IMG_2411I will certainly make this cake again, not least because it’s so easy. All the ingredients are mixed in a saucepan, starting with the butter and ending with the flour and the molten mass is poured straight into the baking tin. And, though I hate to mention the C-word so early in the year, with a little tweaking this cake has real possibilities as an alternative to Christmas cake and/or Christmas pudding.

For those who want to have a go …

INGREDIENTS: 125g unsalted butter*; 100g dark chocolate broken into pieces; 300g good marmalade (Nigella says thin cut, but I think chunky could work too as long as the chunks are soft); 150g caster sugar; pinch of salt*; 2 large eggs, beaten; 150g self raising flour.  1 X 20cm Springform tin, buttered and floured — if this is done thoroughly there is no need to line it. Preheat oven to 180 C/ Gas 4

METHOD: Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed pan and then once nearly melted add the chocolate and stir to ensure that it melts too — you may need to take the pan off the heat at this point. Next add the rest of the ingredients in the order above (taking particular care with the flour which you should add a bit at a time), stirring in each addition until you have a lovely thick, gloopy, glossy mass. Pour the mixture into the tin and place it in the oven for around 50mins. Worth checking after 45 minutes and then at 5 min intervals until a skewer comes out clean. I have found that almost all the recipes in How to be a Domestic Goddess are slightly off time-wise; I’m guessing that it’s because Nigella has some form of industrial blast furnace in her kitchen.

* I always cook with Lurpak slightly salted butter and simply omit the pinch of salt in any recipe that demands one.

back at the plot

beaSeptember is always a busy month. This year it seemed crazier than ever: Bea started at secondary school and two weeks later we celebrated her twelfth birthday; the roof was fixed and in the process scaffolders failed to arrive several times (what is it with scaffolders?); a stray cat wandered into our lives for a few days, filled the house with fleas and helped herself to Bea’s birthday cake — if you look closely at the photo above you can see the slightly ‘bald’ patch where she licked the icing away; Martha went off to school camp and returned with her head full of nits, a suitcase filled with stinky clothes and her body covered with bites: it was “the best camp ever!”

And last, but by no means least, Matilda’s lovely German exchange partner, Lisa, arrived. We’ve had fun introducing Lisa to English treats such as marmite (she’s not a fan), scones and clotted cream (big thumbs up), and this Friday she’ll get to try fish and chips (I hope it lives up to her expectations).

P1230018Beyond the chaos on the domestic front, the garden has been quietly doing its thing, and now that October has arrived, the mood is distinctly autumnal. I feel the garden peaked in early July and looked pretty, though increasingly frazzled, until the end of August. But some pruning, cutting back and general poking around on my part pulled it all back into focus. I need to think about how I can extend next year’s show.

IMG_0879P1240975 P1240974 P1240962I’m planning to sift through all my garden photographs so that I can write a proper round-up of what worked and what didn’t. Until then, I’ll leave you with Sybil, my ever-present, ever/over-eager and often quite annoying gardening assistant…

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home & away

P1220346It has been a very strange ten days. Last Monday morning Matilda flew to Germany (on a ten day exchange), and Bea went off to Exmouth for her year six camp. The house felt incredibly quiet and still.

Outside the temperature rose and the garden took on a mediterranean feel. In the evenings it was most odd to find only Martha pottering about making potions from petals, or constructing tiny tents for Sylvanians. Matilda’s 14th birthday came and went. Without her. That felt very strange.

P1220347Although I relished the peace and quiet, not to mention the relief at being several steps ahead of the diminished wrecking crew, I was surprised by how unsettled I felt by the absence of my eldest daughters. There were no fights, no doors were slammed and the mountain of laundry didn’t just shrink, it disappeared. There was only one packed lunch to prepare and then throw away at the end of the day (do other people’s children subsist on thin air?). I cleared out cupboards, sorted through the mess in both girls’ bedrooms, and chipped away at all the boring life admin that so often gets overlooked until it’s too late.

P1220339But the overwhelming feeling has been one of suspended animation. In fact there have been moments when I felt as though I’d lost a limb, or two. A foretaste, I suppose, of when the girls finally leave home.

Bea returned last Friday having had a fantastic time, and it was wonderful to have her back. But the house won’t feel quite right until I have all three girls back home. And I don’t have long to wait now, as Matilda returns in just a few hours.

According to the itinerary on my pin board, she’ll be at the airport now and home by about 8.30 this evening.

P1220332These are the flowers that I picked this morning (roses, geraniums and nepeta) to create a belated birthday bunch, not unlike the ones I picked for her birthday last year. My favourite rose, Ferdinand Pichard, is tucked in to the right of the central rose in the top photograph. I have much more to say about my roses, but I’ll save that for another time. For now I’m linking this post to Little Green Shed’s lovely Nature in the Home series, which I have been following for weeks now and enjoying enormously.

simnel cake :: 2

cakeHere it is, this year’s Simnel cake basking in the only sunshine we’ve had this Easter.

According to Jenny Baker, who cites The Art of British Cooking, by Theodora Fitzgibbon, as her source, Simnel cake derives its name from the Roman siminellus which was a special bread eaten during spring fertility rites. Later, the name attached itself to a fruit cake enriched with marzipan which girls in service were allowed to take home to their mothers on Mothering Sunday. Perhaps the Roman bread was transformed over the years, and it became the enriched cake. Who knows? Either way, the cake has become associated with Easter and, like its Christmas cousin, it is a cake that keeps well. So although Easter Sunday has been and gone, for most families the school holiday has only just begun, which means that there is plenty of time to bake and consume this cake.

So here is the recipe I use, from Jenny Baker’s Kettle Broth to Gooseberry Fool,  though I imagine that there are many other versions out there online.

This one calls for an 18cm (7inch) tin with tall sides, and I think the dimensions are important as the cake doesn’t rise much — there is no raising agent.

Ingredients:

350g marzipan (the recipe in the last post will give you more than enough, I roll the scraps into balls and dip them in melted chocolate as you can see here if you scroll to the end of the post); 100g butter or margarine; 100g soft brown sugar; 3 large eggs, beaten; 150g plain flour, sifted; 1/2 tsp mixed spice; 350g mixed dried fruit; 50g chopped mixed peel;1 lemon, grated rind and juice; Apricot jam;1 egg white for the glaze.

Heat oven gas mark 3/325/160. Grease and line tin.

Take one third of the marzipan and knead it and roll into a disc the same size as the cake tin. Set to one side

Cream butte and sugar together and once it is light and fluffy add the eggs, one at a time. Fold in the sifted flour, mixed spice , dried fruit, mixed peel, lemon juice and zest.

Pour HALF the mixture into the tin, level it and then place the marzipan disc on top. Pour the rest of the mixture on top, smoothing it over.

Bake for 1 hour at gas mark 3 / 325/160 and then lower the temperature to gas mark 2/ 300/150, and bake for another hour.

Allow cake to cool and turn it onto a rack after about ten minutes. Once totally cold, brush the top with apricot jam, roll another third of the marzipan into a disc and place this on top. With the remaining marzipan make eleven balls (to represent the eleven faithful apostles). Brush with egg white and then return to the oven for ten minutes until the top is lightly browned – gas mark 4/350/190.

happy christmas

P1190649                                   We had a lovely day, hope you did too.

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and, better late than never, our wreath …

P1190516made from a swatch of weeping birch twigs which I found on the pavement on Christmas morning last year and kept for just this purpose. A rare (and embarrassingly excessive), bit of forward planning.

wreath round-up

P1190454Last year I became so obsessed with the wonderful local wreaths I started photographing them, much to the embarrassment of the girls who were usually with when I took the pictures. This year, having made a note of the whereabouts of my favourite Christmas displays, I went out alone and photographed them over the course of one very circuitous walk up to school. I recognised some of the wreaths from last year, though the brussels were adorning a different door last December.

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This is by no means a comprehensive survey of local weaths – since taking these photos more and more have appeared, all very photogenic but the weather has been against me  (incessant rain and terrible light), so I haven’t been able to photograph them.

I haven’t been able to photograph our wreath either, as it only went up an hour ago and the light had gone, so I’ll post it tomorrow along with a picture of the tree – though I’ve discovered that Christmas trees are very hard to photograph.

NB There is another nice wreath round-up at Spring Cottage.

back on track, sort of…

P1190367A week has passed by in a blur of coughing and paracetamol. Ten days ago, I was
ahead of the game, this morning I realise that this is no longer the case and the annual Christmas panic, the panic I was hoping to avoid this year, is upon me once more. It’s
part of the tradition, I suppose. On the bright side, the girls made some paper chains, and there is a half-decorated tree in the sitting room.

P1190369 I had planned a few more Bristol Christmas shopping posts, but time is running out on that front. I will however, mention two nice shows which are worth visiting if you are in Bristol and  still searching for one or two special presents.

centre space

The first is the annual Centre Space Studios Christmas exhibition, Spruce, a mixed show featuring prints, paintings, textiles and sculpture. Prices range from £5 to several hundred pounds. The gallery is open daily from 11am to 5pm until Thursday 20th December. The gallery is on Leonard Lane, just off Corn Street and a stone’s throw from St Nicks, so you can easily combine a visit to both.

P1190112The second show is The December Gallery Group at Bristol Guild, which includes works by five Bristol-based artists, the most interesting of whom is Joanna Wright. I must register a slight bias here in that I have known Jo all my life, but the fact remains her paintings, her prints and her exquisite screen-printed, appliquéd and beaded cushions, are all really wonderful. I am a huge fan of her work, not least I suppose because so many of her images contain my two great passions – plants and lovely old bits of china.

P1190117 P1190116My photographs really do not do justice to her work, but the show runs until Christmas Eve so if you are rushing about on Park Street over the next week or so, make a point of popping in to The Guild, and head up to the top floor gallery space.