Inspired by last month’s quilt workshop and spurred on by a pact I’ve made with myself —I’m not allowed to buy any more fabric until I’ve reduced my stash — I’ve found that I’m on a bit of sewing roll at the moment …
This, my second marmalade cake, got a thumbs up from the entire family — I expect this had something to do with the fact that it was iced. But it’s also a lighter, brighter-tasting cake than the chocolate version in the last post.
The recipe is from Jane Brocket’s Vintage Cakes and it works a treat. I made two slight modifications — using the juice and zest of Sevilles rather than ordinary oranges, and a mix of Muscovado and caster sugar because I didn’t have any soft brown sugar to hand.
It’s the usual sponge cake method, with marmalade, orange juice and zest incorporated after the sugar, butter and eggs but before the addition of the flour. It takes ten minutes to whip up and then around 45 minutes to bake, depending on your oven. The difficult part was resisting the temptation to dig in before the cake had cooled enough to be iced.
And that’s it on the baking front for the moment. I do have a few more marmalade recipes up my sleeve, but I think it is possible to have too much of a good thing, so I’m calling time on the cakes for a while (the recipe, however, is at the end of the post).
I’ve had a rather domestic, low-key start to the year, which has been a real treat. But work is gearing up again. Last week James and I visited several exciting houses in Bristol and today I’m off to London for a really lovely shoot for The Guardian. The house is in Peckam, my old neighbourhood, and belongs to a very talented friend, Rachael, whose work you can see here. More on all of this next week.
Ingredients: 175g soft butter; 175g light soft brown sugar (or mix as described above); 3 eggs; grated zest of 1 (Seville) orange; juice of half an orange (Seville in this instance); (optional: 25g candied peel, which I didn’t use as my marmalade was quite chunky); 3 rounded dessert spoons of marmalade – I made mine very generous; 200g self raising flour.
Method: preheat the oven to gas mark 4 or 180c
1/ beat or whisk butter and sugar until light and fluffy and then add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
2/ add the grated orange zest, juice and marmalade (candied peel too, if you are using it) and mix in gently. Next sift the flour into the mixture and fold in gently.
3/ spoon the mixture into a greased and floured tin and bake in the preheated oven for around 45 minutes, but start checking after about 30.
Ice once completely cool using 150g icing sugar mixed with the juice of an orange. Again, I used a seville (I’ve still got another 20 or so to get through!).
And then, when that date flew past, I thought I’d aim for the first day of the new school term. Nothing like a once bustling house suddenly still and quiet to concentrate the mind. But no, the house was a wreck, as it always is at the end of every school holiday. Now I am by no means a neat-freak, but I do find it impossible to focus when I am surrounded by dirty laundry and I keep tripping over the recycling. So week one was lost to life admin and domestic drudge.
Trawling through my photographs, I can see that the last four months have been incredibly busy. And looking at the long list of draft posts there was a lot to blog about (sour dough, knitting, bulbs, weird and wonderful Bristol stuff, the joy of soup and so on), but the posts were never completed. The simple fact is, there hasn’t been time to write anything coherent enough to share.
The end of last term was dominated by Matilda’s exams — some quite serious, others just mocks — but god, the STRESS! And all I had to do was steer her to bed before midnight and talk her down from the occasional panic attack. Matilda bounced back the moment the term was over, but I feel that I’m only just coming up for air.
But this morning, a sweet comment from Loisaida Nest on my Instagram account in response to my photograph of a big box of Seville oranges (bagged for a bargain at the fruit and veg market and to be shared with my mother-in-law, Sue), prompted me to get back my blog. If all goes well a marmalade post will appear soon.
But for now, I’ll sign off with some photographs taken in a temporary forest created from old Christmas trees.
But it was hopeless. Details here for anyone who wants to visit.
At the girls’ primary school, SATS week is known as doughnut week because the children’s efforts are rewarded with a daily doughnut. Some might see that as a double-dose of ill health, but the doughnuts certainly take the edge off the exams and really, in the greater scheme of things, where’s the harm in a one-off week-long doughnut binge? Slightly more questionable is Doughnut Day, a ritual which our family has embraced with alarming ease, and celebrated with grave commitment, ever since Joe first came across the Pippin Doughnut stall on Wine Street.
I comfort myself with the fact that our Doughnut Day doughnuts are no ordinary doughnuts — and they really are, as you will see, extraordinary doughnuts — but there’s no way round the fact that what we are talking about here is a ball of dough which has been fried and then rolled in sugar. I’m not sure whether I’m trying to excuse our addiction or justify it, but the bottom line is Pippin doughnuts are delicious — I say that as someone who doesn’t even like doughnuts — and the reason we have just one doughnut day each week is entirely down to the fact that the Pippin Doughnuts only come to Bristol on Fridays*. They are also rather expensive at £1.30 each, £6.50 for six, or £10.95 for twelve.
But then again, the ingredients used to create the doughnuts are far from cheap and the dough, which is proved twice to improve texture and flavour, takes a long time to make. With homemade fillings as delicious and varied as gooseberry jam, lemon curd and rhubarb & custard, I think it’s fair to say that Pippin doughnuts are about as far removed from your usual supermarket doughnuts (Krispy Kreme included) as you can get. I think of them as being like Stella Artois: reassuringly expensive and much, much tastier.
The girls may forget their school books, PE kit, packed lunches, front door keys, shoes and socks even, but every Friday, whilst grumbling at each other over the breakfast table, they remember to place their doughnut order.
In the photographs above you can see last week’s box which contained three Bear Claws (this is what a Canadian friend says the oddly shaped cinnamon-coated doughnuts are called back home, but I think Pippin just list them as cinnamon and sugar), one chocolate ganache, one gooseberry and, just out of sight, a cappuccino doughnut with a coffee custard filling and topped with coffee icing and a dusting of cocoa powder.
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.
Although 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.
But 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.
These 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.
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.
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.
Unlike most children in the country, today is the last day of term for the girls. Our Easter holiday starts tomorrow. And although it feels as though the last holiday was only yesterday, I’m surprised to find that I am really looking forward to having the girls at home — even though we have absolutely nothing planned.
In fact there was nothing we could plan, because Bristol council chose holiday dates entirely out of synch with schools elsewhere in the country — our half term was the week before everyone else’s (so various friends were unable to stay with us), and this holiday is similarly out of whack, scuppering our annual Easter break with old friends from London. Very annoying. Still, it seems that next half term, and the summer holidays are back on track, though I am dreading the strain of the two very long terms ahead of us.
On Thursday night I went to a lovely party at Tart, on the Gloucester Road, to celebrate the publication of A Good Egg — A Year of Recipes From an Urban Hen-Keeper.
Genevieve Taylor is the hen-keeper of the title, and her book is a charming and inspiring diary of a year in her kitchen, her garden and her hen-house. When not tending her hens, she is also a very talented food stylist and cook (you’ve doubtless been inspired by something she has created without realising it, as her work has appeared in many magazines and ad campaigns), and the book grew from Genevieve’s blog, The Urban Kitchen, which she started when her first batch of chickens arrived and surprised them all with their dedicated laying: 3-4 eggs a day, every day, all year. That’s a lot of eggs.
But Genevieve is clear that A Good Egg is not an egg cookery bible (neither is it a how-to for prospective hen-keepers), explaining that it’s “a seasonal diary of all that I did with my eggs, and the food that I grew and gathered to eat alongside them.” In fact it is Genevieve’s passion for seasonality that is at the heart of the book, informing her writing as well as her recipes. A point she proved with a lovely reading from the 14th March which was all about wild garlic; as she read we were treated to slices of wild garlic flamiche (the wild garlic had been gathered locally, that morning), followed by mini mocha eclairs and tiny rhubarb pavlovas. Delicious.
And the recipes — nine or ten for each month — despite coming from the kitchen of a very talented cook, are by no means complicated or fussy; rather they are dishes designed for busy family life: delicious, wholesome and speedy. Of course the temptation is to say “Pah!” to seasonality and leap ahead with the help of the supermarket — which in the case of Crisp cannellini bean and Courgette Fritters is exactly what I intend to do. Other recipes to whet your appetite include a Peach and Almond cake with lavender syrup; English Nicoise of Smoked Trout, Jersey Royals and Asparagus; Courgette and Lime muffins; Broad bean, Feta and Mint Omelette… I could go on… and on!
The book is a rather beautiful object in its own right — a Tiffany-blue-green cloth cover, with an (egg yolk?) yellow ribbon for marking favourite pages — illustrated throughout with wonderful, hunger-inducing photographs, taken by Bristol-based photographer, Jason Ingram (his blog is over there to the right of the screen and well worth exploring).
This last image I include, because it sums up for me, Genevieve’s un-fussy, straightforward approach to cooking: for who hasn’t failed on the planning-ahead at some point? I am regularly caught out by the dastardly line, hidden in many a recipe, which runs something like “… and now leave in the fridge for 12 hours, preferably 24.” No! No! No! My friends are arriving in four hours’ time, not tomorrow, goddammit! Though I must stress, this particular recipe does not offer a clever route around the protracted process of making a Christmas Pudding. It’s just that I liked her admission that tradition and rules don’t dominate her kitchen or her recipes — in this case it’s her failure to make the Christmas pud on Stir Up Sunday. Her Carbonara with cavolo nero is probably a better example, not least because she describes it as “inauthentic in the extreme,” though it sounds heavenly.
And finally, as I have already said, although A Good Egg is not a guide to keeping chickens, be warned, it will certainly tempt you to have a go. Last night, as I thumbed through my copy, I found myself considering all manner of bizarre constructions — tree house!? — in order to add a chicken or two to our household even though I know our garden is far too small.
Last week I went to London for a very personal version of Mother’s Day: the opening of my mum’s first solo exhibition: A Personal Landscape in Collage at the Piers Feetham Gallery.
Having studied illustration at Wimbledon School of Art, my mother has variously worked in textiles, ceramics and, more recently, collage, and the show includes a selection of her current abstract works which, despite the title, fall roughly into three categories: landscapes, still lifes and interiors. Unlike many other artists who work in collage, my mother doesn’t use found materials. She prefers to work with paper and card onto which she applies paint — sometimes in solid layers, sometimes in washes — which she then stipples, scrapes or scores to create the textures she wants.
Although she doesn’t work directly from life, her landscapes are frequently drawn from her memories of time spent in certain places, in particular the Charente Maritime in France. Similarly, many of the interiors and still lifes in the show were inspired by old rural French houses. Her more abstract works, however, were created for “the pure pleasure to be had from playing off shapes and colours against each other.”
I think her recent works are incredibly beautiful, and my photographs really do not do them justice. It is impossible to capture the texture of the pieces: the layers of card and paper, the grain of the paint.
It was wonderful to see her work gathered together in a formal setting — I see it in progress in her studio whenever we visit, and of course I have a few of her works at home here in Bristol (she has made each of the girls a stylised image of a house and garden with their names above or below), but it’s not quite the same as seeing a year’s worth of work en masse. Needless to say, I am incredibly proud of her.
The show runs until the 28th of March, and if you happen to be around Fulham Broadway or the Lots Road end of the Kings Road do pop into the gallery and take a look.
Clare Packer: A Personal Landscape in Collage, 8th — 28th March 2013 Piers Feetham Gallery, 475 Fulham Road, SW6 1HL , Tues – Fri 10am-6pm, Sat 10-1pm