Scones of all flavours

There was a bit of a mini news story this morning on Radio 4 about Prime Minister Teresa May being asked about her cooking preferences. Apparently Hillary Clinton got herself into trouble during this Presidential campaign by daring to admit that she didn’t have an interest in cooking. We were told she then had to schlep around the USA doing cookery events to counteract the backlash she received. Sheeeeeeeshhh. When will women be able to say what they actually think and not get some hideous Victorian standard attached to them? Anyway… Teresa May learned a valuable lesson from Hills, evidently, because she carefully and strategically fitted into her answer her mother’s recipe for scones, and also the fact that she like Yotam Ottolenghi thereby attempting (who can say whether she achieved it?) to dangle herself between the Family-Values-Right-Wingers and the Left-Leaning-Tahini-and-Preserved-Lemon-Brigade.

But the brouhaha was fuelled by the scone recipe, about which the BBC was more interested. She specified butter OR margarine. Well. All hell broke loose in the UK this morning. Purists saying it was sacrilege to use margarine, Jack Monroe interviewed saying margarine is all some people can afford, meaning ‘back off with your middle class butter’. I think what you can afford is often (not always, but often) wrapped up in a choice, and having margarine is not the preserve of the working class anyway, so to bring them into it is merely point-scoring. Anyway, our mother Mavis says that our working class grandmother never used margarine, even though she was struggling to feed a family of five through the 1930’s depression in Oldham with our grandfather, a mill-worker, out of work for most of the decade. 

So personally, as a tribute to my grandmother Eva Mellor who knew a poverty that not even Jack Monroe could rival, I would never use margarine BUT I’m willing to bet that if it was a good quality one specifically made for baking then the difference in taste would be negligible. If you use Utterly Butterly or some olive oil replicant then I expect it would be nasty – there is just too much water in it. But you can even prove me wrong on that point, as on any other – I’m liberal like that.

The power of suggestion being very strong, especially in matters food, after listening to the item about scones, today I had to make them. 

Preheat the oven to 200º / 190º fan. 

Amounts for 10 large scones:

  • 12 oz /340g plain flour
  • 3 oz /85g butter OR some controversial margarine
  • 2 tsp baking powder or:
    • 1 ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
    • 3 tsp cream of tartar
  • pinch salt
  • 7½ fluid oz /200 ml yoghurt and milk mixed
  • 4 tbsp /1½ oz /40g of caster sugar
  • 2 oz /60g raisins

Tips: Don’t overwork the mixture, don’t roll them too thin or make them too small. 

Mix the flour, salt, and baking powder or tartar/bicarb. Cut the fat into chunks. This is one of my favourite things to look at as it means there is a cake or pastry on the way. How sad am I…?one-of-my-favourite-sightsRub the fat into the flour with the tips of your fingers using a ‘sprinkling salt’ action. Or you can mix it in the food processor with a blade. It should look like this:after-butter-has-been-rubbed-inStir the raisins and sugar into the flour mixture. Mix the yoghurt and milk together and using a fork incorporate it until just blended. You could continue in the food processor, but this will chop up your raisins which you might not want… If you try and add the raisins after mixing the liquid in I find it hard to distribute them adequately around the dough. So I prefer using a fork and it takes about 1 minute so is not that difficult. It will seem as if there won’t be enough liquid but I promise it’ll all mix in and pick up all the dry flour. When it looks like the following, use your hand to finish mixing it, and knead it a BIT, just to make sure it’s a solid mass.scone-mixtureRoll it out on a floured surface to an inch thick and cut it out with biscuit cutters. I use the depth of the cutter and make sure it’s a nice generous height inside. Who wants a thin scone, eh? No-one.cutting-out-sconesSquash remnants back together and re-roll until all the mixture is cut out. Put on a lightly greased tray and bake for 15 minutes. cut-out-sconesI dusted mine with icing sugar after they’d come out to make them look photogenic. This is, of course, optional…

I promised scones of any flavour:

  • Plain scones – of course leave out the raisins. You can also leave out the sugar if you want them non-sugary or you intend putting a lot of jam on them.
  • Cheese and/or chilli scones – leave out the sugar and the raisins. Add instead 2 oz/40g of grated hard cheese to the flour before the liquid and/or ½ tsp of chilli flakes.
  • Date scones – chop up 2oz/40g of dates  instead of raisins.
  • Apricot scones – chop up 20z/40g dried apricots instead of raisins. Maybe even grate in the zest of an orange as well – orange and apricot go very well together,
  • You could try dried figs – same amount as above. Figs are also lovely with orange.
  • If you’re planning on having scones with lemon curd, you could grate the zest of a lemon in. I’d keep the sugar in but leave out the raisins.

You get the idea. Enjoy. 

WINGS

 

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Blackberry Friands or Cupcakes

I love it when I find a recipe that uses up egg whites!! I always have loads in the freezer from making quiches and mayonnaise, both of which I love. If you don’t have any in the freezer…. try making some mayonnaise… or a quiche. floured-blackberries

Last weekend, in the dog-days of the English summer, James and I went blackberrying in the lower hills of the South Downs. I didn’t want very many, it’s mid September and little fingers have picked too many off the bushes already as they walk their dogs along the footpaths, so I knew we’d be too late to get enough for jam; but I had a hankering (maybe it’s being pregnant) to make a blackberry-type cake. We got a small tupperware box, and got blown about on the hill, and I huffed and puffed my bump around the gorse and was happy to get back to the car. Once home I was even happier to get onto the real business of baking.

A couple of weeks ago I’d never heard of a friand. Now they are my new favourite thing. I don’t have a very wide range of sweet things that I make, being not particularly sweet-toothed and believing that sugar is pointless/verging on the harmful as an actual food stuff, but of course like most people I do love cake. The ones I do make I make over and over, and have a tendency to binge eat them in front of The Good Wife or House of Cards or some other brilliant US drama. These friands are going to become part of my regular go-to cakes, I just know, it.  I’ll be making them all year round with different flavours.

They didn’t invent them, but I do have my heros Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi to thank for introducing me to them. But stop – is that the Food Police at the door? Maybe, because yet again I’ve messed very slightly with the recipe.  It’s a French delicacy with a history of its own, and is very popular in Australia, appaz, so I don’t feel too guilty. Ottolenghi makes them with blackcurrants and puts cinnamon in, which I didn’t really like the first time I made them. I use almond essence and vanilla, and I make them with less sugar, and smaller. For some reason, I like having two (or three) on my plate, instead of one. Can’t think why.

The picture above is actually some painfully expensive supermarket blackberries I used for my first attempt, but the ones we picked in the wild were much smaller, which is actually better for the cake as they don’t take over the entire friand but stud it with flavour like they should.delicate-friands

  • 125g butter, melted and cooled a bit.
  • 60g plain flour (or gluten-free flour)
  • 60g blanched almonds
  • 50g unsalted pistachios ( you can leave these out as they’re fiendishly expensive and just use 110g almonds if you prefer)
  • 140g caster sugar
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • ¾ tsp almond essence
  • ½ tsp vanilla essence
  • 3 egg whites
  • pinch salt
  • 1 tbs mashed banana (an Ottolenghi master stroke)
  • 120g blackberries or small fruit of your choosing, tossed in a heaped tablespoon of plain flour, like my arty pic above.

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Swedish Apple Cake

This is another of those recipes that came from a booklet we got with some bit of electrical kit like a mixer or a processor.  You can keep it as a whole cake but I think it’s another one that works brilliantly when cooked in a square tin and cut up into individual little square cakes then frozen and defrosted when the mood for a Swedish apple cake takes you.  The cake is cooked for longer than a lot of sponge cakes – it needs to in order to cook the apples and deal with the moisture that the apples have brought into the equation – and this means that you end up with soft sponge, melting apple and some crunchy sponge on top.  Excellent.

Excellent with coffee or tea. Also excellent as a dessert – especially warmed up, dusted with a bit of sieved icing sugar and served with cream.  

About the ingredients:
If you haven’t got cooking apples you can make it with dessert apples but be sure that they’re on the sharp side. And reduce the sugar in the sponge by about a quarter. But really you should use cooking apples.

Makes 16 little square cakes

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Chocolate Orange Cake

This has been in the family for years and years. I think our mother found it in one of those booklets that come with a food mixer. I added the idea of putting a sticky syrup on the top. Like our Crunchy Lemon Squares, I think it’s best make in a big tin and cut into individual squares which can then be frozen and eaten when the fancy takes you. If you put it in your lunchbox when it’s still frozen it’ll be just lovely by the time it gets to coffee break.

About the ingredients

Use 70% chocolate, which doesn’t have to be at all expensive. All I need to say is Lidl and Aldi. Don’t even think about using some rubbish 40% chocolate or milk chocolate because it will be just plain cheap and nasty and far too sweet. The walnuts are entirely optional. They give a little more density and, well, nuttiness to the cake but you can easily leave them out.

Makes 16 little square cakes

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Crunchy Lemon Squares

Squares of elegant lemon loveliness topped with sugary lemony crunch.  I love cakes but I can’t stand those giant sicky-icky cakes smothered in over-sweetened icing and decorated like a fairground ride.  I prefer small cakes and simple cake making, the kind that requires no icing skills.  These lemon squares, like our Chocolate Orange Cake, are excellent for freezing, then defrosting whenever you fancy a small cake with a cup of tea.  Put them in your lunch-box and take them to work.  Wrap them in foil and put them in your bag to eat in secret when you’re in a café that only has those muffins with the consistency of a lump of bread that’s been fished out of the village duck pond.  Eat them in secret.  Eat them in the open.  Share them or hoard them.  Love them.

About the ingredients:
If you want you can use a little less sugar in the cake mixture or substitute some of the caster sugar with soft brown sugar. You can also substitute about 50g semolina/polenta for some of the flour, and then make your baking powder slightly rounded spoonfuls to compensate for the lack of raising agent in semolina. Using a bit of semolina gives the cake a slightly denser, almost sandy texture. I like it.
Don’t use vanilla essence.  It’s nasty.  The thick, gooey extract or vanilla bean paste seems expensive when you first buy it but it’s really concentrated and lasts ages.  

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Easy Sticky Figs

Hello reader. 

Ok. Figs: Discuss.Figs1

Figs are the supermodel of the food world. They photograph brilliantly, so they lounge on the cover of every on-trend cookery book (in which the writer calls them blatantly sexy words like ‘pert’ and ‘luscious’ to get you interested), and they grace the pages of expensive food magazines, all covered in honey and sprinkled with violet petals. Yup, figs are a great colour and they photograph well.  Try it, it isn’t hard – chop one in half, take a picture on your phone and see how good it looks – with not even a scrap of make-up.

The problem IS…. getting them to TASTE any good is not so easy. I have splashed out on them several times, followed some random oven-baked recipe that one is supposed to smear mascarpone on afterwards and as I’ve chewed on the slightly sludgy, seedy, not-very-tasty result I’ve thought to myself: Hm. Figs. All talk and no flippin’ trousers.

BUT the other day I tried again. I bought some – on special offer of course – and I chucked on a load of things that I hoped would make them taste better. An experimental method not quite in the Heston Blumenthal style but one that is often worth a go. If it doesn’t taste all that, add something that might make it taste better.

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Almond, Raisin and Lemon Biscotti

Biscotti_ingredients.

Howdy. So here are some very quick biscotti that turn out really impressively with minimal effort. What a great combo. Drag some people in off the street to show off to, if necessary. Serve with coffee, or hand them out with some ice-cream, and generally swank about how easy they are. 

They are veeeeehry tasty and veeeehry crunchy, and veeeehry versatile, because you can change the flavours to suit what you like. (Suggestions will follow the recipe). They freeze really well too and don’t take long to defrost. I also put less sugar in than regular recipes. No-one has ever complained they are not sweet enough. So they are, in short: A Winner.

Mine were almond, lemon, raisin and a bit of rosemary, but the rosemary was mainly to look good in the picture, as I have to fess up and say you can’t really taste it. 

Biscotti_ingredients2

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