Archive for the ‘Other foods’ Category

Bullfrog inspiration aside, a great deal of the fun of Christmas cakes is icing it yourself. It isn’t actually all that hard and there are some good tutorials on the internet (or just ask your mum or gran).

Christmas cake with the top sliced off and levelled, ready to be slathered with Ouse Valley‘s delicious Gooseberry & Elderflower Jam

I heartily recommend Cook UK‘s photo tutorial on how to ice a Christmas cake. It’s in two steps, firstly:

How to marzipan the cake
How to ice the cake with rolled icing

They also show you how to do it ‘the traditional way’, i.e. with an icing sugar/water combo, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen a Christmas cake done using that type of icing myself.

Measuring the cake for the two side pieces

I used about 3 Tb of jam, one packet of marzipan (225gm) and one packet of ready roll Royal Icing (450gm) on the cake. The above tutorial uses about twice that amount and you can go thicker, but huge fan of marzipan though I am, I find any thicker to be too sweet for me. With those amounts you get a layer of marzipan aprox 2mm thick and a layer of icing about 2-3mm thick.

A layer of 4-5mm of pure sugar is enough for anyone I think!

The marzipan layer covering the cake

With memories of last time’s wobbly wording, I bought an icing stencil to make the letters this year. I think they turned out pretty well, though I must admit it took me as long to cut the words out and place them as it did to actually ice the cake! About an hour and a quarter I guess.

Getting the letters so they were firm and crisp took a little trial and error. It turned out the best way to do so was roll to the icing out thinly (about 1.5 – 2mm), let it stand for a little while so the ‘dough’ had started to harden a little, and then cut the letters out of it.

The only other decoration (I like my cakes simple) consisted of a plastic sprig of holly. I also bought some rather gorgeous white pearlescent powder and covered the white of the cake with it.
Unfortunately it photographed horribly and came out looking grey, so the last photo shows the cake before being powdered. You just have to imagine it with a beautiful irridescent sheen to it. And yes, it tasted as good as it looked!

Christmas Cake 2008

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In my ongoing campaign to teach myself to bake (or rather, to bake well), one of my prime goals has been to learn to bake bread. Sourdough has long been one of my favourite types of bread and I was fortunate a couple of months ago to receive some sourdough starters (one rye, one wholemeal) from Johanna of The Passionate Cook (thank you very much Johanna!).

Below are the results of my first attempt which, whilst not an unqualified success, was certainly a great deal better than I was expecting. I used a very basic recipe by S. John Ross, from here and used a mix of rye and wholemeal.




Rye Sourdough Loaf

The bread took a long long time to rise – in fact due to its sluggishness I turned the oven onto ‘Warm’ and left the dough on the bench overnight, and the next morning it had risen. This actually works out better for me for future sourdough making, as the ‘whole day bread making’ shtick is logistically awkward for me, as I’m sure it is for anyone else who spends 12 – 13 hours a day away from home during the week.

During baking, the bottom didn’t seem to want to harden, so I baked the loaf on its back for the last five minutes – which, although it probably isn’t recommended, did the trick.

The resulting loaf was quite dense and heavy with a good rye flavour and sour taste. I ate mine with a skimming of butter and thick slices of Red Leceister cheese, and it was very yummy (in addition to the warm glow of self-satisfaction). I gave half to Tanya (tatanatanya), who as a native of East Europe was brought up on the stuff, and she said it was a bit too dry, but the taste and texture were really good.

I came to the same conclusion. When I was kneading the dough (which was a lot more fun than I expected, except for the part where my mother rang me up right in the middle) I thought it wasn’t elastic enough, but lack of experience made me unsure – and cookbook photos and You-Tube can only be useful to a certain point. So next time, definitely more liquid.

I think I’ll also try with a lighter flour/s (I didn’t have any strong flour other than rye and wholemeal at the time) and use a lesser portion of rye if included. On the whole however, I think I can definitely rack this one up as a step in the right direction.



Cut Rye Sourdough Loaf

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An interesting article on food shopping for speciality ingredients by The Guardian, here.

Regarding Chocolate:

I’d just like to add my two pence and remark that although it’s the only chocolate outlet mentioned by the article, I haven’t been impressed with the taste or quality of hotelchocolat’s chocolate on the several occasions I’ve eaten it. The presentation and packaging is very pretty, but I definitely don’t recommend it to anyone to buy as a gift or a treat for yourself. My samplings have all been corporate gifts – welcome ones, but me scoffing freebies doesn’t equate to my tastebuds losing their sense of discrimination.

If you want chocolate online, here are some options. These shops either make their own quality chocolates or import/sell good quality chocolates:


Charbonnel et Walker
Some of the world’s best rose and violet creams.
1 The Royal Arcade, 28 Old Bond Street, London W1S 4BT


Ethically-produced handmade artisan chocolates by Claire & Andy Burnet – what could be nicer?
off Commercial Road, Purbeck


Shop selling a variety of high-end chocolates – Neuhaus, Valrhona, Leonidas, Chocolate Society, Cafe Tasse, Gudrun, etc.
London Bridge Railway Station, Railway Approach, Bermondsey, London SE1


Chocolate Gourmet
Stocks a wide range of speciality bars and truffles, including one of my favourites, El Rey Icoa White Chocolate, made from Venzuelan-only sourced beans. Although not currently certified organic due to the cost of certification, El Ray are an organic Fair Trade company. When I wrote to them to enquire about their policies a couple of years ago, their managing director took the time to personally answer me and assure me of their values and vision. Add this to the fact their chocolate is absolutely divine, you can see why this company occupies a special corner of my heart (and stomach).


The Chocolate Society
Da Authority! They run excellent classes and promote real chocolate (as opposed to candy) in the UK. They also make scrumptious chocolates.
36 Elizabeth Street, London, SW1W 9NZ.
32 – 34 Shepherd Market, London W1J 7QN.


Godiva Chocolatier
Famous for a reason.
7 stores in London & 1 at Bluewater


L’artisan du chocolat
Really interesting flavoured chocolates – the liquid salted caramels? Heavenly.
89 Lower Sloane Street, Chelsea, London, SW1 W8DA


Gorgeous organic British-made chocolate with interesting flavours & real couverture for cooks (I use this one myself)
51 Brushfield Street, Spitalfields, London E1 6AA
12 Peascod Street, Windsor SL4 1DU, plus several other stores around England


Plaisir du Chocolat
Amazing artisan chocolates, as well as Pâtes de fruit (yum!) and other delicacies.
251-253 Canongate, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh


Rococo Chocolates
Lovely, lovely artisan chocolate that’s as pleasing to the eye as the palate.
321 Kings Road, London SW3


And of course, don’t forget you can also chocolate-shop at Fortnum & Mason or Harrods.

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Saturday I went to a lovely afternoon tea with some friends. Johanna of The Passionate Cook organised it; she has just had a baby and as she is feeling the lack of culinary outings, her solution is for Mohammed to go to the mountain. I’m certainly not complaining – I had a great deal of fun talking cooking, cooking, and yes, more cooking! and the food (somewhat unsurprisingly) was fantastic. The other attendees were Jeanne of Cook Sister!, Jennifer who runs her own cooking school, Eat Drink Talk, and Susan who runs her own catering company, Joy of Taste.

I made Brie Tartlets and Prune Tartlets, and there was also Smoked Salmon on Ryebread with wasabi cream cheese, Beef Carpaccio Sandwiches with garlic mayonnaise & parmesan cheese, Chive Mini Scones with ham, mascapone and red onion marmalade, Myer Lemon Curd, Ham & Cheese Paprika Muffins, Fruit Scones with a variety of tasty preserves & clotted cream, Almond Pansyshell Cookies, and Fruit & Custard Tartlets. All of it tasted gorgeous.


Ham & Cheese Paprika Muffins to front


From Top Right Clockwise: Meyer Lemon Curd, Fruit Tartlets, Almond Pansyshell Biscuits, Fruit Scones with Preserves & Clotted Cream, Chive Mini Scones


From Top Right Clockwise: Medieval Brie Tartlets, Chive Mini Scones, Smoked Salmon on Ryebread, Beef Carpaccio Sandwiches, Medieval Prune Tartlets

. .

I was particularly pleased to finally get a taste of a Myer Lemon. I’ve heard a lot about them from American cooking friends, but I’ve never seen them in the UK. Jennifer says they are rather like a cross between a mandarin and a lemon (the curd was definitely an orange shade of yellow) and they have a thinner skin. The curd was delicious and definitely sweeter than a normal lemon. I’m now wondering if they can be grown in the *cough* sunny climes of Berkshire…

Jennifer also brought along a new import from Borough Market – an Australian Finger Lime (Citrus australasica). At first glance I took it to be some sort of gherkin, but it’s a cylindrical shaped lime, about an inch in diameter and three inches long. It has very large globular vesicles (the little seedlike juice-filled sacs you get in citrus fruit) and apparently is marketed as ‘lime caviar’. The taste was amazing – a real punch of lime, without the bitter aftertaste.

As Jennifer said, it would be perfect as a garnish or in cocktails. It seems that they grow in shades of green and red (although the taste is the same) and I can just imagine how lovely it would be to have little lime and ruby droplets glowing on a dish. They would be just as pretty as pomegranate seeds, and without the pip too! I’d never even heard of this fruit before (apparently it only grows in lowland rainforests in Eastern Australia) and have to say – as an ardent lime fan – that I was completely enthralled with it. Jeanne and I are planning to visit Borough Market on Easter Saturday, so I will try to find some.


P.S. For those of you in London, both the Myer Lemons and the Finger Limes can occasionally be found at Borough Market.

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