Category Archives: Baking
Do you like a bit of gentle competition? I do. It brings a little frisson of tension to an endeavour and can encourage me to to do better. And it’s fun too – especially for the winner! A neighbour in our village grows the most glorious dahlias, blooms that steal the ‘Best in show’ prizes across the village and county fairs. At this time of year, I love to walk through the smallholding where he painstakingly nurtures an astonishing variety of these lovely flowers, and sometimes I am given a few to bring home.
I also entered a little competition this week. Vanessa Kimbell, warm-hearted foodie extraordinaire, together with Fortnum and Mason, Ndali Vanilla and the fabulous Faritrade association, hosted a contest and food gift exchange for food writers, bloggers, and like minded souls.
I wanted to tell you this at the end, but I can’t hold back – I won! My winning offering was this Almond Butter Toffee, dusted with Ndali Vanilla and flakes of sea salt. The recipe is below.
Fairtrade is all about helping farmers and growers, particularly in vulnerable parts of the world, achieve fair prices and wages for their products and labours. I’ve learned quite a lot about this from my young son as his school encourages Fairtrade education projects. The farmers who produce Ndali Vanilla in Uganda are able to send their children to school and feed their families because they receive a fair price for their crop. Fairtrade makes a world of difference to people’s lives and I am keen to support it – if you would like to learn more, take a look at their website. My friend Vanessa, through her connection with Ndali, is a wonderful ambassador for Fairtrade and she organised the gift swap to raise awareness and support.
The competition had four categories: confectionary, biscuits, cakes and preserves. Food writer Lucas Hollweg, Chantal Coady of Rococo Chocolates, and a couple of the Fortnum and Mason buying team judged the entries. I gulped when I saw that Chantal was judging the sweets – if anyone knows about chocolate and aromatics in sweeties it’s Chantal, and I’m certain she must be hard to impress. By the way, her new book – Rococo, Mastering the Art of Chocolate – is due out on the shelves very soon. I had a sneak preview and it is extraordinarily beautiful. I can’t wait to get my own copy.
So here it is, the winning recipe!
Almond Butter Toffee with Chocolate, Vanilla and Sea Salt
Now before you start, there are a few things to note about making this toffee. Even though it is quite a simple recipe, working with sugar can be a bit tricky. It’s science and artistry all wrapped up together! It is best to use a candy thermometer to ensure you have the caramel to the right stage. Not hot enough – the result will be too soft, too high – you will burn the sugar. Make sure you use good cane sugar (ideally Fairtrade!) as it makes all the difference to the end result. Also, get everything ready before you start. Have hot gloves to hand and keep the decks clear and tidy. Hot bubbling caramel deserves your full attention and respect!
For the toffee:
280g butter, unsalted
225g caster sugar
100g light brown muscovado sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
200g almonds, roughly chopped
For the covering:
350g milk chocolate – choose a good rich flavoured one – broken into small squares
150g almonds, toasted and coarsely ground
1 teaspoon Ndali vanilla powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt flakes
Line a large baking tray (with sides) with baking paper.
In a heavy medium pan, melt together the butter, sugars, salt, and water. When the sugar is dissolved, allow the mixture to boil over medium heat, stirring often, until a rich golden caramel develops and the temperature reaches 290 degrees. I use F as that is what is on my thermometer. This will take longer than you expect, about 15 minutes. Add the chopped almonds and stir them in, then allow the temperature to come back up to 290-300 degrees. Remove from heat and pour right away into the lined baking sheet.
Give it a few moments to cool, then dot the toffee with half of the chocolate bits. As it melts, spread it over to cover the toffee. Sprinkle with the ground roasted almonds, sea salt flakes, and the vanilla powder. Allow to cool completely. Melt the remaining chocolate. Turn the toffee over and cover the other side with melted chocolate, almonds, sea salt and vanilla powder. Again, leave to cool completely. Break into pieces and store in an airtight container.
So, would you like to know what I won? Well, I can hardly believe it myself. I won a beautiful stand mixer from Kenwood. (much desired). I also won a lovely hand mixer from Kenwood for second prize in the biscuit category – my Pecan and Vanilla Butter Biscuits. And the fabulous prize from Fortnum and Mason, a magnificent hamper. I am so delighted, these are prizes I will treasure and truly appreciate.
Some of you might know that we are fixing up (and living in) a rustic old sixties house. I’ve come to really appreciate Midcentury style and these dahlias have just the esthetic of that era, don’t you think? I’ve placed a vase of them on my old Danish G-Plan table for you to see.
Thanks for visiting. More soon. Px
Unexpected pleasures are so sweet, don’t you find? The glorious sunshine and unusual warmth of the past days have brought delight – just as we started to get entrenched in the routine of Autumn. And the garden of our new home boasts trees laden with an extraordinary crop of apples and the hedges are richly dotted with blackberries. These must be celebrated!
So, directly home from school, books and bags are cast aside and we make right for a lovely spot in the garden for a cool drink and a rest.
But little boys don’t really rest for long, do they? Our boy is lucky as he has quite a few little friends who live in the village. So after school, the garden is often buzzing with several little boys running around, building dens, climbing…. And feeling hungry – always hungry!
I’ve been reading a charming little book. It’s called ON A Stick! and it’s written by Matt Armendariz. Matt is the creator of the wonderful blog Matt Bites – do you know it? Well the book is just about what you would expect from the title – a series of quirky, delicious recipes and ideas – all of food on a stick.
Now I have yet to find a child who doesn’t adore food on sticks! Even healthy skewers of fruit and veggies. As long as you can trust little boys with sharp sticks (you can’t!) So with vigilance, I presented a garden snack inspired by Matt’s book. This isn’t actually his recipe, in fact it isn’t really a recipe at all. I simply assembled some berries and apple slices (from the garden), along with some little pieces of cake on wooden bamboo sticks.
The cake is a buttermilk and almond cake but I haven’t perfected the recipe yet. When I do, I’ll be happy to share it if you would like. Just let me know.
A quick chat, then back to running around!
A change of weather is forecast – back to the typical offerings of the season. Despite a little sadness to say goodbye to the bright warm days, I feel quite excited about the prospect of Autumn. It’s such a beautiful time of year – the splendid colours, the brisk walks, and of course, the delicious warming foods that nourish body and soul. More soon.
Colour. Sometimes a flash of vibrant colour inspires a wonderful creative moment, a mood, a story. At least it does for me – how about you? Colour and light, both so influential. There’s no getting away from it, England in February is not bathed in either glorious warm light nor rich bright colour. And I love both. But there are compensations – it’s taken me a little time to appreciate it but I do now see a quiet beauty in the subdued mood of a dull grey day. And actually, this light intensifies the vibrancy of colours – which can be all washed out under a bright sunlit sky.
So after a walk through a lonely feeling landscape, I met a glorious heap of rich red rhubarb at the farm shop. It brightened my whole day, my whole week. What a revelation. I’ve always quite liked rhubarb – without much passion – but this week, as my little boy like to say, like has turned to love.
Returning with a lovely brimming basket of produce, I set about photographing and baking. Two pleasures! How to do justice to this lovely rhubarb? I settled upon a tart of crisp puff pastry, filled with aromatic sweet almond cream and topped with rhubarb and muscovado sugar. I could hardly photograph the finished tart, so eager I was to share it and enjoy eating it! If you have a chance, do try making this – I think you’ll be very pleased.
A most delicious Rhubarb and Almond Tart
Rhubarb and Muscavado Sugar Compote
5-6 stalks of rhubarb. I’ve used the gorgeous, bright red forced rhubarb that’s currently in season. Wash and chop into 1 inch bits.
a scant cup of light brown muscovado sugar (This depends a bit on how tart the rhubarb is and how sweet you like things. Add a bit, and add more to suit.)
In a heavy pan, warm the sugar with a spoon or so of water and allow to melt into a syrup. Add the rhubarb and simmer over medium heat until it softens. Don’t overdo it, let it keep a little shape. Set aside to cool while you prepare the rest of the tart. Or just eat – it’s lovely with ice cream or custard. ( I ate the first batch this way!)
Frangipane – Almond Cream
100g butter, 100g sugar (caster or fine), 100g ground almonds, 25g plain flour, 2 eggs,1 teaspoon of vanilla. (Or a few drops of almond essence if you like an extra almond boost.)
In a bowl, mix well together the butter, well softened, with the sugar and almonds. Stir in the flour and then mix in the eggs and vanilla.
Puff Pastry and a small handful of flaked almonds
500g of puff pastry. I use a good, all butter pastry from the shop.
Heat oven to 200 degrees centigrade. Line a baking sheet (about 24-30 cms) with baking paper. Roll the pastry out to fit the size of the baking pan. Lay the pastry in the pan and brush the edges with a little beaten egg, and roll over slightly to make a border all around. Spoon the frangipane (almond cream) all over the pastry base and smooth out to an even layer. Then gently spoon the rhubarb compote over. Leave a few spaces in between the spoonfuls as the frangipane puffs up and browns around it nicely. Sprinkle with some flaked almonds. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the pasty is lovely and golden. Wait a few minutes for it to cool before enjoying it.
Can you give a bunch of rhubarb for Valentines Day? I, for one, would be happy to receive such a gift.
Happy Valentine’s day all. Thanks for stopping by and please do drop me a line/comment if you wish.