PARKIN

I love to watch cooking shows … and, based upon the number of shows available on tv these days, I’m not alone.  The one I’m enjoying at the moment is a celebrity chef from England, James Martin.  His show, HOME COMFORTS (on Amazon Prime), showcases comfort foods that Martin loves to cook at home when he’s ‘not working’.   In this series, James speaks lovingly of being the son of pig farmers from North Yorkshire, and, as a child, cooking alongside his mother.  From the classic “Toad in the Hole” with onion gravy to a variety of ‘jacket potatoes’ to a Swiss roll and prawn cocktail, this show features British comfort food at its best.

In one recent episode, Martin made a cake called PARKIN.  I honestly had never heard of this cake, but hubby said it was a dish he grew up with.  Although served all year round, this very popular regional North Yorkshire dish is traditionally served in November on Bonfire Night.  I’m not really sure if its a cake or a pudding, but I do know I have to give it a try.  Made with oatmeal and molasses, this dark, spicy ‘gingerbread-like cake’ could be rather stodgy.

As always I did a bit of research to find what is, hopefully, the best and most authentic PARKIN recipe.  Apparently, it dates back to the 14th century.  And in 1728, a homemaker by the name of Anne Whittaker was accused of stealing oatmeal to make PARKIN.  Unlike wheat, oats were the staple grain in the north of England, and used in most of their local dishes from breakfast to dessert.

      “When Arthur, to make their hearts merry … Brought ales and parkin and perry.”

Because it is a British recipe, I’ve converted the grams and milliliters to cups and ounces, but it wasn’t too difficult.  I’m ready now.  So, let’s give it a go!

PARKIN
Bake 325° – 40 to 50 minutes – One 9 x 9 baking pan – Serves 6 to 8 

Ingredients
1-1/2 cups self-raising flour
1-1/2 cups oatmeal* (uncooked)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 eggs
1 stick butter, cubed
2/3 cup dark molasses
1/2 cup cane sugar syrup (Lyle’s Golden Syrup)
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup whole milk

* I used Old Fashioned oatmeal, which is very coarse.  To break the oats down a bit, I pulsed the oatmeal for a few seconds in a food processor.  If you use ‘fast cooking’ oatmeal, you don’t need to do this.

Preheat the oven to 325°.  And grease a 9″ x 9″ square pan (or round pan, or loaf pan … whatever pan you’d like to use).  In a large bowl mix together the flour, salt, spices and baking soda.  Stir together until well blended and then stir in the oatmeal.

Put the molasses, golden syrup, brown sugar, butter and milk in a saucepan and heat until the butter is melted.  Then take it off the heat and cool until lukewarm.  Beat in the eggs.

Add the liquid ingredients from the saucepan to the dry ingredients.  Stir in quickly and beat until the batter is smooth.

Pour the batter into a greased 9″ x 9″ pan.  Bake for 40 to 50 minutes or til it pulls back from the sides and is cooked through.  A tester should come out clean from the middle.  Cool in the pan for a few minutes and then turn it out onto a wire rack to continue cooling.

PARKIN, a strange name for this very homey, old-fashioned, gingerbread-like cake, and I’m still not sure where the name came from.  But this traditional cake was very easy to make.  It is fairly dense, much like a brownie, with the heat from the ginger and cinnamon very prevalent.  I served it warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Hubby loved it and it sent him right back to his school days.  What’s better than that!

(Note:  On quite a few other sites, I’ve read where Parkin gets even better after three days.  As always the skeptic, I left one, wrapped tightly in the cupboard, for three days.  And, yes, they are correct.  The flavors developed.  It did not dry out and it was much better.)

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PANCAKES

In preparation of Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, or Pancake Tuesday, which falls on March 1st, I thought I’d practice making ‘pancakes’.  Yup, hubby loves ‘his’ pancakes … and I’ve never made them.  For me, pancakes should be thick, fluffy, even cake-like, stacked on top of each other.  But in the U.K., pancakes never seem to get ‘stacked’.  They’re more like a French crepe … thin, folded over and served with a sprinkle of sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice.  Lemon juice?  Where’s the maple syrup and pats of butter?

So, why pancakes and why on this particular Tuesday?  In Christianity, Pancake Day or Shrove Tuesday was a national holiday and a time for celebration in Great Britain.  This day before Lent is a time of penance and renewal when Christians begin 40 days of fasting.  Rich, fatty foods such as meat and fish, sugar, eggs and dairy were prohibited during these 40 days.  Pancakes were created to use up the ingredients that might go bad during this time, and were eaten the day before the beginning of the fast.

Although I love thick, fluffy American pancakes (whether its buttermilk or chocolate chip, blueberry and even cranberry walnut), I feel compelled to make some British pancakes for Tuesday.  British pancakes are a tiny bit thicker than crepes, other than that, I’d be hard-pressed to notice a difference.  So, here I go … trying different recipes to come up with the best I can find.  And serving them with LEMON JUICE!

‘BRITISH’ PANCAKES
Makes 8 to 10 pancakes.

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 pinch salt|
2 large eggs
2-1/2 cups milk
2 teaspoons butter, melted, for the batter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, for the pan

In a large bowl, mix together the flour and salt.  Make a well in the center of the flour and add the eggs.  Beat the eggs in with half the milk, until the batter is smooth and free of lumps.

Add the rest of the milk and melted butter and beat well, until you have a smooth batter.  Leave the batter to rest for at least 15 minutes or longer, (overnight, if you want to make this the night before).

Lightly grease a non-stick frypan with vegetable oil.  Heat the pan until hot, but not smoking.  You don’t want to burn the oil.  Add a ladle of batter and swirl the batter around to evenly and thinly coat the base of the pan. Cook until set and lightly golden around the edges.  With a spatula, carefully flip the pancake over and cook the other side for approximately 30 seconds.

Slide the pancake onto a plate and cover the plate with a towel to keep warm. Continue making the pancakes until all the batter is used up.  I was able to make 12 good sized pancakes/crepes.

To serve, I dusted on the powered sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice . . . folded the ‘pancake’ in half and then folded it over again . . .  with another dusting of powdered sugar.  Honestly, they were delicious!!  But were they pancakes?

Happy Pancake Day!!

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STICKY TOFFEE APPLE PUDDING

It’s Fall and what do you do on a gorgeous Fall day in New England?  Go apple picking, of course!  We were in New Hampshire and stumbled onto this remote, little apple orchard located down a very long, dirt road, nestled  among tall, lumbering pine trees.  No fancy signs with balloons announcing their location.  No giant painted pumpkins, mind-numbing corn mazes or antique tractor displays … just apple trees.  Apprehensively, we approached the little shed with the owner standing outside.  “C’mon in”, he said “wanna pick some apples?”  How could we not.

He explained the different varieties of apple trees and their location in the orchard, handed us a couple of paper bags and off we went.  Picking didn’t take long, as the trees were heavy with fruit … Empire, Macouns, Macintosh, Golden Delicious and Cortland … all red, ripe and ready.  After picking … and eating as many as we could … we managed to find our way back to the shed, where the owner weighed our bounty and offered us a slice of pie.  Pie?  Yes, every day his wife bakes an apple pie for anyone who, after a day of picking, would like to sit, relax and enjoy a slice of homemade apple pie.  Needless to say, it was one of the best apple pies we’ve ever had.

Now, with more apples than we could possibly eat, it was time to get baking!  So what to  make?  I certainly couldn’t compete with the apple pie we had at the orchard.  I’ve made many strudels, cobblers and apple cakes.  I wanted to make something different.  How about an old fashioned steamed pudding?

My inspiration was the classic British dessert, Sticky Toffee Pudding.  Putting on my creative baker hat once again, I came up with this Apple version.  If you are a lover of classic steamed puddings, which, unlike cakes, are dense, moist and homey, then you must give this a try.  Yes, it is a bit time consuming, but its the perfect thing to make on a chilly, Autumn afternoon.

This will feed anywhere from 6 hungry people to 12 easily.  Serve it warm with a generous slug of the thick, sweet toffee topping.  To heck with the calories … you burned them all off apple picking anyway!

STICKY TOFFEE APPLE PUDDING
Bake 350° for 60 to 70 minutes.  Serves 6 to 10, depending upon portion size.

Toffee Sauce
1 15 oz. can sweetened condensed milk

Pudding/Cake/Batter
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter
4-5 large apples, peeled, cored and cubed (approximately 6 cups)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup chopped toasted walnuts or pecans (optional)

1 stick butter, melted
4 eggs, room temperature
1-1/2 cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder

Into a high-sided saucepan, place the entire can of sweetened condensed milk.  Completely cover the can with water and bring to a boil.  Then cover the saucepan and reduce the heat to a simmer.  Let this simmer, covered, for at least two hours, while you make and bake the pudding.  Check it every now and then to ensure the can is completely covered with simmering water.  Refill water as needed.

Preheat the oven to 350° and butter six to eight ramekins.  In a large baking or roasting pan, lay a kitchen towel.  The ramekins are going to bake in a water bath and the towel keeps the dishes from bumping into each other.

In a large frypan, over medium heat, melt the butter and add the cubed apples.  Sprinkle on the dark brown sugar, the cinnamon, nutmeg and the cornstarch.  Mix gently.  Cover and let it cook down for about 15 minutes or until the apples are softened and a sauce forms.  If needed, add a bit of water.  Stir gently.

While the apples are gently cooking, in a mixing bowl, beat the eggs and brown sugar.  Add the melted butter and vanilla.  Beat in the flour, cinnamon, salt and baking powder.  Mix well, but don’t overbeat.

Spoon the apple filling into the pudding batter.  With a wooden spoon, gently mix all together.  Then spoon the batter into the buttered ramekins.  Not too high.  They will rise a bit.  Sprinkle with toasted nuts, if you’d like.

Place the ramekins on the towel-lined baking pan.  Then fill the baking pan with hot water until the water comes halfway up the sides of the dishes.

Cover the entire baking pan tightly with foil and bake at 350°.  Bake for 60 to 70 minutes (depending upon the size of the ramekins).  No peeking.  Puddings take a bit longer to bake than cakes.

When done, remove the baking pan from the oven and let the puddings rest for 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, take the can which has been bubbling away on the stove top, and holding it with a towel, carefully open it.  It will be very hot.  With a spoon, mix the thick, sweet sauce to smooth it out.  Then spoon the toffee sauce into a serving bowl or pitcher.

To serve, either pop the pudding out of the ramekin and plate it or serve it right in the ramekin … and spoon a generous dollop of toffee sauce on top.  For a little extra treat, you might want to have ice cream or whipped cream on hand.  This is an absolutely rib-sticking, old fashioned dessert, hearty, sweet and full of chunky apples with a creamy toffee sauce … perfect for a cool Fall evening.  i hope you and your family enjoy it as much as we did!!

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ORANGE SUNSHINE CAKE

I was watching a re-run recently of one of the older Great British Bake Off  episodes (yes, I do watch them over and over again) and the technical challenge presented by Mary was an “Angel Food Cake”.   The contestants all appeared completely baffled by this challenge, but I smiled to myself, knowing that I had actually made one . . . a  long time ago.

I remember it distinctly.  It was 1972 and I had never made a cake before … a real ‘from scratch’ cake.  The recipe was straight out of the only cookbook I owned (but don’t remember where it came from), the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.  My recipes generally came from magazine and newspaper clippings – with pictures, of course, so that I would know exactly what the finished dish was suppose to look like.

You may have seen this classic cookbook on a shelf in an antique shop or used book store . . . a three-ring binder with a red and white gingham cover. This cookbook actually taught me how to cook and became my bible in the kitchen.

The cake was an Orange Angel Food Cake. There was no special occasion and I don’t really know why I selected this cake.  Perhaps it was because I had a dozen eggs which were getting old and a bag of oranges which I didn’t want to go to waste.  I also don’t remember how I  had obtained an angel food cake pan, but I had one … and still do.  So, following the instructions very carefully, I took on the challenge and remember being quite proud of myself when it came out . . . perfectly baked . . . light and fluffy . . . with a delicate citrusy orange flavor.

Have I made this cake since?  No.  And I’m not sure why.  But after watching the GBBO episode, I’m feeling a bit nostalgic . . . plus I have a dozen eggs, a bag full of oranges, and an angel food cake pan.  So, let’s give it a try!

ORANGE ANGEL FOOD CAKE
Preheat oven to 325°.  Do not grease the cake pan. (Something the contestants did not know.)
8 eggs yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 cup cake flour, sifted
8 egg whites
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sugar

I always line up all the ingredients when baking.  It’s so easy to forget something … and it could be as simple or important as salt.

Separate 8 large, room-temperature eggs … put the whites aside.

Beat the egg yolks until thick and lemony-colored.  Gradually add 2/3 cup sugar.  Beat until gloriously thick.  Combine the freshly-squeezed orange juice (freshly-squeezed gives the best flavor) with the orange peel.  Add this to the egg yolk mixture alternately with the cake flour.  Set aside.

Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar and salt until the soft peak stage.  Very gradually add the other 2/3 cup sugar.  Beat on high until stiff peaks form … but do not overbeat.  The egg whites should be stiff but not be dry.

Gently fold the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture.

Pour into the ungreased 10″ tube pan (or whatever pan you’d like to use).   Angel food cakes do not need to be baked in a specific pan.  Loaf pans are fine.  Bake in a 325° oven for about 50 to 60 minutes.

When done, a tester will come out clean, the sponge should spring back when touched and the color will be a delicate golden brown.

Invert the tube pan to cool the cake.  Yes, that is what the ‘feet’ are for.  After approximately 20 minutes, the cake should easily come out of the pan.  Turn right side up.  Frost when cooled.

Is it a “show stopper” as Mary would’ve liked to have seen?  No … but I’m very happy with it.  The cake is feathery light with just a subtle hint of citrusy orange.  I made a quick seven-minute frosting and decorated it with candied orange slices.

This is the perfect cake for after a heavy meal when you want something sweet, but not too sweet or rich … or when you want to impress your guests (because they will be impressed).  It may have taken me almost 50 years to make this the second time, but you know I’ll be making it  again very soon!  Yummy!!
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Pistachio Cardamom Cake

We had to get out.  You must know that feeling by now.  “It was a snowy, cold Sunday afternoon, you’ve been in all week and the walls are closing in around you … you have to get out of the house.”  Well, that was hubby and I.  We ended up going to a little out-of-the-way place for a late lunch and an adult beverage (or two).  Enjoying the meal and not wanting to leave the warm and friendly atmosphere of this little pub, we did something we ordinarily don’t do.  We ordered DESSERT!  Yup, I said it.  Do we live on the edge or what?

We asked the waitress for her recommendation and this is what she suggested.  Pistachio Cardamom Cake.  Huh?  Not the usual Brownie Sundae or Tiramisu or Creme Brulee or Bread Pudding (which seems to be the only desserts restaurants offer these days).  Boring!  Where has the creativity gone?  Why do restaurants think they should serve the same food as all the other restaurants?  Is it because that’s all Sysco offers?  Sorry for the cynicism but it doesn’t take much to make a creative dessert.

Well, this one was exactly what we wanted … unique, comforting, sweet and delicious!  Served warm with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream and a dollop of whipped cream and worth every tasty calorie.  The first thing I did when we got home, of course, was check all my cookbooks.  Not a recipe for Pistachio Cardamom Cake to be found.  Searching the internet I did find a couple, all of which I tried.  In my attempt to duplicate the cake we had, this is about as close to it as I’ve been able to get.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

This rustic cake (or bread) is quick and easy to make.  Do be sure to toast the pistachios, and have freshly ground cardamom, if you can.  The flavor is much more intense.

PISTACHIO CARDAMOM CAKE
Bake at 350° for 35 to 40 minutes (depending upon size of baking pan).  Serves 9 to 12.

2-1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 teaspoons freshly ground cardamom
1 cup ground toasted pistachios

4 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla
dash green food coloring (optional)

Glaze:
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
2 tablespoons orange juice or cream
1/4 cup toasted pistachios, chopped

Preparation:  If you have cardamom pods, break open the pod and grind the cardamom seeds.  You’ll need three teaspoons for the batter, but reserve 1/2 teaspoon for the glaze.  If you don’t have fresh cardamom, ground is fine.

You’ll also get more flavor from pistachios which have been slightly toasted to bring out the oils and flavor.  This is an important step.  After toasting, blitz the pistachios in a food processor until finely ground.

In a large bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients.  Add the ground pistachios and ground cardamom.  Be sure its well blended.

In another bowl, beat the eggs and sugar til light and fluffy.  Add the additional wet ingredients and blend well.  Yes, I added a bit of green food coloring for dramatic effect.

Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and pour into a well-greased baking pan.  A square pan, loaf pan, cake pan … it doesn’t matter.  Bake time, however, will depend upon which pan size you use.

Bake for 30 to 50 minutes (loaf pan will take longer – cake pan will take less).  When a toothpick tested in the center comes out clean and the sides pull away from the pan, it is done.

Cool completely on a wire rack.  Meanwhile, mix the glaze.  Put the cake on a serving plate.  Spoon the glaze over and sprinkle with chopped pistachios.  Let it cool completely or serve it slightly warm.  It’s up to you.

Be sure to put the kettle on and get your tea ready.  The nutty texture from the pistachios combined with the perfume from the cardamom will warm your tummy and your spirits.  If you want to splurge and add a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a dollop of whipped cream.  Go right ahead!  This is an easy-to-prepare, homey, quick cake (or bread) and, hopefully, you will love it as much as hubby and I.  Happy sipping!!

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DUNDEE CAKE

I know, I know … Fruit Cake, the most hated cake in the world!  I’ve heard all the jokes . . .

“only good as a door stop”
“found one in King Tut’s tomb and it was still edible”
… “advice is like fruit cake, something everyone gives, but no one wants
… “a cake made during the holidays that’s heavier than the oven it was baked in

but I LOVE fruit cake.  There I said it!  And this Scottish classic is one of my favorites.  Why?  Because it is made with sweet, thick orange marmalade, giving it a wonderful orangey flavor.  And to be an ‘authentic’ Dundee cake, the marmalade should be made with Seville oranges from Spain.  If you’ve ever had the opportunity to visit the beautiful city of Seville, you can’t help but gaze in wonder at the over 40,000 orange trees which line the streets.  At times, the trees are bursting with so much fruit, the streets are just littered with these brightly-colored orbs.

Sometimes referred to as ‘bitter orange’, the Seville orange originated in China and was among the many foods and spices traded along the spice route.  These trees were eventually cultivated in Spain and Portugal around the 10th century.  Interestingly, these oranges aren’t really eaten in Spain.  More than 15,000 tons are shipped to Great Britain each year.

How did the oranges end up in Dundee, Scotland?  Because of a storm at sea!  A Spanish cargo ship carrying goods and produce crashed into the rugged coastline in Dundee.  Among the many goods on the ship were oranges.  The oranges were ruined and couldn’t be sold, but a local  merchant, James Keiller, bought the load at a discounted price.  Keiller already sold jams in his shop and incorporated the oranges, fruit, pith and peel, into the recipe.  Food historians say it was his mother, Janet Keiller, who then took the marmalade and used it in a fruit cake, now known as the Dundee cake.

Keiller was the first to successfully commercialize his brand of marmalade using these bitter oranges and is responsible for the popularity of Scotland’s sweet breakfast treat.  When the British Trademark Registry Act came into existence in 1876, Keiller’s Dundee Orange Marmalade was one of the first brands to be formally registered.  In the 1920s, Keiller’s was purchased by Crosse & Blackwell, a name with which most of us are familiar.  That company was then sold to another very familiar name in the jam and preserves industry, Robertson’s.

Other historians say the Dundee cake is attributed to Mary Queen of Scots in the 1500s who didn’t care for traditional fruit cakes with all the glacéd fruits and cherries.  To please the Queen, her royal baker then made a cake which only had raisins, almonds and the bitter Seville oranges.  But the timelines vary too much for me.  The Dundee cake is made with orange marmalade which seems to have been created 100 years after Mary Queen of Scots would have enjoyed it.  Although marmalade has  been around since Roman times, it was almost always made with quince and honey, as a way of preserving the fruit.  The name “marmalade” actually originates from the Portuguese word “marmelo” or quince.  Believed to be the first published recipe for orange marmalade was found in a cookbook written by Eliza Cholmondeley in 1677.

However this spice cake came to be, by the 19th century, the Dundee cake was served in tea rooms across Great Britain and was the dessert of choice for  Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth II.  As with many ‘historical’ foods, an application has been filed by Dundee bakers for protected status for this spice cake with the EU.  The bakers’ hope is to keep this centuries old cake from becoming a cheap imitation of the original.  Let’s hope the rights are granted.

If you’re a fan of OUTLANDER, I’m sure Claire and Jamie would’ve eaten a few of these almond-studded Scottish fruit cakes during their time at Lallybroch.  I may not be a time traveler, but I am a fruit cake lover.  And, if you are too, I hope you have an opportunity to make and enjoy this classic fruit cake over the holidays.  Its perfect with a steaming hot cuppa!!

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References:  Walkers, Wikipedia, Food List, 196 flavors, IFoodTV, Daily Record, Scotsman Food and Drink, Andalucia
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GINGERBEAD – THE RECIPE

Just a few months ago I posted a blog titled “Gingerbread“.  In case you think I might be losing my mind, I’m not (hopefully), this blog is about making (and eating) Gingerbread.  If you want to know the origins of how this exotic spice became such an important part of the culture in Great Britain, please click on this link … GINGERBREAD.  It will give you all the background you’ve ever wanted to know about ginger and the making of this confection.  Meanwhile, I’m actually making my own moist, dense, rich ‘GINGERBREAD‘.

As always, before making any recipe, I go through all my cookbooks (of which I have more than I can count) as well as check all the internet foodie blogs to find the ‘best of the best’ recipes.  Some recipes were more like a light, fluffy spice cake with cream cheese frosting.  Not what I was looking for at all.  What I wanted was an old-fashioned, dense, rich cake-like bread.  It should be easily held in your hand, not requiring a plate.  It should be packed full of peppery ‘ginger’ flavor … not cinnamon, cloves or allspice.  It should be moist … not dry.  And, most of all, it should be delicious.

I’ve tried more recipes than I want to admit.  And culled from a few different recipes, here is MY favorite by far.  It is quite easy to make, but it’s not for the timid.  It’s for ginger lovers everywhere.  If you want more or less ginger, feel free to adjust the quantities.

GINGERBREAD
Bake at 350°  Makes one large round bundt pan, or two or more loaf pans.

3/4 cup butter, cubed
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup cane syrup, or corn syrup or honey
1 cup packed dark brown sugar

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa
3 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons ground ginger (more or less to taste)
1 teaspoon cinnamon

3 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup full-fat milk
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

About an hour before you want to make the Gingerbread, combine the following ingredients in a saucepan:  Cubed butter, vegetable oil, water, molasses, brown sugar, golden syrup or honey.  Simmer over low heat until the butter is melted, the sugar has dissolved and everything is well combined.

Cool completely before adding this mixture to the dry ingredients.  It should be just warm to the touch.  If you want to cool this mixture quickly, set the pan into a bowl of ice water.

Preheat the oven to 350° and prepare your baking pans – a large round pan, or as many smaller pans as you’d like.  Grease well.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients:  flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt, ground ginger and cinnamon.

In a separate, smaller bowl, lightly beat together the eggs, milk and grated ginger.

When the syrup mixture has cooled, add it slowly to the dry ingredients.  Blend well, but don’t beat.  Then add the egg/milk/ginger combination to the batter.  Again, be sure to  blend well, but be sure not to overbeat the batter.  Low speed on an electric mixer is fine.  You don’t want to build up the gluten.

Pour the batter into the greased pan(s) and bake.  Depending upon the pan size and shape, it could take between 45 and 60 minutes.  Check for doneness when a tester comes out clean.

Cool for 15 minutes before removing from the pan.  Then put on the kettle and don’t be afraid to dive in.  It freezes well if you want to wrap it tightly in foil.  Or it will keep nicely in the frig for a week, wrapped in cling film.

Dense, gingery and moist.  I love this Gingerbread warm with a dusting of powered sugar and a big mug of tea!   This is perfect for the holidays.  Keep one on hand ready to serve for anyone who drops by … or just make to enjoy all by yourself!!
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JAFFA CAKES

With this world wide global marketplace in which we now live, it seems we have available anything we want from anywhere at anytime.  Teas from China … cotton sheets from Egypt … woolen scarves from Scotland … wild salmon from Alaska … it’s all there in the stores.  But, when you want some Jaffa Cakes, where can you find them?  I realize, of course, most everything you can think of is available through Amazon (at an exorbitant price, I might add), but we were hoping to find these inexpensive and delectable little nuggets of deliciousness in the International food aisle from at least one of the big supermarket chains, and not have to wait for the delivery man to walk down the driveway in two or three days. 

For those of you who don’t know what a Jaffa Cake is, it’s a small not overly sweet, cake-like cookie with an orange-flavored gelatinous disc in the center, topped with dark chocolate.  They’re inexpensive, sold in packages and are available everywhere in the U.K., from supermarkets to convenience stores, and loved by everyone.  And, yes, they were a baking challenge on one of the earlier Great British Bake Off programs.

Well, if I can’t buy them, then here’s another baking challenge – Jaffa Cakes.  As always I begin by doing a little online research.  It astonishes me that you can see the exact same recipe on a dozen different ‘home baker’s’ sites.  Do they just copy and paste from one to another?

From the web, I printed a couple of recipes and then took out my British cookbooks.  Now which recipe to try?  The first recipe was Mary Berry‘s, which was confusing because it said to ‘break the jelly into pieces’.  Wasn’t sure what that meant.  Next was Paul Hollywood‘s recipe which also called for me to ‘break the jelly into cubes’.  Apparently, this is an ingredient we either don’t have here in the U.S., or we call it something else.  I decided to make my own orange filling with gelatin, orange juice and sugar.  It didn’t really work.  Okay then, why not use orange flavored JELL-O?  Which I did and it worked perfectly.  After many tries and fails, converting grams to cups, and wondering why all British recipes call for “free range” eggs, here’s my recipe.  I hope you like it!!

JAFFA CAKES 
Bake at 350°.  Makes 12 – 2″ cookies.  Equipment needed:  muffin tin and/or whoopie pie tin

2 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt
1 3 oz. package orange-flavored JELL-O
1/3 cup boiling water
1-1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
butter for greasing tins

Make the filling first by dissolving a packet of orange-flavored gelatin into 1/3 cup of boiling water.  Spray or grease a 12 count muffin tin.  Into the bottom of each cup put a tablespoon of the gelatin.  Put the tin into the refrigerator for the gelatin to set.  When the gelatin has set completely, remove each disc from the muffin tin and place on a dish.  Place the dish back into the refrigerator until its time to assemble.

Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together for at least 5 minutes until delicate, pale and frothy.   Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.  Carefully fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture.  Be careful not to deflate the eggs.  Put 2 tablespoons of batter into the bottom of each of the greased muffin cups and bake at 350° for 7 to 8  minutes or until pale but baked through.

Remove the muffin pan from the oven and let cool for a few minutes.  Then remove each cake/cookie and let them cool completely on a wire rack.  Meanwhile, over a bowl of very hot water, melt the chocolate chips, stirring as necessary until smooth and shiny.  Let cool a bit.

To assemble:  take a cake/cookie and place an orange disc on top and quickly place a spoonful of the chocolate on top of the disc.  Using the back of a spoon, spread the chocolate, sealing in the orange wafer.  Place the cookie back onto the rack.  When they are all assembled, using the tines of a fork, gently make a criss-cross pattern on each of them*.

They may not be as pretty as Mary Berry’s Jaffa Cakes, but they taste pretty darn good.  Tasty little cakes with an orange filling and chocolate frosting.  If you wanted to  make these ahead, I’m sure they’d probably last a few days, but definitely not in our house!

*As you can see, I tried … but failed miserably at this.
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CRUMPETS

We’re all doing our best during these stressful times to stay home, stay active and stay informed.  Hubby and I put it off as long as we could, but finally had to make our way into the grocery store.  Well, it was obvious that we were quite a bit late.  Needless to say, all the cleaning supplies, toilet paper, paper towels, etc. were gone, but baking ingredients?  Baking is what I like to do to relax, and apparently, a lot of people share in this, because the flours, sugars, and all of the essential baking ingredients were also not to be found.  I was completely unprepared to see even these supermarket shelves barren.  It’s a good thing I had some of the basic items at home.

With that in mind, what challenge do I need to take on with my limited pantry?  Having just received the latest edition of COOKS ILLUSTRATED (a periodical I’ve relied upon for other recipes), there it was … Crumpets!  I’ve never made Crumpets before and felt the need to tackle something new.  The article was a full two-pages on how to make ‘authentic crumpets’, which should have been my first clue.

What are Crumpets?  I think they are most easily described as Britain’s version of an English muffin.  Perfect for breakfast or teatime, they are a home-spun, belly filling, crisp on the outside, kind’a doughy on the inside, griddle cake.  The best way to eat them is toasted and slathered with butter or jam, or butter AND jam.

The COOK’S ILLUSTRATED recipe called for “cake flour”, which struck me as rather odd, because this is hearty comfort food, not a delicate sponge.  Hubby said I needed ring molds.  Really?  COOK’S ILLUSTRATED didn’t say I needed them.  Why can’t I just drop the dough onto the griddle in rounds?  After trying to do exactly that, I can tell you, hubby was right … you’re  not going to get nice, fat, round muffins.  You are going to get something flat and misshapen like a pancake.  The recipe said to ‘scrape off the top of the batter, before flipping, to expose the beautiful air holes’.  Why that alone didn’t  make me toss the recipe aside, I’ll never know.  I plunged ahead anyway.

Epic Fail Crumpet Flapjacks

Three hours later, all 12 misshapen, gluey, tasteless griddle cakes went into the trash.  If you want to make Crumpets, I do not recommend the COOK’s ILLUSTRATED recipe.  I did, however, go through all my cookbooks, as well as online recipes and, after four more attempts, ended up making delicious Crumpets with thanks to Paul Hollywood. 

DIY crumpet ring molds

Not having crumpet rings and looking frantically for something to use, I ended up squashing some cookie cutters into roundish molds.  They aren’t pretty, but they worked. And with my final attempt to make these crumpets, I decided they should be a bit more nutritious.  Why not Whole Wheat?

Super easy to prepare … although the grilling part was a bit tricky.  You can easily use a bowl and wooden spoon, but I choose to use my stand mixer.  And, you can prepare the batter the night before and grill them in the morning.  What could be easier than that?  Eat them as they come off the grill, or make ahead and freeze.  Either way, when you’re ready to eat them, be sure to toast the crumpets til crisp and slather them with rich, creamy butter.  Here’s the recipe.  I hope you give it a go!!

WHOLE WHEAT CRUMPETS
Makes approximately:  10 to 12  4″ crumpets.  Cook time:  8 to 12 minutes.

1 cup bread flour (or all purpose flour)*
1 cup whole wheat flour*
1 cup warm milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon active dried yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup water
1 teaspoon baking soda
*(or you can use two cups all purpose flour)

First, warm the milk in the microwave (not too hot) and stir in the yeast and the sugar.  Let it rest for 10 minutes until its frothy.

In a large bowl, stir together the flours and the salt.  Add the warm milk mixture and stir together until a thick dough forms.  If using a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment.  Let it mix for about 3 or 4 minutes.

No need to take it out, knead it and grease the bowl.  Just cover the bowl with a towel and put it aside to rise for about an hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.

When it has doubled and will hold an indentation from your finger, it’s ready.  Mix together the cup of water with the baking soda.  Now comes the tricky part, mix this liquid into the dough.  It’ll be difficult at first.  I used a fork to break the dough up, and then beat the mixture with a wooden spoon until it was somewhat smooth (but not perfect … still a bit lumpy).

After the water/baking soda liquid has been fully incorporated, cover the bowl again and put it aside for another hour.  When it’s ready, there should be bubbles on the surface.

Preheat a skillet, griddle or cast iron pan on medium heat and oil it a bit.  Not too generously.  But, generously grease the inside of the ring molds.  If you don’t, the batter will stick and you’ll never get them out.  Put the rings onto the skillet to get hot as well.

Using a ladle or tablespoon, spoon equal portions of the batter into the molds.  The batter will be sticky and gloppy.  Don’t be concerned.  That’s how it’s suppose to be.  Keep an eye on the heat to be sure they don’t burn on the bottom, turning it down as necessary.  They will rise and as with pancakes, they will be almost fully cooked before they need to be flipped over (about 6 minutes on the first side).  When the top has lost its gloss and the sides look firm, remove the rings.  The rings will be hot, so use tongs.  With a spatula, flip the crumpets over and let them cook on the other side for just another minute.

The crumpets should be lightly browned and ready to eat.  Move them to a rack and let them cool for a bit, as they will continue to cook on the inside for a minute or two.  Re-grease the ring molds and put them back on the griddle to heat up and then ladle in more batter.  Keep going until all the batter is gone.  Depending upon the size of the rings, this recipe will make 8 to 12 crumpets.

Whole Wheat Crumpets

Crumpets are delicious hot off the griddle with a generous slathering of butter.  If you are going to toast them, don’t slice them open.  They aren’t English muffins.  We really liked the whole wheat flour, giving these crumpets a darker color, rich nutty flavor.  Half of them were gone, the moment they came off the griddle.  I wrapped the others, put them into the freezer, and they’ll be perfect for the weekend.


If you make them, please be sure to let me know how they came out.
I hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

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OATMEAL SCONES

To keep my sanity during these stressful times, my baking marathon continues.  For me, baking is not only relaxing, it gives me something to focus on, fuels my creativity, as well as provides a really yummy end product (well, most of the time).  Even if it doesn’t look good, most bakes taste good and that’s really all that matters.

I found this recipe (originally from the Quaker Oats company) as I was cleaning out old cookbooks.  It looked quick and easy, perfect for today’s rainy day … and perfect to go along with a hot steamy cuppa and a good book.  Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed.

OATMEAL SCONES
Bake at 425° for 20 to 30 minutes.  Makes 8 to 10 scones (or more, depending upon the size)

2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup oatmeal (any type will do)
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick cold butter, cubed
3/4 cup milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla

Topping – optional
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons sugar

Glaze 
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons orange juice

First, line up all your ingredients.  Don’t be one of those bakers who goes looking for things as you go along.  If you have everything in front of you, you’re less apt to make a mistake and forget something.  Then, preheat your oven and prepare your pan.  Most ovens take 20 minutes or more to heat up thoroughly.  A $5.00 oven thermometer is a great investment and saves a lot of baking disasters.

You don’t need any special equipment to make these, but I did use my food processor.  Nothing is quicker than a food processor … as long as you know how and when to use it.  The “pulse” button is all you need for these!

In a large bowl (or food processor) add the dry ingredients.  Mix well or pulse two or three times.  Cut the icy cold butter into cubes and add it to the dry ingredients until it resembles fine crumbs.  Again, if using a food processor, PULSE 10 or 12 times … no more!

In a small bowl mix together the egg, milk and vanilla.  Then add this wet mixture to the dry mixture.  Stir it in with a fork or PULSE a few times just to combine everything.

Turn the mixture out onto a floured board.  Knead a few times to bring it together.  Do not overwork the dough or your scones will be tough and won’t rise properly.

Form the dough into a round and with a rolling pin, gently roll until you have about 3/4″ thickness.  Cut the dough into triangles (or you can use a cutter to cut out shapes).  Place the triangles onto a parchment lined baking tray.

In another small bowl, mix the chopped nuts, sugar and cinnamon.  Sprinkle over the scones, pressing down lightly to fix them onto the scones.  This is completely optional.

Bake the scones in a preheated 425° oven for 25-30 minutes (if smaller scones are made, you may need to reduce the baking time.  When they have baked through and are browned, remove them and place them on a wire rack to cool.

Combine the powdered sugar and orange juice and just drizzle over the top of the scones.  Then be prepared to watch them disappear.

Be sure to put the kettle on and enjoy this easy-to-make, delicious treat …
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