A STOVE, RANGE, HOB, OR COOKER?

Whatever you call it, you can’t live without it … and we just got a new one.  But, I had no idea it was going to be such a challenging purchase.  Assuming you have a specific size and know you need it to be fueled by gas or electricity (or do you want duel-fuel), you then have to decide between a cooktop, built-in, free-standing, drop-in or slide-in range.  Now, if you want an electric stove, do you want coil or induction?  If its gas, how many btu’s do you need?  How many burners?  A standard 4 or maybe 6?  Or how about a built-in griddle that doubles as two burners?

Then, of course, comes the design … do you want the controls in the front or the back?  Or would you prefer a touch screen?  What about baking … conventional or convection?  How many oven compartments do you want?  Do you want them to cook at the same or different temperatures?  Do you want a broiler drawer, warming drawer or storage drawer?  What about a temperature probe?  And we haven’t even started to talk about finishes …

It was so confusing … but what I really wanted was a classic, cast-iron English AGA cooker.  I’d be surprised if you’re not familiar with this icon of a cooker.  For over 100 years, the AGA has commanded attention in most English kitchens, from the largest manor houses to the more modest cottages.  Chefs including Marco Pierre White, Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry wouldn’t think of cooking on anything else.  Jamie Oliver said AGAs “make people better cooks”.   Food writer, William Sitwell, said using one was a “much more natural way of cooking”, and actor Gerard Depardieu describes his AGA simply as “fabulous”.

Although the AGA has been a British icon for decades, it was invented and originally manufactured in Sweden.  Its inventor was a Swedish physicist, Dr. Gustaf Dalén.  Dalén was a brilliant, self-taught inventor who began his impressive career managing the family farm.  His first invention was a machine to test the quality of milk.  That invention alone caught the eye of others who encouraged him to get a formal education.  Gustaf went on to earn a Masters and subsequently a Doctorate degree, earning a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1912.

Gustaf Dalen, Managing Director of AGA – 1926

Gustaf became employed by the Svenska Aktiebolaget Gas Accumulator company in 1906 and within three years became Managing Director.  Dalén worked exclusively with a highly flammable and sometimes explosive hydrocarbon gas.  This hydrocarbon gas produced a bright white light perfect for illuminating lighthouses.  This important safety device for the fishing and shipping industries led the way for similar products for lighthouses . . . the Dalén Light, the Sun Valve and then the Dalén Flasher, a device which created a small pilot light, reducing gas consumption by 90%.  These inventions were a huge success and AGA lighthouses were mass- produced and sold all over the world.

Unfortunately, in 1912 during a test for one of these highly-flammable devices, an explosion occurred which caused Gustaf to lose his sight.  This physical setback did not deter him, however.  Over the course of his lifetime he had over 100 successful patented inventions . . .  his most memorable was the AGA cooker.

Although there were many styles of British ranges being used, from wood to coal fired, they tended to be dirty, time consuming and, occasionally, dangerous.  They had ovens to bake in and hot plates to simmer things on and they kept the kitchen toasty warm.  For proper venting, the ranges needed to be installed into a fireplace opening.  The biggest disadvantage was soot falling down the chimney into the food, and the amount of work it took to clean them.  The range had to be cleaned every day, carefully removing the ashes and cinders, which were still combustible.  The oven had to be swept out, and any grease which splattered needed to be scraped off.  The flue needed to be cleaned constantly.

Gustaf’s wife, Elma, was in the kitchen cooking on a typical soot-producing, dirty and sometimes very dangerous coal-fired range.  Realizing that this was not only dirty, dangerous and incredibly time consuming to use, Gustaf began conceiving a new style of cooker.  He wanted one that was clean, easy-to-use, economical and not at all dangerous.  Using the principle of heat storage, Dalén combined a heat source, two large hotplates and two ovens in one cast-iron cooker.  In doing so, he invented a range that changed the lives of cooks not only in Great Britain but all over the world.

AGA cooker. Circa 1939

Originally manufactured in Sweden, the AGA cooker wasn’t introduced to England until 1929, but it didn’t reach its height of popularity until after World War II.  During the war years, the British government used AGA cookers in feeding centers, hospitals and munitions factories, and the public fell in love with them.  After that, the demand for these cookers skyrocketed and manufacturing moved from Sweden to England . . . where they are still made today.

Over the years, as with other ranges, much has changed.  Today, depending upon the model, this massive beast of a cooker can have from two to six oven compartments, and from one to two hot plates on top (or the hob).  It is available as gas-fueled or by electricity.  You also have as many decisions to make as I’ve had to make in purchasing my new not-AGA range.  But, whichever size, model, color, options, etc. you choose, you can be sure you’ve made a lifetime purchase.


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References: Wikipedia, Cosi, House Logic, Victorian Decorating, 1900s, AGAliving,
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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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GBBO . . . what’s happened to you?

What has happened to the Great British Bake Off?  Now in season 10 (or is it 9, maybe 8?) it has become a showcase of unattainable, unrelatable challenges.  No longer is it a baking show to which home bakers can think about, perhaps some day, challenging themselves to bake that irresistible, classic cake/pie/tart/bread/roll/pastry.  Now the contestants are asked to bake scenic ‘landscape desserts‘, pita bread on an outdoor  fire pit, and what in the world is a ‘Kek Lapis Sarawak‘ cake?  I completely understand that this is a long-running program and there is a need to have new “content” for each of the 10 episodes, but biscuit chandeliers? REALLY?

Has anyone else noticed that the bakers are younger, more stylish, and dare I say, more attractive?  In past seasons, there was a wide range of ages.  But not so much any more.  Where’s the Val, Diana, Brendan, Norman and Nancy today?  Is this home baker now too old for the commercial Channel 4 audience?  Also, these much younger contestants, with their perfect teeth, coifed hair and slim  bodies appear to be in ‘character’ now … much like MasterChef.

Season 1, which (unless you have a streaming service) we in the U.S. have never had the opportunity to see, featured 10 home bakers baking in the imposing tent which then moved around the U.K. to six different locations.  It was all about the classic bakes, ranging from puddings to breads to cakes.

The judges were Paul Hollywood, a seasoned bread baker, and Mary Berry, the Julia Child of Great Britain.  Together with comediennes Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins as the sympathetic, caring, yet off-beat presenters who were always there to bolster a sagging souffle, the show was an immediate hit.  Let’s not forget the music.  Combining cellos, violins and a xylophone, the tension-building introduction perfectly set the mood of the show.

Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood, Sue Perkins, Mel Giedroyc

The logistics of a roving tent must have been too daunting because in Season 2 the tent became permanently setup on the beautifully landscaped grounds of a 17th-century mansion house.  The number of contestants increased from 10 to 12 and a “star” baker was introduced.  It was official.  The Great British Bake Off was a huge hit!

Season 3, which here in the U.S. is referred to as Season 1, is when the rest of us fell in love with this charming baking show.  We were tired of the gimmicky, cut-throat, competitive, backstabbing drama which was so prevalent in our cooking shows.  We all fell in love with this simple format and with contestants who actually cared about each other, helping each other out when a crisis was imminent.

Ian dumping his bake into the bin.

Yes, there was one incident in Season 4 when Diana is accused of leaving Ian’s ice cream out of the freezer, which caused his bake to fail, and thus being eliminated.  Diana left the show because she said the program was edited to make it look as if she left the ice cream out when, in fact, she had put it back into the freezer.  She departed the show because of how she was portrayed.

The BBC series ran for six seasons, but when Channel 4 purchased the show, Mary, Mel and Sue left.  Paul Hollywood remained.  We were then introduced to Prue Leith as judge, replacing Mary Berry.  Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig took over for Sue and Mel.  Yes, they get the job done, but with gimmicks and slapstickish comedy, none of the clever, witty interplay we so enjoyed from Mel and Sue.

The first six seasons of this beloved show are constantly rerun on PBS, while Netflix has kept us up-to-date on the recent three.  Will I continue to watch?  Absolutely!  I wouldn’t miss one episode.  But I do miss the eccentric, aging, snaggle-toothed, rural baker who is completely uncomfortable in front of the camera, but was such fun to watch.

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Lemon Zucchini Drizzle Cake

I might have mentioned in previous posts how much I love the Great British Bake Off.  Most of the items the bakers are asked to make I’m familiar with, but occasionally they’re asked to bake something that I (and even they) have never heard of.

While watching the other night, for the very first challenge, Mary asked the bakers to bake a “drizzle cake”.  A drizzle cake?  What in the world is a “drizzle cake”?  Get out the laptop and Google “drizzle cake”.  It appears that a ‘drizzle cake’ (a term used in the U.K. and not to be confused with a ‘glazed cake’) is a loaf or pound cake which has been punctured with holes after baking into which a simple syrup is poured (flavor of your choice), and then glazed.  Okay, sounds easy enough, which probably explains why it was the first challenge of the season for the British Bake Off contestants.  So, I’m going for it!

Of course, I’m not going to replicate Mary’s, or the contestant’s bakes.  As always I’ll create my own recipe, and with a garden bulging with zucchini (courgette for all the U.K. readers), have the perfect idea … a Lemon Zucchini Drizzle Cake.

After a few failed attempts (too much zucchini, too wet a batter, not enough leavening, etc.), the following recipe is a winner.  Not too puckery … not too veggie-like … and not too sweet, just chock full of lemony zucchini goodness.  Dense, rich and moist … think of carrot cake but without the spice … and, of course, add in the “drizzle” factor.

This one’s definitely a keeper.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

LEMON ZUCCHINI DRIZZLE CAKE
Makes one large loaf cake, or 12 muffins/small cakes.  Bake at 350° for one hour (for cake) … 35 minutes or so for smaller cakes … or til done.

1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons (or more) lemon zest
1 teaspoon good quality vanilla extract
2 eggs, room temperature
2 cups all- purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups shredded zucchini, drained dry

Drizzle
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350.  Grease a large loaf/cake pan or muffin tins.

This is really quite easy to make.  First grate the zucchini and put it in a colander to drain.  You want as much moisture removed from the zucchini as possible.  I grated the zucchini and let it drain for over an hour, then gathered up handfuls of zucchini and squeezed it dry.  If your zucchini isn’t squeezed dry, your cake will be wet and soggy.  And no one wants a “soggy bottom”.

In a large bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Whisk together til well blended and the flour has lifted.

In another large bowl, beat the eggs til lemony colored and then add the sugar.  Beat well.  Add the oil, lemon juice, vanilla and yogurt.  Mix well and then add the lemon zest.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing well, but don’t over-beat.  Fold in the DRY, grated zucchini.

Pour the batter into your prepared pan or pans.  Bake in the center of the oven, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and dry … about an hour … and until the cake begins to pull back from the sides of the pan. When the cake is fully baked, cool it in the pan for 15 minutes, then remove it from the pan and cool it on a rack for another 15 minutes while you prepare the “drizzle”.

In a small bowl mix the confectioner’s sugar and the lemon juice.  It should be thin, but not too thin.  This is not a thick glaze.  After the cake has cooled, put it back into the pan and with a long skewer (I used a chopstick from last night’s takeout), poke holes in the cake about an inch or two apart.  Pour half the “drizzle” all over the cake, letting it settle into the holes, let it rest for about 15 minutes, then pour the rest of the “drizzle” over the top.

The “drizzle” oozes into this yummy cake making it very moist.   Leave the cake to set for at least an hour before serving.  And then serve this cake for a sweet treat at lunch, brunch or if you want the perfect accompaniment for your afternoon tea.  Absolutely delicious!  Enjoy!!

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Addicted to GBBO

Yes, I will admit it.  I am addicted to the “GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF” program on PBS.  It doesn’t matter which season, or which episode, or which challenge, I will stop what I am doing and watch every action-packed moment.

But why?  What makes this cooking program any different from the slew of other cooking programs … on all the many cooking channels … at any time of the day or night?   I’m not really sure.  Could it be that the two judges are actually professional bakers, and not actors or tv personalities whose careers have waned and they have no other place to go?  Could it be the lack of insulting comments from the chef judges to the contestants?   Master Chef, you know who you are!   Or perhaps the lack of having to utilize the obvious ‘placement’ products from their sponsors to create the ‘challenge’ that week?  Sound familiar, Top Chef?  Maybe its the gimmick-free way in which the program is presented … name most of the shows on the Food Network these days!

The format is very basic – three baking challenges over two days – starting with 12 bakers, eliminating one each week and selecting a “star” baker, until the final three bakers face off to select the winner. The winner of the GBBO does not get $250,000.00 in cash, or their own cooking program, or a feature in Food & Wine magazine.  They get “bragging rights”.  Yup!  That’s it!Abouttop-Sue-Mel

Fashion icons they are not, but the show hosts, Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, are masterful in their handling of each week’s challenges and contestants.  They have very little camera time but when they do, their quips are quick, slick, and quite funny.

I became familiar with Sue Perkins, the bespectacled brunette, from a BBC program called THE SUPERSIZERS, in which she and her co-host had to live in selected British periods of time and experience the life styles and, more-importantly, the foods from those eras. It was historically accurate and hysterically funny.   Each episode focused on one historical period and for one week they lived in that time period … from clothing and lack of conveniences to tasty repasts sometimes consisting of sow’s udder paté, bovine pudding or duck tongue.

Mel Giedroyc, the perky blonde with the quick wit, has co-hosted with Sue before.  Apparently they worked together on a daytime British program called LIGHT LUNCH or was it LATE LUNCH.  Either way, I’ve never seen it, but I’m sure it was quite entertaining.  Together Mel and Sue have a great comraderie, and always empathize with each contestant’s near disasters.

Abouttop-Paul-MaryThe judges, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, somehow work beautifully together … a bit like Julia Child and Jacques Pepin.  Paul, with his piercing blue eyes, would intimidate even the most seasoned baker.  It just takes one look for you to know you’re doomed, but Mary (30 years Paul’s senior) finds some good in every bake, regardless of how awful it may look or taste.  Both Paul and Mary are hugely successful professional bakers, cookbook authors, and television personalities, each with their own cooking shows; but there are no signs of egos here.   Each week they bring interesting and quite difficult challenges to the contestants, after which they focus on the ‘bake’, nothing more.  How refreshing!

The show is filmed in tents on the grounds of many different British country houses from Welford Park in Newbury, to Harptree Court in Bristol, to Valentines Mansion in Redbridge.   Did I say, in tents?  Yup!  Where else could you showcase Britain in all of its glory but on perfectly manicured lawns of magnificent country houses with a background of lush green gardens and, of course, the completely unpredictable British weather!  The location for each of the season’s filming is kept quite secretive … not wanting stampeding fans showing up, I guess.

Abouttop-Victoria-SandwichThe baking “challenges” are divided into three categories.  First , there is the Signature Bake, to test the contestants’ creativity and baking ability.  Next is the Technical Bake, where the bakers receive a recipe from Mary or Paul with minimal instruction.  Finally, it’s the Showstopper Bake, which is designed to display the bakers’ skill and talent.  Many of these “challenges” are classic British baked items, some are from French patisseries … most of which I have never ever heard of (actually some of the contestants have never heard of them either).  Yes, the contestants are given recipes in the Technical Bake, and, yes, they have advance knowledge of what the next challenge is going to be so that they can practice at home.  What they don’t have to do is try to utilize canned chicken, root beer, squash blossoms and dill pickles to make a frozen dessert.  This is a true baking show, remember.   Gimmick free!

This cooking/baking program may not be for everyone, but it certainly is a hit for many.  Not only can you buy the cookbooks, you can, of course, download any of the episodes, and now you can buy the intriguing background music composed by Tom Howe.

We’re into Season 6 right now … but in Great Britain Season 7 is viewing and competing with the Olympics.  For some reason, PBS didn’t start airing GBBO until Season 3 and are calling this season “Season 3” …!  Confused?  So am I.   Perhaps PBS wanted to see if the show was going to gain in popularity before airing it, as they do with so many other British television programs. Well, it has!  Over 13 million viewers in Great Britain alone.  And what it has done to the baking industry is unbelievable.  Sales of flour, baking powder, baking chocolate have all risen (no pun intended).  Home bakers are being challenged to try their hand at scones, bread and cake.  Yes, it has even inspired me.

So if you haven’t seen an episode of the GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF, I challenge you to watch it, and tell me you don’t hunger for one of those “Show Stoppers“!

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References:  Great British Bake Off, GBBO Music, The Guardian

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The British Food Festival

Hubby discovered this event while trolling the Internet a few weeks ago.  We had already made plans to be in the County Durham area during that weekend …. yes, of course, I want to go!  Master classes … celebrity chefs … local artisan foods … everything that I could learn from and use for my new blog and ultimately my new specialty foods café.  Who knows, maybe Mary Berry or Paul Hollywood would be there.  If not, then maybe one of the contestants from the Great British Bake Off.

I did my research, downloaded the map, the schedule of events, and was ready.  We took a drive to Bishop Auckland the day before just to get the ‘lay of the land’.  I certainly didn’t want us to get lost, or not know where to park.  As we drove along the highway into Bishop Auckland, the flashing signboards were up warning us to “expect delays” because of what was expected to be thousands upon thousands of foodies descending on the town.  We talked to relatives who kindly offered their driveways, knowing that we’d be driving around for hours trying to find a spot to park the car.

Off we set on Sunday morning.  A typical English day, cold, damp, and grey,  8° C (about 46° F).  The drive was uneventful.  Parking (thank you Morrison’s) was not a problem.  Walking to the town square was brisk, but quiet.  Where were all the people?   I was ready to battle the crowds.  We saw the first of the white canopies, then more, then row after row of folding chairs, and a stage platform.  But where is Mary Berry?

As we made our way through the market square down past the canopied vendors to Auckland Castle where the main event was to take place, finally, people!!  The day began to brighten and so did my attitude.  Look there’s a vendor selling Millionaire’s Shortbread and it LOOKS JUST LIKE MINE!!  Pies ….. steak and stilton, pork and apple, cheese and onion, traditional and exotic.  They were all here!  Scones …. cheeses …. breads ….!

food show image

We sampled everything we possibly could from Spanish Paella to 6-month aged Bleu Cheeses.  We drank hard ciders, homebrewed vodka, and, of course, tea.  There were traveling troubadours singing the praises of ‘tomatoes’, squawking seagulls to entertain (and annoy) the children, foods from all over the world.

Did I read more into this event than it actually was?  Probably!  But, did I enjoy it?  Absolutely!!

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References:  The British Food Festival

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