Friday, April 16

The Cake Diaries: beetroot and seed cake.

Beetroot and seed cake? It sounds far too healthy. The Cook's Company at the Royal Festival Hall seems to go in for these healthy-ised foodstuffs, and actually they do it rather well. They have a nut-and-honey concoction that sounds terribly healthy but can probably induce diabetic coma at 50yds.

This cake is so loaded with seeds that it is strangely reminiscent of the bread I've been baking recently. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not, but it all adds to the feeling of doing something virtuous rather than naughty while eating it. Is that a good thing in cake? I'm not convinced. Still, the cake was moist and tasty, and I like seeds. The tea wasn't bad, either. 7/10

Thursday, April 15

Ginger cordial

I seem to be on a quest for the perfect cordial. I quite like my water to taste of something occasionally, but I really don't like the super-charged stuff you get in supermarkets. It's far too sweet and I'm not a great fan of cordialised orange/lime/blackcurrant flavours.

I bought some Rhubarb and Ginger cordial the other day which was...quite nice, but it lacked any kind of gingery kick. What's the point of ginger without the kick? I ask you.

I resolved to make some myself. You can tell I'm on holiday. Oh how I love being on holiday. A bit of googling later:


1 large lump of root ginger (about 120g, actually)
1 lemon (might use 2 next time)
1l water
10fl oz sugar
square of muslin (I've been known to use a clean dishcloth..)
sterile bottles


  • grate the ginger and put it in a largeish saucepan with the water
  • add the zest of the lemon (I took it off with a potato peeler)
  • squeeze the juice of the lemon into the pan
  • bring it to the boil
  • simmer for about 20 mins
  • leave the mixture to cool and infuse. I left it overnight. It tasted considerably better in the morning than it did 2 hours after it was cooked.
  • sterilise* your bottles (wash and dry in a low over for 10 mins)
  • scald your muslin/bottletops/funnel (pour boiling water over them in a bowl)
  • bring the ginger liquid back up to a simmer (I do this because otherwise it spits and boils when I pour it into the bottles which are still hot from the oven because I am too impatient to allow them to cool).
  • pour through the muslin/funnel into the bottles. Seal.
And guess what? It tastes great! Gingery, and everything. Not too sweet. I bet it'd be nice with sparkling water. I bet it'd be even nicer with vodka....

*I'm not sure my bottles are the most sterile of sterile things, frankly. I'm keeping my open cordial in the fridge, and keeping a close eye on the one in the cupboard for signs of fermenting. Though would fermenting be a bad thing? Ginger there's a thought...

Monday, April 5


I really love making bread, but for one reason and another (mainly the one labelled 'work') I haven't made any for ages. Two things last week hardened my resolve to get back to it. The first was Jo's recipe in the brilliant notes on the menu which I hope she won't mind me adapting a bit here, and the second was the Time Shift documentary A Loaf Affair (three days left to see that on iPlayer at the time of writing). This mentioned the Chorleywood Bread Process, developed in 1961 to speed up the breadmaking process, and largely responsible for what we refer to as bread nowadays. P also gave me the River Cottage Bread Handbook for Christmas; which is a lovely little book if a little frighteningly detailed for non-bread makers, in my opinion. Before the day before yesterday I'd been happily using the recipe from the back of the Allinson packet with great success. However I have to admit that the two loaves I've made since Friday have been far superior.

Here's what I've been doing, with apologies for the mixed units of measurement. What can I say? My scales do both.


25g fresh yeast (available from your supermarket's bakery section, and ridiculously cheap)*
14 fluid oz warm water
1 tbsp sugar
1 lb strong white bread flour
4 oz plain wholemeal flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp vegetable oil (I used olive oil).
60g 'extras' (seeds, oats, currants, whatever).

  • Dissolve the yeast in the warm water with the sugar. My Dad says you should wait for it to froth, but I'm not convinced I did the first time I did this, and it rose just fine. I waited the second time just in case, though.
  • Add the yeasty mixture to the flour and salt and mix together. I add the oil at the very end. I usually mix everything in a bowl; as the dough is very sticky at first. Others do it straight on the kitchen surface. Notes on the menu suggests mixing in the food processor with a dough hook for about 10 mins until it's all smooth. I prefer to
  • Turn out onto the kitchen surface and knead, stretching the dough to develop the gluten in the yeast. This take about 10-15 minutes. The dough is ready once you can stretch it thin enough to see some light through it. At this point you can knead in some seeds or currants if you fancy.
  • Put the dough back into a bowl (it's worth oiling or flouring the bowl so it'll come out again easily), cover with some cling film or a cloth and leave in a warm place until the dough doubles in size. With luck this happens in about an hour. My kitchen isn't very warm so I often put the oven on very low and leave the bowl on top of it.
  • Once the dough has risen, flop it out of the bowl onto a floured surface and poke it all over to deflate it. This is my favourite bit. Just so you know.
  • Shape your bread (in the River Cottage book they dedicate three pages to shaping dough) and either put in a bread tin (sorry no idea what size as I never use one..), or put onto a baking tray.If you fancy paint it with milk and sprinkle some more seeds on. The milk helps the seeds stick.
  • Leave for about 20 mins, until the bread has roughly doubled in size again.
  • At this point I put my oven up as high as it will go (Gas mark 9 or 475 F, for the curious) and preheat the hell out of it. I rarely preheat ovens, but in this case it's worth it.
  • Put the bread into the oven on the middle shelf. The other day I'd also preheated a roasting tray at the bottom of the oven, and just after putting the bread in I poured boiling water into the tray, filling the oven with steam. Apparently this helps develop the crust. I didn't do this today, as I didn't feel like it. So there.
  • After ten minutes check the bread, and turn down the oven to Gas mark 4 or 350 F. I then set the timer for 40 minutes and go away and do some bad knitting. The bread is ready once it makes a hollow sound once you knock it on the bottom. My oven is frankly useless so my bread needed at least another 30 minutes, but yours may be ready sooner. You won't get as much knitting done though.
  • Take the bread out of the oven and cool on a wire rack. Resist eating any until it's cool, if you like a bit of pleasure deferment. Otherwise for goodness sakes cut off the end and eat it with some butter. Oh My.
* the fresh yeast is one of the reasons it might have risen so much better. The others are: not worrying that the dough is initially a bit wet and using white flour instead of wholemeal. Only time (and wholemeal flour) will tell.

Sunday, April 4

Playing catch-up.

Happy Easter! Thank goodness the end of term has finally arrived. I might soon be able to concentrate on something for long enough to write properly about it.

I spent a happy afternoon a couple of weeks ago planning what was going in the garden and where. Probably far too late, but what the heck. I grow veg in a space roughly 8ft long and 3ft wide, so planning is necessary. My Dad gave me a lunar calendar for Christmas. "It seemed like your sort of thing" he said, so I am playing with that. I can see that it might become excessively complicated, and apparently there are days on which it is unsafe to have one's hair cut, so at the moment I am restricting myself to sowing stuff on root, fruit, flower or leaf days. This has complicated the potato planting somewhat as dad says that potatoes should be planted on Good Friday (though I've never seen him do it), but Good Friday wasn't a root day. I'm going on holiday next week when there are root days so they will inevitably be planted next weekend. Ah, well. If my potatoes fail terribly I shall know what to blame.
Spring has sprung a bit, and these hyacinths which I plonked into the soil after having them in the house last year have actually flowered again. Result!
Last year's purple sprouting broccoli didn't really sprout, but the plants grew so mammoth that I couldn't bring myself to pull them up (so architectural, darlink!). I have been rewarded as this year they are going sprout crazy. That's my Easter Sunday veggies you're looking at there. Yum, I love purple sprouting.
Yesterday I made bread. I started off with the recipe from Notes on the Menu, and finished off with the River Cottage bread handbook, which I highly recommended, (though it does make bread making seem a lot more complicated than it really is). I have to say it's one of the best loaves I've ever produced, though I shall go a little easier on the onion seeds another time.