A cake for January

One of my favourite authors, Zadie Smith, wrote in her book On Beauty, that “there is a breed of Tuesday in January in which time creeps and no light comes and the air is full of water and nobody really loves anybody”. I love that; it really sums up this often-bleak time of year when Christmas cheer has long since left us and spring seems years away. It appears that Nigel Slater shares this pain, too. Turn to page 15 of his Kitchen Diaries and you will find him at January 9th, encountering “grey, endless drizzle…the sort of day on which to light the fire, turn on the radio and bake a cake.” Yet again, baking comes to the rescue.

So if you’re having one of those endless drizzle days, why not have a go at Nigel’s delicious double ginger cake. I baked this cake last week, when the snow was knee-deep outside. And it was perfect! The power of not one, but two, types of ginger, gives this cake a beautiful depth of flavour. Golden syrup keeps it moist, and the raisins add bite. I didn’t have any stem ginger in the house, so used grated ginger root instead, and it worked very well. I baked it in a round cake tin, and it turned out as a huge, domed hulk of a cake. It is delicious on its own with a cup of tea (for breakfast, perhaps?), but works equally well as a pudding with some crème fraîche. YUM!

So if you’re having one of those days where the weather seems to be against you, come home, put the heating on and get to work with this cake. If you need a bit more convincing, I’ll leave you with a quote from Nigel Slater himself: “Once the smell of baking fills the house, I find the rain suddenly matters a great deal less, if at all.” Such is the power of baking.

Double ginger cake
from Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries

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Ingredients:
250g (8oz) self-raising flour
2 level teaspoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
200g (7oz) golden syrup
55g (approx. 3 lumps) stem ginger in syrup / grated ginger root
2 tablespoons syrup from the ginger jar (optional)
125g (4½oz) butter
2 heaped tablespoons raisins
125g (4½oz) dark muscovado sugar
2 eggs
240ml (8 fl oz) milk

– Grease a 20-22cm square or round cake tin, then line with baking parchment.

– Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/Gas mark 4. Sift the flour with the ground ginger, cinnamon and bicarbonate of soda. Put the butter and golden syrup (and ginger syrup, if using) in a small saucepan and warm over a low heat. Grate the ginger finely, then add it to the pan with the raisins and sugar. Let the mixture bubble gently for a minute, giving it the occasional stir to stop the fruit sticking to the bottom.

– Break the eggs into a bowl, pour in the milk and beat gently to break up the egg and mix it into the milk. Remove the butter and sugar mixture from the heat and pour it into the flour, stirring smoothly and firmly with a large metal spoon. Mix in the milk and eggs (it may seem like there is way to much liquid, but keep stirring and it will mix into the flour). The mixture should be sloppy, with no trace of flour.

– Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake for 30-40 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. Unless you are serving it warm, leave the cake in its tin to cool, then tip it out onto a sheet of greaseproof paper. Wrap it in foil and, if you can, leave it to mature for a day or two before eating. The cake will keep for a week or so wrapped in paper and foil.

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Let’s do this 2013

I don’t usually set myself goals from year to year – instead, we have a small notebook in which we write aims for each month of the year. This lives next to the calendar in our kitchen and we mark off the aims as we complete them. It’s a great way to get things done, and makes our aims seem more manageable. If something isn’t completed in its designated month, it rolls to the next, which is very useful for seeing what we’ve been putting off (ahem, making curtains).

But recently I’ve been inspired by Fi and Me to write myself some goals for 2013. I don’t want to go mad, but think it will be good to have some ongoing goals to accompany my monthly lists. It will be interesting to see how many I can achieve! So here goes…

Take up yoga and go to classes on a regular basis
I don’t do a lot of exercise – in fact, the most I do is my 10-minute walk to work and the occasional gentle stroll. So I’m determined to get into a routine where I do something energetic and feel like I’ve actually had a workout. When I lived in Manchester I went to a swing dance class, which I loved. Unfortunately there don’t seem to be many in the Wrexham area…maybe I should set one up…!

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Finish sewing curtains for all the rooms in our house
This task seems to turn me into one hell of a procrastinator. I know I can make curtains, because I made some for my sewing room last year. But there’s something about them…the endless measuring and calculations, maybe, or the concentration involved? Either way, it’s one craft project I could happily put off forever, but as one window in our house is currently sporting a blanket for a curtain, it’s something I need to push myself to do.

NB: It’s a very nice blanket, by the way, and I don’t think many people notice…but still. A blanket.

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Sew myself some clothes from vintage patterns
Although I’m pretty proficient with my sewing machine, sewing myself a piece of clothing is something I’ve never tackled. And after being inspired by the wealth of dressmaking blogs around, I think 2013 is the year to make myself some good old fashioned homemade pieces. I’m hoping this will also tie in with my next goal…

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Buy more vintage clothing, and less from the high street
I love a good shop, I really do. High street, vintage, secondhand; I love them all. And I do buy a lot of secondhand and vintage clothing – but I’m aware that I could cut down on my visits to high street shops. I would also like to be more ethically conscious when buying clothes, not just reverting to the usual shops because they’re easy to buy from. And with ebay, Etsy and various local antiques shops on my regular rotation, I have no excuse not to kerb my high street spending.

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Do monthly recipe posts over at Manchester Cake Club
In autumn of last year, I was asked to contribute to the Manchester Cake Club blog, a great resource for recipes and cake-related events in the North-West England area. I was very flattered, and jumped at the chance – but although I posted recipes in October and November, I missed December. My excuse is that Christmas took over, but still. I will be posting there once a month from now on! And to make up for my missed month, I will be sending in two recipes for January. Hooray!

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Blog at least once a week
As above, Christmas hampered my wintery blogging. I may be busy, but how hard is it to write a piece once a week? I really enjoy blogging, and need to make time for it. So I will be challenging myself to post something here at least once a week this year. I’ll definitely be blogging about those curtains I’ll definitely be making…

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Cook a new recipe for tea once a month
Although my true passion is baking, I also love savoury cooking. There’s something so fun about sourcing interesting, exciting ingredients for a newly-tested dish, and watching it come to life in the kitchen. And even if these recipes don’t get added to our regular rotation of meals, it’s always fun to try something new. So in 2013 I plan to cook one new recipe for our evening meal once a month. Recipes I plan to tackle include: roasted onion soup, exciting curries, bread and pies!

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Set up a recipe website
Last year, I inherited my aunty’s old recipes. There were hundreds of them, typed or handwritten or torn from magazines and newspapers. They were organised in card folders, and I sorted through them and have been scanning them onto my computer. This year I plan to set up a website so people can try them out.

White chocolate mousse
Photo credits: here and here

Teddy adventures

Last Autumn, my mum thrust my brother’s teddy bear at me and said, “Can you do something with him?” Poor Teddy Sam had spent years living in a cupboard at home in my brother’s old bedroom, and was a bit of a mess. His old t-shirt had gone missing and stuffing was disappearing out of the holes in his neck, head and body. He had been loved too much. His body was limp and flat and he badly needed some TLC, so I agreed to fix him up for my brother for Christmas. Let’s just get a couple of things clear first:

1. My brother is 31 years old
2. My brother named Teddy Sam after himself

Here he is, the poor little man. AAAAAW

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So I took Teddy Sam home and sewed up his head. Then I added some wool toy stuffing to his belly and sewed up the holes there. He was much plumper and, I believe, much happier already!

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Next I had to cover Teddy Sam’s modesty. I was originally going to knit him a fair isle tank top but, with Christmas fast approaching and other presents needing attention too, I decided that might be a bigger job than I could manage. So I turned to my trusty “Stash of Unfinished Knitting Projects” (also known as “Projects I Got Stuck on and Never Finished”) and found the perfect thing.

A knitted child’s dress ended up being far too long, and as I couldn’t figure out why – or be bothered to unravel all the wool – it sat forlorn in my projects box. Luckily for Teddy Sam! It was the perfect shade of cheery red, and I knew it could be easily adapted into a teddy-sized jumper. It would also involve me using a sewing technique I had never used before: steeking.

Traditionally, steeking is used when knitting jumpers or cardigans in the round, without any interruptions for openings or sleeves. After knitting, the garment is sewn and then cut (yes, cut!) to create sleeves and a front opening, if needed. There is an excellent explanation and tutorial on steeking over on Knitty.

So I did a bit of research on steeking – turns out there is a wealth of useful information all over the internet. I then measured Teddy Sam’s arms and body, then used pins to mark out where I would need to sew the piece of knitting to fit him.

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Next, I sewed along my marked lines – twice, to make it as secure as possible.

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I then carefully cut just outside the lines I had sewn, to create a T-shaped piece of knitting. Then I turned it inside out…ta da!

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In the photograph above you can see a pink line of wool along where the neck hole would be. Before cutting the hole, I used an embroidery needle to thread wool through two rows of knitting either side of the neck hole. This ensured that the stitches were secure and wouldn’t unravel when I cut the hole.

As you can see, the bottom of the knitted piece had a few rows of garter stitch. I wanted the top to match the bottom, so planned to knit garter stitch around the neck hole. I realised, though, that Teddy Sam was not going to fit through such a small hole with rigid stitches, so I decided I would have to put him in the jumper and knit the neck around him.

With some, ahem, gentle tugging, I got Teddy Sam into the jumper, removed the pink wool holding the stitches together and inserted four small double-pointed needles around the neckline.

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I then knitted several rows in garter stitch all around the neckline. This was rather fiddly, and I have to admit that some fudging was done.

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But it turned out pretty good!

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Finally, a bit of embroidery along the sleeve edges and a big old S on the front completed Teddy Sam’s jumper.

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And come Christmas, my brother seemed pretty pleased with newly-spruced Teddy Sam. I’m really happy with how this project went, despite at parts having to make it up as I went along. I learned some new skills, and gave a loved teddy a new lease of life. Now I’m looking at my own teddy, who looks a bit scruffy himself…

A New Year

Happy New Year! I hope you rang in 2013 in a suitably jolly way. We spent our new year with lovely friends, a homemade cocktail bar, Pictionary, champagne and some good old fashioned dancing.

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We also consumed a LOT of snacks, and to contribute, I took along my new favourite baked item: cheese straws. Totally ’80s, totally delicious: the perfect party food, they were gobbled up in a matter of minutes. They are really quick to make, and so easy! One of my resolutions for 2013 very nearly became “Make cheese straws every day”, but then I think that would perhaps conflict with another resolution: “Don’t become insanely overweight”. Nevertheless, I have a feeling I will be making them again very soon.

The recipe is another classic from Mary Berry’s Baking Bible, which I adapted slightly (Mary’s straws were flat; mine were twists). Extra tip: I also took along a homemade basil dip, which is also insanely easy to make. It is completely yummy and makes an interesting variation on the usual dips. Now all you need is a party to go to! Or simply a film, a loved one and a comfortable sofa.

Cheese Straws
from Mary Berry’s Baking Bible

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Ingredients:
100g (40z) plain flour
75g (3oz) softened butter
75g (3oz) grated mature Cheddar
1 free-range egg yolk

Makes about 25 straws

– Pre-heat the oven to 190°C/Fan 170°/Gas mark 5. Lightly grease two baking trays.

– Measure the flour into a large bowl and rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the grated Cheddar. Reserve a small amount of the egg yolk for glazing and stir in the remainder. Bring the mixture together to form a dough, then wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for about 30 minutes.

– Roll the chilled dough out on to a lightly floured work surface to a thickness of about 5mm. Cut into neat strips about 1cm wide and 15cm long. Carefully twist the strips several times from both ends to create a spiral shape. Don’t worry if this is a bit tricky at first, it will get easier the more you do! They don’t have to look perfect as they will puff up in the oven (and besides, no-one will care what they look like. They will just want to EAT THEM!).

– Place the twists on the prepared baking trays and brush with the remaining egg yolk. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 10-15 minutes or until golden. Lift off the baking trays and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

Really easy basil dip
Mix 3 teaspoons of green pesto into 100ml crème fraîche. Place in jar. Take to party. Party!