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Around Leicester Castle

Story location: Home / Blog / work /
26/Jul/2014

I've been doing some work in Leicester for a few months. I had to test out a new camera which has been bought for a project which needs images taken at regular intervals.

I decided to take the camera for a bit of a walk at lunchtime, along with a fisheye lens, and took some photos in the Leicester Castle area.

Leicester Castle Tower
One of the towers at the approach to the Castle.

St Mary De Castro Church

St Mary De Castro Church
St Mary De Castro Church



Regional Cakeathon I: Isle of Wight Cracknel

Story location: Home / food_and_drink / a_to_z /
29/Jun/2014

It has been quite a long time since I did one of the regional recipes. I haven't forgotten about them but I have been very busy recently. My new job keeps me out of the house for 12 hours a day during the week so I have very little time in the evenings. Yesterday I finally managed to make the Isle of Wight Cracknels. They take quite a long time but most of that was between the boiling and baking steps when they were left to dry.

I decided to make Isle of Wight Cracknels because I've never made a traditional biscuit before (i.e. a 'twice cooked' one, which is where the word biscuit actually comes from). There are a lot of historical mentions of the biscuit and a few published recipes but I couldn't find any pictures, so I had no idea what 'form into cracknels' actually means. I decided to just roll them out and cut them into a variety of shapes.

extract from The Isle of Wight Tourist, and Companion at Cowes
Extract from The Isle of Wight Tourist, and Companion at Cowes by R. Moir, published in 1830.

Cracknels in New Zealand

A mention of Cracknels from a newspaper: New Zealand Colonist and Port Nicholson Advertiser from 1st August 1843.

To make the biscuits, I mixed together: 400g of flour, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp mixed spice and 1/2 tsp cinnamon. I mixed in 200g of softened butter and beat in one egg to form a stiff paste. I rolled out the paste, cut out the biscuits and dropped them a few at a time into a pan of simmering water. When they began to float I fished them out and put them into a bowl of cold water. After they had all been boiled and cooled, I put them on cooling racks to dry out. (As I mention below, I sprinkled sugar and seeds on some of them) When they had dried out I baked them at gas mark 6 for 25-30 minutes, turning them over half way through.

Cracknel Recipe
The Cracknel recipe from Cassell's Dictionary of Cookery.

The biscuits came out more like pastry disks which, now I look more closely at the ingredients, shouldn't be a surprise really.

Since the recipe I followed doesn't include any sugar, and I didn't want to add any since I was trying to stay faithful to the old 1883 recipe from Cassell's Dictionary of Cookery, I didn't add any to the mixture but I did split the mix into three parts and sprinkle sugar on one set, some sugared fennel seeds (leftover from the Bath Buns) on another set and left the final set plain.

(I had found an almost identical recipe in a book called The Canadian Housewife's Manual of Cookery which includes an unspecified amount of sugar but I had forgotten about it until I came to write this up today)

alternative cracknel recipe
Cracknel recipe from The Canadian Housewife's Manual of Cookery.

Some of the biscuits had puffed up while others had stayed flat. While this didn't affect the taste at all, the puffed up ones had a softer texture and were nicer to eat.

Isle of Wight Cracknel

I tried a couple of the biscuits last night, before they had cooled down fully, and the mixed spice flavour came through quite well but the biscuits could do with being a bit sweeter. Even the ones which I sprinkled sugar on didn't really have much of a sweet taste. One of the newer variations, which include quite a lot of sugar, might be more suitable for the modern palate.



Regional Cakeathon H: Hertfordshire Pope Lady Cakes

Story location: Home / food_and_drink / a_to_z /
14/Apr/2014

I can't remember where I first came across this cake but while doing some research I kept finding two different versions of the recipe. One uses egg whites and is baked in a loaf tin whereas the other is a yeast cake and is formed into 'lady' shaped buns.

I started by following the latter recipe but it came out as a very sticky batter instead of the expected dough.

After leaving it to rise overnight I put half in a loaf tin then worked in extra flour until it was a bit easier to handle. I then shaped into the lady shapes as described in the recipe. Unfortunately none of the recipes on the Internet had photos so I don't know if mine looked anything like the originals. One of the cakes looked more like an Owl.

Hertfordshire Pope Lady Cake

They were probably more like Two Fat Lady Cakes. We tried one and it was a fairly decent light bun with a hint of spice. When we tried a slice from the loaf version. It was light and crumbly and would make a good sponge cake.

owl cake?

The Recipe

  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 tbs oil or melted butter
  • 1 tsp dried yeast
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 2 eggs
  • between 3-4 cups of flour

Mix everything together and leave to rise overnight. Knock it back then make into buns.

This version of the recipe from the same site as above has a drier dough and gives better instructions on shaping the cakes:

Divide into 12 equal balls about 2 1/2 inches across. Cut each ball in half. Flatten one of the halves and shape into an oval for the body. Divide the other half of dough in two; make a round ball for head. With remaining dough make pencillike ropes 4 inches long. Cut in half for 2 arms. Press head and arms to body. (There are no legs.) Press raisins or currants deeply in place for the eyes and nose.

I could not find any pictures of the final cakes anywhere so I don't know how authentic mine look. Some web pages have recipes taken from books and refer to illustrations which aren't reproduced on-line.

Update:
I've just been sent another version of the recipe which is very similar to the one I followed but mentions crossing over the arms. Like the others, the page contains a history of the cakes copied from a book and again, there is no picture of the finished cakes.



Regional Cakeathon G: Goosnarg Cake

Story location: Home / food_and_drink / a_to_z /
06/Apr/2014

Many years ago, on the way home from a holiday Up North, we stopped at the village of Goosnarg. I think we mainly went there because of the unusual name. I remember that we took a photos in and around the churchyard but don't remember anything of the village itself.

The Goosnarg cake is another variation on the shortbread recipe. At first I thought it was the same as Aberffraw Biscuits with the addition of caraway seeds but upon a closer look the recipes use different proportions of butter, sugar and flour (2:3:6 sugar, butter, flour, whereas the Aberffraw biscuits are the easier to remember 1:2:3).

Goosnarg Cakes

These biscuits came out crunchier and a bit darker. I may have slightly over-baked them but the colour may have been down to the mixture of regular and dark sugar I used (since one of the recipes I found called for golder caster sugar).



Regional Cakeathon F: Felton Spice Loaf

Story location: Home / food_and_drink / a_to_z /
24/Mar/2014

I struggled to find a recipe for the letter F but eventually found the Felton Spice Loaf, which is a quick and easy spiced fruit cake.

Felton is a village in Northumberland, just off the A1 between Morpeth and Alnwick. Many years ago I had a long weekend in Northumberland, which started off with a stay in a hotel in Alnwick. I stopped at a cafe in Morpeth on the way, so while I haven't been to Felton itself and the place has no significance for me, at least I know I have driven past it.

The recipe is another simple 'pound cake', with equal weights of self raising flour, butter, sugar and eggs, with added ground almonds, sultanas and chopped mixed peel. Since I usually find that spiced cake recipes don't have enough spice for my liking, I added the given quantity of mixed spice and then an extra teaspoon of cinnamon.

Felton Spice Loaf

The cake takes about half an hour to cook at gas mark 5 and is delicious when still warm and spread with a bit of butter. The sugar and dried fruit meant that the cake was a bit sweet so if I make it again I will reduce the amount of sugar slightly, probably to 3/4 of the original amount.



Regional Cakeathon E: Ecclefechan Tart

Story location: Home / food_and_drink / a_to_z /
11/Mar/2014

In Victoria Wood's TV series dinnerladies she described Scotland as somewhere where everywhere was spelt Ecclefechan but pronounced Kirkcudbright. I've never been to Ecclefechan but I have been to Kirkcudbright so that's enough of a tenuous link for this recipe

The Ecclefechan tart is a version of the Border Tart, with a filling of dried fruit and chopped nuts. Most of the recipes for the former seem to be walnut based with the latter being almond based although there is some overlap in the recipes.

The version I made was based on this recipe. I made a cross between the two, using chopped mixed nuts and ground almonds. We usually have several bags of dried fruit in the kitchen which we dip into regularly for snacking so I had sultanas, cranberries, apricots and cherries available.

I recently discovered a hot milk pastry, which is similar to the hot water pastry traditionally used in pork pies but with milk instead of water and butter instead of lard. It's easy to mix but needs to cool down slightly before rolling out or pressing into a pie tin.

Ecclefechan Tart

To make the pastry you'll need:

  • 2 cups/450g of flour
  • ½ a cup/120ml of milk
  • 125g of butter

Bake the pastry blind for 10 minutes

For the filling:

  • 125g of butter
  • 200g light brown sugar (or 100g each of white and dark brown)
  • 2 eggs
  • 50g chopped mixed nuts
  • 300g mixed fruit
  • 1tbs wine vinegar

Bake at gas mark 5 for 25-30 minutes. The filling will look cooked on top but still be a bit soft. It will firm up when it cools.



Regional Cakeathon D: Dundee Cake

Story location: Home / food_and_drink / a_to_z /
23/Feb/2014

Many years ago we went to a family holiday to Scotland. We went to Dundee for one day and I remember seeing Captain Scott's ship 'Discovery'.

Dundee Cake

The Dundee Cake I made was based on a recipe from the BBC website. I topped the cake with a mixture of blanched almonds, hazelnuts and dried cherries.

Dundee Cake

The cake was quite sweet but had a good texture and flavour.



Regional Cakeathon C: Coventry Godcakes

Story location: Home / food_and_drink / a_to_z /
05/Feb/2014

I've been living in Coventry for 10 years so it's only appropriate that I chose a local recipe for the letter 'C'. The Coventry Godcake is a triangular pastry filled with mincemeat but it's also a local name for the triangle of grass you get at a road junction.

I first encountered the `grass triangle' version of the godcake in a book a couple of years ago and I've since been noticing them everywhere. There are many in the countryside surrounding the city and beyond, including one well known example outside Kenilworth Castle. I know of one in the city itself, at the junction of Stoke Green and Binley Road.

A Godcake

Getting back to the edible Godcake. My version was made using rough puff pastry and home made mincemeat. It was my first attempt at rough puff pastry and I was happy with the result.

Coventry Godcakes

I rolled the pastry out before cutting it into squares then the squares into triangles. I put a teaspoon or so of the mincemeat in the middle of one triangle then brushed the other piece with milk and pressed it down to form a seal. I made 3 cuts in the top, brushed with milk and sprinkled brown sugar on top. They were baked for about 15-20 minutes at gas mark 7.

Coventry Godcakes



Regional Cakeathon B: Bath Buns

Story location: Home / food_and_drink / a_to_z /
19/Jan/2014

We used to occasionally go to a Hamster Show just on the edge of Bath. I would take the bus down into the city centre to explore and do a bit of shopping. One time I went around the Cathedral, another time I walked along the river. There are a few things I would always do though: I would go to the fudge shop and buy a few bars, then to the market where I bought a couple of cakes from one stall and some loose tea from another.

I don't remember ever buying a Bath Bun so I can't compare mine to the ones sold in the city but I don't think that will be too much of a problem since the recipe has changed over the years and there are several different versions of the recipe around today.

There is a bit of controversy over the origin of the Bath Buns, with some people claiming they were invented by a physician while the Sally Lunn tea shop people claim their eponymous buns are the originals and were brought over from France by Sally herself. This has been called into dispute though, with claims that Sally Lunn is a corruption of the French 'Soleil et Lune', or Sun and Moon.

Bath Buns

See more ...



Macaroni Cheese

Story location: Home / Blog / food_and_drink /
08/Jan/2014

Although I prefer to cook most meals more or less from scratch, I do sometimes like the occasional bit of convenience food. We sometimes have packets of flavoured noodles or the macaroni cheese `Pasta-n-Sauce' and various supermarket brands and copies. We usually add extra vegetables and a meat, such as chicken, tuna or prawns, otherwise they aren't big enough for a meal for two.

The Kraft `Mac and Cheese' is often mentioned in American TV programmes so when I was in Chicago 3 years ago (my God is it really that long ago, time has flown!) I bought a packet to bring home to try.

The British macaroni cheese packets are straightforward to cook: the entire pack of pasta and sauce powder is added to a pan of milk and water and boiled until done.

The American version comes in a box with two packets inside. The larger pack contains the pasta which needs to be cooked separately. The smaller pack is the sauce powder. The cooked pasta is drained and then mixed with butter, milk and the packet of sauce mix.

The British version is smaller but makes more sauce with more flavour. The American version ends up with a pan of pasta with practically no sauce, the milk seems to just get absorbed into the pasta leaving a thin coating. The end result is much less satisfying than a bowl of pasta in a cheese-like sauce.

I recently bought a box of `Tropical Sun' macaroni cheese, which is cooked in the same was as the Kraft mac and cheese. It was also similar to the Kraft stuff in that it was disappointing with very little sauce and was fairly tasteless.

A bowl of proper home made macaroni cheese is much better than any of the above. It's very easy to make but takes a bit longer and is a bit more effort. The hardest part of the job is to grate the cheese. Making the roux is easy, whisking in the milk is easy, adding the cheese is easy. The only real disadvantage of making it properly is the extra washing up it generates.



Regional Cakeathon A: Aberffraw Biscuits

Story location: Home / food_and_drink / a_to_z /
03/Jan/2014

This year my new recipe challenge is to make a regional cake or dessert for each letter of the alphabet. I will be concentrating on British places, with emphasis on places I have visited or which have any particular significance for me. Ideally each dish should come from (or at least be named after) the place in question.

My A to Z of cakes starts in Anglesey. When I was younger we used to have family holidays on Anglesey and we visited Aberffraw on several occasions. I remember swimming upstream in the river but staying in the same place due to the strong current, walking along the sand dunes and visiting the old church on the island just around the coast.

The Aberffraw Biscuit is similar to shortbread and is allegedly the oldest biscuit recipe in Britain. It is traditionally shaped in a scallop shell. I don't have any of those so I used a madeleine tray instead.

The recipe is fairly simple, consisting of just flour, butter and sugar. I used my food processor to cream together 100g of butter and 50g of caster sugar. I added 150g of sifted plain flour, a bit at a time, and pulsed the food processor until everything was mixed together. I had to tip it onto the work surface squash it all together to make a ball.

I broke off small pieces and pushed them into the individual hollows in the madeleine tray before baking the biscuits at gas mark 4 for about 15-20 minutes.

title

I tried one when they were still warm and the texture was quite soft and almost cakey, quite unlike a shortbread. When they cooled they became firmer but still didn't go as hard as a traditional scottish shortbread. This was a nice simple recipe to start the year but I'll be getting more ambitious with future desserts.



Recipe a week 2013: Summary

Story location: Home / food_and_drink / recipe_a_week /
31/Dec/2013

My second attempt at the weekly new recipe challenge is over now. There was an increase in the amount of baking I did, mainly due to the increase in the number of bread, cake and pie recipe books in my collection.

I did at least 7 bread or bread based recipes, 23 savoury dishes and 29 cakes or desserts. I know that doesn't add up to 52 but some weeks I did 2 recipes and I'm also counting some of the pizzas as both bread and savoury. I was expecting there to be many more sweet recipes since I remember making a lot of cakes.

Since it was a personal challenge, not a household challenge, most of the meals were planned and cooked as solo efforts. There were 3 where Emma did the bulk of the work: Spotty Dinosaur Cake, Pig Hottub Cake and Scottish Macaroons. I'm now ready to start my baking challenge for 2014: Regional Cake-athon, where I'll try to do a cake or dessert named after places beginning with each letter of the alphabet.



Bonus Recipe: Marzipan Mince Pies

Story location: Home / food_and_drink / recipe_a_week /
29/Dec/2013

My final recipe for the year, and a proper Christmassy recipe, was for marzipan topped mince pies. All of the ingredients were left over from other recipes so we had shortcrust pastry from a dessert which Emma made shortly before Christmas and we had the fruit and marzipan leftover from the stollen.

I took the boozy mixed fruit and added some dried cranberries and ground almonds to make a slightly more substantial mincemeat style filling. We blind-baked the pastry bases for a few minutes before adding a spoon of fruit. This went back in the oven for a few more minutes before a disk of marzipan was placed over each pie. The pies went back in the oven for another minute or so until the marzipan had softened and formed a seal around the edge of the pies.

Marzipan Mince Pie

The only real problem with the pies was that they were a bit small. Our pastry cutter was slightly too small and when the pastry shrank back during the blind-baking, we ended up with small disks instead of pie cases. This meant we needed a marzipan dome over the fruit, more marzipan and less pastry is not a problem for me.



Week 52: Scottish Macaroons

Story location: Home / food_and_drink / recipe_a_week /
26/Dec/2013

I should have known that I was being a bit too ambitious with my Christmas recipe plans. After eating a stollen, a panettone and a couple of boxes of Christmas chocolates, I didn't feel like making any full sized cakes or puddings.

Emma found this recipe so after we made them I decided they could count as one of my new recipes. The filling was mashed potato mixed with icing sugar. Even after we had added all the icing sugar we had, it was still quite soft so it needed heavily chilling before it could be dipped in melted chocolate and rolling in coconut.

Scottish Macaroons

The centre was soft, not too sweet and you couldn't taste the potato. Overall they were very tasty.



Week 51: Panettone

Story location: Home / food_and_drink / recipe_a_week /
22/Dec/2013

My Christmas recipes continue with Panettone. I am a couple of days late with this because we didn't finish the stollen until today and I didn't want too many half eaten cakes in the house.

Panettone

The recipe I followed was based on several different ones and was also modified based on the ingredients I had open in the kitchen.

The dough was made by sifting 500g of flour, 100g of caster sugar, a teaspoon of yeast and a teaspoon of salt into a bowl (I used 400g of bread flour and 100g of plain flour

200ml of warmed milk, 1 tsp of vanilla essence and 2 medium eggs were beaten together then mixed with the dry ingredients to make a fairly sticky dough. This was left for several hours to rise until it had roughly doubled in size.

It was then time to mix in the butter (215g, a mixture of salted, unsalted and baking margarine) and dried fruits (240g, a mixture of sultanas, dried cherries and mixed fruit and peel).

I lined two round cake tins, with a round disk in the bottom and baking paper up the sides of the tins, standing at least 2 inches taller than the tin itself. This was an improvised panettone paper liner to support the cake as it rose.

I spooned the dough into the cake tins until it was level with the tops of the tins. I did not preheat the oven and put the cakes into the cold oven, on the middle shelf, and left them to rise, undisturbed, for several hours.

When they had started to rise again I turned the oven on to gas mark 7 and left them to bake for 35-45 minutes (the smaller one was ready first). Halfway through cooking, I brushed the tops of the cakes with melted butter and sprinkled some brown sugar on top. I then turned the oven down to gas mark 5 until the cakes were cooked and a skewer came out clean.

Panettone

This recipe was another success. It was trickier to make than the stollen, since lining the cake tins was a bit fiddly and the dough was sticky and difficult to work with, but the flavour and texture of the finished cake was good.