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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.
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.
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.
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.
I bought some semolina flour a few weeks ago when I saw a bag on offer in the supermarket. I originally bought it because I had read a few recipes which used it in combination with plain flour but the bag remained unopened until recently when I started using it instead of cornmeal to coat loaves or when rolling out pizzas.
Once I had opened it I intended to try a semolina pudding. I can't remember when I last ate this but back in primary school it was occasionally offered as a hot pudding with tinned prunes.
I started looking up recipes then found that a friend of ours had beaten me to it and had already blogged about it.
Since my 'new thing' is microwave porridge (more of that later) I tried making semolina in the microwave. I took 2 cups of milk, whisked in ⅓ cup of semolina, a couple of tablespoons of sugar and a splash of vanilla essence. I cooked it at full power for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly. I stirred in a tablespoon of jam to give a marbled effect. Since this makes quite a lot, there's no way I could eat that quantity all at once so I ate some while it was still hot then put the rest in a tub to set.
Getting back to the microwave porridge, since I don't like having to stand in front of the microwave making sure something doesn't boil over, I have started cooking the porridge on medium for 6 minutes. At this setting I can go away and do something else and it will cook on its own, without needing stirring.
Even though I have challenged myself to baking different 'Regional Cakes', I am still going to be trying various other new recipes including different breads. In the last week I have made two breads based on recipes in the Hairy Biker's Big Book of Baking.
The first was the 'Rustic Spanish Loaf'. I think this may be the first time I have made a loaf using an overnight starter with baking yeast, instead of sourdough wild yeasts. The resulting bread had a soft texture and a crumpet-like flavour.
The second was the 'Breakfast Bread' from the Austrian section of the book. This was an enriched dough with eggs, milk and oil, but was easier to handle than the brioche dough I made last year.
The bread was good and surprisingly quick to make. I left it to prove while we went to the shops and it had risen well by the time we got back.
The flavour wasn't as rich as brioche but it did have fewer eggs and didn't contain butter. It might be worth trying again but with a mixture of butter and oil to see what difference that makes.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
The centre was soft, not too sweet and you couldn't taste the potato. Overall they were very tasty.
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.
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.
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.
I don't think I'll be buying any supermarket stollen any more. While I have been a fan of stollen for several years, most bought ones tend to be a bit dry. When I decided to make one this year, I looked around for recipes and found several similar ones. The one I followed came from the River Cottage Cake handbook.
I actually started making this yesterday but didn't get chance to bake it so it went in the fridge overnight. I took it out this morning and let it get to room temperature before putting it in the oven at gas mark 4 for 25-30 minutes.
The first thing to do is to make the enriched dough. This had 500g of bread flour, 100g of melted butter, 175g of warm milk, 125g of caster sugar, 2 eggs and some yeast. This was mixed together, kneaded for a few minutes then left to double in size.
Meanwhile, 100g of dried cherries and 200g of sultanas were put in a bowl and mixed with a few tablespoons of sloe gin and the zest from an orange.
When the bread has risen, it was knocked back and flattened to a rectangle. Some of the fruit was spread over it along with some flaked almonds. These were kneaded into the dough then the procedure was repeated until all the fruit and nuts were mixed in.
The dough was divided into 3 portions. The larger one had two marzipan 'sausages' in the middle, the smaller round ones had marzipan balls inside.
When the cakes were cooked, and while they were still warm, they were brushed with melted butter then dredged with icing sugar.
When I put the cakes in the oven I realised I had forgotten to add the cardamom but they tasted fine without. They certainly had a better texture than any shop-bought stollen I've had.
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This is just a quick recipe and not part of the December/Christmas series of recipes, unless you count it as a possible use of leftover turkey. I've made many risottos in the past but always in a pan on the stove top. Tonight I decided to try an oven baked version.
I had already softened an onion and a leek in a pan before I decided to do this, so I put the rice, vegetables, half the grated cheese, the cooked chicken and stock in a pyrex dish. I added a pinch of salt and some chopped herbs, covered the dish with foil then put it in the oven at gas mark 6.
It needed longer than the 18 minutes given in the recipe, closer to half an hour. I served it with the rest of the cheese and some freshly ground pepper.
The rice was well cooked but lacked the creamy texture which I normally get by stirring some soft cheese into the risotto right at the end (I didn't do that here because the pyrex dish wasn't big enough to safely mix it in without risking spilling). Next time I might try stirring some half-way through to see what it's like.
I was unable to post a new recipe last week because I was too busy at the start of the week, and too ill at the end, but I managed to catch up today. Since we are now in december, I have decided to do some festive recipes in the run-up to Christmas.
The first is a nice quick one from the Hairy Biker's European baking book. Janhagels are a kind of spiced shortbread topped with nuts and brown sugar. I decided to have a go at making this using our new food processor, to speed up the mixing a bit.
I started with 300g of flour, 200g of light brown sugar, 200g of cold diced butter, a generous pinch of salt, a generous teaspoon of cinnamon and ½ a teaspoon of mixed spice. This went in the food processor and was pulsed until it had mixed together to form breadcrumbs.
This then got tipped into a bowl and a beaten egg was mixed in to form a dough. This got pressed into a greased and lined baking tin. The topping was made from 50g of sliced almonds and 50g of brown sugar, which was mixed together and pressed into the top.
The mix was baked at gas mark 4 for about 35 minutes. I'm not sure how similar these are supposed to be to traditional shortbread (which I do really like) but these had a slightly softer texture. The spice mix did give them a nice christmassy taste.
Now I've got last week's recipe sorted, I can start thinking about this week.
I've made ordinary sponge cakes before but this is the first time I've tried making a Genoese Sponge, where beaten eggs are used instead of baking powder to rise the sponge. I've felt that I should try making one since it's probably another cake method I should add to my repertoire.
The recipe I used came from the River Cottage Cakes Handbook. It started with 125g of caster sugar and 4 eggs and these were beaten with an electric whisk in a bain marie until they had trebled in size. 125g of sifted flour was then folded in, followed by 75g of cooled melted butter.
The cake was baked for 25-35 minutes at gas mark 4 (the top layer was thinner and cooked faster). I think I should have reduced the cooking time because the cake had a slightly crunchy edge to it but, when eaten with the buttercream, it all went together well.
The Christmas Lights were switched on in the city centre tonight. Unlike previous years, when they have had celebrity musicians present (such as Roy Wood last year and The Hoosiers a couple of years before that), this year the council tried to save a bit of money and had some local bands performing instead. As usual, the festivities took place in Broadgate.