Archive for category: baking

Banana Loaf

There is a sign in our local green grocer that reads: ‘Please do not press our peaches and nectarines’. We need a sign like this on our fruit bowl, as Ila’s favourite activity of the moment is squishing bananas or pushing straws and crayons into soft stone-fruit. Yesterday she did a number on two bananas. They were so black by the evening that the only solution was to make banana loaf.

I was cleaning a mountain of dishes, and didn’t want to make much mess, so managed to make this entire cake using only one saucepan, a teaspoon and the kitchen scales. Clearly, I’m still inspired by last weeks gâteau au yaourt.

The cake disappeared in 5 minutes when I cut into it at my office this morning. However, that’s not exactly praise as my colleagues aren’t at all discerning when it comes to cake. This one is very moist at least, but I’m pretty sure that there is a better banana bread lurking out there waiting for me, so I expect to be coming back to amend this recipe in the near future.

Meanwhile, if you don’t like the sound of the cake, check out The Banana Song. We’re addicted to this in our house at the moment. It’s silly and a bit annoying, but Ila thinks it’s pretty funny and I’ll take it over The Wiggles any day.

Banana Loaf Cake

  • 125 g butter
  • 150 g soft brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 very ripe bananas
  • 180 g plain flour
  • 2 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • handful of sliver almonds

Mash the bananas. Melt the butter and sugar in a saucepan over low heat. Turn off the heat and allow to cool slightly before stirring in the mashed banana, the vanilla and the beaten egg.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and nutmeg. Fold this into the saucepan mixture, alternating with the milk. Pour the mix into a greased loaf tin, lined with a wide strip of baking paper (across the long edges) for easy removal. Scatter the top with slivered almonds and bake in a 180°C oven for 30-35 minutes.

Gâteau au yaourt

My mother sent me a book for my birthday called French Children Don’t Throw Food. Its author, Pamella Drukerman, believes that French children adapt more quickly to adult social norms than English children. This is possible, Drukerman attests, because French parents expect children to exhibit patience and independence far earlier than their English counterparts. Apparently, French parents make clear their expectations by ignoring their children for much of the day.

Having lived in France as an exchange student and an au pair, I know for certain that French children do throw food on occasion and that they aren’t possessed of infinite patience. However, there is a certain structure to eating and sleeping that seems to be a common experience for French children. French children eat at 8am, noon, 4pm and 8pm, after which they go to bed and sleep for 12 hours. I haven’t witnessed anything like this rigour, which is calming rather than militant,  among my friends with children in the UK. I certainly haven’t managed to introduce it into my own house.

Drukerman advises that one of the earliest lessons in patience that French mothers teach their children is through baking. At least here I can equal the Parisian supermamans of Druckerman’s acquaintance! She mentions the gâteau au yaourt as the first cake that French children learn how to bake. Having baked this cake innumerable times in 1998 with my Breton host-sisters, I decide that a wet Sunday afternoon is perfect for Ila’s first lesson in patience.

My host sisters loved this recipe because it didn’t require any measuring apparatus other than the individual-portion-size tub of yogurt and a teaspoon. As well as teaching patience, this cake is very good for learning about ratios. I notice that my recipe is almost exactly the same as Drukerman’s, and that of my favourite Parisian food blogger Clothide Dusoulier. This clearly is a French classic – at least for as long as yogurt has been sold in 125ml tubs.

Even though she is only 18 months old, Ila is delighted to be able to pour and mix and slosh. Her enthusiasm results in the addition of rather more rum than I’d usually add, but it only seems to improve the final product.

Gâteau au yaourt

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tubs (or 1 cup) plain full-fat yogurt
  • 1 tub (or 1/2 cup) plain sugar – increase this to two tubs or a whole cup if you have a sweet tooth
  • 3/4 tub (90 mls) canola/rapeseed oil
  • 4 tubs plain flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 1 teaspoon rum
  • a pinch of salt

Beat the eggs. Add the yogurt, oil, sugar, vanilla and rum. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and salt. Fold the dry ingredients gently into the wet mixture. Pour into a lined and floured tin and bake in a preheated 180C oven for 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cool briefly in the pan before turning onto a wire rack.

This cake can be adapted by adding a tubful of chocolate chips, two tubs of mixed frozen berries, or two tubs of chopped apple and a teaspoon of ground cinnamon just before baking.

Nectarine tart

The Marchmont green grocers had huge boxes of Spanish white nectarines for £2 this week. ‘How is £2 possible?’ I asked. They didn’t know. After months of ‘ripen-in-the-bowl’ stone fruit – that slowly soften, but are never actually ripe – these were a real treat. We ate a whole box, just as they were – sticky and tart, with sweetness running down our wrists.

I scoured my books for nectarine and peach recipes and found an excuse to buy a second box inside Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion in a recipe that she borrowed from Marieke Brugman. Ila was asleep when I started baking so I couldn’t run out for the macadamias and Cointreau that I lacked. Below is my adaptation:

  • 1 quantity short crust pastry (makes 2 tarts)
  • 6-8 nectarines
  • 150 g butter
  • 200 g castor sugar
  • 150 g ground almonds
  • 50 g chopped almonds
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 cup gin mixed with lemon syrup

Take the pastry from the fridge, roll out, press into tart tins and return them to the fridge for an hour. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Line the tart cases with foil, followed by baking beans or lentils, and bake blind for 20 minutes. Leave to cool.

Slice the nectarines and arrange, skin-side-up, in the cooled tart cases. Cream butter and sugar until white and fluffy. Mix in the ground almonds. Beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by the gin and sugar syrup. (I boiled sugar, water, lemon juice and lemon rind into a syrup and used about 2 tablespoons of it with the gin.) Fold in the chopped nuts and pour the batter over the fruit. Bake in a preheated 160° oven for 50 minutes – 1 hour. Allow tart to cool in oven.

I’ve never cooked with gin before, but I think nectarines and juniper berries are a combination worth revisiting.

Christmas gingerbread

I’ve been feeling decidedly un-Christmassy this week.  We’re not going home for the holidays and I haven’t managed to persuade anyone to come up here. We haven’t quite decided what we’re doing on Christmas Day, but the turkey, brussel-sprout menu that has been offered by some friends doesn’t really inspire.  I can understand turkeys for Thanksgiving, but how is it that such an American fowl can be considered traditional British Christmas fare anyway? As for the brussel sprout – don’t the locals know that it isn’t really a holiday vegetable?  It’s clearly the only plant that continues to grow in this weather.

To remedy the situation, or at least to instil some festive spirit into our third floor apartment, I decided to get baking.  Spiced biscuits, cakes and breads smell homely and festive at the same time, which is just what I needed. On Saturday, I made the dough for my mother’s Christmas cookie recipe. It’s always so sticky from all the honey that I prefer to leave it in the fridge overnight. On  Sunday, I baked the cookies.

  • 1 lb honey
  • 3/4 lb brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon mixed spice
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons bicarb soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 6 cups plain flour

Beat the eggs and sugar. Warm the honey and add to the eggs. Mix remaining ingredients together and to the eggs, sugar and honey. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge until needed.

I didn’t have the required jar of mixed-spice, so made my own according to the ingredients in my store cupboard, along the following lines:

  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon cloves

Roll the cookies out to 8mm thick or thereabouts. Bake until light brown.

My cookie cutters were mittens, woolly hats, stars and stocking – excellent for piped royal-icing knitting. See my easter cookie recipe for the icing.

Easter Cookies

The week before Easter, my mum and dad visited us in Edinburgh. As a present, my mum brought me four Easter cookie-cutters that she had picked up in Germany (where they had spent the previous month). She brought me a fat (woolly) sheep, a thin sheep with long legs, a leaping rabbit and an egg.

Hunting around online, I found a few recipes and this is the
Sugar Cookie that I made to try out my cutters:

500g flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
240g butter
300g white sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and vanilla extract.
In a separate bowl, whisk (or sieve) together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture, one cupful at a time.

Stir until you have a smooth dough.
Divide the dough in half and place each lump onto a piece of plastic-wrap.
Refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
Remove one half of the dough from the fridge and roll out, on a floured counter top, to a quarter-inch thickness.
Cut out cookies and lay on a baking-sheet covered in baking parchment.
Place each tray of cookies into the fridge for twenty minutes.
Bake the cookies for ten minutes.
Leave to cool on the tray for a minute or so, before removing to a wire rack to cool.
I use the fingers of one hand to get the butter and sugar started, as I am often not organised enough to take the butter out of the fridge. Once roughly combined, I switch to a spoon to avoid melting the butter.
When refrigerating the dough for the first time, I press the lumps out into half-inch thick disks. This way the dough cools faster and more evenly.

Sugar cookies are not really very exciting. The icing is what makes the whole thing fun. This time I made white royal icing for flooding and used cocoa and different food colours for decorating. Quantities are rather inexact as I always seem to need more egg-whites and sugar than I expect I will.

A rough recipe for Royal Icing is:

350g pure icing sugar
2 egg whites
2 teaspoons lemon juice.

Beat together the egg whites and lemon juice.

Slowly beat in the icing sugar (mixed with cocoa, if you want brown icing for brown bunnies) a little at a time, until the icing is the appropriate consistency.

For outlining and decorating the cookies, the icing should form peaks in the bowl.
For flooding the cookies, test the consistency by lifting the spoon and dribbling icing back into the bowl. The trail of icing should sit on the surface for a few seconds, before disappearing back into the mix.

I only have one piping bag, so I use baking-parchment to make icing cones. I find it easiest to fold a square of paper in half, then use the folded edge of the paper to form the point of the cone, by wrapping up and around at each side. I usually secure the cones with some tape. I also snip the smallest possible hole in the bottom and have a go on some paper before starting on the cookies.

I outlined and flooded the bunnies in white icing. Then I used coloured icing for the bows. On the sheep, I swirled the firmer icing in circles to look like wool and gave them bows too. The eggs were a bit of a mess: stripes, dots, squiggles and I even played with marbling (dipping cookies into flood-icing with food-dye only partially stirred through.) It was great fun, and extremely messy!