Thursday, 21 August 2014

A Friendship Cake....

I met my longest-standing friend,Isobel, on my first day at a new primary school 42 years ago! Of course, the closeness of school years can't continue forever - those days when I would say goodbye to her on the school bus and then call her the minute I got home to continue our conversation....but we have been in each others lives in some way from that day to this. She and her husband, Brian, now run a successful & delicious crumble business based in beautiful Somerset - so our lives aren't so very different once again (although Isobel also has two young & gorgeous children to juggle!)

When she used to come to our house for tea, there was one cake that my Mum would bake that Isobel absolutely adored...& to this day my mother still refers to this as 'that cake Izy loves'! So, as the days are somewhat autumnal right now, I thought that I would reproduce the recipe here (with a few tweaks) in honour of our friendship. This one's for you, Is! xx

Blackberry Streusel Cake


For the streusel topping:
100g plain flour (you can use spelt/wholemeal if you have it)
80g butter
1 heaped tsp ground cinnamon
50g light brown muscovado sugar

For the cake:
200g self raising flour
100g light brown muscovado sugar
200g butter
3 free-range eggs
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (optional - but I love cinnamon!)

About 250g blackberries (preferably picked from a sun-drenched bramble bush! You can use raspberries or blueberries too, if blackberries aren't in season)

Line a 23cm square pan with baking parchment.
Preheat oven to 175c

First make the topping; just place all the streusel ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until it forms large crumbs...
 tip into a small bowl & set aside. Without washing the bowl of the processor, add in all the cake ingredients (except the fruit) & whizz to a smooth, silky batter..
 It won't be too liquid as it needs to hold up the berries & topping! Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and level the top roughly...
 then stud with the blackberries...you don't have to be too precise, but try & make sure that there's an even covering of fruit all over the surface...
 finally scatter the streusel over the berries...
 distribute it fairly evenly over the top...don't pack it down, and I think it looks lovely when a few blackberries show through the crumbs too! Bake in the preheated oven for around 45 minutes...the streusel will look golden brown, the middle will be slightly domed. You can test by pushing a skewer or cocktail stick into the centre & checking that no wet dough is sticking!
 Then cool in the pan on a wire rack...however, this is so delicious served slightly warm so feel free to cut it then and enjoy a slice...perhaps with cream?
 Store in an airtight container, or wrap in foil securely...it will keep in a cool place for a couple of days (not longer, as the fresh fruit will deteriorate.)
 I recommend eating a large square, with a big steaming cup of coffee,sitting in the August sunshine in a garden somewhere...if you are sharing with a friend, so much the better (it doesn't have to be Isobel, although she would be my choice....)

Enjoy! And now I'm back to the brownies...also delicious with friends! xx

Saturday, 9 August 2014

What....no brownies?!

So, although life at Sugar Moon mostly consists of brownies...
 brownies....
 & yet more brownies...
 I do often bake other things...for the Farmer's Market, for friends or just for fun!
For instance, a good friend asked me to bake a big cake for a joint 65th birthday celebration for her parents....she wanted it to be both coffee & walnut and chocolate....be big enough to feed 30 and to have a nautical theme as her parents enjoy sailing.

I didn't want to create a tiered cake... for 30 people, I find that cutting squares is much easier. People (especially after a big meal) don't usually want a huge wedge of sweet stuff. So a rectangle fits the bill perfectly...but in two distinct flavours?

I got around it by making up the two cake mixtures at the same time (!) and pouring them into the cake tin almost simultaneously. I created a foil 'divide' to keep them separate as I poured, but took this away before baking...
 this was a big cake and took almost 2 hours to bake properly (a good tip that really works when you are scaling up a recipe is to lower the oven temperature and bake for longer...so the top and sides don't cook too quickly and leave a raw middle...)
 I liked the stepped effect of the finished cake....
 and then the decoration. I made a whipped white chocolate icing, which takes colour very well...this only needed a tiny teaspoon of royal blue paste but gave a great effect! The 'sand' is light brown sugar...
 which I adhered by brushing that portion of the cake with a sugar syrup..
 only the yacht, candles and shell are inedible. I was very pleased with the result...
and luckily so was our friend! I'll hear reports of the party later...

Meanwhile, I thought you might like a recipe? This is the Hazelnut & Fresh Apricot Cake that I baked for our recent Farmer's Market.
It was absolutely gorgeous....ideal, of course, with coffee or tea as a snack...but it would also be brilliant as a dessert with some creme fraiche or even ice cream I think. It will keep well for a few days, in the fridge (as the apricots are fresh ones) and will be even nicer the day after baking, when all the flavours have melded together...

Hazelnut & Fresh Apricot Cake

280g soft light brown sugar
270g ground roasted hazelnuts (I buy the skin-on ones, cheaper & fine for this recipe...& most others too! Simply toast for about 5 mins in a hot oven until golden and smelling very nutty! Then cool before grinding in a processor to a fine crumb)
50g ground almonds
50g fine semolina or polenta
75g self-raising flour
5 eggs (medium, free-range)
1 tsp ground cinnamon - optional but tastes lovely!
225g unsalted butter, melted and cooled a little
a punnet of apricots..(exact quantities don't matter for this but roughly 5/6 fruits. It also doesn't matter if they are slightly underripe as they are being cooked)

Preheat oven to 180c/160c fan/Gas Mark 4
Grease & line a 23cm loose-bottomed cake tin with baking parchment.

Simply mix all the dry ingredients together, then add the butter and eggs and mix well. I use my stand mixer for this, as there is quite a lot of mixture...but you could do it by hand with a wooden spoon, of course! Scrape into the prepared tin. Roughly chop the apricots, removing the stones (I actually just pull them apart with my fingers...I prefer a rustic look for this cake. You could slice them and arrange them evenly in a pattern if you'd like it to look more formal) and scatter or place gently over the surface of the batter. Don't push them in, the cake will rise around them beautifully.

Bake for about an hour, until it's golden brown and slightly pulling away at the sides. Check it after 45 minutes and rotate the tin in the oven if you need to, to ensure even baking.

Cool in the tin on a wire rack, then push up the bottom and remove the lining paper from the sides and bottom before transferring to a serving plate (run a palette knife under the base to help remove the base paper.)

Enjoy it...and have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Where it happens...& giveaway results!

What a week it's been so far...although the last one really didn't end for me until yesterday afternoon! It was a 9 day week, strictly speaking. That's because yesterday was my monthly Farmer's Market day, here in Aylesbury. I've had a stall on this market for almost 8 years....and I love doing it, although it means a lot more work than usual. I start baking on the Saturday before (earlier in Winter, when it's cooler & I make more items that benefit from maturing, like fruitcake and sticky parkin..)
 And of course, it's not just brownies on the stall...so I get to be really creative and try out all the recipes that I find or devise & ache to bake! This was a divine Saffron Lemon Cake, from the book I told you about a couple of posts back...Honey & Co ...
 those are tiny strands of saffron above...they add such flavour & colour to this gorgeous confection. In the book, Sarit Packer (whose recipe it is) describes it as glowing..and it truly is!
 The cake above was a Fresh Apricot & Hazelnut one....I replaced almost all the flour with roasted ground hazelnuts. I love to be seasonal in my choices for the market, and in my opinion apricots are one fruit that tastes so much better cooked than they do raw, when they can be disappointingly 'woolly' in texture. I sell these cakes by the slice...and they sold out by lunchtime, I'm happy to say (the market runs from 9am-2pm.) I always have big towers of bestselling Double Chocolate & Walnut Fudge brownies for sale...but I l have always also had a 'Brownie of the Month' for regulars who like to taste something different. July's flavour was Fresh Raspberry Meringue....here is a tray before baking...
 that's freeze-dried raspberries on the top, which gives a beautiful 'zing' of pure berry flavour. They were a hit!
I'm happy to say that Sugar Moon Brownies are proving very popular already, even though it's early days...one recipient of a birthday gift pack (the 'taster' option, which offers 3 random flavours to try) posted this wonderful montage on her Twitter feed...
 It made me very proud...& thrilled that she enjoyed them so much!

As it's been so hot here in the UK, I thought I'd show you how delicious a brownie can be, even on a sultry day...
 ...this was a Toasted Pecan, slightly warm...with clotted cream ice cream & homemade caramel sauce....who could resist that?!

I wonder whether you might like a glimpse of the kitchen where I bake these delights? Many people assume that I use our kitchen at home. This would be virtually impossible! I bake so many trays that my domestic oven, great as it is, would just conk out...
No, this is where it all happens! I am very lucky to be able to rent a beautifully equipped kitchen unit that has everything I could possibly need, including storage for my essentials...including the chocolate that I use in vast quantities (it comes in 25kg sacks!)

 This is the view...farmland...& LOTS of rabbits!
 Outside is calm & peaceful...red kites nest in these trees...
 The unit is based on a former WW2 airfield...it's a heritage site, and although there are many businesses based here (including a rocket testing facility!) you can still see many fascinating traces of the history of this place...
 Bunkers, mess rooms, even the control tower still stands...
 ghosts everywhere! Recently, a memorial was unveiled to commemorate a US bomber crew who crashed on this site...the pilot bravely diverted to avoid coming down onto a nearby town, and therefore saved many lives. Stories all around me as I work. It makes it even better, I think.
 Plenty of space to fill the trays...(they are made in batches of 4)..
 And a brilliant oven that can hold 16 of them at a time. However, once I have made the 16th I usually find that the first 4 are ready to come out...
 The oven is a Unox BakerLux ...an amazing piece of equipment that injects steam or dry heat...whichever is appropriate for the recipe...
 brownies need dry heat. Then they are cooled, before the worst part of my job....
 putting the lids on the trays! Tedious & wrecks the finger pads. But my hands are terrible looking anyway after 20 years of professional cooking...and the radio eases the boredom!
Then they are labelled with flavour & baking date and stacked for (brief) storage.

So, a glimpse at where it happens!

And now, those giveaway results - apologies that they are a little late due to the market preparations. My approach is very unscientific...I write out all the names on strips of paper, put them in a large mug & pick one out! For the brownie pack, there were only 3 eligible entries....& the winner is ANNE HAMILTON! Anne, if you email your address (or the name & address of your recipient if you would like them sent as a gift, together with any message you would like to include) to me at hello (@) sugarmoonbrownies (dot) co (dot) uk ...(obviously I have doctored the address to prevent spammers!) then I will send out a box of 12 brownies in 3 assorted flavours asap!
The winner of the 2 beautiful books (lots of entries for these...I'm so sorry there's only 1 winner, I will hold another International giveaway soon!) was SYLVIE who is in France! Sylvie, please email me at the same address & let me know yours!

Thanks so much to all who entered and to all who read and enjoyed the posts and left such great comments. They are all very much appreciated!

Until next time.....x

Monday, 21 July 2014

Cookbooks to cherish....Part 2, the vintage selection..

As you probably know if you've been to my website, Sugar Moon Brownies, I come from a long line of bakers...at least back to my 3 x great grandfather. Above is the original auction document, dating from 1880, when my great-great-grandfather Robert Adam Took bought the family bakehouse, shop & restaurant. He had rented it for some years before the sale, so was already established in business. The bakery remained in the family until my grandad decided to change careers in the 1960's and give up the 4am starts...understandable, but I often wish he'd just rented it out again so that our family still owned it! All that history...it had been a bakery right from the 1500s...and still is, of sorts (a well-known chain now..)

I was very close to my grandfather, and I learnt so much from him. Through the years he gave me many of his treasured books and baking equipment...and the rest came to me when he died. He was especially skilled at sugar work (which I am not!) and made his own wedding cake in 1934...
which was probably almost as tall as my tiny grandma! I love to look through the books and paraphernalia that came from him and those before him...they are an insight into another world, and of course they bring him back to me too...
 Can you imagine anyone now making...or paying for...a sugar omnibus?? An amazing piece of history, though...as are these...
 beautiful line drawings of 'fancy ice moulds'....fancy doesn't really start to describe them, by our standards! Both these beauties are contained in this wonderful publication...
one of a series of 6 volumes that I own, they cover every aspect of the subjects...even down to equipping your own bakery and how to price the goods therein!

Grandad loved to collect recipes and wrote many of them down...
 This is from his formal recipe book...he was very neat & meticulous...as you can see, he inscribed it to me the year before he died...
 Remember that these were commercial bakery recipes, hence the huge quantities!
 the book is full of scraps written on envelopes, torn from newspapers and magazines...
 His other notebook is much smaller and scruffier...this was the one at his side in the bakehouse, to refer to and scribble in..

 Stained by age, grease and the heat of the ovens...they are amongst my most prized possessions...
My most special & precious book is very beautiful, even though the binding is showing clearly the fact that it's now 206 years old...
 At the front is a series of very detailed illustrated suggestions for laying out the dessert table...
 a hundred years before 'Downton Abbey'....
 they are an absolute testament to the skill of the cooks and bakers back then...working with rudimentary ovens where the temperature control consisted of moving items further from or closer to the fire...
 and the 'Two Guinea Cake' has mesmerised me from childhood...some poor little kitchenmaid whisking 54 eggs for ten minutes! But still...it's really a historical document now, rather than a cookbook....I am very lucky.
 I have used 'All about Gateaux' many times...it contains great ideas and templates for all sorts of fancy cakes...
 and some brilliant adverts at the back...

 This 1920s beauty is really comprehensive...
 even if I think many of the recipes sound & look rather vile! And I have a good selection of pamphlets and booklets, mainly distributed by various ingredients salesmen...
 Still beautiful, though! The last book I wanted to share with you wasn't my grandfathers, and isn't British at all...although this is the British edition, printed in 1938...
 If you can search out a copy of 'The Country Kitchen'...( you could try here )....you are in for a complete treat..
It's mainly a memoir of growing up in the USA in the countryside of the late 19th century...but there are recipes and some hilarious characters, too. It's beautifully written and utterly charming!

So, that's a little look at some of my vintage gems...I hope you've enjoyed it...there are more but I'll save them for another time! There is still nearly a week left to enter my two giveaways (details in the last post) and to do so just leave me a comment after either that one or this...

The afternoon is beautiful...time to grab a cup of coffee and plan the rest of the week! I hope that yours is wonderful and thanks for reading!