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!

Monday, 14 July 2014

Cookbooks to cherish...Part 1

Because of my job, I have bought an incredible number of cookbooks over the years...in fact, my love of food began so early that I used to spend my pocket money on them, too. I remember the cover of the Penguin edition of the first volume of 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' piquing my interest (I think it was the red of the lobster, alongside a beautiful copper pan full of bright green mange touts!) I still use it...the same copy that I bought, aged 12, for £1.95...my name carefully biroed on the first page in case anyone doubted that it was mine! It set a pattern because even today I gravitate towards cookbooks with lots of written content...in fact some, like Nigel Slater's original 'Fast Food', contain no illustrations at all. I think that some of the choices I've made for this first of a two-part post reflect that...although I didn't realise it when I chose them!

I've decided to post in two halves, because the next part will focus on some of my vintage books...those passed down by my grandfather, who was an award-winning Master Baker...some date back to his grandfather's time...(pictured below outside his shop in 1884)

...and they are beautiful and fascinating, so I thought you'd like me to share them with you. But this time, it's contemporary books. Some of the ones that I turn to time and time again...not always for complete recipes, but for the inspiration they give me..here goes!
First is the newest addition...Honey & Co by Itamar Srulovitch and Sarit Packer...a truly beautiful book, one that I actually (sadly...) walked around hugging when I first got it! I have cooked so many recipes from it already, all to acclaim...including the Cherry, Coconut & Pistachio Cake three times in various guises...
the Pomegranate Molasses Chicken...
which has a meal-in-itself bulgar wheat salad to accompany it...and so many more. The writing, too, is funny and, at times, incredibly moving...I can't recommend it highly enough. If you want a real treat, then do buy it (& visit the restaurant too, if you can...it's a joy!)

Next...

Russell Norman's Polpo ...which was published a couple of years ago and continues to delight me. It is so beautiful & yet practical too...the recipes are eminently 'do-able' and the photography whisks me back to many happy times spent in unforgettable Venice...his love for the city shines from the pages and adds to my own. Also another (group of) restaurants that are fab to visit...

 Susan Hill is an incredible writer in many different genres....'The Woman in Black' is now a classic chiller of course...I really enjoy her 'Simon Serrailler' series of detective novels...and there are so many more (thankfully, she's prolific! Always a good thing in a favourite author...) Her countryside books may be less well-known (The Magic Apple Tree, Through the Garden Gate...) and are now very sadly out-of-print...but they are no less wonderful.
'Through the Kitchen Window', with gorgeous paintings by Angela Barrett, is really lovely. A collection of small essays, anecdotes, observations and recipes on subjects from marmalade to rhubarb to quinces...arranged in seasons.

I actually find it hard to choose just one of Nigella's books...or Yotam & Sami's ....all three ('Ottolenghi', 'Plenty' & 'Jerusalem' with a new one - 'Plenty More' in the offing, yay!) Ottolenghi cookbooks are brilliant and beautiful. Of Nigella Lawson's, I always turn first to the big, wordy ones...'Feast', 'Kitchen' and her first 'How to Eat'...great writing again, accessible recipes, stunning inspiration...
 Vegetarian cookbooks can be a bit 'hit or miss' for me...I need big flavours and interesting ideas (like those in 'Plenty' mentioned above, which is exclusively veggie) rather than the older style 'whole food' books which used to be the only real choice. Catherine Mason's 'Vegetable Heaven' is perfect...
doesn't that recipe title just make you want to cook and devour?? It's full of all sorts of delights from many cuisines...and has something for wintery days when you want something hot, cheesy & comforting as well as those fresh, zingy meals that you crave in summer. The vibrant ink paintings by Elda Abramson really make the book, too..
And finally...for this post...'Home Cooking'...such a special book. Laurie Colwin died 22 years ago, tragically young...and this, together with the second collection 'More Home Cooking' and her novels, make one mourn her loss all the more. A collection of essays, written so beautifully with humour and sparkle and truth...as well as recipes interspersed throughout. Her voice shines through and makes me so wish that I'd met her. Just a jewel. 'Home Cooking' is available in the UK but my copy is American, as she was.

So...do you want some good news?? I have giveaways! To celebrate the launch of Sugar Moon Brownies I will be sending two blog readers a wonderful gift.

The first (open to UK readers only, I'm afraid) is one box of 12 Sugar Moon Brownies - a tasting box containing 3 flavours which you can choose yourself - sent to any address in the UK. I'll let you know how to let me know what and where after the draw.

I'm so very sorry that I can't offer this giveaway to everyone, everywhere. But the second one is open to all and will be sent anywhere in the world, so I hope that makes up for it! I have a copy of both Susan Hill's 'Through the Kitchen Window' AND Laurie Colwin's 'Home Cooking' (US edition) to give away!

I'm very pleased and excited to offer these lovely prizes!
To enter, please just leave me a comment on this post...if you could indicate your country of residence at the end of the comment (just UK, AUS or whatever) it will enable me to exclude those ineligible from the first draw. But everyone will be included in the second!

The draw will be made in two weeks time...there will be another opportunity to enter by commenting on Part 2 of this post as well...but do be sure to check back on Monday 28th July to see if you've won!

Good luck...and thanks so much for reading!

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Torta de Almendras...& a different evening

This week has been a whirl...thanks so much to all who have read &/or commented on my last post...Sugar Moon has been and will always be a labour of love for me, and I am thrilled that it's been received so well. It was great to send out the first orders in our gorgeous new boxes and receive amazing feedback too! We now have a Facebook page where you can read all the latest news and see what others have to say...if you haven't already, do please visit and 'Like' us!!

Wednesday was particularly busy...baking all morning (5am start...although that's no hardship at this time of year and I'm a lark rather than an owl, luckily!) then I attended a charity lunch at a beautiful barn set in some of the most beautiful countryside that Bucks has to offer...it was a very hot, sunny day but while the others quaffed Pimms I stuck firmly to the Rhubarb & Elderflower cooler and the water...too much to do to drink alcohol midday, sadly! When I got back, I had to deliver 60 trays of brownies and other goodies to a customer before changing and catching a train to London, touting a bag full of warm cake!

I was heading to Islington, to the Cookbook Club run by food writer and tv presenter Thane Prince . It's held usually once a month (although there is a break in August) in a large room over a great pub, The Draper's Arms. There's a nominal £10 fee to cover refreshments and there's always a theme...the idea is to bring a book and a dish with a link to whatever that may be. This time it was Iberia. I didn't have much time and wanted to take something that could cool down on the way, safely, as well as being delicious of course! So I found a recipe for a lovely traditional Almond Cake - Torta de Almendras in Spanish.

It was so simple to make and keeps well...the leftovers were delicious over the next couple of days with a good cup of coffee!
Quite plain but very damp and moreish...
So here's the recipe!
Adapted from one by Jane Berenbau on this site ...I have tweaked it, as I never can resist doing so!

Torta de Almendras

Preheat oven to 170c
Grease and line a 23cm (9") loose-bottomed round cake tin with baking parchment

Ingredients
300g blanched almonds (or you can use ready ground if easier)
80g Maria/Rich Tea type plain biscuits - I used Morning Coffee biscuits
280g caster sugar
6 eggs
2 oranges
grated zest of 1 lemon
25g blanched flaked almonds

In a stand mixer, whisk the eggs and sugar until very thick and pale - about 8-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, grind the almonds with the biscuits in a food processor until they resemble fine meal.
Zest and juice the oranges. Alternately fold the almond/biscuit mixture and the orange juice & citrus zest into the eggs & sugar, using a large metal spoon. Pour into the prepared tin, scatter the flaked almonds gently over the top and bake for around 45 minutes. When baked, the top will be golden brown with a slight crust and a skewer inserted into the centre will be almost clean with just a few bits of mixture clinging to it.

Cool on a wire rack, in the tin (loosen the sides)

It keeps well, covered at room temperature, for at least 3 days.

The Cookbook Club was great fun...although there weren't many of us there this time, we so enjoyed each others company as well as the range of delicious food....and it was brilliant to have a couple of hours to relax, meet new friends and chat about our favourite subject - food! We were very lucky to have the expert in Catalan cooking, Rachel McCormack, to talk to us as well. If it sounds like fun to you, then please do join us!! It's open to all...men and women, knowledgeable or not...you just need an interest in eating really!

The next meeting is on September 10th at 7pm and the theme...to be confirmed..is Wild Food. My brain is buzzing with ideas already!

Hoping you've had a good week....

Until next time x

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Introducing Sugar Moon Brownies!

So this has been an amazing and sometimes difficult journey...but finally, I am thrilled & proud to be able to introduce my new online brownie business, Sugar Moon, to you. Anyone in the UK can now have five flavours of my best selling brownies delivered direct to their door. I hope that lots if people will receive them as presents, too- the perfect gift to say thank you, or sorry, or I love you!



The gorgeous new website/shop can be found here!


There are so many people to thank in this first post in my new blog-guise! Firstly, to my darling sister Esther...the idea for Sugar Moon was born just over two years ago during a long walk we took around the village of Cotton Tree near where she lives in Queensland, Australia. She came up with the name, too, so I am indebted. It would have been impossible to create this business without the incredible support of my family, in fact...my beloved husband, Paul (who tastes new creations, keeps me calm and is my greatest champion), my little sister Lucy, who together with her husband David runs a new small food business of her own and is great to bounce ideas off....my dearest Mum & Dad, who believe that their girls are wonderful which helps no end...and my niece & 3 young nephews who are lights in the life of their 'Aunty Cake'!


The gorgeous brand design & website was devised and built by the wonderful team at Flourish Studios ...I love what they've come up with and I highly recommend them if you need a beautiful image with great communication.


My good friend Vanessa Kimbell took all the amazing photos for the website and publicity. She owns Juniper & Rose Kitchen Garden School where the photos were taken...and runs inspirational courses in baking sourdough bread and in food photography...as you can see, she knows her stuff!


And of course there was endless support, encouragement and advice from dear friends....Emma, Isobel, JoEllen, Joann, Rosinda, Nancy, Sandy, Georgie, Morwenna, Janie, Charlie, Debbie and the incomparable Sue Branch amongst many others.

And so it all begins here....the first orders have been baked and sent and received. Who knows what the future holds?! It's all so exciting and frightening at the same time...but I look forward to every day, and feel so lucky to be working at a job I adore.

I hope to use this blog to let you peek behind the scenes at Sugar Moon and also for other foodie-related things....recipes too! If you are new to the blog then do explore....there is lots to see!

I look forward to next time...and happy July!

Rachel x

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Easter...and other treats!

I think that I love Easter baking above all other occasions...it's all so light and pretty and there's so much inspiration!

Yesterday, of course, was Good Friday and it's traditional to eat hot cross buns - even though they seem to have been in the shops since Christmas! I've never really understood that...why not just sell them as spiced currant buns and leave the crosses off until the right time? Bizarre...
Anyway, I love to bake them and I take them around to all our neighbours at breakfast time while the buns are still warm and the glaze is sticky...



Once you get the hang of it....the feel of it....yeast is very easy to work with. I was lucky in that I had a grandfather who'd been a master baker for many years...he taught me early on about proving, kneading and shaping. Even though he died 20 years ago, I still talk to him when I'm baking sometimes...especially buns and bread!



the neighbours were happy.....

At the Farmer's Market on Tuesday...surely the coldest I have ever been at, in the whole 7 years!!...I had an Easter theme along with the usual favourites. My brownies of the month were full of milk chocolate mini eggs...



And I made these darling little simnel cakes...wrapped them in cellophane and tied them with pastel bows...



the marzipan eggs on top represent the disciples of Jesus...minus Judas, so there should only be 11. There is no definitive recipe for simnel cake...I make a lighter version of fruitcake, using light brown sugar, apricots and cherries with just a little spice to warm things up. They are baked with a layer of marzipan running through the centre...



then the remainder of the mixture is smoothed lightly on top...



before baking. Then more marzipan goes on top to finish...it should be gently browned under a hot grill...then I like to glaze with apricot jam for a glossy shine!



I also baked Mexican Hot Chocolate Shortbreads...they were something I haven't tried before, but certainly will again!



Here they are ready to go into the oven...the combination of dark cocoa, cinnamon and cardamom plus a tiny pinch of cayenne ( hence the 'hot chocolate') is really delicious. Don't be scared of the chilli...it's only warming, certainly not intrusive...in fact, it's quite hard to identify in the finished biscuit. I loved their simple, dark beauty...



A few weeks ago, we were invited to a St Patrick's Day party by an Irish friend who lives nearby. It was a great night...she is a brilliant party giver, her house is always warm and welcoming with lots of food and plenty of drink! As a gift, I wanted to take more than the ubiquitous 'bottle'...so I baked her a special cake!



Three layers of vanilla sponge, in varying shades of green! And the Gaelic for Ireland piped on top...






together with shamrocks, of course! It went down really well with coffee after dinner...and looked good on the table, surrounded by green & white & orange balloons and shamrock garlands!

It's been so cold recently...spring hasn't really sprung yet, despite the fact that it's almost April. Usually I'd be looking forward to salads and lighter dishes, but we are still enjoying heartier food...wild mushroom and spinach lasagne...



...sprinkled with pine nuts for crunch...and chicken pie...



...eaten with fluffy, crunchy baked potatoes...foods like these warm and cheer the soul and mean that the dull, dark days aren't quite so depressing!

I hope that your Easter...or Passover...or long weekend...is going beautifully and that you are enjoying something delicious over the holiday!

My working life is mainly about...



brownies! But I'm more than happy with that. What could be nicer than a spring coffee outside...? We just need the weather to go with it...



I have faith that it WILL soon be here!

Xo