Dear Santa…

I thought I’d share my personal ‘wish list’ for Christmas books, both cookery and fictional. I have cheated and also included one book that is top of Richard’s wish list – just in case there are any history buffs reading, or if you need an idea for a history-loving relative!

I try very hard to limit my intake of cookery books these days as there’s so much out there for free on the internet. However, nothing compares with curling up with a cup of tea on the sofa and a beautifully illustrated cookbook!

The novels I have included are definitely not candidates for any Booker or Orange, or whatever, book prize – my reading tastes are very straightforward and, if there’s one thing I hate, it’s pretentious literature that you are ‘meant’ to like as you struggle through it. I want to be entertained by a book, I want to smile a bit, cry a little and definitely feel I can’t bear to put it down until I have finished

So, I offer this list just as a personal – “hHere you go, this is what I am asking Santa for this year!” They are all available on Amazon – as are all my own novels (hah!) – surely you knew I wouldn’t be able to resist a plug!

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Chocolate Orange Fudge Cake… naughty but SO nice!

chocorangecake3I thought it was time to share a yummy cake with you that is definitely not something for a healthy diet, but a complete treat and oh so delicious! And this is most definitely a naughty cake! Jo Bridgeman, our bookkeeper, made this to share with all the staff – and I did say it almost had a Halloween feel to it. It will be as near as I get to a Halloween celebration as it’s not really my thing – but hey, the colours are right aren’t they!

Jo B said the recipe and method comes from a really fabulous baking website that’s worth visiting www.shewhobakes.co.uk as there are lots more ideas on there and a good newsletter – I’m off to have a look!

Ingredients:

To get a really tall cake like this you need to double the quantities and make two batches using 2 x 7” round tins.

For the cake:

  • 200g self raising flour
  • 150g unsalted butter
  • 100g dark brown sugar
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 50g golden syrup
  • Orange flavouring
  • Zest of two large oranges
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 75ml sour cream
  • 5 eggs

For the orange buttercream:

  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 350g icing sugar
  • A few splashes of milk
  • Orange flavouring
  • Orange colouring

For the ganache covering and topping:

  • 600g dark chocolate
  • 250ml double cream

Instructions

Mix together the butter, golden caster sugar, brown sugar and golden syrup. Now add the eggs, mix in the flour, cocoa powder and bicarbonate.

Now mix in the melted dark chocolate and sour cream. Finally, add the orange zest and flavouring.

Divide between two lined 7” tins and bake at 140º C for one hour. Check to see if it’s ready by gently inserting a skewer in the centre – if it comes out clean it is done.

Once cooked, leave in the tin for 10 minutes and then place on a cool surface or cake rack to cool completely.

To make the buttercream, whisk the butter for 5 minutes so it is aerated (and yes this is assuming you have electrical help here – not by hand!) Then add the icing sugar one cup at a time, if necessary add a few splashes of milk to soften. Finally, add the orange colouring and flavouring to taste.

Split the cakes in half, or even into thirds, then fill with the buttercream. Stack them gently and put in the fridge while you make the ganache.

Put the chocolate and cream into a bowl and microwave for 30 seconds, whisking hard and then put in for another 30 seconds, whisk again and then into the microwave for a third time again whisking hard when it comes out.

Once it is set, cover the cake with a palette knife. Then return the cake to the fridge. Melt what is left of the ganache so it is spreadable and pour over the top so it drips down the sides.

Finally, decorate with rosettes of orange buttercream and sections of a Terrys chocolate orange… then sit back and enjoy!

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Time for tea?

There are times when I just love playing with the pretty decorations that I have in my house – well I think they’re lovely anyway! Dating back to the times when I was helping style all the non fiction flower arranging and cookery books that I wrote in the 80s and 90s, I have always liked arranging pretty things.

Some might call my house cluttered (Richard does for one) but I just can’t resist lovely bits of vintage lace, shells, pretty flowers, semi precious rocks, old china – you name it and I squirrel it away pretending it might come in for a photo shoot sometime, somewhere!

Well these lovely flowers arrived today and I thought they were too nice not to share with the world. The blue hydrangea is high on my list of favourite flowers as Richard knows and the fabulous bouquet of tulips and herbs was part of my Christmas present also from Richard – a bouquet of flowers every month for six months – how lucky am I?

So I got playing and before you accuse me of eating way too many cakes, these are fake cakes intended for use in photography or window displays and I just think they look lovely sitting on the dresser base I have in that room. I have had to explain to little Grace several times now that they are Granny’s toy cakes like the bits in her toy kitchen and not for eating – you can see her narrowing her eyes and deciding whether to believe me or not!

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The Mystery of Mrs Beeton…

I was having a sort through my many (far too many!) cookery books last weekend and I came across a copy of ‘Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management’ first published back in1861. The name Mrs Beeton is still widely known and referred to over 150 years later. The book is still in print today.

But what do most people know about Mrs Beeton? Until I read a recent biography of her by Kathryn Hughes, I’d imagined Mrs Beeton was an elderly Victorian lady who recorded recipes and household tips gleaned through decades of running a thoroughly organised family home. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Born Isabella Mayson, she was an English journalist and editor who married Samuel Beeton, an ambitious publisher and magazine editor. In 1857, less than a year after their wedding, Isabella began writing for one of her husband’s publications, ‘The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine’. She translated French fiction and wrote the cookery column, though all the recipes were actually plagiarised from other works or sent in by the magazine’s readers!

In 1859, the Beetons launched a series of monthly supplements to ‘The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine’. These 24 instalments were published in one volume as ‘Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management’ in October 1861. It sold 60,000 copies in the first year alone and was one of the major publishing events of the nineteenth century. Of the 1112 pages, over 900 contained recipes. The remainder provided advice on fashion, childcare, animal husbandry, poisons, the management of servants, science, religion, first aid and the importance in the use of local and seasonal produce.

Isabella was working on an abridged version of her book, which was to be titled ‘The Dictionary of Every-Day Cookery’, when she died of puerperal fever in February 1865 at the age of just 28. As well as producing an incredible amount of published works, in her tragically short life, she gave birth to four children, two of whom died in infancy, and had several miscarriages.

Her name is firmly linked with knowledge and authority on Victorian cooking and home management, and the Oxford English Dictionary states that by 1891 the term ‘Mrs Beeton’ had become a generic name for a domestic authority. She is also considered a strong influence in the shaping of a middle-class identity of the Victorian era. What an amazing legacy for a woman who died so young.

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More food fun…!

Top to bottom: Sally Lunn Bun, Cornish Hevva Cake, Bath Chaps and Spotted Dick.Following on from an earlier blog, here are some more foods with funny names… childish, me…?!

The Sally Lunn Bun
In the 17th century, the ‘Sally Lunn bun’ became synonymous with the fashionable city of Bath. ‘Sally’ is thought to have been a Frenchwoman named Solange Luyon but, thanks to her colleagues’ poor French, when the bun became a popular delicacy in Georgian times it was mispronounced and became known as the Sally Lunn bun. 

However, as is often the way… there is disagreement over the name’s origin. A similar French breakfast cake known as a ‘solei et lune’ (it being golden on top like the sun and pale on the bottom like the moon) gave rise to the suggestion that the baker could have been crying “Sol et lune! Solei lune!” in her French accent and passers-by misheard it as ‘Sally Lunn’. I quite like both of these explanations.

Cornish Hevva Cake
Cornish hevva cake, also known as heavy cake, is a simple cake associated with the pilchard fishing industry. It is said that when fisherman hauled aboard a pilchard shoal they would cry “hevva” to let their wives know to start baking the hevva cake. Its history is reflected in the diagonal lines scored across its top before it goes in the oven so it comes out looking like a fishing net. I can well imagine them all shouting ‘heave’ as they toiled away, but I guess the ‘hevva’ story is altogether more interesting!

Bath Chaps
Bath Chaps are the lower portion of a long-jawed pig’s cheeks and sometimes part of the tongue, pickled and boiled, skinned and rolled in breadcrumbs. The word ‘chap’ is a variant of ‘chop’ that, in the 16th century, meant an animal’s jaws and cheeks. They were very much a West Country delicacy and may well have been delicious, but are probably a little too graphic-sounding for many of us today!

Spotted Dick
Well, I suppose I had to finish off with this one! The ‘spotted’ part is due to the raisins or currants studded all over the pudding. The word ‘dick’ is said to have denoted a plain pudding and could be a shortening of pudding to ‘ding’, which then became ‘dick’. Amazing how words and phrases change over time!

 

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