Monday, 14 October 2013

Pear and apple butter

I can't believe how much food we have already received from our garden in the short three months we have lived here. First there was the cherries and raspberries. And then of course the tomatoes, which still haven't quite finished, although these days we get one or two tomatoes a day compared to dozens and dozens at peak season. Then there were the gooseberries and of course all the herbs. And plums, some of them ripening so fast we missed out completely. There has been the odd fig and a few strawberries. And the wonder of growing our own cucumbers, that was such a thrill for me. We also managed to rescue a few courgettes from the greedy mouths of the slugs. And did I mention the grapes? The grapes are so good, really sweet and juicy. We need to read up on what to do with the vines though, as they didn't produce that many grapes, maybe we didn't take care of them correctly. And now we are moving towards the last of the garden produce for the season, the apples and pears. The pear tree is literally heavy with fruit, and what beautiful fruit! All perfectly formed pears, the kind you see in the store. Large, juicy and flawless. Unfortunately the apples aren't doing quite as well, they have clearly had some disease or parasite as almost every apple is full of dark spots and the insides of the apple have gone bad. 

I have been agonising about how to store all our produce as we were completely out of freezer space. We ordered a new freezer over a month ago, but it was out of stock with the manufacturer, so we had to wait for quite a while. Luckily it arrived last weekend, right towards the end of the plum season, so we got a small bit of the plum crop stored in the freezer. This weekend, after some rather heavy wind, we had a lot of windfall, both from the apple and pear tree. The culinary consultant brought quite a pile of fruit into the kitchen. Although our apples don't look very good, we decided to rescue what we could from them and use all the good bits for some apple and pear butter. I decided I want to store my butter in the freezer, that way it will keep for quite a few months, and you don't have to worry about canning and sterilising jars and other fuss like that. It was actually much easier than I had expected, with minimal fuss apart from the time-consuming peeling and dicing the fruit.

Pear and apple butter:
1 kg fruit (I used about half pears, half apples)
1.5 cups water
1/2 cup sugar (or to taste)
1 cinnamon stick
8 cloves
(the second batch I made also had 2 star anises to mix it up a bit)

The howto:
Peel, core and dice the fruit. Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan, cover with a lid and bring to a boil. Cook for about 15 minutes until the fruit starts to soften, and then remove the lid. Let cook for 1-1/2 hours, using a potato masher to mash the fruit while it cooks. Cook until the butter has reached your desired consistency, taking care to stir more often towards the end of the cooking time as the butter starts to thicken. I also kept gradually turning the heat lower and lower as the sauce thickened. Let cool, and pick out the cloves and cinnamon stick. If you want a smooth butter, use a food processor. Dispense into containers. Freeze. In my hands, this recipe was enough to fill 4 small and 2 medium freezer jars with a cup or so left over to enjoy immediately.
The verdict:
Given that I had no real recipe and made everything up on the spot, the product turned out not only good but really delicious. I spooned quite a bit of the butter right into my mouth while cooking it. The amount of spice is just right, enough to give a bit of complexity to the flavours but not too much to overwhelm the apple and pear. And the scent was fantastic, all that apple and pear and spice. Although this will keep for a few months in the freezer, I don't think it will stay there for that long. I can imaging this would be perfect with oatmeal or yoghurt in the morning or with ice cream as pudding. This is a really efficient way to use up a large amount of fruit and still store it without taking too much space, while retaining and concentrating all those wonderful flavours of the sweet fruit.
Card of the day:
I made these cards a while ago, but they seem very autumn-y to me, so I thought they would be perfect for this post. I started by inking the background with Tim Holtz distress inks using ink blending foam. I used the Tim Holtz script stamp and stamped several times to fill the card using Walnut Stain Distress ink. I then stamped the Hobbycraft Tree or Thistle stamp in Black Soot in the middle of the card. I finished by spraying with Perfect Pear mist and matted onto random scrap pieces of paper or cardstock I had lying around and then attached to kraft cardstock. I really like the tri-coloured backgrounds, I think they turned out really nice.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Pudding meets cake

I have been feeling very melancholic lately. It is probably because the summer has definitely ended and fall is here, but also because I have finally time to consider all the recent big changes in my life now that I'm not desperately busy every single waking minute of every single day. I have been contemplating where the line is between appreciating what you have instead of focussing on what you don't have and not settling and giving up on your dreams. I haven't gotten very far with any conclusions yet, but the older you get, the more you realise everything you get in life comes with a price. And it's all well if you know the price you are going to pay, and you can decide to either do that or not, but sometimes it only dawns on you later what you really had to give up to make things happen, that's when it can be hard to accept. Suddenly you realise this wasn't at all what you signed up for. 

On to more mundane things. Such as plums. Lots and lots of plums. We have two plum trees in the garden, and both were heavy with plums. They were a bit raw up until about a week ago, when pretty much every single plum in the bigger tree just turned into over-ripe in a matter of a day or two. So we missed out on a lot of plums because last weekend there just wasn't any time for gardening. The other tree looked promising, but a few weeks ago when I picked a few of the first plums it turned out they all had a disgusting larvae inside, along with weird dark spots which I later learned were larval poo. Yicky!!! So I wasn't too excited about picking any more plums off that tree, until I read online that the most likely culprit was some sort of plum moth, and usually the first plums of the season were the ones affected with the parasite, and later crop should be fine. Luckily, that is what it seems like, lately I haven't run into a single disgusting creature in any of the plums I have used from that tree.

I am desperately trying to come up with plum recipes to use up at least a fraction of our plum crop. Unfortunately our very limited freezer space is occupied to pretty much every square inch, so there is no way of freezing any of those lovely plums. Apparently you can just freeze the plums whole or halved and then use for all sorts of lovely plummy puds later in the year. We should be getting a new, large freezer next weekend, and I'm hoping there will still be a few plums left to pick by then. If not, there is always the pears, the pear tree is so full of fruit, and they all look lovely. I have tried a few pears, but they are not very sweet yet but I can tell they will be really tasty when they ripen a bit more.

I have been googling plum cakes and pies for the last few weeks, and have made a few. For this one, I decided I would peel the plums, as I put them in with the peel on for my last plum dessert and it turned out that the plums were a bit bitter. So although it's an extra step and takes a bit of an effort, for our plums it really was worth the extra effort. Whether or not you need to do it will probably depend on the plums you use. I found this lovely looking Jamie Oliver recipe online, but made a few changes to it. I made the cake in a smaller cake tin (actually a cake silicon) so I halved the recipe for the cake part of the recipe. However, I did not halve the recipe for the topping, as everyone knows the topping is the best part. If you are a fan of really moist and super sweet cakes which have the texture almost like pudding, you will love this version. If you don't like overly sweet and super moist desserts, you should probably go with the original measures for everything. The recipe below contains the measures I used, see the original here if you think that would be more down your alley.

Plum upside down cake by Jamie Oliver (serves 5-6):
125 g butter
150 light brown sugar (I only had dark brown, so I used that)
about 12 plums

120 g butter
120 g caster sugar
2 eggs beaten with 1.5 tbsp milk
50 g ground almonds (I had a little less than that, about 40 g)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
75 g plain flour
(25 g unblanched almonds, chopped. I didn't have any, so I skipped this and added 2 tbsp more flour instead)

The howto:
I started by peeling my plums, although you don't have to if you don't want to. I halved the plums and took out the pits, and poured boiling hot water over the plums and let them stand for a minute. Then I rinsed with cold water, and peeled off the skins. Most came off without any problem, although a few required a bit of teasing with a knife. I didn't slice the plums any finer than halves, but the original recipe says cut into about 1cm slices. If you don't have a silicone cake mould, butter your cake tin. Then, prepare the topping. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add sugar and cook for 2-3 minutes until the mixture is "foamy and pale" according to the instructions. Mine was dark (because of the dark sugar) and not foamy at all. But it worked perfectly anyways, so don't worry too much. Pour the sugar mixture into the cake mould/tin and arrange the plums on top. 
Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Cream together butter and caster sugar and then add the eggs in two batches, mixing between additions. Then add the ground almonds, baking powder, salt and vanilla. Mix and then gently fold in the flour. Last, if you are using the chopped almonds, stir them into the mixture. Pour on top of the plums and bake for about 45 minutes (1 hour for the full size cake if you are following the original recipe). Jamie's recipe says to let rest for 2 minutes and then inverting onto a plate. I let it cool for much longer, probably about 45 minutes, and then inverted it and served with custard. 

The verdict:
I realised from the start that not halving the topping while halving the actual cake would change the texture of the cake quite drastically. I think my solution was great, but then again, I love really moist and super sweet puddings. The cake was delicious both warm and cold. I absolutely loved the sweet topping with the plums, and the way the topping had soaked into the cake as well to make it really moist and almost gooey. Between me and the Culinary Consultant, we actually managed to eat half of the cake in one sitting, so I would say it was truly a success. Fortunately, I might have to make it again, as there are so many plums to use up!
Card of the day:
Today's card is a birthday card I made for a friend. I like this simple but nice looking technique of cutting the cardstock into three equally wide sections, inking them up with distress ink and then stamping using the same colour. The colours on the card are Chipped Sapphire, Peeled Paint and Fired Brick. The stamp is a random stamp I bought from eBay. The sentiment is from my Hobbycraft sentiments stamp set, and I used Vintage Photo to ink around the edges of the banner. I matted the coloured strips onto black cardstock and attached everything to a white card. I like this technique, it has so many variations you can do by combining different colours and using different stamps. It's also really quick and easy to do. Next time I think I will leave a bit more of the black cardstock showing though between the panels to add another element to the card.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Snake Cake

I have been planning this cake for ages, and this weekend we were celebrating a birthday so I got to put my plans into practice. Cakes never end up looking like you imagine them in your head during the planning process. Or maybe they do for professionals, but mine always turn out completely different. But it's all about going with the flow, what happens happens. Of course, having enough icing to cover the cake usually makes things easier, this should be a note to myself to always double the amount you think you need, because it looks like a lot until it's rolled out and then all of a sudden it's not enough after all. 
I took the easy way our and got ready coloured icing this time. I have coloured some of my icing myself in the past, but I was a bit constrained on time so I though I might as well make it easy on myself. Other than that, this cake was quick and relatively easy to put together. I had already decided on the basic design of it, I would do it as a swiss roll. Unfortunately, I used a Finnish recipe for swiss roll which I have been used to work with in the past, but it requires potato flour, which I couldn't find in the UK. Potato flour is similar to corn flour, so I substituted with that, but in my mind the cake was a bit too soft and fragile, I'm not sure if it's because I made the cake thinner than it should be or because of the flour substitution. In the end, the ugly and somewhat torn cake didn't matter as it all got covered with buttercream and icing. In my original plan, it was supposed to be a snake tightly rolled up into a ball like our snakes usually are, but it was impossible to get the swiss roll to bend onto a tight ball like structure, so it ended up looking like it did.
This recipe is for a swiss roll cake which in Finnish is called unelmatorttu (that translates roughly to dream cake or dream tart). I remember it from my childhood, my mum used to make it a lot. It is basically a chocolate swiss roll filled with buttercream. I added some cream cheese and white chocolate to the buttercream to add some extra flavour, but I also like the original version with only butter, sugar and an egg yolk very much. I borrowed the recipe from the Kinuskikissa blog (in Finnish). Pop over there to see how the cake is supposed to look if you just want to make the swiss roll if you are baking for an occasion where a snake theme might not be very appropriate (although of course I can't think of any occasion like that).

Dream cake (swiss roll, serves 6-8):
3 eggs
1 1/2 dl (150ml or 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp) sugar
1 dl (100 ml or 1/2 cup minus 1 tbsp) potato flour (or cornflour)
1/2 dl (1/4 cup minus 1 tsp) cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder

Filling (enough for filling and coating the cake, if you just want to make the swiss roll, make half the recipe):
250 g butter (at room temperature!)
2 dl (200ml, 3/4 cups plus 2 tbsp) icing sugar
300 g cream cheese
100 g white chocolate
light brown and dark brown icing to cover the cake
candy melts to decorate

The howto:
Start by making the cake. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Whisk the eggs and sugar with an electric whisk until light and fluffy. Mix the potato flour, cocoa powder and baking powder, and sift into the sugar and egg foam. Very gently fold in the dry ingredients. Spread onto a baking tray which has been covered in parchment paper. I have a big oven with a baking tray which is approximately 40x30 cm which was perfect as I wanted a slightly thinner cake, but this recipe is designed for a 30x30 cm (about 12x12 inches) baking tray if you want to make the regular swiss roll which will give you a slightly thicker sponge. Bake for about 8 minutes. While the sponge is baking, sprinkle sugar onto a piece of parchment paper. When you take the cake out of the oven, immediately invert the cake onto the sugar coated paper and remove the parchment paper from the bottom of the cake. Let cool covered by a tea towel.
If you are only making a swiss roll, not the snake cake, only prepare half of the filling indicated above. Melt the chocolate. Cream the butter and icing sugar. Add cream cheese and white chocolate and mix. 
To assemble a regular swiss roll, spread the filling onto the cake, leaving about an inch or so free of filling at one edge. Roll into a tight roll, using the parchment paper for help. Let cool in the fridge at least for a few hours, preferably over night. You could cover the log with chocolate ganache if you like.
If you are assembling the snake cake, cut the cake into two equally big pieces along the long edge, so you have two long but narrow rectangles. Spread about a quarter of the filling on each, and roll into tight and slim rolls. I wrapped the cakes in parchment paper and let rest in the fridge for about two hours before shaping into a snake shape. I shaped the tail and head just by moulding the roll, it's pretty soft and kept it's shape well. Cover with the rest of the buttercream. Then roll out the light brown icing and cover the cake. Make details from darker brown icing, and make a tongue. I used chocolate chips for eyes. Finally, I melted the Candy melts in the microwave and put into a piping bag and piped some patterns loosely based on the patterning of our snake.

The verdict:
The cake definitely didn't look pretty before the buttercream went on, the cake kept tearing where it had been rolled, but also where I tried to shape some bends in the snake's body. But that doesn't matter, you can patch up ugly bits and bobs with the buttercream, and it will all be covered by icing nonetheless. When it comes to making cake, you can get away with pretty much anything because it will be covered up. The cake was just as delicious as I remember from my childhood, and it went down very well with the birthday boy and guests as well so I would say it was a success. It's not the most healthy of cakes, and it tastes exactly like that. The creamy and full flavour of the buttercream is nicely enhanced by the cream cheese, wrapped in fluffy chocolate sponge and the sweet icing. This is a picture of the cake and the model, you can hardly tell them apart!
Card of the day:
As there was a birthday cake, there obviously was a birthday card as well. The theme is a bit of an inside joke, as elephants have played a role in one of the bigger arguments we have ever had, so they have stuck around. Another thing we tend to... disagree... about is colours, as I like cold colours and the Culinary Consultant like warm colours. So I chose to use Stampin Up Real Red cardstock and stamped the elephant from the Animal Stories stamp set in the same same colour. I used markers to colour the Celebrate stamp from the Tag It set and cut it out using one of the Chalk Talk framelits. I used the outer edge of the same framelit to create the red backing for the tage. The green gekko is stamped in Old Olive, the stamp is from a random set of creatures i bought off Ebay ages ago. Using the gekko stamp again reminded me how you get what you pay for, the stamps were not expensive, but they are also extremely bad. The actual stamp is not high enough, so when you ink it up, you get loads of ink all over the background, and it's really hard to stamp without getting smudges all over the place. Also, no matter how hard you press, not all parts of the stamp come in contact with the paper, leaving ugly white dots all over the place. So lesson of the day, only buy good stamps, they are expensive but it's well worth the investment.