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Bank Holiday Baking – Dorset Apple and Almond Cake

I was rooting through the fridge on Monday trying to find a tiny thumb sized piece of fresh ginger that had gone astray when I found three wrinkly apples sitting sadly in the veg draw.  I’m quite fussy with fruit and I can’t bear the eat bananas once they’re completely ripe and I loathe eating an apple unless it’s perfectly crisp.  But I also can’t stand food waste.  The whole food waste outcry seems to be a recent thing for some, but I was brought up with parents who had experienced post war rationing and the effect it had on households even when it came to an end, so it’s far from a new idea to me.   I remember watching the Delia Smith cookery shows as a kid and my mum would be aghast when Delia would fail to scrape every last morsel out of a bowl.  ‘What a waste!’ my mum would cry, followed up with ‘Well, she can afford it.’ from my dad.  Poor Delia carried on regardless with her dishes for dinner parties that would never be cooked in our house.  I doubt my mum knew of anywhere to even buy a pheasant, even if she ever had the inclination to buy one.

I’d spotted a recipe in last month’s BBC Good Food magazine for Dorset Apple and Almond cake and thought this the perfect recipe to use up the apples and some other odds and ends hanging around in the cupboards, namely what turned out to be 10g of ground almonds (I had to make up the missing 90g with flour) and I used some blanched almonds instead of the required flaked, which were bought in flash of optimism before Christmas in the hope I’d get around to making a Dundee, cherry Genoa, or stollen (as it turned out, nothing other than the traditional Christmas cake got made).  As an aside, I feel I must extol the virtues of having well stocked cupboards (I’d give my right arm to have a genuine, bona fide pantry).  Having various pulses, grains, tins of tomatoes, tinned fish, flour, stock cubes, spices and good oil stocked means that even when the fridge is empty (as mine is want to be at the end of the month) there’s always something cheap and nutritious to eat.  One of my favourite meals from childhood that persists to this day is tinned plum tomatoes, warmed and served on toast with plenty of white pepper.

Even with my haphazard alterations, the cake turned out beautifully and the flavours seemed especially apt for the relatively cold late spring bank holiday, being autumnal with the apples and almonds that I always associate with Christmas.  I’m most definitely an autumn/winter person and I do tend to dread the summer which makes me something of a pariah in England.  The demerara sugar top was a particularly lovely addition in the recipe, giving a beautiful toffee hint to each bite.

applecake 001

Rightly or wrongly, I always feel myself to be a more accomplished cook when I don’t need to go out a specifically buy ingredients and I can use what I have to hand.  As I write, I have the same feeling because I’ve got a caramelised onion and goat’s cheese tart in the making.

First Homemake of the Year

It can only be bread.  On opening the bread bin yesterday morning I found only the white processed stuff and so rather than head out and buy some I decided to make some.  Bread isn’t generally a quick thing and although I mixed up the dough at about 11am I didn’t bake it until gone 5pm.  It is utterly worth the wait though and I have to say that this batch was one of if not my best yet.

Making bread is a process that is entirely in the hands and not at all in the head.  You can sense at the kneading stage whether or not it’s going to be a good loaf, by the way the dough yields (or doesn’t) to your hands, or the feel of the surface of the dough.  It’s heartening to have at least a few certain successes with bread making, because if nothing else, it gives you a reference point for all future mixes.  I don’t have a standard recipe per se.  I always seem to have numerous bags of flour, some fuller than others, so I empty bags into the scales until I have a kilo (2.2lbs in old money) of flour and tip it onto the work surface.  Then add 3.5 tsp salt, 1 tsp of sugar and two of those packets of quick acting dried yeast.  As for water, there never seems to be a set amount to use and my guess is this is because all flours absorb different amounts of water, so I keep a large jug of blood temperature water to hand and add a little at a time until I have a slightly sticky dough.  I used to mix up the dough in a bowl until I found that working with it just on a work surface gave me far better control over the consistency.  Again, bread is made by the hands and not the head.

I put my bread dough in a large oiled bowl and then put the bowl inside my bread black binbag as apparently the black of the bag absorbs more heat and helps the dough rise.  Seems to work!

I prove and knock back the dough about three times, which is why it takes so long from start to finish.  It’s not a problem though because you don’t have to stand over it.  I’m all for slow cooking and baking in all its forms and I love recipes that take very little time and attention to prepare and bread is a perfect example of this.  After proving, shape the loaves and leave to rise for twenty minutes or so.  I then sprinkle with seeds and slash the tops as this seems to help the loaves rise when in the oven.

For the first ten minutes of baking I set the oven to the highest temperature it will go as this gives the raw dough a final ‘spring’ before turning it down to bake the loaves all the way through.  After about half an hour, I got these beauties from the oven-

There is a rule that warm bread is for tearing and cooled bread is for slicing, but I simply cannot resist a slice of warm, freshly baked bread.  So with careful slicing and an oven glove, flaunting the rules yields wonderful results-

Rather pleased to say the least.

Giving Up the New in a New Year

Last new year I made a resolution to cut back on the number of newly made finished products I purchased and opt for handmade and secondhand instead.  It didn’t go too badly, but in order to achieve this I found I needed new things in order to produce handmade items in particular.  Over the course of that year I acquired most of the necessary tools, a sewing machine and a candle making kit, for example.  Now that I have these at my disposal, I feel I can renew this resolution in earnest and intend to use this blog to catalogue and record my efforts.  I’m not going to the extent of blowing glass for my own vase or building furniture, mostly because my home is already adequately furnished, but it does need finishing touches and it is these I want to create.  I’m also a baker, mostly of cakes, but this year I want to try producing most of my own bread.  To get the bread one truly desires is no easy task.  It’s a skill that takes time and effort to even approximate mastery and my own experiments have taught me that no two loaves are ever the same.

All in all I like to make all sorts of things and I hope to look back on this blog next new year with great pride.