Monday, January 28, 2013

More Thoughts!

Was lying in bed having another think. ( No! Don't switch over to someone else's blog, I'll try not to ramble on for too long about me, more useful recipes will follow, I promise).

Was thinking about thought itself.  Not sure about everyone else, but it's almost as though there is an 'inner me' talking to myself, in that I think in 'words', 'talking' soundlessly to myself..  Then I wondered how people who are deaf and dumb would think, and then if they were also blind, how they too would think.   I've tried very hard thinking without 'thinking' (words, pictures etc), and it is almost impossible.  But that's me.

A very interesting prog last night presented by the always-looking-young Brian Cox. This time about how life evolved on this planet, and was immensely pleased to realise that energy is never lost, it just changes from one state to another, so when I die I will again become part of the 'great scheme of things' - giving me a sort of eternal 'life', but not always as we know it at this precise moment.  I wonder what I was before, and even before that, and before that even....

Am hoping that this series might just touch on the one thing that does puzzle me.  With all the living things there are on this planet, why is it that it is only the higher animals (and maybe only humans) that have 'conciousness', or perhaps that should be 'a conscious'?  Other creatures just get on with their lives as their brains seem 'programmed' to do.  We seem to have a different role to play.  Maybe one day we will find out what it is, and then wish we hadn't.

As I predicted (well it doesn't take much brain activity to work this bit out), the UK is now knee deep in water due to the fast melting snow.  Hundreds of flood alerts again, probably more than before when it just 'rained', as we now have both melting snow AND rain together not being able to be soaked away.  Think perhaps the first priority of this government should be to start clearing ditches,  get better drainage in fields, and stop bothering about building more property.  Also improve and build more flood barriers in towns and villages.

The Dutch seem to control the water that would otherwise flood their low-lands, so perhaps we should bring back windmills again, using them for a dual purpose: to provide electricity as well as pumping water away.  They'd look a darn sight more attractive than those 'wind farms' which - believe it or not - have to be switched off when the wind blows too much or they would break.

Sorry you still have a cold jane, and do hope the onions and garlic help.  In some ways it may seem these make it worse as they rapidly clear out all the mucus.  I must have gone through two boxes of tissues in a week due to eating onions!  But better out than in.

As the 'cookie mix' recipe given recently - with variations - seems to have been popular (at least one reader was happy with this - and if one is happy then I 'assume' all are), because  Janet is about to embark on teaching her daughter to bake, today am giving another 'basic' recipe, this time for cake - also with 'variations'.

For some reason baking is believed to need precise weights and measures, but myself have not found accuracy is absolutely necessary, just as long as it is fairly close.   For instance, if 'three large eggs' are called for and I have only 3 medium, then I probably add a little milk to make up the 'shortfall'.   Sometimes - when making cakes, I use a little less sugar, or maybe a different sugar.  Obviously, the end result might be slightly differeent in taste/texture but still perfectly edible (and dare I say it - even better?).

One thing I have realised that a sandwich cake recipe can turn out well whether it is made 'correctly' (first cream the fat and sugar together, then beat in the eggs....) or all the ingredients are just put into a food processor and whizzed together before being spooned into a prepared cake tin. 
Yet, when baking, am not sure even then whether the result depends more on what ingredients are used, how they are assembled, or whether the cook has that magic touch.
Example:  my mother used to make the most perfect 'melt in the mouth' pastry, yet when working side by side with her, following her every move, my pastry turned out like eating breezeblocks. Why, why, why???
My daughter makes the most perfect cakes (ingredients all thrown into a food processor!) and yet mine are never as light, even though I have tried both the 'correct' way and her the 'processor way'.   Daughter uses Stork (soft) margarine, and now so do I,  but still have a long way before I reach her perfection, and doubt I ever will for she has that magic touch, and I don't.  On the other hand I do make wonderful quiches (using readymade pastry of course).

The other day decided to make my Bakewell by first creaming together the fat and sugar, and spent more time creaming than usual, until the mix really was light and fluffy.  Then beat in the first egg, and - for the first time - the mixture didn't 'curdle'' (we are always advised to beat in a little flour with the first egg to avoid this, and this time I didn't), and can only assume it was the extra beating that made the difference, also the cake 'batter' was much lighter once the flour and ground almonds had been folded in.  Can't say I noticed much difference once it had been baked, but at least I was moving in the right direction.

In old recipe books there was almost always a recipe for 'Pound Cake', (1 lb of everything), and the recipe today uses this amount as the 'basic mix'.   Experienced cooks will realise this is just a larger amount of cake batter than we would normally use when making a Victoria Sandwich.   In other words 'the same weight of flour, sugar, butter, and eggs' (1 egg = 2 oz) can make an average sized cake, or (using more of the same proportions) more cakes or larger ones.
Eggs sold today now are rarely just 2 oz in weight, so if we wish to be accurate we should first find the total weight of eggs used, then adjust the amount of the other ingredients to match.  Doing this is much the best way if you are of the younger generation and work only in metrics, especially if the recipe still uses 'the old imperials'. 

The 'basic Pound Cake' recipe (as given below), is then divided into four portions, each making a different 'bake', but no reason why we can't reduce the amount back to the  '2 egg and four oz of everything else - or metric equivalent', and just choose to make one of the variations.  This mix can also be used to make Small Fancy Cakes - again with variations,
Having made good cakes using Stork soft marg, you could use this instead of butter, or a blend of butter/marg.  If using butter, this will cream better if it is at (summer) room temperature, in other words, slightly softened.

The cakes below can be frozen if you follow these directions:
Pack un-iced cakes into freezer bags, then freeze. Open-freeze iced cakes before packing into rigid containers or freezer bags.  Use within 3 months.
To use: thaw at room temperature, allowing 4 hours for large cakes and 1 hour for the small cakes.

'Pound Cake' Basic Mix: makes four portions 
1 lb (450g) butter (see above)
1 lb (450g) caster sugar
8 eggs (to weigh 1lb/450g)
1 lb (450g) self raising flour, sifted
Cream the butter and sugar together until light (don't rush this, the 'fluffier' it becomes, the lighter the cake), then beat in the eggs, one at a time, then fold in the flour.   Divide into four portions, enough to make three different cakes (suggestions below).  Or use all the basic mix to make four dozen fairy cakes - in four different flavours (suggestions given).  Or make two large cakes and 2 dozen fairy cakes.  A recipe that is fun to play with.

Carnival Cake:
1 portion of basic cake mix
2 oz (50g) sultanas
1 oz (25g) chopped hazelnuts (or other nuts)
1 oz (25g) chopped/grated chocolate
Stir the fruit, nuts, and chocolate into the basic mix, and spoon into a greased  6" (15cm) round cake tin, or a 1 lb (450g) loaf tin.  Bake for 1 hour at 190C, 375F, gas 5.  Turn out onto a cake airer to cool.

Marble Ring Cake:
1 portion basic cake mix
1 oz (25g) chocolate, melted
grated zest of 1 orange
1 tblsp orange juice
few drops of orange essence/extract
4 tblsp icing sugar, sieved
3 tsp orange juice
Divide the 1 portion of basic mix into two.  Stir the melted chocolate into one, and the orange zest, juice and essence into the second.
Grease a 1 pint (600ml) ring mould, then spoon in alternate dollops of the orange and chocolate mixes. Swirl with a knife to give a marbled/ripple effect, then bake for 45 minutes at the same temperature as above (190C etc). Turn out onto a cake airer.
When cold, mix the icing ingredients together, then spoon this over the cooled cake, letting some drizzle down the sides.  Leave icing to set before slicing.

Two portions of basic mix make this next cake, but there are two variations as to flavouring and filling.
Lemon Sandwich Cake:
2 portions of basic mix
6 tblsp lemon curd
5 fl oz (150ml) double cream, whipped
Divide the 2 portions of basic mix between 2 x 8" (20cm) greased sandwich tins.  Bake at above temperature (190C...) for 35 minutes, then turn out onto a cake airer to cool.  When cold, spread the lemon curd on one cake, top with the whipped cream, then cover with the remaining cake.  If you wish you could spread half the cream over the lemon curd, then decorate the top of the cake by piping on the remaining cream.

Coffee and Brandy Sandwich Cake:
2 portions of basic cake mix
1 tsp instant coffee
2 tsp hot water
6 oz brandy butter (recipe below)
8 halved walnuts
Dissolve the coffee in the hot water, cool and then stir this into the basic cake mix.  Divide between two sandwich tins and bake (as above).  When cold, sandwich together with brandy butter, and also spread the brandy butter on the top and decorate with the walnuts. 

brandy butter:
cream together 4 oz (100g) with 4 oz (100g) sieved icing sugar, and 2 tblsp brandy. 

Suggestions for the Small Fancy Cakes are based on using all the basic mix, subdividing it accordingly. Read the variations to see what to do, then choose to make all, some or just one variety.

Fairy Cakes - starters: makes 48
all the basic mix
4 oz (100g) chocolate, melted
Divide mixture in half, and spoon this into 25 paper cases.  To the other half fold in the melted chocolate and spoon this into 24 paper cases.  Bake both lots at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 25 minutes or until cooked (some ovens may take less time).

butterfly cakes: makes 12
Cut a small slice off the tops of 12 of the plain cakes, then cut each slice in half. Pipe plain buttercream on the middle of the top of the cakes, and press in the cut halves to look like wings.

coconut cakes: makes 12
Brush 12 plain cakes with hot apricot jam, then sprinkle over desiccated coconut.

cork cakes: makes 12
Using a sharp knife, remove ;cork shapes' from the centre of 12 chocolate cakes.  Fill hole with chocolate butter cream or 'ganache'. Replace 'corks' and sprinkle over icing sugar.

flake cakes: makes 12
Pipe a swirl of buttercream on top of 12 chocolate cakes, the top each with a chunk of 'Chocolate Flake' or sprinkle with crushed flake (or coarsely grated chocolate).

Finally, another recipe for Oatcakes.  Slightly different than the one I suggested to Cheesepare the other day.  Most 'bakes' have more than one version of a 'traditional' recipe, so worth trying different ones when we come across them.

Oatcakes: makes 12
4 oz (100g) medium oatmeal (or porridge oats)
3 oz (75g) plain flour
pinch bicarbonate of soda
half tsp salt
a bare 2 oz (40g) butter
3 tblsp hot water
Put oats into a bowl and sieve over the flour, bicarb and salt.  Rub in the butter and mix to a stiff dough with the water.  Knead gently, then roll out thinly on a floured board.  Cut into 2 x 6" (15cm) rounds (use a saucepan lid or plate as a guide), then cut each circle into 6 triangles.  Prick all over with a fork.
Place on a greased baking sheet and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 12 minutes or until pale golden brown.  Cool on a cake airer, then store in an airtight tin.
To freeze: when cold, pack into freezer bags or boxes (remembering to label), and freeze.  Use within 3 months.  Thaw at room temperature for 1 hour. 

That's it for today (is it Monday - I've lost count of the days, not that it really matters.  My Beloved has eaten nearly all of the Bakewell (and it was baked in an oversized Swiss Roll Tin!), and so no doubt will finish it today, also the nine or so 'Fork Biscuits that I kept back - he's already eaten some - (the remainder he took with him to the 'neighbours gathering').
Tonight am planning to make a Chilli con Carne for supper as have some minced beef in the freezer and a Mexican Beanfeast in the larder, plus can of red beans. Together (plus a fried onion and a can of chopped tomatoes) these should make at least three (if not four) meals, two (or three) can then be frozen for later eating.

Want also to make an apple and blackberry crumble for B (to last at least two days, some of it may be frozen) as have some apples that have been in the fruit bowl for ages and now need using up.  The berries are in the freezer.   Want also to make chocolate cake to use up some of that 'ganache' made recently.  If B doesn't see it, then maybe I can get it frozen, otherwise he'll want some of that too.  Perhaps if I baked an oblong cake instead of a round one I could remove a slice or two and then freeze the rest.

A dull day today but as yet no rain.  Let us hope the rest of the country has some respite from all this 'wet', and things soon get back to near normal - whatever that is.  Don't think we have had 'normal' weather for some years now. All we can hope for now is that it doesn't get worse.  If it's going to stay 'abnormal' then at least let us hope we can have an unusually long and very pleasantly warm summer this year.  Wouldn't this just be bliss?

Hope you will be able to return and have another 'chat' with me again tomorrow.  See you then.