A few weeks ago the nice people at Kent & Fraser asked me if I wanted to try some of their gluten free biscuits.
Ahhhhhh its barbecue time of year and barbecue kind of weather: smell the grilling food, hear the chink of glasses, the laughter, the fun, the delicate aroma of firelighters, the burnt food, the lobster tinged neighbours. England, the summer.
I love it when things just seem to come together in the right way and its one of the things that I’m starting to love about blogging and tweeting. You swirl around the blogosphere, you play about on Twitter and suddenly a whole bunch of influences collide to make you spot a new dish that resonates for you or triggers fond memories of something you haven’t had in simply too long.
A few weeks back Julia at ‘A Slice of Cherry Pie‘ was offering 5 Mayan Magic Chocolate kits to food bloggers who promised to blog the experience. Sounded like fun and as I love chocolate I rushed in and bagged one. It arrived a few days later but it sat untouched for a while – I was busy and wanted to do it justice and also blog as much of each step as I could…..so here is what you get and do:
Reading several other blogs recently (particularly ‘Domestic Goddess in Training’ talking about Bara Brith) made me think it was about time I did a little bit of baking. And visitors scheduled for later this week clinched the deal. What better to offer with tea or coffee than homemade biscuits or perhaps a fruitcake?
First up the biscuits – I fancied cooking something that would have a hint of summer to come and so I hit on one of my favourite tried and tested recipes (and, I know, well liked by these particular guests). The recipe is from Sybil Kapoor’s Simply British – a lovely book of unusual recipes using classic British ingredients.
You will need:
4oz/115g softened butter (I prefer to use unsalted though it doesn’t specify that in the recipe)
2oz/55g caster sugar
zest 1 unwaxed lemon
3 teaspoons of lavender flowers stripped off the stem (hopefully ones from your own lavender bushes that you have dried and saved or I’ve found them online at Phytobotanica)
caster sugar for dusting
Heat the oven to Gas 2/150C/300F and have 2 greased baking sheets ready – you’ll get about 16 biscuits.
Cream the butter, sugar and lemon zest until it’s pale and light in texture. Then mix in the lavender flowers followed by the flour – use your hands as this will keep the butter warm and help incorporate the flour. You are aiming for a stiff but not too crumbly ball of dough – it will take a while to get to this stage (5 minutes or more).
They are wonderfully crumbly, melting in the mouth, the lavender flavour is quite rich and the lemon zest helps balance this nicely. Eat with abandon – though I defy you to manage more than 3 in a sitting.
Now lets just hope I haven’t eaten them all before my guests arrive……..
Last week I mentioned lemon curd in my Labour of love post and one comment poster asked for a good recipe.
I’ve tried a few versions in the past – some come out fairly runny, some very thick. They all taste good but the texture and richness varies quite widely depending on the amount of butter and also egg yolks (some recipes use whole eggs some use a mix and some use only yolks). So there’s quite a lot of choices in picking a recipe.
I’m going to give you two recipes here – one for a good staple curd – not too runny not too rich and one very rich one.
First the good staple which comes from Hilare Walden’s Sensational Preserves book (with various of my comments added). I’ve made it a number of times always with great success.
4 lemons (organic unwaxed for preference – the unwaxed bit is important, you’re going to be using the zest of the lemon and if its been waxed you’re going to have to scrub vigorously in hot soapy water and rinse before you can use them – what a chore)
4oz (115g) of unsalted butter
10oz (300g) of caster sugar – I like Billingtons Organic Unrefined Caster Sugar
4 medium size eggs
A heatproof bowl – e.g. a Pyrex mixing bowl
A saucepan that the bowl fits on but not in
Grate the lemon zest – being careful not to end up with too much of the white (and bitter) pith and then juice the lemons. Put zest and juice in the bowl. Add the butter cut into about 1cm dice and the sugar.
Put around an inch of boiling water in the pan and then balance the bowl over the pan (the bottom of the bowl mustn’t touch the water) – this is called a ‘double boiler’ in case you see that phrase mentioned elsewhere. Keep the water just at simmering point and stir the mixture in the bowl as it dissolves.
Beat the eggs lightly and then add them to the mixture (most recipes tell you to strain the egg mix but I don’t think this is really necessary). And keep on stirring. For as long as it takes for the curd to thicken which might be anything from 15 to almost 40 minutes (dependent mainly on the amount of lemon juice, I think). Make sure the curd doesn’t get too hot and keep on stirring especially as it gets thicker or you’ll end up with curdled curd – not a good result.
Pour into warm, clean dry jars – straight from the dishwasher is a good way to achieve this and seal with wax paper disks if you have them and a lid. Putting the lid on while its all still warm helps create a vacuum and so the contents last for longer.
The richer (and it really is much richer almost too rich except in small quantities) comes from Gary Rhodes’ Complete Rhodes around Britain. It uses essentially the same technique but the ingredients are heavily weighted to butter and egg yolks. In fact it’s the kind of recipe where you need to have thought through what you are going to be doing with all the egg whites you end up with (e.g. make meringues).
3 lemons, 8oz (225g) unsalted butter (I told you it was rich), 8oz (225g) caster sugar and 5 (yes that FIVE) egg yolks. Proceed as above but spread more thinly when applying to toast.
I’d recommend you try the Walden recipe first and then the Gary Rhodes if you fancy a rich lemony blow out experience at a later date. And if you think all that stirring is too much then try an upmarket ready made lemon curd – I most recently had the Duchy Originals one – very tasty, almost good enough to tempt you to scoop it out and put in your own labelled jar to pass off as your own ?
After the gardening bug bit me on Saturday I decided it was time to see how my lovely little lemon tree was doing.
It lives in the lean-to that we use as a utility room and often gets forgotten amongst the never-ending piles of washing (how exactly do 2 people create so much to be washed, its not like we wear three different outfits each day – well not normally any way!).
So off I pottered to check it out.
It had been hit by another bout of scale insect (ugh ugh ugh). These evil creatures don’t look much – rather like raised brown ovals along the leaf veins – they aren’t even moving – but boy are they hard to get rid of. There was nothing for it but to don rubber gloves and attack them with warm soapy water and an e-cloth (yes those magic cloths that are great for cleaning just about everything with no nasty chemicals and almost no need for elbow grease). This of course takes ages. Even on a small tree or shrub you need to clean every single leaf thoroughly on both sides, scraping away at the nasty bugs to get them off. So on my small lemon I reckon there are about 40 leaves at the moment and it took well over an hour to do.
But it was worth it because now, after spraying the tree with safe for vegetable and fruit tree bug killer stuff and keeping a vigilant watch over the coming weeks, the one solitary lemon that’s growing will hopefully get to full size and ripen up. Maybe I’ll get some new blossom and more fruits and then there’ll be the chance to make lemon curd.
And few things beat homemade lemon curd slathered on good white bread toast (extra thickly cut of course so its crispy on the outside and delightfully soft inside).