Cheese Scones

March 30, 2009

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When we think of scones it’s always teatime and there’s jam or honey and quite possibly cream. The sun is out. Bees hum in the roses and it’s all very Edwardian and English.

But there’s a whole other way of eating scones, where they’re a savoury item, to be eaten either on their own with butter, or with soup – best of all, to my taste, being sweetcorn soup.

These are they. The recipe has been handed down to me so I don’t know who was its original author. But the addition of the spring onions is mine, though you could use a leek.

Cheese Scones
at least 12

225g self raising flour
pinch salt
1/2 tsp mustard powder
55g butter
100ml milk
1 egg
50g cheddar cheese, grated
paprika
2 spring onions, finely chopped

Set the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7. Grease an oven tin.

Sieve together the flour, salt and mustard powder. Rub in the butter.

Mix in half the cheese. Crack the egg into the middle of the flour and pour in most of the milk. Gradually work the ingredients together. Add the rest of the milk if it’s necessary,  but aim for a soft dough which isn’t sticky.

Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead a little, before pressing it down to form a slab about 2cm thick. Cut into 5cm rounds.

Place the scones onto the baking sheet and brush with milk. Then top them with a little cheese and a sprinkling of paprika.

Bake for 10-12 minutes.

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The Honey Sandwich

March 18, 2009

Now that Marks and Spencer have unveiled their own jam sandwich, competitively priced at 75p, I feel certain that the time is ripe for an occasional series on my own favourite sandwiches.

The homemade sandwich is a very personal affair. Since most of us only admit to eating them when we have to  – ie for lunch at work – owning up to actually liking them feels like a truly personal revelation. Particularly on a food blog, you know? It sounds kind of slummy. Like telling you that I don’t wear underwear.

But there it is. I do (like sandwiches that is).

And this is my latest favourite.

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That’s butter (or Utterly Butterly to be perfectly exact) on granary bread. Plus a thick layer of set honey on one of the slices, and a thin layer of light Tahini on the other.

Tahini is made from sesame seeds and it adds a little chewiness, along with some protein and a rather larger number of calories.

It works, really it does. Try it. And then let me know your  own favourite sandwiches.

Sticky Pineapple Gingerbread

February 26, 2009

gingerbread

Gingerbread has to be one of my top ten tea-time favourites, particularly good for wintry days or during summer rain, when you need that glow of heat coupled with the kick of sugar.

It’s a comfort food, yes, but a strongly flavoured and sophisticated one. As a child I never really liked ginger in baking – it was too strange and not straightforwardly sweet enough. The ginger biscuits I was given then were a Polish variety, made by my grandmother and served as a traditional Christmas treat. They weren’t biscuits or cookies as we find them in supermarket packets: these were spongy in the middle and covered with white icing.

I can’t say I ever liked them. They were light, but yet not quite light enough for cake. They were called biscuits, but had no crunch. And where, I wondered, was the chocolate?

Perhaps that experience is why I now consider ginger in baking, to be adult food. It’s sensual. It’s aromatic and bold. It fills the kitchen with strong scents and tastes peppery and almost luridly spicy. The sweetness too, is punchy but unusual. It’s a layered effect, a symphony of sweetness if you like, built up by using not just treacle, but sometimes honey or golden syrup as well and then dark muscovado sugar on top of that.

And beware; this recipe is called ‘sticky’ for a reason, so no nonsense about eating this daintily, please. Napkins, or good old finger licking, will definitely be called for.

Sticky Pineapple Gingerbread
450g plain flour
1 tbs ground ginger
1 tbs baking powder
1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 level tsp salt
200g dark muscovado sugar
175g butter
300g black treacle
1″ fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated (discard the leftover pulp)
300ml milk
1 egg
3 pieces stem ginger, finely chopped, plus about 3tbs syrup
432g can pineapple chunks, drained
6tbs icing sugar

Set the oven to 160C/325F/Gas 3. Grease a 23cm baking tin.

Sift together the baking powder, flour, ginger, bicarbonate of soda and salt.

Melt the butter and sugar with the treacle in a large pan over a low heat. Leave to cool and then beat in the egg and milk, and stir in half the chopped stem ginger.  Add the grated fresh ginger. Fold the mixture in with the dry ingredients.

Pour the cake batter into the greased baking tin and scatter the pineapple pieces and the rest of the stem ginger over the top. Bake for about 1.5 hours. The cake should be well risen and a skewer or fork inserted in the middle should come out clean.

Leave for about half an hour in the tin and then turn out the cake and place on a wire rack to cool completely.

Finally, you need to ice the cake. Mix the icing sugar with the rest of the stem ginger syrup to make a soft gooey paste. Drizzle over the cake – zigzags look fantastic.

The cake will keep well in a cake tin and the flavours will even improve over several days.

So I finally got round to it, to them, to making those ginger biscuits as I promised, oh, ages ago. And what a chore it was, at first.

Not just one, or two, but three shop assistants in my local supermarket didn’t have a clue what treacle was or where it lived in the store. One sent me to Sweets where there were screaming 4 year-olds. Another said it was in Foreign Foods. Another just shrugged and carried on stacking shelves.

But I had to find it. Without treacle there would be no biscuits, no dark exotic tang, mineral-rich, straight from the Caribbean.

It was by pure happenstance that I stumbled on it underneath Cake Decorations where an immensely tall and thin woman – an academic judging by her glasses and woollen skirt – was moving slowly from one leg to the other and humming to herself. Maybe she was dancing, in a bookish, otherworldly way. I never realised Cake Decorations were that exciting. Maybe I need to get out more.

So I grabbed the red tin with the gold lion crest, Lyle’s Black Treacle, whisked through checkout and onto the Tube, which was packed. I made the mistake of listening to Leona Lewis bleeding away, which always makes me want to weep copiously, and then tried to cheer myself up with Prince ‘Strollin”. Luckily that worked. I was clickin’ my fingers, in that annoying way ipod listeners do, by the time I got in. Dumped the shopping, turned on the oven and began to heat the butter.

At which point everything changed. The warm scent of melting butter is like nothing on earth. The treacle and then the golden syrup behaved very badly and had to scooped off the spoon with my finger, which then had to be licked. And the dark 70% cocoa chocolate melted everywhere and somehow ended up all around my mouth. The smell of baking, essence of home, chocolate, ginger and molasses, filled the kitchen.

Now I know that every food writer tells you how they ‘ate the whole batch’. How they were going to save a few for their spouse but couldn’t resist them. All I can say is No Way. These are far too rich, too snappy at the edges and gooey in the middle, for that.

I had 4. OK, maybe 6. Or 7. Who’s counting? More to the point, there are still plenty left for a last minute snack before bed. And – who knows? – maybe even for breakfast.

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Ginger and Dark Chocolate Biscuits
75g butter
75g dark brown sugar
150g golden syrup
2tbs black treacle
300g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground ginger
50g stem ginger, finely chopped
50g dark chocolate

Set the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.

Over a low heat gently melt the butter, treacle, sugar and golden syrup. When the final golden knob of butter has dissolved, turn off the heat and sift in all the  dry ingredients. Stir well into a moist dough.

Add the chopped stem ginger and with a sharp knife flake in the dark chocolate. It will end up in lumps of all sizes. No matter. Lick your fingers, ‘cos they’ll need it.

I had to make the biscuits in 2 lots. For each batch, lightly butter a couple of oven trays and lay out little balls of the dough, each about a teaspoonful. Make sure they are well spaced apart. Bake for 12-15 minutes.

Let the biscuits cool slightly in the trays before you lift them gently out with a spatula. They will still be very moist, but crisp up rapidly as they cool.

A tip: don’t overdo the bicarbonate. I put in a teaspoonful the first time I made these, and that was overpowering.

And another tip: for really gingery biscuits, grate in a about an inch – or more – of fresh ginger. (Use the fine side of the grater. You’ll be left holding a wodge of pulp, which you’ll need to chuck.)

Storm and a Teacup

January 29, 2009

An off-white mugful of leather-brown brew whilst waiting for the phone to ring. And then another, and another.

The phone rings. Then more tea, after you’ve got the news, in a different, brighter mug this time, made of Cypriot blue-and-white pottery.

What else can it be, but a crisis. Which means, of course, a whole lot of tea.

When I say a lot, I mean even more than normal, which may be itself a lot, by some people’s standards. Being English, I really do opt for tea at every conceivable opportunity. So that’s tea on rainy days. Tea on sparkling wintry afternoons when the sky is ice-blue, like this one. Tea on sweltering summer holidays in Spain when you’re desperate for a cuppa to cool you down.

And when you really need something to hang on to, when you’re waiting for the news to come through, or after it has come, be it good, bad, mediocre, boring or news-less news, what better than tea to pin you down and bring your hyper-active mind back to the here and now.

If it’s a family drama, as it was this time, you sometimes ring the changes with sherry. Just a thimbleful, sweet but not unpleasant. Sherry occurs all the more if there are grandmothers involved. Accompanied by a wedge of heavy fruit cake studded with glace cherries, bought at the church sale the Sunday before. On a plate, with a napkin.

But this week there was only tea. No cake, though there could have been. For the news was very good indeed.

tea with Buddha

Lapsang Souchong

September 17, 2008

 

tea in cup

It always seemed too much, too much scent and wood smoke and where was the good old tannin? Until this summer, that is, when W from Brighton (she of the perfect boiled eggs), showed me the proper way to drink Lapsang Souchong.

W puts two – or even three – parts Lapsang to one part English Breakfast, fills the pot with just-boiled water and leaves to brew for at least a few minutes. You need the English Breakfast to give body to the wistful Lapsang, traditionally brewed in China from leaves dried over pinewood fires.

You add milk (not lemon, which works in Earl Grey but not here). What you end up with is on the one hand a dry deep tea with the requisite kick of tannin, and on the other a cup of mountain air and mists and summer barbecues, and these two tastes somehow, miraculously, married together.

Flask

September 9, 2008

tea in flask

tea in flask

I’ve bought a new flask from the Turkish Discount Store at the bottom of our street – it’s between Fri-Chik and the Hoolywood Grill (sic) and its owner sits outside all day watching traffic and looking glum.

Thermos flasks – along with teapots – have wedged themselves into my imagination as symbols. For what? Well, for a kind of ritualised letting go. Dothing nothing much, at least for a quarter of an hour. There’s a dreaminess that comes in those times out of time, when everything you thought you had to do seems really rather insignificant. The only truly meaningful thing to do is to sit and watch the sky, perhaps making gentle conversation or just in silence, and to sip piping hot tea.

Tea tastes even better outside and that’s where a thermos really comes into its own. It means freedom. When you’ve got your flask you can go anywhere. You’re close to nature, but not so close you let go of the essentials, essentials like Darjeeling or Earl Grey.