Archive for the 'Chocolate' Category

Reminiscing Over Cookies

A few days ago I was asked if I had always baked but it is really only in the past few months that I discovered and passion for cooking and baking. When I left school in June last year I could cook eggs and pasta and that was about it. After a wonderful and interesting gap year I will start university in just over two weeks time with some baking knowledge and the knowledge that I can take whatever odds and ends are in the fridge and make a soup or omelette or maybe a stir fry. I won’t need any of this knowledge in first year since I will be in catered halls but I will use it. I want to make cakes and no-bake bars and puddings and drinks both to share with my friends and floor mates and to keep up this blog, hopefully posting more frequently than I have recently.

In beginning to prepare for going to university and beginning an Archaeology degree I am looking back to the beginning of my gap year. I spent a month living and working with 15 Australians on an archaeological excavation in Cyprus. We enjoyed several wonderful Greek mezzes but also cooked for the group on the days we were on kitchen duty. I found myself helping out some days when I wasn’t on duty, enjoying watching simple ingredients turn into delicious meals. As the drinking age in Cyprus is 17 I got my first experience of alcohol and going out in the evenings. While the bartenders in Cyprus seem to use a shot glass as the guideline for the minimum amount of each spirit in a cocktail what I remember most is the joy of sharing absurd conversations and laughing while joining a group performance of ‘I will survive’ in a Kareoke bar, something I would not usually have the confidence for.

Each day we got up in the dark and arrived on site just as the sky was beginning to lighten. The site was never shadowy, despite the earliness of the hour. It felt almost as if tendrils of light were escaping the sun’s rays to weave themselves into the walls of the trenches and welcome us to a new day’s digging. Talk and laughter would mix with the thwack of pickaxes, the scrape of trowels and the patter of earth falling into the wheelbarrow as we worked towards breakfast and then lunch. After lunch the sounds would change to splashing water, the bristling scratch of nailbrushes and the soft thump of pottery dropping onto tarpaulin as we washed the finds that had emerged from the ground that morning and sorted, bagged and tagged the now dry finds from the day before. Some days there would be very little to wash and on others we would be faced with a long row of buckets filled to the brim after a trench had reached a ‘mega-context’. Our conversations ranged from the perfectly normal to the slightly insane. We talked of the differences between Australia and Britain, notably the difference in currency. Paper money in Australia is not strictly paper, it’s bright colours and slightly laminated feel were odd and to me almost seemed like monopoly money. I was used to notes in muted blues, reds and purples, the new ones crisp edged and glossy, the old ones crumpled and often with taped up rips. I was fascinated by the idea of waterproof money, especially one girl’s story of washing her jeans three times with a $50 dollar note in the pocket then going out and spending it since it was still as good as new. They seemed baffled that the tatty £5 note I had in my purse, creased to the point of feeling like cloth, could be deemed usable currency.

As the trenches deepened and the spoil heap grew we learned more about each other and the site, though in relation to the site we uncovered more questions than answers. We reached the end of each day’s work dusty and sweaty and spent the afternoon swimming in the crystal clear water of the harbour and enjoying ice cream and frozen yogurt. Our Sunday afternoons and Mondays were mostly spent driving around the island to various archaeological sites or simply enjoying tearing along a dirt track in a four-by-four, then pausing to wait for the smaller Ford Fiesta to catch up.


7am and I’m already covered in dust

We all enjoyed the Zorba’s store, part of a bakery chain, that was just down the road, though the fact that we all gained weight while wielding pickaxes and shovels suggests we enjoyed the profiteroles, crème brûlée and chocolate mousse cakes a little too exuberantly. We enjoyed mezzes at various restaurants including The 7 St George’s, reportedly the best restaurant on the island. It certainly lives up to its reputation.

The 7 St George’s is every inch a classic Greek taverna, right down to the canopy woven from palm leaves and growing vines. We were greeted by several cats, including one tiny kitten, and the welcoming host and his sons. We were asked about allergies and if anyone was vegetarian or vegan. Most people are confused by the fact that I am allergic to just cow’s cheese and not other dairy but not this man, he simply nodded and told me exactly which parts of the mezze I could or could not eat each time a dish came out. The vegetarian and vegan were equally well provided for. The bread that came out as four entire loaves was still warm, the sweetly spiced interior enveloped in a perfect crust. Every dish that emerged from the kitchen was perfect. By the time the meal was finished we were all pleasantly full and the table was littered with over a dozen small desert bowls that had been shared round until they were scraped clean.

By the end of that month I was absolutely sure that doing Archaeology at university was the right choice. I am so glad I made the decision to take a gap year. I have grown and matured a lot in the past year but I have also discovered how wonderful and therapeutic time spent creating in the kitchen can be. I have memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life but in some ways this newfound passion is even more precious.

These cookies are from a recipe I have used several times. I made them for friend’s birthday, for another friend on the day she moved into university halls and for a barbeque at our allotment when I was extremely flattered to see a chef who grows award-winning vegetables go home with a handful in his pocket.

Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from Cookies! By Pippa Cuthbert and Lindsay Wilson)

220g butter/dairy free spread (soya spread or sunflower spread)
120g brown sugar
150g caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1tsp vanilla extract
300g all purpose gluten free flour
1tsp baking soda
1/2tsp salt
200g dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 190˚C/375˚F.
Beat butter/spread and sugars together until creamy (not until light and fluffy or you will get bubbly cookies that don’t taste as good).
Add eggs and vanilla, beating until combined.
Sift together flour, soda and salt and stir in.
Fold in the chocolate chips.
Drop rounded spoons of mix onto ungreased baking sheets about 2” apart.
Bake for 10-15 minutes until the surface is set but the centres are still soft and the edges are lightly browned. Leave to cool on the trays until they have hardened enough to be moved then transfer to a cooling rack.

Notes: – The recipe says it makes 28 cookies but I have got everything from 24 to 42 depending on the size I made them. Smaller cookies can be placed a little closer together and bigger ones, further apart.
– I line my baking trays with Teflon coated baking paper (a bit like silpat but designed for lining cake tins) because one of them isn’t very non-stick.
– These are also very good with chopped walnuts instead of chocolate chips, other nuts would work too.

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No thanks, I’d rather stir custard…

Our kitchen is small but it’s always been the centre of our home. I did my homework on the table by the wall in the years before my dad built a desk in my room, and quite often in the years after since said desk was usually covered in clutter. We eat all our meals there and I sit with my laptop every morning, listening to my porridge bubbling on the hob and the coffee dripping into the pot.

We have spent many hours leaning against the counters discussing everything from politics and history to films to school and university. Some of our conversations have been serious debates and others a ludicrous compiling of sentences gasped out between shrieks of laughter. There have also been discussions of food, questions about what to make for dinner or my parents gleefully sorting through the latest produce from the allotment and telling me about how well everything is growing.

I remember sitting in my dad’s chair when I was two, watching him making a cake for my party. I have no memory of how it tasted but I know it was a long rectangle, covered with white icing and chopped strawberries surrounded by pineapple formed the letter I. Years later I laughed when my mother said how strange it felt to eat cake while the remains of a gluten and lactose free chocolate cake, ordered from a German konditormeister, sat in the centre of a circle of my friends.

More recently it has become a place of learning, joy and occasional tears. We all stood around laughing when my first fairy cakes came out barely risen and then sank to be about half an inch high. I cried when I dropped two trays, burning my arm in the process, and squashed almost all of the cupcakes I had made for my French class. I learned that it was best to research things like meringues before trying them when I ended up with small heaps of over cooked sweet…something after setting the temperature too high. A week or so later I was almost bouncing when I tasted a meringue layer cake that I had baked properly, too happy to care that it looked awful due to both meringue layers all but shattering in the process of removing them from the pans. I have also learned that I am not afraid to experiment. I love trying new combinations of flavours or new kinds of cake and eagerly awaiting the results.

At the weekend my mother realised a bag of pears and a box of currants were both in danger of going bad, so put them all in a pan and stewed them into a sharp mixture in a wonderful shade somewhere between red and purple. The next day I saw a recipe for a chocolate tart crust and while wondering what to put in for a filling my eyes fell on the pot of stewed fruit. Then I remembered a tin of coconut milk sitting in the cupboard and immediately knew what I wanted to try. I asked my dad to buy gelatine while he was out and that evening set about making a chocolate tart crust. I had to wait until after dinner to start on the coconut and rice milk custard so it was fairly dark. I was standing stirring the custard so it wouldn’t curdle, the only light coming from my laptop as I watched the BBC’s new Sherlock Holmes, when my dad came through asking if I wanted to watch a program. My reply of “No thanks, I’d rather stir custard,” made him pause and cry “That’s what you should have called your blog!” A moment later laughter filled the room and another happy memory settled over the silvery surface of the stove.

Since my blog already has a name I felt the least I could do was enshrine the phrase and the memory in a post along with a tart that is just as wonderfully bizarre as my family.

Currant and Coconut Custard Tart

Chocolate Crust: adapted from woodenspoon.ca/2010/06/chocolate-strawberry-tarts/
115g butter/soya spread
55g sugar
100g gluten free plain flour
30g Dutch-processed cocoa powder
15g corn flour
1/8tsp salt

Preheat 175˚C/375˚C and grease an 8” flan tin.

Cream the butter and sugar then add the flour, cocoa, corn flour and salt and mix until well combined.

Spoon into the tin and chill until very cold (it’s easier to spread once cold) before using your hands to spread the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides.

Bake for 20 minutes or until dry to touch. Leave to cool in tin.

Filling:

150ml coconut milk
150ml rice milk
50g sugar
4 egg yolks
2tbsp corn flour
1 vanilla bean
500ml stewed pears, redcurrants and blackcurrants
1 packet gelatine crystals

Cut along the length of the vanilla bean and add to a pan with the coconut and rice milk. Bring to boil then remove from heat.

Whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and corn flour then whisk into the milk mixture.

Heat gently, stirring until it thickens. Be careful not to let it boil or it will curdle. Pour into a bowl and add half the gelatine crystals stirring to help them dissolve. Keep stirring until it cools a little and pour into the crust. Leave to set in the fridge.

Once the custard has set dissolve the rest of the gelatine crystals in a little hot water then mix in the stewed fruit. Pour into the pie and leave to set in the fridge.

My crust cracked so I left it in the tin until the moment I wanted to cut it. Even if it doesn’t crack I would recommend leaving it in the tin since you’ll be taking it in and out of the fridge.


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