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mikado opening

Homemade Mikado Biscuits

mikado 1

I have been on a bit of a biscuit roll recently (if you’ll pardon the pun) and rediscovering all kinds of childhood tastes. I blame that re-run of Nigel Slater’s biscuit programme because it’s certainly not just a desire to cram biscuits into my mouth. Oh no.

I loved making the fig rolls and I loved revisiting the Kimberley, Mikado and Coconut Cream jingle of childhood in my research for it, but honestly didn’t think anymore of it, especially since I was never quite sure which biscuit was which and preferred to say it as it’s all one word. I half thought of looking out for a packet of them if I was in an Asda soon with their weird ‘ethnic Irish’ grocery section.

My attention was actually all about the homemade teacake. I had heard about the rose infused version at Restaurant Story in Bermondsey recently and it got me thinking about playing around with having a go at something similar when some friends came for midsummer afternoon tea.

I’ve had this fantastic sounding recipe for teacakes from the ever wonderful The Little Loaf in my ‘to make’ folder for ages and thought I’d adapt it to make rose marshmallows again and spread the biscuit with rose petal jam. They sounded like they’d go well with a little Pimms on the patio in fact.

I started by baking the biscuits. Except I didn’t have any wholemeal flour, just some leftover buckwheat flour from the galette in Recipes from Brixton Village. Then I realised the rosewater for the marshmallows was three years out of date and smelt like a Woolworths bath and body gift set. It was time to use the random bottle of Polish raspberry syrup I’d impulse purchased a few weeks ago to see if I could add flavour and colour that way.

Raspberry and rose go beautifully so I still needed that rose petal jam: the rose petal jam that I forgot I’d eaten earlier this year and of course couldn’t be found without some time travel. Luckily I had some emergency raspberry jam on the shelf and it would look like it was intentional.

Massive amounts of improvisation later, I was ready to start assembling the teacakes. I spread the jam on the biscuits, splodged on the marshmallow and realised that on a very warm day the jam made it all so slippy I would never be able to coat them with chocolate without disaster. I was just about to give up on the whole endeavour when I realised that with a sprinkle of desiccated coconut I had accidentally created a homemade Mikado and saved the day…

Homemade Mini Mikado Biscuits (adapted from the Little Loaf)

Makes approx 60 bite sized biccies

  • 100g buckwheat or spelt flour
  • 50g rice or plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 50g sugar
  • 50g cold butter
  • 30ml buttermilk
  • 1 large egg white
  • 50g sugar
  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 4 tablespoons raspberry syrup or 75ml raspberry juice and 75g sugar
  • 4 tablespoons raspberry jam (seedless is best)
  • 2 tablespoons desiccated coconut

Start by making the biscuits. Sift the two flours into a large bowl and add the baking powder and sugar. Stir it all well together. Rub the cold butter into it all until it forms what looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the buttermilk a teaspoon at a time. The dough will come together without being sticky.

Using the palms of your hands, form it into a loose ball and squash it flat into some clingfilm. Wrap tightly and chill overnight or for at least 6 hours.

Heat the oven to 170℃ and roll the biscuit dough out on a floured surface until it is about 1cm thick. Cut out little bite sized biscuits out with the top of a small jar or champagne flute. Lay on a tray lined with greaseproof paper and bake for 12 minutes. I don’t like my biscuits too crisp for this kind of thing myself.

Allow the biscuits to cool while you make the marshmallow. This is the kind of marshmallow you get in big pots called Marshmallow Fluff and for me it never sets to make the solid kind you toast, but is perfect for this kind of thing.

Set a large bowl over a pan of boiling water and melt the sugar and golden syrup together. Using an electric whisk, beat the egg white into it all and keep beating it all over the heat for 6 minutes. Add in the raspberry syrup. I used bottle stuff but make a quick version with the raspberry juice from squashed berries and sugar boiled together to make a thick syrup if you don’t have a crazy Polish drinks aisle near you. Beat it all together for another 2 minutes and remove from the heat to cool.

Put the cooled marshmallow into a piping bag. Do check to see if you have actually have a piping bag first unlike me who had to do the freezer bag trick instead. Spread a tiny blob of raspberry jam on each biscuit and pipe a puff of marshmallow on top. Yours will look prettier than mine I promise. Sprinkle the marshmallow with a scant amount of coconut and if you’re trying to hide the badly piped nipple-like marshmallow you’ve just done, add some edible glitter too.

Leave the biscuits to set for at least two hours before eating and then line them up on a plate to make what looks like one enormous Mikado and inhale them one after the other. Wearing a headscarf and housecoat is of course optional for most people but basically how I always dress when I’m cooking since you can only take the girl out of Belfast….

PS: I’m now on Instagram. Come and say hello!

 

Mixed spring sourdough grissini

Adventures in sourdough: pancakes and grissini

Mixed spring sourdough grissini

One of the things which seems to mark out people who care about their food is a love of proper bread. In some respects I came round to this rather late. Although we grew up enjoying bread from wee bakeries in Northern Ireland, with lovely batch loaves, bloomers, wheaten bread and more; we also ate a lot of cheap sliced loaves at home. I used to be a demon for toast, and sliced pan loaves were the only option to sate my cravings as a growing teenager.

Throughout student life cheap sliced loaves were a staple. After graduating I shared a house with a mate who never bought a loaf of pre-sliced bread. His stance wasn’t dogmatic – no deeply ingrained opposition to the Chorleywood process – he just liked half-decent bread, and the pleasure of being able to cut your own slice, to whatever thickness you desired. Thanks to him, I kicked the habit of rectangular loafs wrapped in plastic like Laura Palmer. Since then I’ve made an effort to try and buy decent bread (Barbakan in south Manchester was a particular inspiration), and I tempered my toast habit a bit…

Unlike Miss South I’ve never been particularly drawn to baking – a few experiments in the past led to some reasonably unimpressive loaves – and so have stuck to flatbreads, pizzas, coca bread and of course those Norn Irish staples we both grew up with. I’ve always been impressed and daunted in equal measure by tales of friends growing their own sourdough starters, but never made the leap to doing it myself.

However our mum gave me a bit of her starter earlier this year (a mother from my mother seems appropriate) and so I’ve been giving this sourdough malarky a go. I work at home, so I’ve been able to accommodate the routines of this relatively undemanding pet: feeding, stirring, growing, nurturing. Loaves have turned out pretty well, and I can relate to the satisfaction one often hears described which comes with slowly proving a loaf with rewarding, complex flavours. However there are lots of folk out there who bake sourdough bread much better than I do… so this is about other things made with sourdough instead.

Sandor Katz’s monumental ‘The Art of Fermentation’ was a recent welcome birthday present, and as I leafed through the inspiring recipes and writing I was immediately drawn to his suggesting of using up excess sourdough starter for savoury pancakes. It’s dead simple: to help stimulate your starter to grow, you need to chuck out the majority of the flour and water mix so you can feed the remainder with new supplies. Most sources advocate using it for baking, or chucking it away, but the waste-not, want-not approach which Katz outlines is great.


sourdough pancake and starter

They’ve become a firm favourite in the last few weeks, providing an easy and welcome vehicle to use up a bunch of fresh and not-quite-so-fresh things from the fridge. I love the slightly sour tang from the starter; it’s like an quick and dirty hybrid of injera and a Staffordshire oatcake, and they’re great for a quick lunch.

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Just pour out some of the sourdough ‘batter’ into a hot pan, and do like you would with traditional pancakes. Then fill, and wolf them down. Below are a couple of recent lunchtime five-minute wonders: blanched cavolo nero, diced salami and a squirt of sriracha in pancakes flecked with chives; and home-made slaw, salami and leaves. The contents are dictated only by your taste and what you have in. The only downside; roll ‘em like wraps and they disappear in no time.

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Outside, our rosemary bush has been flowering over the last few weeks. I’ve always wanted to make the most of these delicate, beautiful lilac flowers but never settled on the right option. They wilt and fade when roasted with lamb; they’re a bit much for a salad… but then I thought I’d try and pair them with smoked roast garlic and sea salt.

bumblebee on rosemary flowers

That, plus it being the tail end of wild garlic season in the Pennines, meant a making a brace of big umami-laced flavoured breadsticks. Which, oddly, don’t seem to last long in our house, especially when there’s a bottle open. Of the two, the rosemary flowers and smoked garlic was the standout for me. Well worth making…

Wild garlic, smoked garlic, rosemary flowers and sourdough mix

Spring sourdough grissini, two ways

(makes approx. 24 breadsticks)

  • 325g strong white flour
  • 150g sourdough leaven
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 220ml slight warm water
Rosemary flower, smoked roast garlic and sea salt 
  • 3-4 tablespoons of rosemary flowers (you could alternatively use dried ground rosemary leaves)
  • half a bulb of smoked garlic, roasted slowly for 40mins in an oven at approx. gas mark 4 / 180°C
  • a few tablespoons of sea salt to roll and coat the grissini in
Wild garlic, anchovy and black pepper
  • a fistful of wild garlic leaves, finely chopped
  • 6-8 anchovy fillets
  • fresh ground or crushed black pepper
  • olive oil

Roast the smoked garlic slowly. When done, remove from the oven and leave to cool. You should be able to squeeze out the delicious garlic purée from the cloves. Chop the wild garlic leaves finely, mixing with a splash of oil and chopped anchovies in a bowl to create a paste.

Mix the flour and leaven together in a bowl, then slowly add the water. Sprinkle the teaspoons-worth of salt in as you add the water. Mix roughly in the bowl, then leave for ten minutes. After ten minutes, divide into two equal portions, and work each separately. It should be slightly wet and sticky.

Mix the rosemary flowers into one of the portions in a bowl, then add the roasted garlic purée. Knead and mix until the ingredients look evenly distributed, and you can feel the dough changing in your hands. I slap it around briefly for a few minutes, then left it, before returning after a suitable length of time (preferably at least 4 hours). The mix will have risen slightly and proved well.

With the other, stir in the wild garlic mix. You may find you need to add extra flour as the water from the wild garlic leaves makes the dough more liquid. Mix as above until it’s uniformly green and has changed texture, then leave as above.

When the proving has completed, divide each in half, roll into a rough sausage shape, and then divide further into six equally-sized pieces. Roll these pieces, one by one, between your hand to make long breadstick shapes. Be careful they don’t snap… and don’t sweat it if they are uneven. They should look pleasingly rustic. Keep each dusted lightly in flour, and place on a dusted baking tray.

I sprinkled sea salt on a baking tray and rolled the rosemary and smoked garlic grissini in these, so the crystals stuck roughly to the dough.

Bake in batches for 12-15mins in a pre-heated oven at 220°C / Gas Mark 7. Check to see they’ve firmed up and taken some colour. They should be firm enough to break rather than tear. Leave to cool, then enjoy with a drink or two!

cornflake trio

Cornflake Tart

 

cornflak c-upMister North and I must be very rare specimens indeed because we went to a primary school that served excellent school dinners. The only thing I remember hating was the cabbage which they served minced and overcooked. Otherwise, I have very fond memories of eating lunch at school. There were proper hand cut twice cooked chips that I still dream about, Irish stew and of course, proper puddings with custard to match.

Most people liked the chocolate sponge and custard best, but my favourite was the cornflake pudding. A slab of crumbly pastry topped with red jam and sweet crunchy cornflakes on top, served with simple yellow custard. I last ate it when I was no more than 11 years old and I’ve spent years trying to track a recipe for it down. I’ve asked many people if they remembered it and in between triggering memories of Spam fritters, people have either rhapsodised about it or looked blank.

I was starting to think it was a Northern Irish thing when eventually I came across something about on Mumsnet and realised it was actually very simple to make and just the thing to use up some spare pastry. But would it taste the same or was I about to destroy a treasured childhood memory like the time I rewatched Button Moon and realised it was just an actual button?

Cornflake Tarts (makes 4 individual sized tarts)

For the pastry:

  • 175g plain flour
  • 45g cold cubed butter
  • 40g lard
  • 2-3 tablespoons cold water

For the topping:

  • 150g raspberry jam
  • 30g unsalted butter
  • 25g sugar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup
  • 75g cornflakes

Start by making your pastry. I like the incredible shortness you get using half lard and half butter (plus it’s much cheaper too) but if you prefer, you can use all butter.

Put the flour in a large bowl and rub the lard and butter through it. I think I’ve mentioned before that my pastry always shrinks massively in the tin and some plaintive wailing about it to a friend, established that I was rubbing my fat into the flour too much and over working the pastry. So don’t be afraid to leave some lumps of fat in this instead of trying to get only tiny crumbs.

Add two tablespoons of ice cold water (I’ve also been using too much water because overworking the pastry had made it dry) and bring it all together neatly in a ball without too much fiddling and poking. Chill it in the fridge for 30 minutes.

When you are ready, roll it out and line the tart tins. I had 4 small ones but this will also do a 23cm tart tin nicely. Don’t trim all the pastry off the edges, but leave some overhang and then chill again for 15-20 minutes while the oven heats up to 180ºC.

Line the pastry with greaseproof paper and fill it with rice or dried beans and blind bake for 12 minutes. In the meantime, heat together the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a saucepan until it is all melted and runny. Put the cornflakes in a large bowl and pour the butter and syrup over them. Gently stir it through until they are all coated. Set aside.

Now put the jam into the same saucepan and warm it through too. I used some homemade stuff, but a decent shop bought one will do. Try not to use indeterminate ‘red jam’ like the school dinner version did. It’s better with a bit of flavour and texture.

Take the blind baked tarts out of the oven. Remove the baking beans or rice and prick the base of the pastry several times with a fork. Trim the edges of the tarts with a sharp knife and then spread the warmed jam over all the base of the tarts. Sprinkle the cornflake mixture over the top of the jam, making sure you don’t skimp.

Bake the tarts for another 8 minutes and then allow to cool for at least 10 minutes to give the cornflakes a proper crunch. You’ll probably want to serve this with a generous pouring of custard. I can’t help you here as custard is my nemesis and my most recent attempt at heating some fresh stuff from Sainsbury’s ended with me curdling it!

I ate my tarts just as they were and they tasted exactly like I remember, but actually slightly better for not being made with marge and cheap jam or washed down with tepid water in a metal beaker! I am now convinced Proust was really on about cornflake tart rather than madeleines…

What about you? Do you have a school dinner memory that’s surprisingly good or was it all crimes against food?

Carrot, Caraway and Honey Muffins

muffinsRecently I had the pleasure of going over to Peckham and having a food tour of the area courtesy of The Skint Foodie. Our first stop was Persepolis and I could have spent all day there, rummaging through the treasure chest of amazing items they stock and chatting to Sally about her cookbooks. I managed to only buy a few things (but eyed up several others for a return visit) and came away with a bag of caraway seeds.

As far as I know, these are actually the fruit of the caraway plant rather than a true seed, but whatever they are botanically, they are underrated ingredient these days. Popular in Britain for centuries, they work well in sweet and savoury dishes and for some reason they remind me of my childhood. I’m not sure I remember eating them in anything particular, but they take me back every time. I haven’t had them regularly since I used to frequent a sandwich shop in Waterloo that did a New York club sandwich on caraway bread.

So when I saw them in Persepolis, I immediately wanted to make something with them that was neither sweet nor savoury but but would show them to full effect. Much as I love the idea of seed cake, it seemed too definitive a decision. Caraway duets delightfully with carrot and I figured this was the way to go.

I love making muffins but am always put off by having to buy the bigger sized liners and paying through the nose for them. So when I got sent a stunning non stick muffin tin recently by George Wilkinson, they promised to dispense with the need to line the tin. It was time to find out!

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Three beautiful duck eggs on display at the Todmorden Agricultural Show

Cracking stuff: in praise of the duck egg…

Three green and one white duck egg

So that moveable feast, Easter, is well and truly behind us for another twelve months or so. It’s a time of the year which is synonymous with eggs – as a symbol of life, of change, as a treat or gift, and as the rebirth inherent during spring. Our modern Easter is a convenient, contradictory and sometimes conflicted mélange of pagan, Christian, and (increasingly) consumerist influences; and there’s plenty of scope for debate about the origins of many of the things we associate with this time of year. Sidestepping much of the ideology and etymology, I’d just like to talk about eggs…*

Actually, it’s hard to think of a more elemental, universal and iconic foodstuff than an egg. Considering eggs (and duck eggs in particular) are one of the favourite and most-used ingredients in my kitchen, it surprised me to realise we’ve never written a piece in praise of them.

They crop up in plenty of our recipes; they’re the first thing I buy when I go to the market each week; they’re my number one packed lunch item (the ultimate self-contained foodstuff). So this is a celebration of eggs, and especially the duck egg, which is indelibly wrapped up in my past memories and modern routines.

Three beautiful duck eggs on display at the Todmorden Agricultural Show

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