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Brixton Ginger Cake

Ginger cake

One of the few branded foods that I have a soft spot for is McVities Jamaican Ginger Cake. Squishy, sticky and so good smeared with butter, I occasionally sneak one into my trolley on the odd occasion I’m in a supermarket. But since I live in a area with a big Jamaican population I feel a bit guilty buying something that is probably highly inauthentic and mass produced. I decided it was time to try making my own version.

But how to get that almost difficult to eat super sticky feeling in a cake without the use of commercial levels of oil and played about with sorts of sugars? I always find that adding vegetables to a cake really up the moisture levels and adds a depth that sugar and fat alone cannot achieve. But what you achieve in moisture can often be overwhelmed by a vegetal taste that jars somewhat with me. Even the sweeter veg like beetroot and carrot can be cloying.

Independently of this cake dilemma, I kept seeing strange kermit-green items that looked like a pear crossed with a sock puppet’s mouth on the stalls in Brixton Market, but never known what they were. Having had my head bitten off once or twice for asking questions at the market, I’m now reluctant to buy unknown items. So when I flicked through a beautiful Caribbean cookbook and finally realised they were Christophenes or cho chos, I picked a couple up immediately and following a recipe, blanched and fried them with chilli and garlic. As a side dish they were odd. Incredibly crisp and fresh like a Chinese Pear but fried, they were incredibly succulent but didn’t taste of much.

Instead of being disappointed, I realised I had found the perfect vegetable to add to a cake. Especially a ginger cake where one can’t risk a clash of flavours without a risk of your baked goods coming up more like a curry when in fact you want a dark, sticky and grown up cake. I looked around for a recipe to fit the bill and couldn’t find one, so for the first time I decided to bake fairly freehand.

I did take some tips from this Ginger Cake at The Caked Crusader, but completely omitted the evaporated milk, fresh ginger and the icing and added in the cho cho to give some serious squish. I boiled it until tender, mashed it and left to drain with a weight on top to get rid of excess water and got on with winging the rest of it. One whole cho cho is about 200 grammes raw.

To make this cake you need:

225g plain flour
1 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground ginger
180g unsalted butter
100g light brown sugar
half a jar of stem ginger in syrup
a cooked and mashed cho cho or christophene
125g black treacle (or molasses)
2 eggs

100g plain flour
100g cold butter
50g sugar
cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 180°C and prep a loaf tin (preferably a 2lb or 900g one. But if like me you’ve forgotten what size it is, prep it anyway.)

Boil and mash the christophene (also known as chayote or mirlitons) and drain well. If you can’t get a cho cho, use some mashed courgette instead.

Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, allspice, nutmeg and the ground ginger into a bowl and mix together. I would use half the amount of baking powder as the original. Mine exploded like a my hair on a drizzly day with double.

Blitz the stem ginger, the entire jar’s worth of syrup and the treacle together to make a heavenly smelling puree. If you’ve not got any syrup left in the jar, make your own with dark sugar, water and double the ground ginger or add some freshly grated ginger root.

Beat the butter into the dry ingredient until well combined. Beat in the sugar. Pour in the elixir of ginger and treacle and beat in the eggs with a folding motion. It’s actually much easier than the usual all in one sponge method, saves on washing up and creates an amazing light fluffy puffy batter that smells divine. I didn’t find mine runny at all, quite robust in fact, but The Caked Crusader warns that ginger cake can be a thinner batter.

Mix the remaining cold butter, plain flour and sugar to make a crumble crumb and line the base of the loaf tin with it. I decided I didn’t want an icing or I feared the cake would be teeth itchingly sweet, but this would hopefully make it look more exciting than a bit lump of loaf.

Pour the batter into the tin and bake for approximately 45-50 minutes or until a skewer comes out cleanly. But bear in mind that this cake is so moist, even when it’s perfectly cooked the skewer might still be sticky. I turned the oven off and left it for 5 minutes more to be sure.

Leave to cool in the tin for 30 minutes or until you can be bothered to take it out of the tin. i was so overcome with having baked off the cuff for once (I am usually rigid on anything involving flour) that I couldn’t face the fear it wouldn’t come out and left it for any hour. I inverted it and it slid out beautifully. I’m glad I’d been warned it might dip in the middle or I’d have panicked. I let it cool completely and then wrapped tightly in a tea towel overnight.

It was so moist, it crumbled a bit when I unwrapped it and it was a slightly bedraggled looking loaf cake. But this one is all about the taste not the looks. But I could forgive its shabby exterior when I tasted the spicy ginger flavour and enjoyed the sponge pudding like texture. It was as sticky and moreish as I had hoped and went down well with others who tried it. I felt the crumb added nothing to it in the end except a vaguely greasy aftertaste so I’d skip that again.

But for a great sticky treat that would go with any cup of tea (and keep well) you can’t beat this cake. Perfect to bake on a Sunday. It means you can bring back the much missed tradition of elevenses this week!

Easy Peasy Lemon Curd

An impromptu breakfast at Wild Caper in Brixton has led me to a new summer obsession. Nestled in between the toasted sourdough, homemade jams and ricotta was a small dish of mellow yellow in the shape of proper lemon curd. Creamy as custard and bursting with the invigorating tang of sunshine soaked lemons, I fell in love with it. And went back the next week for more of the same. (Wild Caper doesn’t even advertise it does breakfast, but it’s the best in Brixton… you need to go there!)

I was tempted to buy a jar of it the third time I went in (this time for one of their sourdough doughnuts) but having found some proper unwaxed Italian lemons in The Fruit Garden in Herne Hill the day before, I postponed my original plans for limoncello and decided to make a vat of lemon curd instead.

I expected it would be delicious. I did not expect it would be easier than falling off a log to make it. The only remotely fancy thing you need is a bowl over a pan of water and a lemon zester or grater. I followed this recipe from the lovely Rachel Eats as it seemed the most straightforward I could find. I halved the amount of sugar as I loathe sickly sweet citrus things and wanted some sharpness to it. It made about a pint of curd and filled a small Kilner jar.

Start by sterilising your jars in the oven. This is very important. Then get down to zesting and juicing your lemons as your (unsalted) butter melts above the water. Revel in the citrussy spell of summer now infusing your kitchen as you go. Add the lemon to the butter and put in as much sugar as you choose and make sure it is all melted. Double check the water isn’t boiling under the bowl and things aren’t too hot and then add in your eggs, whisking firmly and making sure nothing scrambles and then cook it out until it looks thick and opaque. Resist the temptation to stick your finger in there. It’s hot and you need to be fussy about good preserve hygiene.

Pour into your sterilised jar promptly, close the Kilner jar or cover with a lid and leave to cool. Scrape the bowl out and lick the spatula with unreserved glee. This stuff is amazing. Light, yet buttery with an utterly moreish tingle of lemon. You’ll be hard pushed to walk past the jar without dipping into it.

Dollop it on bread or Ryvita with a base of cream or curd cheese. Perk up your porridge with it. Stir it into yoghurt for a luxury dessert. Ripple it through ice cream. Give crepes a new lease of life. Take your lemon drizzle cake up a notch. Fill lemon poppyseed muffins with it. Eat it off the spoon out of the jar. Try to resist the urge to turn everything you come across into curd, even though you imagine grapefruit and passion fruit would both be sensational with the sharpness and sweetness that a good curd has. Make friends and influence people with jars of this when they invite you for instead of a mediocre bottle of wine from the corner shop. The possibilities are endless. But just make sure you make it immediately…

Veda Bread Ice-Cream

July is a hot month back home in Belfast. Not especially due to the weather, but because of the slightly heightened feeling on the streets due to the Orange Order marches held in what is known as the Twelfth Fortnight. This was the traditional summer holiday for the shipyard workers in the city and a chance to hark back and remember Catholics and Protestants knocking the pan out of each other at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. For those of us who don’t enjoy some light civil disobedience, it’s a good time to potter around at home doing all those things you’d sort of meant to do all year since you can’t really go out. Or ignore them completely and spend time watching box-sets and eating ice cream instead…

Feeling oddly left out here in London, I thought I would try and join in with a ice cream recipe with a taste of home. I’ve been wanting to make a traditional brown bread ice cream since I got my ice cream maker earlier this year, but the arrival of my mother on the week of the Twelfth with every Northern Irish exile’s request in the shape of a loaf of Veda bread, meant I decided to give it an Ulster twist and use Veda instead.

A dark delicious slightly sticky (non-fruited) malt bread, Veda makes the best toast in the world, marrying together with butter like nobody’s business. Adding sugar to bring out the natural sweetness and crisping it up with butter is what my life has been missing up until now. Using this recipe by David Lebovitz, I crumbled the Veda into smallish pieces, fried off in butter and a good unrefined caster sugar and then toasted in the oven for about 30 minutes or until I had clusters of crispy, sticky, malty heaven that were so good, I could have skipped the ice cream and just eaten them alone.

But since I had promised ice cream, I made ice cream. The recipe uses a basic custard, but with the addition of cream cheese to stop it all being just too sweet. This is much more faffy, needing a third bowl, more counter space, a sieve, a whisk and more potential for the custard to curdle as it needs to be hotter to melt the cream cheese, so in future, I don’t think I’ll bother with this addition. Otherwise, it was all pretty straightforward.

I gave this ice cream a bit of a Brixton twist and added a slug of dark rum, some vanilla and then stirred the caramalised crisped up Veda into the churned mixture about five minutes before the end. Because the Veda is stickier and maltier than regular brown bread, the crumbs clumped up more and made huge nuggets of crispiness. Fearing that I would either break my teeth or the machine, I blitzed them in the blender to make them more crumb like. Everything then went in the freezer for a couple of hours to firm up and create hands down the finest ice cream ever created.

Creamy beyond belief but crunchy and chewy due to the crisped up bread crumbs and with a slightly grown up flavour from the rum, this was just magnificient. Rich with butter and with a gorgeous toffee feel, I defy you not to fall in love with this amazing ice cream and want to sneak a spoonful everytime you pass the freezer. It was declared even better than the Northern Irish ice cream institution that is Maud’s Pooh Bear Delight*.

You need to make this ice cream immediately. If you don’t have access to Norn Iron’s best kept secret, try it with some Soreen or a really good brown bread instead. This is what breadcrumbs aspire to being…

*Youse know it’d be belter in a poke.

Peppermint Patty Oreos

Oreos are the quintessiential American biscuit (or cookie), but since we Brits are fairly new to their ways and loyal to our impressive range of biscuits, we don’t usually get to experience the whole family of Oreo styles here such as Double Stuf or fudge covered without a plane ticket or friends coming over here. So imagine my glee when I discovered a recipe for homeamde Oreos and realised I could fulfil my yen for peppermint Oreos without increasing my carbon footprint or having go through airport security…
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The Three Fishes

Last week was Mister North’s birthday and an excellent excuse for both of us to eat and drink in style all weekend. After an excellent, but late Saturday night out enjoying Korean food at Baekdu and sampling just a few of the excellent beers on offer at Port Street Beer House in Manchester, we were just ready for a good pub lunch preferably in a location gorgeous enough to do this fabulous weather justice. We didn’t take long to decide on The Three Fishes.

Tucked away in the Ribble Valley not far from Clitheroe and Whalley, this pub prides itself on serving good Lancashire food and drink in a beautiful location and sounded just right for an afternoon out. We decided to err on the side of caution and book a table even though it was a Monday lunchtime and were glad we had when we got stuck behind every driver in the valley out going at 30 miles a hour to drink in the sunny scenery. It also made for the most genuine welcome when we arrived at the pub 10 minutes than planned. Our waitress greeted us like service had been waiting for us and showed us to our table with enthusiasm. Combined with the pint of local Thwaites Wainwright we chose, it was a good start.

The menu is extensive and tempting and we both struggled to narrow our choices down, staring at other tables to see what they were ordering. The platters looked sensational and Mister North was very tempted by the seafood platter until we discovered they were out of the oh-so alluring sounding treacle cured salmon. This almost pleased me as it removed my dilemma and allowed me to go for the Morecambe Bay shrimp as a starter without too much dithering. The fact Mister North chose my other temptation with the baked whitebait, smoked pig’s jowl and a soft hen’s egg was fortituous too.

We didn’t have to wait long before our cheery waitress arrived with the starters, but they were good enough that I’d have waited a while for them. I was served what felt like a pint of shrimp, all glossy and glorious after being kissed by a wave of mace scented butter in their dish. I loved that the waitress brought me a spoon so even after devouring the English muffin, I wouldn’t miss a drop of that beautiful shrimpy butter. I barely noticed Mister North’s reactions as I supped my shrimp, but the morsel I sampled made me briefly envious. Soft sparkling fresh whitebait, unencumbered by batter, married beautifully with the smoky salty chewy pig’s jowl and reminded me again that pork and seafood together can barely be bettered and this was a particularly good example of it.

Excited for the mains after the great starters, I was glad there was a little bit of a pause while I recovered from my buttering up, but I was still thrilled to see my Pie Top with caramelised onions, braised ox cheek and kidneys arrive, especially when I realised it was accompanied by the same dripping cooked chips that made Mister North’s fancy scampi and squid in a basket sound so alluring, preventing us from reverting to childhood squabbling in public…

In fact there was silence at the table as we got stuck in. My ox cheek was properly unctuous, melting in the mouth after the merest prod of the fork. The disc of gleaming puff pastry soaked up some serious good gravy and the onions really added a sweet base note that made the dish. The kidneys though, weren’t as good as the ones I cooked recently, and were a tad powdery for my still offal sensitive tendencies. I’m not sure if it was the texture of the kidneys lingering, but I also found the chips a little bit claggy as if the dripping hadn’t quite been hot enough, but considering how light and lovely the batter on Mister North’s squid and scampi was, I think the issue might have been with me.

He dispatched his fritto misto and chips in record time, commenting several times on how fresh the seafood was and how light it seemed considering that it was all deep fried. I found my dish much heavier and struggled to finish the chips, but refused to waste even a drop of that gravy! We both wanted to sample the famed length of Lancashire Cheese, but were simply too full to even remotely do it justice. I’d have been tempted to go for a long walk so I could come back for it afterwards, but instead we decided to finish up rather than linger and be tempted to drink more at lunchtime. If we’d had more time, I’d have enjoyed sampling the rather good gin list, including the Chase Gin I’m keen to try, especially since it was sunny enough to sit out with a G&T.

We settled the bill and despite the fact Mister North was paying for his own birthday treat, he seemed to find it reasonable at under £50 for the two of us with a drink. Service was genuinely friendly and very easy. We neither felt rushed for coming almost as lunch ended or forced to sit on waiting around for things because they were clearing up. The whole dining room was pleasantly busy with a few other birthday lunches, kids and people enjoying themselves over a drink and I liked the atmosphere immensely. In a valley crammed with pubs and places to eat, there’s a reason that the Three Fishes is so popular. They’ve cracked gastropub food while keeping the pub vibe and welcoming everyone. It’s a local gem. I only wish it were more local to me…