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Ginger and Marmalade Flapjacks

When I first started baking three or four years ago I started out with flapjacks, having heard they are so simple you can even let the kids make them. They sounded foolproof. I quickly proved that wrong with several batches being so bad even the local birdlife passed them over in favour of some fried chicken bones on the path. Reminded to never to make my ungrateful feathered friends those lard and seed things Blue Peter used to tell me about, I have been in a sulk with flapjacks ever since.

An impromptu visit to The Beanery in Loughborough Junction the other day piqued my interest again with their delicious ginger flapjacks. The warm tingle of ginger lifted the oats nicely, but made with that American upstart corn syrup instead of good old British golden syrup, they lacked the stickiness I crave in a flapjack. There was nothing else for it but to try and make my own. I decided to use syrup and add the gooey-ness of a blob of homemade marmalade to really give my teeth something to sink into.

Excited by this flavour combo, but still nervous there would be a repeat of the Massive Crumblings™ of yore, I needed a failsafe recipe and safe hands. I turned to Felicity Cloake and her Perfect series, reading her recipe and all the comments from flapjack lovers underneath. It looked promising.

Ginger and Marmalade Flapjacks (adapted from Felicity Cloake’s recipe)

  • 150g salted butter
  • 3 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 2 tablespoons dark muscavado sugar
  • 3 tablespoons marmalade (pop a bit more in if it’s very coarse cut)
  • 4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 250 g porridge oats
  • sliced stem or crystallised ginger

Line a tray (I used a 23cm by 23cm one) with greaseproof paper and preheat the oven to 150℃. Melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup together until bubbling gently, then add in the marmalade and as soon as it is melted, take off the heat. Put the oats and the ground ginger and sliced ginger in a bowl and add in the butter-syrup mixture, stirring well. Once you’ve marvelled at how seemingly healthy oats soak up butter like a hungry sponge, spread the mix out in the tray well, making sure you fill the corners properly. Bake for 25 minutes. I took mine out when they were still a bit anaemic looking but they darkened as the residual heat cooked them a bit more outside the oven.

Cool for about 5 minutes, then cut into pieces. I got 9 ‘I’m going on a ten mile hike’ sized chunks or 16 ‘just a mouthful ones’. I then on Felicity’s advice left them to cool completely in the tray to stop them falling apart when lifted out. The wait nearly defeated me but I was rewarded by a nice symmetrical traybake which was delightfully firey with ginger and tangy with marmalade peel and slivers of candied ginger. Best served with a cup of good strong tea, they will theoretically keep well in an airtight container, but bolstered by my first ever flapjack success, I failed to have any notable leftovers. The flapjack jinx is over!

Brixton Marmalade

Walking through Brixton Market is a riot of fresh fruit and vegetables of all colours. Some are familiar, but sometimes your eye is caught by something you don’t recognise, which is exactly what happened when I saw green oranges on many of the stalls. Some questioning and Googling later, I realised these are Jamaican oranges and not just the colour is different. They are thinner skinned than the peeling sort like Jaffas we are used to in the UK with plenty of pith and pips and a bittersweet flavour. I knew immediately that they would make the most fabulous marmalade…

I was sure I didn’t really like marmalade after one too many single serve portions of Golden Shred in a B&B. Sickly sweet instead of tangy and tasty, the commercial version leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Determined to overcome this dislike, I decided to try making my own and see if I could be convinced. Not only was I won over in abundance, I’ve become slightly obsessed, making pots and pots of the stuff from every citrus I can get my hands on, entering the World Marmalade Awards and slathering it on doorsteps of Wild Caper sourdough like there’s no tomorrow. The homemade stuff tastes amazing and is incredibly cheap and easy to make. You’ll never look back.

To make 2 large or 4 small jars you’ll need:

  • 800g of Jamaican oranges (about 4 in total)
  • 1 lemon
  • 3 pints of water
  • 1 kilo of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons rum
  • jars, empty and well washed
  • muslin cloth (look in the baby section for these cheaply)
  • length of string
  • cellophane jam jar covers, wax covers & elastic bands
  • two saucers or a food thermometer

The marmalade is very easy, but it does take several stages and needs to left overnight. Don’t be daunted though!

Start by cutting the oranges in half and juicing them. You should get about half a pint from this amount of oranges. Reserve the juice in a jug. Keep any pips you came across and soak them in water. Then chop your orange shells. Pull the most fibrous flesh out and then cut the peels in chunks of your choosing. I like my marmalade quite thick cut for flavour and ease of prep, but it’s your choice.

Soak the peels overnight in about 2 pints of water until it turns orange and smells delightfully citrus scented. Bring it all to the boil and then simmer for up to hours or until the peel is soft and squishy, but not pulpy. Add in a bit more water if needs be.

Iron your muslin cloth (and cut it to be smaller if needs be) and gather the reserved pips in it like a purse, tying to the handle of the pot so it hangs down into the boiled peel mix. They contain extra pectin that helps set the marmalade. Turn the oven onto 160℃ and put the jars in, using a baking tray rather than trying to grab individual hot jars with oven gloves and feeling like you’re playing a game fit for particularly sadistic PTA fundraisers. Get your thermometer to the ready if you have one or put your saucers in the freezer if you don’t.

Add the reserved orange juice to the mix, pour in the sugar and the lemon juice and bring the pot back to the boil. This is the stage when you work your magic and turn the mix into marmalade by heating it to 104℃ exactly. The thermometer will tell you this with ease, but you can also tell by spooning a drop or two of the boiling liquid onto a cold saucer, leaving for a sec and testing it with your finger to see if it ‘wrinkles’ when pushed. If it does, you’ve reached 104℃ and if it doesn’t, keep trying with alternate chilled saucers til it does.

Take the pot off the heat immediately. Add the rum (or ginger if you prefer a teetotal kick) and stir well. Leave the marmalade to sit for a minute or two to stop the peel sinking in the jars and then carefully fill the jars you’ve just taken from the oven right to the brim. Both the jars and the marmalade are obviously devilishly hot so keep your wits about you and any small children and pets away. Cover with the wax circles from your little kit.

Allow the jars to cool just enough to handle, then wet the cellophane lids well with a clean washing up sponge and stretch tightly over the top of the jar and fix with the rubber bands. This is fiddlier than you’d think and there may be some sailor’s language to accompany the rum. Let the marmalade cool completely and set before digging in and sampling your handiwork.

You’ll be amazed. It’ll be punchy with citrus and a slight hint of smooth rum with each peel exploding into little chewy nuggets of deliciousness. You won’t be able to stop yourself having a second (or third) slice of marmalade smeared bread, but if you can bear to part with a jar of it, your boss will understand why you are late for work now breakfast has become the highlight of the day again!

Jamaican green orange

* This post originally appeared on Brixton Blog who kindly asked me to write a local recipe and is re-posted here due to popular demand.

Guinness Pumpkin Gingerbread

Christmas isn’t Christmas without the scent and taste of spices in the air and on the tongue. Last year I indulged with doughnuts and mulled cider. This year, my appetite whetted by the parkin, I decided my Christmas spice had to come from gingerbread. I intended to make hard gingerbread people made extra festive with gold leaf, but my dough refused to play ball and I ended up with something more akin to sticky Play-doh. I sought solace in booze and a stack of Nigella’s recipes to see if I could find a foolproof gingerbread recipe.

And lurking in Kitchen, but also available online was the truly tempting sounding Guinness Gingerbread that combined dark sticky stout with dark sticky treacle and spice. I was instantly sold. Except I didn’t have any sour cream or even emergency yoghurt. I didn’t have time to go out and hunt any down (sour cream is surprisingly elusive these days. It’s all creme fraiche instead.) But I did have some leftover buttermilk and half a can of the pumpkin leftover from the ice cream. Despite the lack of success with that, I knew the pumpkin works well in baked goods, adding amazing moisture. Mouth watering, I got baking…

You’ll need:

150g butter
300g golden syrup (or use black treacle if you have it. I did half and half)
200g dark muscavado sugar
250ml Guinness (this is about half a bottle and you can use any stout)

2tsp ground ginger
2tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (or as I had none, I used mace)

300g plain flour
2tsp bicarbonate of soda
150g pumpkin or squash puree
150ml buttermilk (or leave out the pumpkin & buttermilk and use 300ml sour cream)
2 large eggs

Then prepare yourself for the easiest baking recipe in the history of the world. Line a 20x30cm deep baking tray with parchment. Then melt the syrup, treacle, sugar and Guinness in a pan. This will smell amazing.

Sift the flour and bicarb and spices into a nice big bowl and then pour in the melted treacle Guinness mix and half combine. Then add in the beaten eggs, buttermilk and pumpkin puree and combine the mixure lightly until just properly mixed. Don’t overbeat or you’ll knock the air out of this beautiful batter. Pour the batter in the lined tray and then bake at 170℃ for around 45 minutes or until the gingebread is a glossy dark brown on top and coming away from the edges slightly.

Then comes the tricky bit. Your house will smell sensational, all spicy and treacly and sweet and you will have to wait at least 20 minutes for the gingerbread to cool and firm enough to get it out of the tray and cut in pieces. This will test your limits. You’ll want to get the kettle on and your chops round a sticky piece of gingerbread sooner, but it is worth the wait.

Unbelievably moist, but firm and springy from that fortifying Guinness and with the most wonderful spicing, this is the stickiest, moistest most Christmassy gingerbread possible. Served slightly warm with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream it would make a great dessert. I iced some of it with simple icing sugar and water mix with a teeny splash of the leftover Guinness to make it more a cake. The un-iced stuff lasted well in a tin, growing softer and stickier each day, allowing you to make this and have it ready for visitors with ease.

Just remember to keep your last piece to put by the stockings for Santa on Christmas Eve. He’ll come to your house first next year after tasting gingerbread this good…

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!

Upside-down Rhubarb Cheesecake

Some people have a spirit animal that sums up their personality and beliefs. We here at North/South Food have a spirit ingredient instead in the shape of rhubarb! Preferably the seasonal treat that is forced Rheum rhaponticum from the Rhubarb Triangle of Yorkshire with its perfect perky pink colouring and tangy taste, but ultimately any rhubarb pleases us profoundly. We’ll eat it any which we can and as often as possible!

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