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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!

Home cured uncooked bacon

Makin’ Bacon

I’m not actually a big fan of bacon. Yes, it was the one thing that caused me to fall off the wagon when I was a vegetarian, but that was more to do with the fact of it being 10pm on a cold April day in Ireland up a mountain and the choice of either eating the proffered bacon butty or going to bed hungry and chilled to the bone. I don’t actually remember the first time I ate bacon after stopped being veggie and I only buy it about twice a year.

A recent care package from the north stuffed with Porcus bacon and Bury black pud reminded me that it’s not bacon I don’t like, it’s cheap or mass produced bacon that doesn’t float my boat. So since I can’t get Mister North to pop to the post office every week with some rashers from the Porcus girls, I decided that I would try making my own bacon to see if I could tempt myself.

A quick Google search established that I wasn’t setting myself an impossible task. Basically I needed a hunk of pork belly, a surprisingly small amount of salt, saltpetre and some time. It sounded fairly simple and I was quite excited to get cracking. I went to Walters in Herne Hill and got him to cut me 1.8 kilos of pork belly into two pieces (including the bones) and skipped home to get curing.

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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…

Candied Peel

I love love love candied peel. I used to run to the baking cupboard and cram spoonfuls of it in my mouth when my mum wasn’t looking. It was my favourite bit of any fruitcake or barmbrack. This is especially odd since I don’t like oranges as a fruit, juice or flavouring, and generally eschew citrus fruits of all kinds. But mellow those citrus rinds in vats of sugar and it’s hypnotic to me.

An inability to read recipes a few weeks ago meant I ended up with an overabundance of grapefruits when making marmalade for cake and found myself wondering what to do with them all. A casual Twitter conversation about Christmas preparations brought about a massive lightbulb moment. I would make my own candied peel. Never mind if it was incredibly faffy and complicated: I could rise to the challenge!

Imagine my glee when this Waitrose recipe popped up and I realised candying my own peel was actually easier than pie. Radio on, sleeves rolled up, I set about peeling and de-pithing my citrus fruit. I had a mix of pomelo, ruby grapefruit, lemons and orange, but avoided limes as I thought it might be too overwhelming, like cordial.

Get four pans going on your hob and simmer the peels separately in hot water for about 20 minutes to soften them up. Then split the peels into two pots to simmer in the syrup. I actually made two batches of candied peel and found it easier to keep the peels bigger and cram less peel into the pans as they bubble and soak up the sugar. I just did two batches of the syrup to be sure nothing caught or burned. Keep the heat down low as you can, you only want the merest blip in the syrup to stop it getting bitter or caramelising. Then go off and do stuff while your house smells truly amazing…

I came back to my peel when there was still a tiny bit of syrup left, and lifted the biggest pieces out with tongs, laying them on baking trays. The smaller bits went into a sieve to drip any excess syrup off, as you don’t want so much syrup on the pieces: they dry crunchy and I didn’t fancy trying to boil my pan dry and win the challenge. I then left the trayfuls of peel in the living room to dry as it was the only place I had room, but the airing cupboard or anywhere the cat can’t walk on them will do.

About three days later, I turned the peel with tongs and left for another two or three days or until I remembered about it. I popped it in a ziplock bag, with a tablespoon or so of icing sugar, and shook it up to coat it and stop it sticking together. Some went into the Christmas mincemeat. Some went into cellophane bags to give as gifts. The rest was stored in a jar to be used for various festive recipes closer to the time and the leftover syrup stored for a drizzle cake or put on porridge or ice cream.

So if you didn’t do a cake on Stir-Up Sunday, impress people with homemade candied peel instead. You will never buy one of those tiny tubs again after you’ve tasted the citrus sensation of making your own. It tastes as good as it looks!