Chocolate maple cake

Image

This afternoon, Brunton number one declared that he had a hankering for something sweet. His immediate reaction was to grab some Angel Delight from the cupboard – if you didn’t grow up on this stuff, it is a sweet, powdered custard that you whip up with milk and leave to set. Although it may have been my favourite thing when I was about six, I’m less of a fan now (although top tip – if you have guests over for dinner and have forgotten to make pudding, mix the chocolate one up with double cream and melted dark chocolate, it’s remarkably good). Instead, I decided to whip up a chocolate cake.

Rather than do a plain chocolate sponge which I have always found to turn out a little dry, I decided to mix it up with a little maple syrup. So here it is – chocolate maple cake!

Chocolate Maple Cake

Ingredients:

– 175g self raising flour
– 50g cocoa powder
– 225g butter
– 225g caster sugar
– 4 medium eggs
– 80g dark chocolate
– 2 tbsp maple syrup

For the icing:

– 3 tbsp maple syrup
– 200g icing (confectioner’s) sugar
– 80g dark chocolate
– 2 tbsp butter
– 50ml milk

Method:

– Grease a 22cm cake tin and preheat the oven to 180°.

– Cream together the butter and sugar – beat until it is pale and fluffy.

– Beat in the egg until smooth, then slowly fold in the flour and cocoa, incorporating lots of air.

– Melt together the chocolate and maple syrup, and slowly fold into the cake mixture.

– Pour into the tin and bake for 40 mins, or until a skewer comes out clean.

For the icing:

– melt together the butter, chocolate, and two tbsp of the maple syrup.

– Beat this mixture into the icing sugar and mix in the milk. Leave to cool.

– When the cake is cool, slice it in half through the middle. Beat the last tbsp of maple syrup into the icing and spread half over the middle of the cake. Sandwich the two pieces together and then spread the remaining icing over the top.

Top tip: While spreading the icing, it will lift easily off the cake, picking up crumbs. To stop this, try and spoon it evenly on the cake, and then wet the knife you use to spread the icing to stop it sticking.

Advertisements

Hot Pink Apron – A new chapter

We just got a little nuttier

It all started with pine nut biscuits.

Well, sort of.

A couple of weeks ago I had a hankering after biscuits – pine nut biscuits to be precise. My father in law had just served up a delicious risotto scattered with them, and sure enough the next day I wanted them in biscuit form. A bit of googling revealed that the Italians were already on the case, and the resulting biscuit was a ‘pignoli’. The only hold up – it needed almond paste, which I had no idea where to buy. Undeterred, I decided to make my own.

The biscuits were something of a mixed success (taste: gorgeous. Texture: not unlike cinder toffee. Needs work!) and lamenting my misfortune to hunger after such a complicated recipe on facebook (where else) an interesting email pinged its way to my inbox.

proposal

I was excited. Dana is one of my husband’s Canadian cousins, and her blog, Hot Pink Apron, is one of the reasons I started blogging. Whatever this proposition was, I had already decided that I wanted in. I waited by my email, hitting refresh like a madwoman, but it was hella worth it.

Hot Pink Apron up to this point has been Dana’s baby. Having let the career take a back seat while she raises two gorgeous girls, Hot Pink Apron has been an amazing creative outlet for a lady with some serious talent with food. It’s garnered a bigger and bigger following, and has started producing all kinds of opportunities to review food, restaurants and kitchen products. It’s as much about being a parent, a misfit (in the best possible way) and being a unique and interesting person as it is about food, and it’s easy to see why the blog has so many dedicated followers these days.

The proposal Dana sent me was to turn an already-popular one-woman blog into an even-better collaborative magazine. My (slightly wobbly) attempts at pignoli were apparently attention-grabbing enough to grab me on board, and I’m so glad to be here. Sit tight for the next Bruntonian adventure, because Hot Pink Apron is about love of life, good food, local produce, and laughing often. I’ve already been introduced to some fabulous people as part of this project, and I can’t wait to get started on making it every bit as awesome as it looks.

Launch date is 4th April and will involve a new shiny website, and a bucket load of new content from the lovely ladies behind Hot Pink Apron. Come on over – trust me, you’ll love it here.

HPAlogo-320x320web

Hello 2013

561252_10151128991805934_1799017796_nI’m not a big one for New Year’s resolutions and all, which is probably why it’s taken me an inordinately long time to write the obligatory New Year post. 2012 was a year of very mixed blessings, so I wasn’t really sure how to round it up. If my life were a book, I think chapter 2011 would be entitled ‘Winning’ – I got married (twice… long story), I graduated with a first. I stayed in touch with most of my friends from university, and most of us got jobs (eventually). It would not be fair to call chapter 2012 ‘Disaster’ but it might be reasonably be referred to as ‘Running out of steam’.

There is a lot to be thankful for – I got my first full-time permanent job, and after four years of living apart, I finally get to live with my husband, who just graduated. My ever patient in-laws have not thrown me out. Brunton number one not only found full time work back at the bank, but has been promoted. Right at the end of the year, I also passed my probation in my new job. Our debts (not huge, but there) from university have been paid off, and we have some savings. Oh, and we have chickens.

It has also been a very tiring, stressful year with a lot of sadness. Coming up for nine months ago now, my friend Burgess killed himself after a long, drawn out battle with depression. Not only was this the first time I had experienced bereavement by suicide, but it was two weeks into my first job. The following ten days were a blur of tearful phone calls to mine and Burgess’ nearest and dearest and retelling the sad news. At the end of the week, my parents and I went to visit my nan, who was recently discharged from hospital. She was a little cross and off colour, although pleased to see us – she had asbestosis and emphysema, and was not a well lady. The following morning, she died peacefully in hospital.

Having never attended a funeral before, I found myself going to two in a week. Without Brunton number one, I would undoubtedly have lost the plot, but in the middle of this grief, he was finishing his finals at university. Cue a long, tedious battle to get his dyslexia assessed and have these circumstances taken into account in the marking of his finals. We have both never felt so tired.

Following Burgess’ death, I took part in a ridiculously long bike ride for the charity Mind and auctioned off my choice of fancy dress. The more money I raised, the fancier it got. I ended up spending several hours out in the pouring rain, dressed as Princess Leia, with a (surprisingly robust) papier mache R2D2 strapped to the back of my tiny bicycle, and I raised over £800 for my trouble. It was a huge highlight to the year out of the worst of circumstances.

Towards the autumn fatigue set in, and so did its friends – panic attacks and stress. Add to this the difficulties I have had in adapting to these changes to my life and home environment, and I find myself doing something I had never expected to volunteer myself for – getting assessed for Asperger’s.

This has perhaps required one of the greatest mental adjustments although I am hoping that the payoff will be increased support and help with aspects of day-to-day life and socialisation that I seem to find harder than other people.

So this year is going to have challenges but I’m calling this year out as ‘Recovery’. The Bloggess, a blogger with a serious fear of the number that comes after 12, is calling this year the library. The library is a nice place to be, where you can quietly prep for next year. This year is going to be spent getting back to normal, and being ready to take on whatever comes next.

As for resolutions – I detest the idea of making a new year different to the last with a short-term goal, intended to force yourself into something you dislike. You want to diet? Then diet. Nobody keeps to that sort of resolution, because it’s something they never wanted to do, and as the year wears on the incentive that the New Year gave is less and less. Instead, I choose to make investments, that is, do things that make me a better or more interesting person. I don’t do it every year but when I do, it’s an enriching enough thing that I stick to it. The aim is, at the end of each year, to feel as though I have done something to be a better person, not just to be richer, thinner or whatever. The year before last I wanted to learn how to make bread for myself – those of my friends who regularly get a fresh-baked loaf can testify to that investment!

Last year I belatedly told myself I had to keep up a blog, and get out and do or learn enough exciting things to fill it. As my readership appears to have expanded, it looks like at least some of you agree.

This year’s investment – keep up the blog, and make new things. I’ve got posts planned for new recipes, at least one film review-come-essay and one or two adventures. I’m also re-learning calligraphy because it is never a bad thing to learn new and interesting skills. Above all, I resolve to take care of myself, enjoy my time in ‘the library’, and get well. Get back to feeling like the old Amanda who was nutty in a good way, and not in a miserable, panicky, fruit-loop kind of way. There is only so much fatigue and sadness that can be thrown your way before you have to stand up to it and say ‘I am better than this’ and move on.

So here’s to 2013 – Recovery.

Getting ready for Christmas – or how to make Turkish delight

The dried strips These are the ingredients - wine does not go in the Turkish Delight but is recommended as part of the process The chopped up Turkish Delight All dusted and ready to serve

Last year at Christmas Brunton Number 1 and I had no money. We had negative money, in fact. He was a student, I was a temp, and we were both in our overdrafts. Instead of cementing our debts further with expensive Christmas presents, we made hampers of home made gifts for our friends and family including booze, chocolates and fudge. This year we both have reasonably well-paid jobs, and for the first time, we have money. Having begun asking what our relatives wanted for Christmas though, the resounding answer was: ‘moar sweeties’.

I’ll probably supplement some of the hampers with other non-edible home-made gifts but they will be the basis of all our Christmas presents this year. Some of the items have been specifically requested again – Irish Cream in particular – other things are being replaced or added to with more challenging recipes, the first of which is Turkish Delight.

My mum loves the stuff. She can scoff in seconds what a lesser woman wouldn’t be able to stomach. For those poor souls who haven’t encountered the delicacy that is real Turkish Delight (or Lokum as it is properly called) it is like the inside of a jelly bean, but lightly flavoured with lemon or rosewater, and usually full of hazelnuts and pistachios and dusted with icing sugar. The chewy, soft texture is basically the most luxurious foodstuff there is – and real Lokum bears no resemblance whatsoever to Fry’s Turkish Delight before you ask.

The maker of the original recipe of this delicious sweet came up with the idea mid 1700’s – and his descendants still run a shop in the same premises today. It swept across the Ottoman Empire as a delicacy and quickly became popular in England, best exemplified perhaps by Edmund’s deception by Turkish Delight at the hands of the White Witch in The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Modern recipes recommend the use of gelatin as the setting agent – I don’t. I tried making one of these recipes, and you will achieve something with the same consistency as one of those jelly concentrate cubes, and the flavour is nothing like as rich. The real stuff is set with starch. First of all you prepare a sugar syrup, then cornflour is boiled with water to form a gel. The two are mixed together and then boiled and reduced to form the slightly springy, yet ultimately squishy texture of real Turkish Delight.

What you will find by doing it properly is that the sweets may have a tendency to ‘sweat’. You’ll make something that looks gorgeous, dust it in icing sugar, all for it to be instantly absorbed. After a day or two, the box you put it in will be covered in sugary water and your beautiful plump Turkish Delight will resemble nothing more than pink, rose scented mush. This is a bitch.

I have since tried the recipe again with a few amendments and a bit more science to much more success. I would recommend being slow, patient and careful all the way through this recipe – it’s the only way to ensure you keep the firm texture.

Yay, science!

So apparently Lokum is the confectionery of choice for the discerning geek. First – sugar syrup. Mix together more sugar than would ordinarily dissolve in water and heat the water. It will now absorb your sugar (win!). Keep going and the water will evaporate, leaving behind an increasingly dense sugar mixture. The boiling point will keep rising and at the magical 115*c, you will have reached the ‘softball stage’, that is, the point at which if you tipped a drop into cold water, it would form a soft, pliable ball when cool enough to touch. 3* too high, and you have ‘hardball’ stage sugar and it will form a solid, crunchy sugar. This is not desirable for soft squishy Turkish Delight. If I impress anything on you today, let it be to buy a sugar thermometer. They cost around £15 and are the only way to do it without risk of scalding your fingers trying to test the damn sugar. Confectionery is a precise art, and it requires precise measurements.

The cornflour gel is also a lot of fun. Under heat, the starch molecules begin to break up, and can be persuaded to take on more water. You’ll be merrily mixing away something with the consistency of skimmed milk, and then in a matter of seconds you can stand your whisk up in it. Crazy stuff.

Your mission after this point is to boil and reduce the mixture and drive out as much water as you can without making the Lokum too dry. This is what will ultimately determine whether or not you get sweating mush, or plump delicious sweets. After you have made your Lokum if you dust it with sugar/cornflour too quickly, you’ll draw out all the liquid and make mush. The recommendation is to leave it to air dry first, then lightly dust in cornflour, and leave for half an hour to form a protective crust of sorts before smothering with icing sugar.

I normally credit recipes that aren’t mine to the appropriate sources but in this case I have honestly read the whole of google on ‘Turkish Delight’, ‘Lokum’ and variants thereof so I don’t really know where to start. This recipe uses a basic mixture I found here, but amended a little and with enough of my own experience and advice thrown in I’m pretty happy to say that this is tried, tested and edited. So here’s the recipe!

Turkish Delight (Lokum)

Ingredients:

– 400g caster sugar
– 70g cornflour (cornstarch if you’re from the other side of the pond)
– water
– ½ tsp cream of tartar
– 1 ½ tsp lemon juice

To dust:
– extra cornflour
– icing sugar

To flavour:
– I split mine in half and used 1 tsp rosewater (and some red colouring) in one half, and ¼ teaspoon lemon essence (a bit strong actually, you could use even less!) and a little yellow food colouring. You can chuck in pretty much anything though, and lightly toasted pistachios or hazelnuts are traditional as well.

With regard lemon essence – it’s more than worth your while to get something reasonably fancy – namely the ingredients should only be oil, and lemon oil. It will be strong tasting, delicious, actually made of lemons, and won’t have any additional stabilisers etc that will affect the stabilisers you’re already using in the mixture. Be sparing with it – it’s usually strong.

Method:

Preparation

– Be anally retentive. There aren’t that many ingredients and it’s easier to have them weighed out ready. You’ll also need to cover a mould in oiled greaseproof paper for your Lokum to set in. Make sure you oil it with something fairly flavourless like corn oil – do not use olive oil.

Make your sugar syrup

– Mix together the sugar, lemon juice, and 185ml water. It doesn’t look like much water but that’s the idea. The lemon juice isn’t for flavour – it’s a stabiliser. The citric acid will help stop crystals forming in your sugar syrup and it’s pretty essential.
– Put on a medium heat and bring to the boil. Brush down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush to avoid sugar crystals forming.
– Use your sugar thermometer to test when it gets to 115*. Try not to stir it too much or you may struggle to get the required 115*. This takes time. The water has to evaporate for this to work and that isn’t instantaneous – it can take up to about 25 mins. Once it has hit the magical 115*, remove from the heat. Give it a few minutes to cool and decant into a pyrex jug, and soak the pan in hot water IMMEDIATELY or you will live to regret it.

Make the cornflour gel

– Cornflour is weird. Under heat it will go nuts for water and form an odd sort of wallpaper paste. Mix your cream of tartar, cornflour and 250ml water thoroughly before heating. If you don’t mix thoroughly you’ll get lumps that you will be able to do NOTHING ABOUT.
– Whisk constantly over a low heat, taking care to get right to the edges of the pan. All of a sudden it will start to get lumpy – man up and whisk harder. Get it so that it is so thick that your whisk/a wooden spoon will stand up in it unaided. Again, your aim is to drive out excess liquid, so make sure it really is crazy thick. This is your main setting agent. Take off the heat once it’s sufficiently cooked.

Mix it up!

– Gradually pour in the sugar syrup, beating until smooth after each addition. Take your time. This recipe will not reward you for rushing.

– Boil gently on a low heat for half an hour and stir constantly. Most recipes at this point will tell you to stop once it’s golden brown – mine was golden brown from the start when I added the sugar syrup. This advice is balls. Keep going until it’s so thick that when you drag the spoon across the bottom of the pan, the mixture doesn’t rejoin the gap. My sugar thermometer read somewhere between 82-88*C (ish) for this whole section if this helps. Getting this sufficiently set is the key to stopping the sweets going mushy.

If you’re making double the quantity – double the cooking time. If it’s not sufficiently gloopy, give it another 10-15 mins. You can always test it by taking a bit out and cooling it down – it should be chewy like the inside of a jelly bean.

– Add your flavouring and colouring of choice. Smooth out into your moulds but DO NOT TOUCH THE MIXTURE IT WILL BE LIKE SUGARY NAPALM. It sticks, and it retains its heat remarkably well, and it will unforgivingly burn you. Use an oiled silicone spatula if you need to, but not your hands.

– Leave to set overnight. Again – no rushing.

Do your washing up right away. You’ll regret it if you don’t!

Finishing off

– Get the Turkish Delight out of the moulds. Getting them out is a tricky process because it sticks terribly. I ran a sharp knife under it a little at a time, dusting with cornflour as I went until it was all free from the greaseproof. The dusting is essential because otherwise as soon as you let go it will stick to the greaseproof again.

Put the blocks of Turkish Delight on some fresh greaseproof lightly dusted with cornflour, and dust lightly with cornflour on top. Slice into strips, and dust the exposed sides with moar cornflour. I’ve heard other recipes recommend dousing them in sugar and letting it dry them out, but to me this sounds like it will only produce wet mush like mine did. Air drying seems to be key. Suffice to say do not put them in the fridge or any other moist environment.

To to try to avoid the sugar sweating you may need to give this a while: if you give it a couple of days to reach a sort of equilibrium that seems to be best. Save yourself hours of wild goose chase online and believe me that two days seems to be the recommended drying time. It may need slightly less if you’ve got a dry mixture (I overboiled mine a bit, so it was quite dry, and only took a day). You’ll know if this is the case if when you lightly dust it with cornflour, it doesn’t absorb it up over the next couple of hours.

Once they have dried, cut your slices into chunks, and dust again with cornflour. After half an hour, dust with 3 parts icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar if you’re north American) one part cornflour.

Store in more icing sugar, on greaseproof paper. They should keep for at least a week.

Nom nom nom!

Next stop – fudge!

It’s Movember!

Or the month formerly known as November. If you’ve never heard of Movember before, get educated. Movember is about ‘changing the face of men’s health’ and raising awareness for difficult issues like prostate and testicular cancer.

It’s about raising awareness and education – getting health checks. Talking about embarassing issues. It’s also about using the month of November to grow as hilarious a tache as possible and raise money doing it. The rules state that all Mo Bros must be clean shaven at the beginning of the month, and then work their hardest to get the best moustache at the end of it.

Chris’ branch of Natwest in Cambridge are taking part, and have their own team page even if currently only Chris is registered on it. Nonetheless, go into NatWest on Fitzroy Street in the last week of Movember and you can fully expect to be met with some month old taches and the chance to donate to this great charity. ‘Male’ cancers just do not get enough publicity or charity relief – so mo bros and mo sistas – it’s time to get tache-tastic.

On depression, suicide, and Star Wars fancy dress

For those of you who know me, then I am sure this post is only going to describe an event I am sure you are all aware of. However, the blog is increasingly getting views from outside of  my immediate friends and family, and so I shall start at the beginning.

8 weeks ago one of my closest friends took the decision to end his own life.

I have not been totally truthful here – this is not the beginning of the story. However, poor mental health is such a taboo subject that it is often only from this point that friends or family become aware that one of their loved ones is suffering from a potentially life-threatening illness. The days of ‘The Big C’ are long since over; cancer is no longer a taboo subject which simply cannot be mentioned in polite conversation, and has to be hidden away by the sufferer. Yes, it’s frightening. Yes, it can feel defeatist, or like weakness to admit to those around you that you suffer with an illness that you cannot hope to fight without extensive treatment, and that you are afraid of the outcome. However, sufferers of this (often long-term) illness are quite rightly treated now with the respect and sympathy they deserve, rather than fear and shame.

My hope is that one day, depression and mental illness can be given the same respect. It is an illness which is not, on the whole, the fault of the sufferer. Nonetheless, the stigma associated with it dictates that the sufferer is often treated as though they can just ‘cheer up’, as though there is some blame to be apportioned to them for their suffering, or that treatment is an unnecessary luxury. Attention seeking somehow. Consider for a moment how it must feel to be afraid to die of cancer – an illness that you as an individual are powerless to stop. Now consider what that fear of death represents when you are afraid you may simply do it to yourself, and feel equally powerless. You expect nobody to take your fears seriously, and moreover, in order to receive treatment you have to beg, explaining over and over what you fear you may do to yourself. For many, this is a terrifying reality from which suicide provides the ultimate relief.

So what really happened?

The more truthful account of my friend’s life and death is this: he was a wonderful, talented, intelligent young man. Despite mental and physical illness of a severity that would have rendered a less robust person incapacitated, he achieved an outstanding 2:1 in English literature from a top university. He was a dedicated friend, a maverick, a lover of gin and a thoroughly entertaining person to be around. He had terrible taste in music, clothes and wine. He was high maintenance. He needed continuous emotional support to continue to live life as normal. He didn’t like to ‘be a burden’ to those around him, and although he was often hard work, he was an equally generous friend in return.

The last eight months saw an accelerated worsening of the depression, anxiety, and physical illness from which he had suffered for many years. His ability to go about day-to-day life was eroded a little bit at a time. Occupational health forms require that you declare mental health problems – they also ensure that you are almost unemployable. Mental health’care’ on the NHS is a total lottery depending on funding. In my friend’s case, he was sent home from hospital with a self help book when his therapist said that his suicical feelings had become out of control. Two weeks later he was found dead.

The mother of a close friend of mine is a mental health nurse, who describes a mental healthcare system almost entirely propped up by charities. These charities are having their funding systematically cut back, yet no state-sponsored health service has taken their place. Hopefully no one reading this blog will ever have to experience what my friend suffered – the humiliation of begging for help, while suffering with one of the cruellest illnesses of them all. However, the sad fact is that one in four of us will suffer from poor mental health. Even if you don’t experience it yourself, odds on someone you know will.

Why am I telling you all this you may ask.

Because something needs to be done. The hardest part about all this is that my friend isn’t coming back. We couldn’t save him. All we can hope to believe is that he is now experiencing in death the peace that he desperately wanted in life. This doesn’t solve the fact that for many out there, they are still living out the reality of mental illness without adequate support, feeling unable to express to those around them the suffering they are experiencing.

In just over a week I will be cycling 20k on my 35 year old, beaten up Raleigh shopper. I’m doing it dressed as princess Leia (I decided to auction off the right to pick my fancy dress…) and I have made a home made R2D2 to put on the back of the bike for running repairs. Mental illness isn’t always depressing. My friend would be laughing himself silly if he knew I was doing this now! I’m doing it for the charity Mind, as it helped support my friend and I through the worst of times. The most important thing they do is make mental illness talked about, and make help accessible. If you want to donate, hop on over here:

http://www.justgiving.com/Amanda-Brunton

Your support will be very much appreciated, but more importantly it’s the attitude that’s got to change. People have got to start seeing this as a real and treatable illness. People have got to stop believing that it is the fault of the sufferer. And above all, we have to start prioritising mental healthcare rather than letting vulnerable individuals fall by the wayside.

Rant over – normal cheery, food-related service will return with the next post 🙂