Pickles

So apparently Australia doesn’t really grow gherkins, or when we do (commercially) IMG_0880.JPGthere’s little demand so the farmer asks a high price which means they don’t sell etc. However I’m told that Lebanese cucumbers work fine, so that’s what we’ve got here.

These are bread n butter pickles from Small Batch Preserving, and apparently bread n butter pickles are a thing but I had never heard of them before. Can’t remember why I thought I’d try these rather than your standard dill pickles, but that’s where we’ve ended up.

I halved the recipe, because I wasn’t sure whether I liked pickles enough for 2kg of cucumbers. I also (and this will get me into trouble with at least one person, possibly two) left out the celery seeds, because I couldn’t find them in the one supermarket I checked and I was too lazy to go check somewhere more specialty and I’m SURE IT WON’T RUIN THEM SHUTUP.

(Oh no i Just noticed that I think one of the jars has an air bubble. Dang.)

Anyway the difficulty today was that the recipe said to water bath for 10 min. But I was going to use the Fowlers, and I can’t find anywhere whether you’re meant to wait for the unit to get hot before timing or what. It doesn’t make sense to start from first putting the jars in with such a short time, because you start with cold water. And – gasp – the internet has been of zero use. So – again, gasp – I emailed Fowlers to ask. This is like a step beyond reading the instructions (which I’ve already done). So we’ll see what they have to say.

So. Pickles. Another life goal achieved.

Adventures with Herman

Some time ago a friend gave me a portion of Herman the German Friendship Cake, which someone slightly older than us said used to be Amish cake (I think) ‘back in her day’.

That ‘some time’ is probably about two years ago.

I followed the instructions and had a bit of fun with it, but I didn’t have many friends to give portions to. So after the specified 10 days I had some portions left. The site officially says that you shouldn’t refrigerate Herman, but sneaky sneaky it won’t be the end of the world if you do. So I’ve been experimenting, and have had two portions of Herman in the frig for a little while.

‘Experimenting’ here might be code for ‘kinda forgot they were there and occasionally got guilty about them taking up space in the frig but didn’t feel like baking with them’.

‘A little while’ may be code for… over a year now.

ANYWAY, I decided to pull out a portion last week and see how it was doing. Answer: fine, actually. Didn’t smell bad, didn’t look crusty; after being out for a couple of days and being fed, developed bubbles and continued to smell appropriately yeasty. And therefore I now have Herman to be baking with.

Adventure #1: standard cake. Well, the website’s standard cake involves apple and cinnamon, which – yes, yum, but I made changes. I have an enormous jar of Cherry Velvet from crazy-JAM-maker Kate (cherries, rose water, vanilla beans), which is a quite thick. So I got a few scoops of that, chopped it a bit to reduce the cherry halves, warmed it a bit so it would stir better, and beat it into the batter… et voila:IMG_0878.JPG

#2 portion went to the friend who came over for dinner and precipitated the necessity of cake-making.

#3: crumpets. Last time I made crumpets it was a somewhat protracted affair. This time, however, I started them the night as a friend had suggested. I used the same basic recipe but combined it with one of the bread recipes from the Herman site – so flour and water and milk and Herman and a dash of oil. Left overnight, added baking powder and more water in the morning, left it another while… and then

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Damn fine looking crumpets. The mixture didn’t rise as much as I had anticipated so I was worried, but these were very nice, they rose while cooking, and were just a bit denser than store-bought ones. Served with Kate’s jam, as always.

#4: more Cherry Velvet cake, because why not? Slightly larger portion so I divided it into two pans; neither is as big as the one above, but that’s fine. They’re now in the freezer.

All made while wearing a Star Wars apron.

Pistachio cupcakes

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I was given a book of cupcake recipes some time ago, but I’ve never made many. Thought I’d rectify that this year. These are pistachio ones – with ground pistachios in them and all.

Icing these involved making two batches of icing, because in making the first one I discovered that my class old-school sieve whose handle I’ve needed to fix for years was rusty when I noticed black spots all through my nice pristinely white icing. Sad.

They’re the beginning of a year of birthday cupcakes. Well, that’s the intention anyway.

Preserving

I have been curious about trying my hand at preserving for a little while. Partly this is Kate-of-JAM’s fault, of course, because along with jams and jellies she also does some wicked chutneys. Partly it is being sucked in by the home-made-is-good crowd, and partly the desire to just be good at a lot of things…

IMG_0870.JPGIt turns out that, of course, my mother-in-law had an old Fowlers Vacola tub from way back when J was a wee thing. I had never heard of Fowlers, but most people I’ve spoken to seem to regard them as an old friend, so we’ll just write that off as resulting from a tropical childhood. You can still buy Fowlers jars and accoutrements, and they Magically Appeared at our door soon after I announced my interest, so I feel compelled to experiment. I started today.

IMG_0871.JPGThe first thing that J wanted me to do was some fruit, because that’s what he remembered. So I went off to the Preston Market (first time visit – very exciting), and bought peaches (which I thought were apricots shut up what a pain to halve) and white-flesh nectarines. The picture shows that I clearly didn’t fill the bottles well enough; apparently that makes this An Experience and I deserve to be scolded for wanting to be perfect first time ’round. Whatever. I think next time I would cut them a bit smaller so as to be able to pack them a bit better… and who knows, there are probably YouTube vids out there about how best to pack your fruit for preserving… anyway Unknown.jpegthese will be eaten sooner rather than later.

The other thing you can see in the pic is my first attempt at tomato sauce, and yes one of those jars is underfilled and will have to be used ASAP. The recipe is from this new book I got; it’s called Seasoned Tomato Sauce and certainly smells awesome. I no longer (or don’t yet…) have a vegetable garden, so having to buy tomatoes means it’s not quite same, but I’m quite looking forward to using this in bolognese or something similar.

Finally, because I was on a roll and I figured why not, I finally got around to making candied lemon peel. I always feel guilty ditching lemon skins after juicing them, and then I found a recipe in Stephanie for candying them – and you don’t have to use them right away, she’s totally fine with you freezing them until you have enough to make it worthwhile. So this is the peel draining after being boiled a few times to lose the bitterness, and then cooked in heavy sugar syrup for an hour.IMG_0872.JPGYes that’s some burnt bits shut up. These will be rolled in sugar and then jarred in a couple of days when they’re done with draining.

So it was quite an epic day in the end. I had planned on trying my hand at dill pickles but apparently we don’t do pickling cucumbers really in Australia. I’ve done some reading and apparently I can use small ‘normal’ cucumbers, so that may be next week or the week after’s experiment….

Lamingtons

Step 1: make a sponge cake the day before.

I decided to go with Stephanie Alexander’s Genoese sponge, because it looked straightforward and it’s the one she recommends for making lamingtons with. (Dear autocorrect: I really do mean lamington. NOT lamination, nor leamington.)

Problem 1: the recipe just said ‘electric mixer’ for the egg and sugar, so I just used the K blade… wondering the whole time whether it should be the whisk. After 10 minutes, yes it should be the whisk.

OK, done. Add the flour…

Problem 2: I think I stirred it too much. But I kept finding these flour swirls! So I had to get rid of them, right?

Into the oven. Check after 15 minutes. Not quite done. Couple more minutes – out it comes. Turn it out a few minutes later, onto a towel, so it doesn’t stick to the rack (as suggested).

Problem 3: an hour or so later, I turned the cake back over to cover it properly for the night. And discovered that the top of the cake was left on the towel because the cake was not cooked properly. Like, still soggy in the middle. How was that even possible? The poker came out clean!

Back into the oven. For maybe another 20 minutes? perhaps a bit less. This is weird.

Step 2: the next day, cut up the cake and cover it with chocolate and coconut. Happily, this bit didn’t go too badly. Made a lovely mess. But the cake is nowhere near as sponge-a-riffic as I would have hoped.

Possible problems: 1. I used the wrong sized cake tin (20cm not 24cm; is that going to prevent it from rising?); 2. Too much stirring; 3. Too much cooking; 4. I am not a sponge-maker.

Still they taste all right. And I shall not give up.

I SHALL attempt sponge again.IMG_0867.JPG

Apricots

Note to self: do not leave a bowl of nearly-ripe apricots out of the fridge when going away for a few days and it’s going to get quite hot.

I lost about half the apricots a neighbour gave us, which was sad. With the remainder, I decided to experiment with making apricot spoon sweets, although because of said disaster I halved the recipe (a kilo of apricots is quite a lot). I got the recipe from Kate’s Salt IMG_0865.JPGSugar Smoke, which is a remarkable book of beauty (there are lots of variations online).

Making the sugar syrup and putting the apricots in for the first day was all very easy. The second day required a sugar thermometer. I acquired a sugar thermometer. I started boiling the sugar syrup. The thermometer would not attach to the side of the saucepan in a way that was useful, partly because there wasn’t enough syrup for it to reach. So I was boiling this syrup with the saucepan on an angle, so the tip of the thermometer could reach. This went on for some time. The recipe said it needed to reach 230F (my photo of the recipe cut off the C; lucky thermometers cater to old-fashioned Americans). Waiting… waiting… not reaching that temp… still waiting… bored… eh, I give up. How much difference will ~8F make, anyway?

Turns out, a bit. The recipe indicated that the syrup would cling to the apricots and be really quite thick. Yeh, not so much. It was still what I would describe as runny. Apparently I am a cowboy.

Result: two jars of apricots in a sugar syrup that I’m sure will still be tasty, even though not as stickily delightful as intended. Don’t know how I’ll use them yet…

Result, accidental: acknowledgement that I need to actually pay attention to recipes when baking.

 

Ice cream experiments

I have an ice cream machine because I now live somewhere where an occasional-use appliance does not make me screamingly mad about a lack of space.

Yesterday I made mince pie ice cream.

Take two mince pies; I used ones from Baker’s Delight. Pry them out of the despairing hands of your mince-pie-loving husband, and prepare to put up with the scolding of said man about how you’ve desecrated the poor things. Put mince pies into a whizzer of some sort and reduce it to crumbs – or chop finely, I guess.

Make vanilla ice cream; add the crumbs for the last five minutes of churning.

VERY tasty.