Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Sunshine Marmalade

Over the last few years I have really gotten into jam making and preserving - I'm very happy to while away an afternoon with some theraputic chopping.  Often my preserving is a necessity to use up the glut of fruit from my dad's garden or the huge amounts of courgettes and tomatoes from our old West London garden that I lovingly diced up into lipsmacking chutney.  We're now down to our last couple of jars of homemade jam so when I saw organic lemons on special offer in the supermarket I jumped at the opportunity to make some marmalade. 

Now Melissa's dad Bertie is well known for enjoying our homemade marmalade to the point that he now refuses to go back to the shop bought stuff.  But I'm taking a risk by trying my own variation on a theme making a batch of lemon marmalade, especially as I don't have a recipe!  I'm trying my luck using my trusty River Cottage Preserves Handbook as a guide.

Emily's Sunshine Lemon Marmalade Recipe

I'll warn you this recipe takes a little time (and overnight soaking) but it's worth it!

1kg unwaxed lemons
75ml lemon juice
2kg granulated sugar
2.5litres water

You will also need a preserving pan or very big saucepan as the mixture is about 6 litres and needs to come up to a fierce bubbling boil!

Scrub your lemons and remove the bellybuttons.
Chop the lemons in half and squeeze out the juice - add the juice to your preserving pan, fishing out any stray lemon pips as you go. 
Turn on the radio and start working through your pile of lemon rinds, slicing into shreds with a sharp knife (fine and delicate or thick and chunky - it's up to you).  Tumble the yellow crescents into the preserving pan as you go and soon enough you'll end up with a big citrus mountain that looks like this:

Pour over the water and then leave to soak overnight.

The next day bring the pan up to the boil then simmer gently, covered, for about 2 hours - by which point the peel will be tender and the mixture will have reduce by about a third.  I don't have a lid for my preserving pan so I used a circle of greaseproof paper on top of the liquid and it worked a treat. 
While it's boiling stick a saucer in the freezer for later and when the shreds are nearly ready wash your jars in hot soapy water, rinse clean and leave to drain.
Next turn up the heat and add in the lemon juice and sugar, stirring all the time until the sugar has completely dissolved.  Bring the mixture to a rapid rolling boil for about 20-25 minutes until the setting point is reached.  While this is happening stick your clean jars on a baking tray in a low oven to dry and sterilise. 
To test for a set put a small amount of marmalade on your frozen saucer, leave to cool for a minute then push gently with your finger.  If it wrinkles then it's done, if not then boil for another couple of minutes.  Alternatively if you have a sugar thermometer it will be done when it reaches 104.5C.
Once it's done, take the marmalade off the heat and cool for 10-12 minutes before pouring into your sterilised jars and sealing immediately.
Then marvel at the stained glass effect you get when you put the jars up against the window!

The marmalade will keep to brighten up a rainy morning for 2 years.  Enjoy!

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Beetroot...in a brownie??

Melissa and I both really like beetroot but for some reason they never seem to fit into any of the meals we're making (and I had also promised Melissa that I wouldn't make her eat the bright pink beetroot and vodka valentine's risotto again).  While we were at Shoreham Farmers' Market the other weekend Melissa and I had signed up to a local veggie box scheme and three earthy purple cricket balls from our first delivery had been sitting in our fridge for a few days calling out for me to use them in something good. 

I remembered a cookery programme I saw a while back when Diana Henry made a beetroot and chocolate cake that looked absolutely delicious.  I thought, if it could work in a cake, then why not a brownie?  So I googled "beetroot chocolate brownie" and top of the results was a recipe from BBC Good Food for a beetroot brownie.  It called for 500g of beetroot, which was exactly the weight of the three beets I had in the fridge, so figuring it must be a sign I decided to whip up a batch.

It always feels like a comedy recipe when you have to put on rubber gloves before you start but I have to say this is one of the weirdest recipe's I think I've ever made!  The gloves are necessary to prevent Lady Macbeth syndrome from the deep purple juices that seep out of the beetroot, which you peel, chop then microwave until cooked.  Then while they're still hot you stick them in the food processor with butter and a rubbley pile of bashed up dark chocolate chunks and blitz until everything has pureed and melted together.  I have to say it did not look appetising at this point...

You then whip up some eggs and sugar and fold in the mixture, adding flour and cocoa powder at then end.  What you end up is a pinky brown beetrooty chocoatey mush that looks like this:

Utterly unsure of how this was going to turn out I stuck the tray in the oven, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.  20 minutes later they were cooked to perfection but Melissa and I were both none the wiser as to whether they would taste any good!

Once they had cooled I cut them into squares and carefully lifted them onto plates (as they are quite delicate) for an after dinner treat.  The texture of the brownies was beautiful - they managed to be rich, chocolatey and moist but still quite light at the same time.  I was a bit unsure of the taste on the first bite as you can taste the earthy tang of the beetroot, but they are surprisingly really moorish.  Usually one brownie is more than enough for me but I would have quite happily polished off a second one.  And as they are only half the fat of a regular brownie it wouldn't be a total sin to do so....

Our friend Jo is down for her birthday tonight so we now have some beetroot birthday brownies for her to sample for an unbiased verdict :o)

A couple of minor setbacks

Inspired by our trips to Brighton Street Market and Brighton Farm Market at the weekend I decided to email them both along with nearby Lewes Farmers' Market to see about joining as a stallholder.  I've already started planning how the stall would look, which material to use in the homemade bunting to hang around the table and was getting really excited as this would be the first step in making our bakery dream a reality. 

I had a very nice email back from John, the organiser of Brighton Farm Market, but unfortunately they are completely full although he has put my details on the waiting list and will be in touch when they have some availability.  He had gone to the trouble of reading my blog and also gave some advice about ensuring we have a good mix of traditional favourites and also some more unusual seasonal cakes.  So while it's disappointing not to be able to get into the market just yet, it's good to know that our plan was going in the right direction and we're now firmly on the waiting list.

Then two days later I had a reply from Brighton Street Market to say that there are no vacancies there either and they already have 5 stalls selling brownies and muffins.  Oh dear.

There's still hope though - the lady at Lewes Farmers' Market is going to send me an applicaiton form (I need to chase her up on it though as it's been a couple of days!) and I know there are plenty more markets in Sussex that we can try.  In the meantime we'll just have to spend lots more time recipe testing!

Friday, 25 March 2011

A little more Irish inspiration

While I was at work on Tuesday, little did I know that there was a wee leprechaun beavering away in the kitchen cooking up a home-baked batch of Irish Soda Bread to go with some freshly made carrot and coriander soup for dinner.   Such a treat to be greeted with after a hard day's work I'll forgive Melissa for trying to steal my thunder!

Monday, 21 March 2011

Some cheese and biscuits

I felt sorry for my lovely Irish biscuits looking so lonely in their tin that they now have the perfect partner - some Sussex Cheddar and some homemade chutney.  A well earned treat after a hard morning's work painting:

Market research part 2 - Brighton Farm Market & Brighton Street Market

Saturday was a gloriously sunny day down here in Brighton so Melissa and I decided to take a stroll along the seafront into town to check out the Brighton Farm Market that runs every Saturday in Brighton.  On the way there by accident we stumbled across the Brighton Street  Market right in the heart of the North Laines. 

The Brighton Street Market is a hotchpotch of different stalls selling everything from buttons to vintage clothes to antique furniture with a few food stalls thrown in for good measure.  It has a real ramshackle charm and would be a good place for us to start up a bakery stall as it's less intimidating than some of the other farmers' markets we've visited.  There are a couple of other stalls selling similar items such as brownies and muffins so we'd have to think of a way to make us stand out from the competition if we were to go for this one.  Before we left I sneakily clocked the number of different treats that were for sale at the stall most similar to the one we're planning - 13 - with an average price of around £1.50.

After a short detour to feed my flea market addiction we then made our way to Brighton Farm Market.  A much more structured affair than the previous market, and with plenty of exciting looking food stalls arranged around Diplocks Yard this is a real foodie's dream.  The stallholders have all really taken care to display their goods in an attractive and interesting way which is a great plan to get people to stop and take a look.  This was really a step up from the Brighton Street Market and something Melissa and I would love to aspire to. 

We spoke to the lovely lady behind Baked Bliss, who sells organic cakes and baked goods.  Her bakewell bars were too tempting so I bought one while Melissa eyed up the last huge slice of carrot cake.  And the bakewell bar was really really good.  Darn it!  And it was made with homemade jam using fruit from her garden.  Double darn it!  There goes my trump card as that was exactly one of my plans.  Hmmm if we decide (and are able) to get a stall at the Brighton Farm Market then she would be major competition.  It would be easier if she wasn't so nice to go with it!  While we were talking, again I clocked the number of items she was selling (13 again - it must be lucky for some) and spied a good tip that she keeps her tasting samples in a tin for people to try, rather than having them laid out at the front.  I like this idea because it means less lost profits and also encourages interaction with the customers making them more likely to buy.  I'll be stealing that idea!

We also picked up some delicious local cheese from The Cheezerie (I know we're unemployed and can't really afford it but my homemade biscuits were crying out for some cheese to be eaten with) and then decided we had better leave before we spent any more of our life savings on the lovely things available at the market :o)

Until next time, happy baking x

Friday, 18 March 2011

A belated happy St Paddy's!

My lovely wife Melissa is from the Emerald Isle (and I can never forget it!) so I had to bake her an Irish inspired treat to celebrate Saint Patrick's Day.  I really wanted to use my favourite shamrock cookie cutter but was struggling to come up an Irish recipe to use it with.  Colcannan cookies?  Bailey's biscuits?  Irish stew scones?  Mmmm I'm not so sure...  So I opt to make a savoury Irish oat biscuit that will work a treat with a wedge of Cashel Blue cheese, from Melissa's own home county of Tipperary.  I found an old Delia recipe and worked my lucky charms to give it an Irish twist:

Emily's Irish oat biscuits recipe (makes about 25)

175g wholemeal plain flour
50g Irish porridge oats
4 teaspoons soft brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon maldon salt
1/4 teaspoon paprika
a few good grinds of black pepper
110g Irish butter, chopped into small cubes
1-2 tablespoons milk

Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F and lightly grease a baking tray

Mix together all the dry ingredients in a large bowl, then using your fingers and thumbs rub the butter in evenly (as if you're making a crumble).  Add just enough milk to bring it together into a dough that's slightly wetter than you would normally use for pastry (this helps to hold it together because it's quite crumbly).
Roll the dough out onto a floured worktop until it's about 3mm thick, then use your shamrock cookie cutter to cut out your biscuits.  I guess you could use a regular round cutter, but it might not taste so good... Any leftover dough can be re-rolled adding a little extra milk if it's a bit dry.
Pop the biscuits on your baking tray and bake for 15-18 minutes until firm and slightly browned on top.  Carefully lift using a palette knife onto a wire rack to cool.

Keep in an airtight tin and enjoy with a generous hunk of Cashel Blue, Stilton or some Mature Cheddar and a spoon of homemade chutney.  Delish!

Well they would be if we actually had any cheese in our fridge.  Darn it!  Although I was waiting for an excuse to go down to Brampton's Cheese Shop in Kemp Town :o)

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The first batch of brownies...sort of...

After our market research on Saturday, we think that there might be a gap in the (farmers') market for a stall selling brownies and tray bakes - sweet mouthfuls that people can enjoy with a cup of tea or even to eat on the way round browsing the rest of the stalls at the market.  With this in mind comes my two favourite parts of the process - baking and tasting!

So I pull down all my recipe books from the shelves and decide to start the hunt for the perfect signature brownie.   And there are many recipes to choose from that all have me salivating, spiked with all different kinds of nuts, flavoured with orange zest, caramel, differing degrees of chocolatiness and fudginess, topped with After Eight mints.... I think I might need to host a dedicated brownie party in order to choose between them :o)

And after all that, the recipe that sprung out at me wasn't for a brownie at all, but a blondie.  Like a brownie, but flavoured with brown sugar and vanilla instead of chocolate.  Despite being a brunette myself I don't discriminate, and the need for me to try Rachel Allen's recipe for Peanut Butter and White Chocolate Blondies from her lovely Bake book was just too hard to ignore.

The recipe was pretty easy to follow and put together, although I didn't have the right size cake tin.  Undeterred, I used my  trusty swiss roll tin and fashioned a "wall" out of tin foil that worked a treat and 40 minutes later delicious aromas were wafting from the oven as I pulled out the first batch.  I'm ashamed to admit that I couldn't wait for them to cool down and burnt my finger breaking off a sneaky corner to taste - mmmmmmmmm.  Yep they were goooood.  Buttery, laced with vanilla but balanced by the salty peanuts, fudgey in the middle and perfect with a cuppa in my favourite mug:

The only thing that I would do differently is to chop the white chocolate bigger so that it adds more texture - it seemed to melt away into the blondie.  Oh well, I'll just have to bake another batch....

A bit of market research

My partner and I love a good market.  In fact on our recent travels to Asia I think I took more pictures of the produce at food markets than of any of the amazing sites we visited!  And as I enjoy a good pun we decided our market research should start by literally checking out our local farmers' market to suss out the competition.  As luck would have it the monthly Shoreham Farmers' Market was running the first Saturday after we arrived back so we made the pleasant 10 minute drive along the coast to see what it was all about. 

We got there nice and early and ready to go with notebook and pen in hand when we hit the start of the blue and white striped gazebos we were suddenly struck with a pang of fear.  What if there were already too many people doing the same thing we wanted to do?  What if they were much better than us?  Why would any of the stallholders want to answer our questions if it meant giving tips to the competition?  How do we write down their prices subtley without them noticing?! 

So we chickened out of talking to the first bakery stall and decided to talk to a local poultry farmer about his eggs instead.  We want to source our ingredients as locally as possible (and in any case, a minimum percentage of local ingredients is a requirement of some of the farmers' markets nearby) so this could be a good first box ticked.  But then we realised that we should have done a little more preparation when we didn't know the answers to simple questions like how many eggs do we need each week!  I've guessed at 30-40 so it will be interesting to see how far off I am when we do start trading...

One of the main things I'm struggling to gauge before we start is just how much produce we will need to bake.  There were some stall holders that seemed to have piles of pies or mountains of loaves of bread - there's no way we can compete on that scale using our domestic oven without working flat out 24/7!  So bread is definitely ruled out.  There were also two cake sellers whose creations looked absolutely delicious -A Taste Of Dreams who sell small and large cakes of all sorts and Teddy's Tearooms who sell cakes by the slice.  But seeing the numbers of cakes that they brought to market means it's also probably unrealistic for us to try and create from our home kitchen.

And then the fear struck again.  We've risked our regular income and spent our savings on a new kitchen that might just be too small to start the business from.  It's a bit late to realise that now.....

So instead our cunning plan is that we've decided to plump for sweet treats that can be baked in batches - think brownies, muffins, flapjacks, bakewell bars, biscuits...  although I'm still none the wiser as to how many we'll need to bake for market!

Welcome! And so the story begins....

After taking night classes to help my baking skills catch up with my wide eyes, sweet tooth and hungry belly I decided to put my money where my mouth is (literally) and am going to try my darnedest to start a successful small bakery business.  So in November 2010 my lovely new wife and I both quit our jobs, sold our flat in London and moved to our favourite town on the sea to do just that.  We've spent the last couple of months renovating our new home in Brighton and going on our last holiday for what may be quite a long time.  Now that we're back, with the new kitchen really nearly finished we can finally get (egg) cracking!