Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Pumpkin Spice Cake

The Bundt Returns


A week or so ago, on one of my ill-fated and poorly planned jaunts around town on the day before I leave for a long trip and have to buy tickets, pay bills, pick up dry cleaning and iron my way to victory, yet still think there'll be time to meet a friend for coffee and/or bottle several kilos of President plums in honey, rum and cardamom, I saw something exciting.

It's always the ironing that doesn't get done, by the way. You know, I think the difference between Over-Achievers and the rest of us is that Over-Achievers make shorter lists. I should take note.

Anyway, I saw a man wearing a Linus T-shirt which read 'I Invented EMO', and immediately wanted to trade clothing. I love Linus. Realistically, I'm more of a Charlie Brown, but in my head, I'm a blanket holder. I even went as far as to find an online seller of the tee, but was deeply saddened to find that it comes only in XL. I'm not getting fat for a slogan. I'm sorry, but I have to draw the line somewhere.

Now, Linus always reminds me of pumpkins, and vice versa. Reading about him awaiting the Great Pumpkin in the pumpkin patch during the run up to Halloween in the daily comic strips when I was a child made the huge American squashes seem so exotic and enchanting. I think we did once make a pumpkin pie, but it we mistakenly used one of those Jack-O-Lantern carving pumpkins and our pie filling was watery and tasteless. I've since learned that American cooks unashamedly used canned pumpkin in baked goods and it's the best way to ensure you get that rich flavour.

I know that it isn't even nearly Halloween time, but thinking about Linus and the Great Pumpkin reminded me of all the pumpkins Mr. Other P and I saw in Monterey last year after our whale-less whale watching boat trip. If I can find a photo at home, I'll add it later. Point is, pumpkin seemed a great flavour for a cake to mark our anniversary.

This is a lovely cake. If you don't have a bundt tin, a 25cm by 25cm deep sided tin would do nicely.

I'll be busy this weekend, but hope to have some exciting posts coming next week. Come back for those!

Mr. P's Pumpkin Spice Cake

You will need:

200g plain flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
250g soft brown sugar
50g Brazil nuts, chopped
3 eggs
190ml vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 x 400g tin pumpkin puree

  1. Grease and flour a large bundt tin. Mine has a 2.5 litre/10 cup capacity. Pre-heat the oven to 175°C.
  2. Mix the flour, bicarb., baking powder, salt and spices in a medium sized bowl. Set aside.
  3. Beat the eggs lightly; add the sugar, oil, vanilla and pumpkin. Mix well and add the nuts.
  4. Fold in the flour mixture and scrape the bottom of the bowl to make sure everything is well combined.
  5. Bake for 40 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out without crumbs.
  6. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Rumtopf

The sugar has yet to dissolve, but you get the idea...

OK, you know how when someone has a church wedding, the priest or minister or whoever might say 'Speak now or forever hold your peace'? Well, in essence, what I am saying to you now is, 'Make this now, or forever be without' (until next year at least), because it's literally your last chance to get domestically grown Summer fruits and berries, and it would be pointless to make this with those long-haul imports that taste of acidulated water.

So, ja, everybody, Ich habe ein Rumtopf gemacht.

I'm going to stop right there, because I haven't really spoken German since I was at school, and that was half my lifetime ago. But I am going to tell you what a Rumtopf is, because it's going to rock your world. Knock your socks off. Blow you away.

It's a German preserve. Rather than bottle their excess fruit, or make a jam out of them, those clever deutsche Volk steep them in sweetened rum (in a pot - the Rumtopf) to enjoy in Winter time. At Christmas, say. Or in January when the New Year blues get to you and all you want to do is kill yourself. Or is that just me?


Upon learning about this marvellous practice, I had but one thought:

What. A. Fantastic. Idea. Boozy blueberries to fight the blues!

I'll be honest: I have myself already done something a little similar before with red berries and Cointreau (quite possibly the most fashionably underrated of all the liqueur cabinet dollies), but never on this scale, and I do know people will say that this is just fancied up sloe gin, but... I...

Truly - this excites me.

If you too are excited by the thought of making 'liqueur pickles', gather together a jar, rum, granulated sugar and as many different fruits as you can muster. Mr. Other P and I got a deal on raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and blueberries at the market; the cherries were expensive and therefore not a bargain as such, but I thought they would taste good. You could also use plums, apricots, peaches, nectarines or pears. In short: whatever you fancy.


Here's what you do. Layer the fruit - Mr. Other P started with strawberries as you can see - in the jar, weighing as you go. Top each layer with half the fruit's weight of granulated sugar. I think this was something like 180g of strawberries, so 90g of sugar went in the jar next. 



After that, keep layering the fruits and adding sugar until the jar is full. Cover everything with rum, and if the fruit floats (our blackberries refused, point blank, to stay submerged. Selfish little gits.), use a small saucer or such like to weigh it down. We used a small ceramic soy sauce dish, though you can't see it in the photo.

Seal the jar, stash away in the cupboard and start counting the days until Christmas.

Note: We used really, really cheap rum. Have no shame. We don't. Also, we had leftover fruit and rum so decided to make small jam jar Rumtopfs as well. They are very cute and would make great presents, so don't feel you have to make a great big one if you'd rather not.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Peach Jam

My fear of botulism.

Note: Clean jars are required for jam making. Follow the instructions here, only don't worry about putting the lids in the oven to dry off. I always just drain and use them straight away now. A quick invert and re-invert of the jars immediately after sealing means the hot jam will kill any bacteria on the inside of the lid.

From time to time, I develop obsessive compulsions and for the last few years, around this time, I have been struck by this huge, unstoppable urge to start making preserves. It is all consuming and I have to fight hard not to spend my entire take home pay at the markets buying fruit and what not.

I know if I were a better person, I'd grow my own produce and do it organically to boot. But then, if I were a better person, I wouldn't have lost my cool and started yelling at the housemaid who ignored the 'Do Not Disturb' sign on my hotel room door the other day and came in without knocking. A better person would have laughed that off.

(I was naked, btw, so don't start thinking that Mr. P is the kind of guy who just flies off the handle over nothing. Although he is, as it happens.)

Anyway: jam. Two of my favourite Summer treats are peaches and nectarines. The fact that these now come shaped like doughnuts is, as far as this boy is concerned, only further reason to enjoy them. Although I've not had one decent nectarine this year, they've all been woody and sour, so I might have to fly out to Spain and have a word with the farmers four our mutual benefit next year. I thought some of these white doughnut peaches would make a lovely jam, and I was right. But then I scared the Schei├če out of myself when I read that white peaches need to be acidulated in order to prevent the growth of botulism in the finished bottled goods.

WHAT?

And also:

What to do?

Well, I haven't died eating my jam, so I am assuming it is OK to do nothing. I did have a read around the USDA information online, which to be honest, was terrifying. I do think that there's a HUGE fear of food preparation techniques in America (worrying about what could happen to your pickles if you don't heat the vinegar sufficiently etc) that we just don't have in the UK. I'm sure it's well researched. But to reassure myself I asked the NHS how many cases of botulism we've had in the UK recently. That calmed me down considerably.

However, since I don't want you lot to fall ill, I'm going to say to add the juice of two lemons to this recipe. Let's stay safe. Doughnut peaches are lovely, but not worth dying for.

White Peach Jam

You will need:

1kg chopped white peaches
1kg sugar (use jam sugar for an assured set)
2 lemons, juiced

  1. Put the chopped peaches and sugar into a large pan, stir well, and set aside for a few hours if you have time. This will encourage the fruit to release juice, which will help keep the peach pieces whole during cooking, but it isn't essential.
  2. Bring to the boil over a medium heat, stirring all the time until the sugar dissolves. Then turn up the heat, add the lemon juice, bring to a full rolling boil and boil hard for 3 minutes or so.
  3. Test for setting point: pour a little jam onto a chilled saucer and wait for half a minute or so. If it forms a gel and wrinkles when you poke it with your finger, it's done. If not, boil for a few more minutes and try again.
  4. Remove from heat, pour into warm, sterilised jars and seal with clean lids. I got the four jars you see above; I'd say it'd be three regular sized jam jars if you didn't have the small size.
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