March 2014

March 2014

Friday, September 27, 2013

An (incr)edible experience – a masterclass with Ben Frazer

Pink Macarons

Last Tuesday, we – daughter Laura and I – were greeted warmly by Ben at ‘The Cake Artisan’ in Adnitt Road, Northampton for our evening macaron masterclass. Now, it’s one thing to bake in the privacy of one’s own kitchen but altogether another cooking challenge to be entrusted with someone else’s tools, ingredients and equipment.  Not only that but it was a brand new kitchen, with sparkling new utensils and an oven that had hardly been warmed…..yes, I was nervous!

Ben Frazer
But, I shouldn’t have been, as Ben put us quite at ease with his friendly, encouraging and knowledgeable manner, and we were soon undertaking his favoured delicate and delicious macaron recipe. 

At this point I think my trepidation started to disappear and my ‘have a go’ attitude returned as Ben instructed and we followed the step-by-step stages. 

He imparted so many fabulous tips along the way and we both left that evening totally enthused and encouraged to try making our own French-style macarons at home. 

Laura processing almonds
Ben, a Great British Bake Off 2011 contestant, will now be producing his beautiful cake creations – as well as running further courses - at his new couture cake boutique ‘The Cake Artisan’ in Northampton – if interested, take a look at the website

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Clandestine Cake Club September 'The Hedgerow'

Question: What would be the one thing that would drag you away from the television on a Tuesday evening and hence miss Great British Bake Off?

Answer: A Clandestine Cake Club meeting of course!

Our latest event was held on September 17th at Bay Tree Cottage in Farthingstone and hosted by Cake Club member and Bay Tree owner, Jenny Dicks. It was a cold, rainy and murky evening and, for those that hadn’t visited this village before, they must have wondered where on earth the narrow and winding roads would lead. However, the warmth soon returned to everyone’s cheeks when all 14 of us sat in the comfortable super-sized kitchen, around a super-sized table, and the tea was poured from a super-sized teapot!  
Our theme – ‘the Hedgerow’ – had been embraced by our bakers and the deep colours, richness and beauty of all late summer/early autumn foraged fruit was in great evidence. The cakes looked so appetising and we were soon happily slicing and tucking in to the display.
Bay Tree Cottage is the home of a wonderfully diverse range of ‘Country Living Workshops’, including art, craft, gardening, floristry, foraging and cookery. Take a look at their website to learn more

Thank you, Jenny, for your hospitality and thank you members for baking, for your company, and for supporting our local club. I look forward to seeing you all again at our next meeting on October 10th. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Plums by the bucketful!

Plums by the bucketful!
What could be better on a warm September day than picking fruit or harvesting ripe and ready vegetables? My garden this year has borne pounds of small, sweet tomatoes - thanks to a good friend presenting me with two young plants in early summer – and they will continue, hopefully, to do so until the threat of a frost makes me pick the remainder to make my favourite chutney. We have also had a good year with strawberries, blackcurrants, tayberries and now, finally, the cultivated thornless blackberry is giving us lush, dark and juicy specimens, which are going straight into the freezer for winter consumption.

Victoria plums ready to be picked

Whilst on holiday in Norfolk last week we had the brilliant experience of visiting family-run P.M. Farming, a fruit farm which specialises, primarily, in the growing of plums and gages. Our visit was timed perfectly for the main Victoria plum harvest and the trees were simply dripping with fruit. The young lady behind the weighing-counter and stall confirmed that this year the Victoria was a little late to ripen but they were certainly, as we could see, in abundance!

Several varieties for sale
This large orchard produces many varieties of fruit during the season and prefers to sell mainly to local suppliers and, of course, direct to the likes of me as, of course, I couldn’t resist plucking several kilos of warm and ripe plums and greengages from the trees to bring home. What a joy to pick healthy, British-grown fruit, on a farm.

Greengages ready to simmer with vanilla

So today I made several jars of Greengage and Vanilla jam and the same amount of Plum and Cinnamon jam. We also have a beautiful Greengage Crumble for tonight’s dinner, plums that are going to be used in a Plum Cake, and some will also be frozen for winter days when I need to remember the September warmth. As any Norfolk person would say……it was all just boootiful!


Plumbe and Maufe Farming on the North Norfolk Coast can be found on Facebook here

Monday, September 2, 2013

'Bread Making' by Ruth Clemens

I can bake cakes, and even the odd sourdough loaf, but when it comes to using yeast I am a complete novice. I felt I needed encouragement and so I was truly excited to learn that Ruth Clemens has added another volume to her ‘Pink Whisk Guide’ series, this time it’s Bread Making.

As with her ‘Guide to Cake Making’, these yeast recipes are so clearly set out, each step accompanied by colour photographs, and she has also added oodles of tips throughout. 

I couldn’t wait to bake and decided upon making some tasty-looking Iced Lemon Fingers. The ingredients were mainly already in my store-cupboard and I had only to buy some fast action yeast.

Ruth has the clever knack of breaking-down the instructions into simple stages and I found the dough easy to prepare – although I did take the angst out of kneading it by hand by using my trusty stand-mixer. The dough rose beautifully, in the time Ruth said it would, and the only hiccup after that was my clumsiness with the shaping of the fingers, as mine when completed didn’t look quite like Ruth’s neat row of dough sausages.

However, after the second rise, baking, cooling and icing, I was so very pleased with the result - not so perfectly uniform in shape but the texture and taste were great! Thanks to Ruth and her clever, simple, but effective recipe this ‘yeast-baking novice’ had produced a bun which wouldn’t have looked out of place in any baker’s shop. Of course, I have now been inspired to have a go at all manner of other breads – so watch this space!

There may be a plethora of home-bread baking books on the market already but ‘The Pink Whisk Guide to Bread Making’ by Great British Bake Off finalist, Ruth Clemens, is the one that I would thoroughly recommend as an essential for your cookery book shelf.


This hardback is published by David & Charles and is priced at £12.99.