life on a smallholding

not quite a business, but more than a hobby

My take on the Bake Off — Friday, 23rd August

My take on the Bake Off

My idea of a perfect sandwich cake
My idea of a perfect sandwich cake, filled with mascarpone and blackcurrant jam

This week saw the eagerly anticipated return of the Great British Bake Off, now in its fourth series.  I love that programme, a bunch of home bakers working their way through a number of challenges, some triumphing and others ending up with egg on their faces.  The tension is incredible when their cakes go into the oven, will it rise, won’t it?  They are often on their knees watching through the glass oven door.   The judges are firm but fair, none of this nasty sarcasm and the presenters add a much-needed touch of humour to the proceedings.

No fancy plates full of minuscule meals, just good robust baking.

I almost felt tempted to apply myself.

However, after watching this time, I couldn’t help but be disappointed.  The format was the same, so were the presenters and then there were the judges.  With all the recent scandal in the papers surrounding one of them, it was difficult to take him seriously.  But worse, the bakers themselves were no longer the dedicated home dabblers that I’ve come to know and love, they seemed like a bunch of semi-pros.

The first challenge was a simple sandwich cake, any flavour.  One person attempted, unsuccessfully to carve his cake into the shape of a lemon and another baked hers in a sandwich shaped mould and wrapped it in a sheet of fondant icing to resemble a paper bag.

What happened to the simple sandwich cake?

The technical challenge was as good as ever.  They couldn’t do anything lavish, just follow the recipe for an angel food cake.  It’s amazing how many variations you can get from the same sheet of paper.

Then finally there was the fancy chocolate cake.  Most of them were well over the top with hidden squirrels inside the sponge, bears made out of modelling chocolate (who even knew that existed) and elaborate chocolate collars around the cake.

Some looked very professional, others were just a mess.

Personally I’m not a fan of all this over the top icing and decoration, it makes them difficult to eat, which after all, is the point of a cake.  I think they just need to be pleasing to the eye, but more importantly, taste good.

I shall be watching the rest of the series, couldn’t miss it, but after that show-stopping start, it makes you wonder where it can go from here.

Bring back simple home baking, please!

After watching the show I just had to bake a sandwich cake and lately I’ve been very impressed with the recipes of Dan Lepard in the Guardian.  Years ago I bought my first ever bread book written by him, The Handmade Loaf.  Not only does he create brilliant bread, but his other concoctions are fabulous too.

This recipe for a Victoria sandwich is based on his, although the quantities are more what you would expect in a typical sponge cake.  What is unique, is that it uses a rather diverse method, beating some of the flour in with the butter, before adding the eggs.  It certainly makes a difference to the sponge and it is quite literally the best sandwich cake I have ever made or tasted.

I think Dan may be Mary and Paul all rolled into one.

Simple sandwich cake

This is the best ever recipe for a Victoria sandwich
Ingredients
  • 225g butter, softened
  • 225g vanilla caster sugar
  • Zest of a lemon, finely grated
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste
  • Jam and mascarpone or cream
  • Icing sugar for decoration
Instructions
  1. Grease and line the base of two 20cm cake tins with greaseproof paper.
  2. Beat the softened butter in a food mixer until pale, light and fluffy.
  3. Add the sugar, lemon zest, and vanilla paste, then beat well until pale and fluffy.
  4. Beat in a third of the flour and baking powder until smooth, then beat in the eggs, one at a time.
  5. Add in the remaining flour and baking powder and ensure it’s well combined.
  6. Divide the mixture between the two tins and bake at 170C for about 35‑40 minutes until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean and the sponges are just starting to come away from the edge of the tins.
  7. Leave to cool in the tins for 10 mins then turn out onto a cooling rack.
  8. Remove the paper from the bottoms.
  9. When cold, fill with jam and/or cream and assemble the sandwich.
  10. Dust with icing sugar to serve.
Notes: I filled my sandwich cake with two home made mascarpone and blackcurrant jam

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Nothing but the goat — Sunday, 14th July

Nothing but the goat

My All-Goat pie made with goat chunks and goat butter pastry
My All-Goat pie made with goat chunks and goat butter pastry

Our goats are valuable assets, they provide us with fresh milk daily, too much to drink.  I use it to make butter, ice cream and cheese.   There is whey leftover from the cheesemaking and that can be used instead of water for bread.

But there is another side to keeping goats, in order for them to produce the milk, they need to have kids.  Females are usually kept for breeding while the males at some point, just like lambs, go away to slaughter.

Goat meat is not just for curries, you can use it just like lamb or beef.  In fact we find that it tastes like a slightly gamey beef.  It certainly doesn’t have any tang to it.  I have noticed that there are small companies popping up all over the place now, supplying a growing market in goat meat.

I have recreated all our favourite recipes with goat, in some using slightly different herbs and spices but others, such as bolognese, are made exactly the same as when I use beef.

Nothing but the goat

  • Difficulty: easy
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A gorgeous pie made with goat butter pastry and tender goat chunks.
Ingredients
  • 500g goat chunks
  • 25g flour, seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 50g goat butter
  • 2 onions, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbls chopped lemon balm
  • 300ml chicken stock
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 free-range whole egg beaten
  • 300g puff pastry approx (see recipe)
Instructions
  1. Dip the meat into the seasoned flour, then place a large lidded pan on the hob.
  2. Heat half the butter in the pan and add the meat. Sear all over until golden brown.
  3. Add the vegetables and herbs, then pour in the stock. Bring to a boil, cover with a lid and gently simmer on the stove for approx 2 hours. Add a little water if it starts to dry out – you want some gravy inside the pie.
  4. Preheat the oven to 220C.
  5. Once cooked, season the meat and add the remaining butter, stirring until melted.
  6. Roll out a third of the pastry using as little flour as possible and line the base of the pie dish.
  7. With the remainder of the pastry, roll out the pie lid, ensuring it’s large enough to cover the pie.
  8. Spoon the filling into the lined pie dish and spread out evenly.
  9. Brush the rim of the pastry with beaten egg and lay the lid in position. Trim the edges and pinch the pastry together all the way round. Any leftover pastry can be cut into shapes and laid on top.
  10. Paint the beaten egg over the top of the pie.
  11. Pierce a hole in the centre of the pastry to let the steam escape.
  12. Place on a hot baking tray and cook in the oven for 40-50 minutes until the pastry is golden brown on top.
  13. Serve with new potatoes or seasonal veg.

You can find the recipe for Goat Butter pastry here.

Goat pie served with new potatoes
Goat pie served with new potatoes

 

Goat butter pastry —

Goat butter pastry

Homemade goat's butter
Homemade goat’s butter

Making your own goat butter is not an option open to everyone and although you can buy it in the supermarket, I have no idea how it compares to homemade.  With it being pure white, it looks more like lard, but I have found that it makes a really lovely, crispy pastry, which tastes lighter than that made with butter from a cow.

Goat butter pastry

  • Difficulty: easy
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A buttery pasty, perfect for pie crusts

Ingredients
  • 225g plain flour
  • 170g butter
  • pinch salt
  • enough iced water to bring it all together
Instructions
  1. Sift the flour and the salt into your bowl.
  2. Cut the butter into cubes and add to the flour mix.
  3. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour leaving largish lumps. The butter should still visible throughout the flour.
  4. Gradually add the water until the mixture starts to come together and forms into a ball.
  5. Tip the mixture out onto cling film, pat into a circle, wrap firmly and leave in the fridge for about an hour.
  6. When ready to use, sprinkle a little flour on the worksurface, unwrap the cling film and take out as much dough as you need for the pie base, returning the rest to the fridge.
  7. Roll out to the desired shape and size, then place in the bottom of your pie dish.
  8. Make sure you roll out the pie lid before putting the hot filling in the dish.
  9. You may find it easier to roll out the dough on some lightly floured cling film and then use this to lift the pastry onto the dish.
  10. This is a very soft pastry and if it does break, it can be patched up easily.

 

Making pastry
Making pastry
Yorkshire pudding has its day — Sunday, 3rd February

Yorkshire pudding has its day

Curried
Curried “Yorkshire” pudding

I’ve just heard that it’s British Yorkshire pudding day.  I’ve never had much luck cooking a humble Yorkshire pud, the problem being my ancient old Rayburn.  You need a hot oven and mine likes to hover around 180 degrees C.  Anything above that only happens occasionally.

Last week we had one of those occasions.  The oven was red hot but that wasn’t the reason I chose to make my pudding.  The chickens and ducks are laying like mad and an egg mountain is starting to form.  Since we’ve had such appalling weather, no customers have been brave enough to trudge through the snow to buy any.

I was making a vegetable curry but instead of rice to accompany it, I decided to make a curried batter pudding to use up some eggs.

It turned out beautifully, not only was it a gorgeous yellow colour, it rose way above the edges of the tin and best of all – no soggy bottom.
 

Curried Yorkshire pudding

  • Difficulty: easy
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A Yorkshire pudding with a twist

Ingredients
  • 3 medium to large eggs
  • Plain flour
  • Milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • Vegetable oil
Instructions
  1. Heat the oven to 220C.
  2. Pop a bowl on the scales and crack 3 eggs into it. Make a note of the weight.
  3. Add the same weight of plain flour.
  4. Then add the same weight of milk.
  5. Add the salt and the turmeric.
  6. Whisk into a smooth batter.
  7. If it’s a little on thick side add some water to thin it down.
  8. Put the oil into an oven proof dish and put into the oven until very hot.
  9. Remove the dish from the oven and pour the batter in. Return it to the oven and leave to bake for approx 40 mins or until risen and golden.
  10. Serve with a good vegetable curry.

 

Yorkshire pudding with vegetable curry
Yorkshire pudding with vegetable curry

My Christmas muffins — Thursday, 20th December

My Christmas muffins

Snow capped fruity muffins
Snow capped fruity muffins

We were out of cake.  It was too soon to cut the Christmas cake, which I haven’t even iced yet, so instead I made some fruit packed, Christmas inspired muffins with a good dollop of snow on top.

Christmas muffins

  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients
  • Makes 16
  • 250g self-raising flour
  • 240g caster sugar
  • 2 tsps baking powder
  • 1 ½ tsps ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 240ml vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste
  • 4 medium sized carrots, grated
  • 1 medium Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 30g dessicated coconut
  • 60g chopped dried figs
  • 60g sultanas
  • Zest 1 lemon
  • [b]Icing[/b]
  • 150g butter, softened
  • 300g icing sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
  • Juice 1/2 lemon
  • Silver balls
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 180°C.
  2. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, oil and vanilla.
  4. Add the liquid to the flour mix and stir until well combined.
  5. Grate in the lemon zest then fold in the carrots, apple, coconut, and dried fruit.
  6. Stand paper cases in a muffin tray and spoon mix into each one so it’s approx 3/4 full.
  7. Bake for approx 30 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the centres comes out clean.
  8. Cool for 10 minutes in the tray and then move to a wire rack to cool completely.
  9. For the icing beat the butter until light and fluffy and then add the icing sugar. Gently beat in.
  10. Add the vanilla and mix, then add a few drops of lemon juice. Beat well. Add more lemon sparingly, be careful not to make it too wet.
  11. Spoon the icing into a piping bag and decorate the top of each cake; alternatively spread on with a pallet knife.
  12. Finish off with a festive silver ball.
  13. Leave to set before serving.

 

Muffin packed full of fruit
Muffin packed full of fruit