Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Eccles Cakes

I haven't made Eccles cakes for a very long time. In fact I was probably still a schoolgirl when I did so. I remember baking them during our home economics class when we learnt how to make flaky pastry. My teacher was adamant that they should not contain either candied peel or spices, but I knew I had the traditional recipe. In spite of her comments I went ahead and made them as they should be and they were delicious. My pastry wasn't bad either so she couldn't give me a low mark even though she thought my recipe was wrong!

500g flaky pastry (ready-made, shop bought is fine)
25g melted butter
half teaspoon ground nutmeg
half teaspoon ground allspice
50g candied peel
100g sugar
200g currants

Pre-heat the oven to Gas 7, 220C, 425F.
In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the sugar and butter and cook over a medium heat until melted.
Take the pan off the heat, add the currants, candied peel, nutmeg and allspice.
On a lightly-floured surface, roll the pastry thinly and cut into rounds of about 0.5cm thickness and 10cm diameter
Place a small spoonful of filling on to the centre of each pastry circle.
Dampen the edges of the pastry with a little water and draw the edges together over the fruit and pinch to seal.
Turn over, then press gently with a rolling pin to flatten the cakes.
Next, snip a V in the top with scissors. Place on a baking tray.
Brush with water and sprinkle with a little extra sugar.
Bake in a the hot oven for 20 minutes or until lightly browned round the edges
Place on a wire rack and allow to cool.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

It's a Coffee and Cake Thing

Café culture has become one of our past times over the years and I think we owe it largely to our holidays spent in Reykjavik.
Coffee is definitely big in Iceland, strong too and it usually comes with endless free refills. In fact, the refill is a positive sign that you're welcome to stay as long as you like, unlike in some coffee franchises in the UK, which expect you to drink up and then leave. Shame on anyone who takes too long, or dares to carry on reading a book long after their cup is drained!

View across Reykjavik's Faxaflói Bay to the island of Viðey

When we visit during the colder months a cozy café is a welcome respite from the often face-numbing arctic winds which race across the ocean.
On our recent trip we fell into Tíu Dropar on Reykjavik's main street, Laugavegur. It's a little homely place that sits just below street level, so the view out of the window gives one the amusing sight of feet going by – so it's more shoe than people watching!
I really like this place, it's more traditional than some of the other more swanky designer-style establishments in the city. It's popular with the locals too, which is always a good sign.
The small wooden tables are all snuggled into this warm and inviting room whose walls are hung with some interesting historical prints of local figures and old Reykjavik life. The crockery is rustic and slightly mismatched, adding to the charm. This place does not pretend to be anything that it's not – it's real through and through. I think you know what I mean when I say that, we've seen those places that try too hard to create a look and atmosphere, but it's so obviously 'themed'.

The unassuming entrance to the charming cosy café

The café offers a range of fresh sandwiches, salads, soups, etc, but we couldn't resist their homemade chocolate cakes. Historically, Icelandic people have a very sweet tooth and the array of tasty baked goods available is testament to that fact.
Traditionally, Icelandic housewives would always offer their guests plenty of of strong coffee and quantities of cakes, pancakes and pastries – and that was before the dinner finally arrived on the table!
Kaffe og Kaka

The name of the café comes from an Icelandic expression "bara tíu dropar" which literally translates as "just ten drops" and means something like; "I'm-just-asking-for-a-little-but-really-I-want-another-full-cup". Well, it was cold and windy outside, so we felt the same too.

Want to know more about Reykjavik? Click here

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Tomato Ketchup

Thank goodness I'm never going to grow sick of tomatoes! There's still lots left that need eating promptly. Yet another method of preservation is called for and what better than homemade ketchup.
Tomato ketchup is one of those store cupboard essentials that I can never be without. Not just reserved for the dipping of chips or dolloped next to sausages, it has other culinary uses too.
This homemade version is very different to the well-known commercial brands – it's less intensely red for a start and the flavour is, well, more sophisticated, for want of a better description.

Makes about 2 pints

3 lb ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 lb onions, roughly chopped
4 oz sugar
3 tablespoons mustard powder
1 teaspoon ground allspice
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 pint red wine vinegar

Put all the ingredients into a pan and mix well. Bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes.

Allow the ketchup to cool slightly, then blend it to a purée in a food processor or blender. Press the purée through a sieve and return it to the rinsed-out pan.

Bring the ketchup back to boiling point, then take the pan of the heat. Transfer the ketchup to warm dry bottles and seal with airtight tops. Label and leave to cool, then store in a cool dark place. It will keep well for up to 6 months.
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