Thursday 5 November 2015

DIY flan

When we saw silicone flan case moulds in our favourite low-cost store, we bought one. Fruit flans, we thought. Macerated fruit from our home-made liqueurs, still tasty, we thought.

Now to bake a flan case. Surely the packaging will tell me how....

Now to make a flan case!

The front of the packaging describes the mould, in French, Dutch and German:
  • in supple heat-resistant silicone.
  • non-stick, without using fat.
  • Equally adapted to freezing. [what for?]
  • no taste or smell.
  • dishwasher and microwave safe.
  • withstands temperatures between -40°C and 250°C.
  • Dimensions: about 32.5 x 3.2 cm.
On the back, under the heading "Instructions for use and care":
  • note that the product gets hot during cooking. Therefore use oven gloves or barbecue gloves to protect yourself.
  • do not cut on the product. That could damage the product.
  • do not use the "crisp" function of your microwave. That could damage the product.
  • The product is appropriate for use with food and does not alter the smell or taste properties of the contents.
  • Before the first use, wash all parts of the product in hot water with a mild detergent and dry them thoroughly.
  • Warning: familiarise yourself with the correct functioning of your oven/microwave.
  • Warning: check in the user guide of your oven how to use the power available to the oven as appropriate for the dish.
  • The product is exclusively adapted for use with ovens and microwave ovens. Do not use the product on electric hotplates, grills or over open flames.
  • Allow the food to cool completely after cooking.
  • Wash the product in hot water after each use and dry the product thoroughly.
  • The product can be washed in a dishwasher.
  • The packaging is made from ecological materials which can be disposed of in your local recycling centre.
  • Consult your mairie for disposal of the product.
In other words, it tells you everything about how not to use it, and everything about it, but not how to cook something in it. A recipe or two would have been helpful.

First - a recipe for the case. 

I have several sponge cake recipes, any of which would serve, but do I need to scale it up - how much of everything do I want?

So I scanned the Internet and found a link via MyTaste to 's blog which describes itself as an Online worldwide cook shop selling Silicone Bakeware. They too had found themselves with a mould but no recipe. The post suggested your favourite Victoria Sponge Sandwich recipe as a basis, scaled according to the size of the mould. They favoured 75gm each of sugar, butter and flour to one egg, scaled up to 4 egg volume.  I used my old Stork recipe at 2 oz each to one egg.

The dimensions on the packaging proved not to be those of the resulting flan but of the mould itself. The exterior of the mould is 32.5 cm across the base from one edge to the other, including a couple of centimetres of revetment. The mould actually gives you a flan case 1.5cm deep and 28cm across the interior (where the filling goes), and 30cm across the underside. The height, of course, depends on how much mixture you use and how much it rises. After a lot of head scratching I decided to go for a 3-egg mixture. This is what I use to make a sponge sandwich using two 28cm sandwich pans. The result was just right for me.

The flan case unmoulded
I also followed the MyTaste suggestion of lining the circular base of the mould with a disc of baking parchment. I don't think this is strictly necessary, but it gave a nice finish.

170g / 6oz self raising flour, sieved (if using plain flour, add 1 teaspoon baking powder and ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda)
170g / 6oz butter or soft margarine (I used St. Hubert doux)
170g / 6oz caster sugar
3 medium to large eggs (about 60gm)

Heat the oven to 175°C.

Cream the butter/margarine and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one by one, adding half a tablespoon of flour with the second and third egg.

Fold in the flour to give a smooth batter.

Spread the batter over the mould, so that there is a slight dip in the middle and the edges are slightly raised.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the sponge is nicely browned and the top of the sponge springs back when you press it gently with a finger.

As removed from the oven

Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Release the cake from the mould and fill with the ingredients of your choice.

And now for a filling!
Here are a couple of examples for fillings. The first was adapted from an Australian baking blog, Raspberri Cupcakes Vanilla Bean Sponge Cake with Salted Caramel Apples.

Not being experienced caramel makers, I followed the original recipe to the letter and when it said "whisk" I used a whisk. Mistake - the whisk became coated with polymerised sugar as hard - literally - as rock. Next time, and there definitely will be a next time, I'll use a fork.

one sponge flan case
110g/4oz/½ cup sugar
40g (about 3 tbsp) butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces, plus an extra knob for cooking the apples
60ml/2 fl oz/¼ cup thick (heavy) cream, at room temperature
1 tsp flaky sea salted, adjusted to taste
3 baking apples (I used homegrown Reinette Blanche but Granny Smith would do nicely), peeled, cored and chopped into chunks

Spread the sugar in an even layer on the bottom of a small, heavy-based saucepan. Place the pan on medium heat, whisking as the sugar as it begins to melt. It will start to clump, but this is fine. Continue to whisk until the sugar is all melted and as soon as it starts to colour, stop whisking, take the pan off the heat and let it cook just on the heat in the bottom of the pan, swirling the pan occasionally. If you have a sugar thermometer, place it in the sugar at this point. Cook the caramel until it is a deep amber colour and reaches 180°C (350° F) - absolutely no higher or it will burn. If necessary, give the pan a little boost of heat (no more than 20 seconds at a time) to reach the caramel temperature.

Quickly and carefully add all the butter at once, whisking as it bubbles up, melts and combines. Keeping the pan off the heat, add the cream and whisk until the mixture is smooth. Add sea salt to taste (careful not to burn yourself!). Set the pan aside to cool and thicken.

Place the chopped apples in a medium to large frying pan with a bit of melted butter and cook, tossing regularly, until apples are golden and tender. Do not over-cook - stop if the juices start to run.

Stir the apples into the salted caramel sauce and allow to cool until it is thick enough not to soak straight into the cake but is still pourable. Pile the apples into the flan case and pour on the rest of the caramel sauce.

Salted Caramel Apple Flan, with its silicon mould
Serve with crême fraîche or greek yoghurt.

and eat!

Another filling recipe!
My second filling recipe is also Australian: Sponge flan with Cheesecake Cream and strawberries from BestRecipes. This can be adapted for all sorts of soft fruit - clementines would be good, with a light marmalade for the coating. I used macerated blackcurrants, the byproduct of our homemade Cassis liqueur, substituting blackcurrant jam for strawberry.

one sweet sponge flan case
5 tbsp orange juice to coat
125 g / 4 oz soft cream cheese
1 tbsp orange rind finely grated
2 tsp orange juice for the filling
2 tbsp icing sugar
250 mls / 10 fl oz. thick cream
250 g / 8 oz fresh strawberries thinly sliced
6 tbsp strawberry jam, warmed and sieved

Place the flan case on a serving plate and brush all over the interior with the orange juice to soak in.

Beat cream cheese, orange rind, extra juice and icing sugar in a small bowl with an electric mixer until smooth.

Beat the cream in a separate bowl until soft peaks form; fold into the cream cheese mixture.
Fill the flan case with the cream mixture.

Arrange sliced strawberries over the cream and brush strawberries with the jam.

Friday 16 October 2015

Naked upon a pumpkin

The morning of October 13th brought with it a sharp frost that cut down our pumpkin, courgette and cucumber plants into a mushy confusion of twisted stems and disintegrating leaves, with here and there a fruit showing through. Since then the temperature has stayed at wintery levels, although without an actual frost. Time to gather in the squashes.

The squash bed ("the Maggot"), 28th September 2015
In past years we have blogged about our favourite pumpkins, e.g. see here. Needless to say we grew them again.

This year's top statistics:
  • 10 Crown Prince pumpkins at a total weight of 31.442 kg. Additionally there are two immature ones weighing just over 1kg each, which may not come to anything
  • 12 Butternut squashes totalling 7.135 kg. The two small ones are earmarked for a squash fan for her own personal consumption!
  • 2 Sweet Dumpling a.k.a. Patidou at 1.137kg plus one we have already eaten 
  • 2 Sweet Dumpling / Butternut hybrids and a strange yellow thing (Yellow Crookneck cross Butternut?) that germinated on the compost heap.
Mainly out of curiosity, we grew a couple of pumpkins for edible seed this year. The pumpkin seeds that are on sale as healthy snacks aren't milled or in any way treated to remove a hard seed coat. The varieties of pumpkin that give pumpkin seeds just don't have a seed coat to speak of. They are called "Naked Seed Pumpkins". The only readily available variety is called "Godiva" (snigger). But wait! Surely there is an excellent source of seeds. Your local supermarket sells the stuff by the ton, 250gm at a time! In April I took a couple from a Bio Coop packet, making sure they were undamaged. The small print identified the variety as Styriaca, and they came from the Ukraine. They germinated readily, and grew into compact plants. Each bore one fruit.

Styriaca pumpkin, 28th September
By 12th October one fruit was ripe, almost entirely orange and ready to pick.

Ready for dissection
And here is the result.

Fresh pumpkin seeds

From the weight and the price of a 250gm pack, we calculated the value at 83 centimes. They are much juicier than shop-bought seeds, though. They will be put through the food drier for half an hour or so.

Our allotmenting colleague Steve Shillitoe, from whom we learned of this ploy, reckons that the fruit is edible too, so we'll give it a try.

Tuesday 6 October 2015

The tortoise and the hare

I sowed a row of "Guernsey" parsnips in the potager on 30th April this year. After a prolonged sulk they germinated. On 4th September I had six little parsnip seedlings in a row. That was four months while they decided whether to die or to live after all.

A little row of parsnips - 6th September 2015

Parsnip seedlings, 17th September 2015
By contrast, on 7th August, Alvaro (workawayer) and I sowed two rows of Avola peas. The first of these came into flower on 4th September, and there are now fat pods forming with plenty of flowers to come. Avola went from dry seed to a healthy set of plants with flowers on in four weeks precisely. We picked enough peas for a meal on 30th September and the plants are going strong at two months old.

Avola peas, 6th September 2015
Avola peas, 26th September 2015
My original seeds came from the Kew collection and the current lot  from Plants of Distinction. Both, like many other UK seeds merchants, send seeds to France with no problems. But Avola will now be Alvaro peas to us.

Interesting that the slowest and the fastest germination should both turn up on the same day.

Also coming up: self-seeded parsley and coriander. Parsley is reputed to go to the devil and back before it germinates, but if you sow fresh seed in August, it comes up ready for action immediately

On the other hand, we have discovered the existence of N-space, where the nuts come from. No matter how thoroughly we check the filbert bushes, there is still another nut to be found. Somebody in N-space is moving nuts into space-time continuum version 1.0, hanging them up on the branches and giggling.

This filbert was not here a few minutes ago.
The occupants of N-space have not gifted our walnut tree with much by the way  of fruit this year. Tim and Betsy cleared the bank under the tree and we concluded that it was not worth the effort to fit the tree with a nappy* as we did last year. The discovery of a second - wild - walnut on the riverbank just below the weir put the tin hat on it. The second tree is invisible among the ash trees and produces smaller nuts than the old tree, which was a selected variety rather than a chance seedling. They are neck and neck in weight of nuts, at a couple of kilos apiece - that will be plenty!

Tim and Betsy under the walnut tree heading straight for the millstream
*walnut nappy - catches the nuts that would otherwise fall into the millstream.

Friday 14 August 2015

Disgusted, absolutely disgusted!!

I went on our monthly bottle run...
to the bottle bin by the Salle des Fêtes in Grand Pressigny this afternoon.
On my arrival I was greeted by this mess....

The signage here is in English

Some Anglais had left ALL their holiday rubbish between the bin for glass...
and the bin for paper.
How do I know that these lazy people are from the UK...
look at these...

The pink at the back is the House of Fraser bag mentioned below....

I got rid of what I could...

Over fifty bottles for a start...
a lot of them bought on the ferry over...
other stuff brought with them from the UK...
especially the spirit bottles with UK Duty Paid stickers...
the Asda "Bag for Life" in the second picture was one of two...
but the biggest bag of bottles was a House of Fraser one...
with a receipt at the bottom...
from the Skipton branch!!
Skipton is in Yorkshire....
and they own property here...
or know someone who does...
they had thrown some stuff there in yellow SMITCOM recycling sacks!

But it wasn't just the bottles...
there was a broken mirror...
a lot of soggy cardboard boxes...
another plastic shopping bag...
full of ends of bread...
two sacks of general household rubbish...
if I had the time, I'd open those two and see if I could find a name!!
But I haven't got any 'Elf and Safety' kit to protect me...

We had enough of that laziness....
that outright carelessness....
and that anti-social behaviour in Leeds...
it is what we moved away from...
so, fellow Brits...
take your rubbish with you next time...
better still...
stay away from Grand Pressigny!!

I am really ashamed to come from the same part of the UK!!
What you see above is the side of Not-so-great Britain...
that Le Tour was probably shielded from!!

Posted by Disgusted of GP

Tuesday 11 August 2015

Quetsche plum and walnut butter cake temporary post


    some Butter to grease the pan and some Flour to dust over it
    8 large Quetsch Plums (about 1 pound or 550 grams), cut in half and pitted
    1 cup/220g of granulated White Sugar, plus 4 Tablespoons of Sugar divided into two equal parts (2 Tablespoons and 2 Tablespoons)
    1/4 / 60ml cup of Brandy or Cognac
    8 Tablespoons / 115 g of Butter, at room temperature
    1 teaspoon of Lemon Zest, finely grated
    1 teaspoon of Vanilla Extract
    1 cup / 170g of Flour
    1/2 teaspoon of Baking Powder
    1/2 teaspoon of Salt
    2 large Eggs, at room temperature
    1 ounce of Walnuts (25 grams), toasted, ground and cooled (or about 1/4 cup of ground, toasted walnuts, cooled)
    some Powdered Sugar to sprinkle over the baked cake
    a bowl of lightly whipped and sweetened Heavy Cream is nice to serve alongside the cake


    a Processor or Blender for grinding the walnuts
    a 9-inch Springform Pan, lined with Parchment Paper
    2 Mixing Bowls
    a Sifter
    a Mixer, hand or standing
    a small Strainer for sprinkling powdered sugar over the baked cake

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Grease a 9-inch springform pan with butter, dust it with flour, and line the bottom with parchment paper.

2.  Place the halved and pitted plums in a bowl.  Pour the brandy over them and sprinkle them with 2 Tablespoons of the sugar divided into two parts

3.  Cream the butter with 1 cup of sugar, the grated lemon zest, and the vanilla extract until the mixture is light and fluffy.  Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together and beat them into the butter.

4.  Beat the eggs until they start to foam.  Add them and the walnuts to the flour and butter:
5.  Pour the batter into the pan.  Arrange the plums on top in rings, cut side down.  Sprinkle with any remaining brandy/sugar syrup and the remaining 2 Tablespoons of sugar.  (The syrup may leak from the pan onto the oven floor.  A piece of foil placed on the rack below the one holding the cake will catch the drips).

6.  Bake the cake for 1 hour, or until it is golden and a toothpick comes out clean.  Let the cake cool for 10 minutes… …before removing the ring of the springform pan and transferring the cake to a plate.  (It isn’t essential to remove the cake from the bottom of the pan and peel off the parchment.  The cake is best when served warm and before it cools it’s difficult to remove the paper.)  Put a little powdered sugar in a small strainer and sieve the sugar over the top of the cake……before removing the ring of the springform pan and transferring the cake to a plate.

Recipe from US Diplomatic corps

Wednesday 5 August 2015

Cheery chops

As usual I had no idea what to cook for dinner tonight, but there were chops in the freezer and wasp-gnawed apples in need of use, so I came up with a baked dish to serve with some of last year's potatoes and some of this year's massive crop of runner beans.

Leftovers - all the additions made a lovely sauce
Four pork échine chops
One apple, cored but not peeled, cut into large pieces
Four shallots, peeled, whole
One head of garlic, separated into cloves
Three tablespoons apricot nectar
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Place the chops in a baking dish and scatter on the apple pieces, garlic cloves and shallots. Drizzle on a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake at 180 degrees for half an hour, turning the chops over once. Add the cherry tomatoes, pour on the apricot nectar, check and adjust the seasoning and return the dish to the oven for a further 15-20 minutes, until the tomatoes have collapsed and all the liquid has been absorbed. Serve with mashed potato and steamed runner beans.

I adore runner beans. I used to grow the variety Painted Lady, but I don't bother now - it doesn't "do" well here. Even in a normal summer, conditions are too dry for it to set seed. In France, runners (phaseolus coccineus to the botanist) are called "Haricot d'Espagne" and are mainly grown for their pretty red-and-white flowers. French beans, phaseolus vulgaris, are to be found in every potager.

Moonlight in full flower with beans on their way
Once again, "Moonlight" is producing splendidly, despite the drought and high temperatures. We now have a full complement of eight perennial "Moonlight" plants, each with a thick root like a parsnip under the ground. The stems disappear entirely in the autumn, and nothing happens until the end of May when the first scrawny leaves poke up out of the ground. In order to be sure I got some Moonlight I had sowed some more seeds by then, of course. These had to be planted in a different location because the original patch was full. So next year there could be two patches of perennial Moonlight. "Bulgarian Purple" also came up with one perennial plant.

Firestorm (red) and Moonlight (white)

This year I am trying "Firestorm", a red-flowered runner/french bean from the same stable as "Moonlight", but I am somewhat underwhelmed by its weak growth and yellowish leaves. It is not coping with the heat as well as "Moonlight", either, and I have had no beans from it yet, nor likely to in short order, whereas both patches of "Moonlight" and the climbing French beans "Cobra" and "Kew Blue" have both started to produce.

Kew Blue
Of all these, my favourite for flavour is "Kew Blue", which I obtained from the Heritage Seed Library. It is a stunning plant, with lilac flowers, dark green leaves, deep purple stems and long, smooth purple beans, which it produces plentifully. I save some seeds every year, and the dried beans cook well, too.
But for a widely available commercial bean, you can't beat "Moonlight".

Saturday 16 May 2015

My! What a big one!

Oh, what a beauty! I've never seen one as big at that before!....

In her battle to produce a normal-sized egg with a shell on, Blanche surpassed herself yesterday. Her normal egg weighs about  64 grammes.

Prrrk, prrrk, Aaargh!

This one weighs an eye-watering  97 grammes. It's more than a double yolker; it amounts to two eggs in one shell. Apart from its size, it's a normal egg. It'll have to wait its turn to be cooked before we find out what's inside.

How come you do it properly, Alice?

I thought they were making a lot of racket yesterday though.

Little and large
Today's egg (on the right) is the normal size, no doubt to Blanche's relief.

Meanwhile, Alice is still producing eggs at a steady one a day. No doubt to her relier,  too!

Monday 11 May 2015

What shall I do with all those eggs (part 3)

Our big rhubarb plant, left too long in the pot, is now permanently embedded in the ground, pot and all. It had to be trimmed so that Tim and Simon could move the cold frame from its position in full summer sun, where the plants inside cooked, to a more shady spot on the edge of the hangar.

2 men and a cold frame, featuring the rhubarb plant
So what can you go with a bit under half a pound of rhubarb? It was too good and fresh to waste. There are several versions of Rhubarb and Orange Cake on the Web, virtually identical save for the amount of flour to be included, and hence the cooking time and / or temperature. This one comes from BBC Good Food. The almonds in the mix make the cake wonderfully smooth.


    400g / 7 oz rhubarb, thickly sliced
    280g / 5 oz golden caster sugar
    225g / 4 oz butter, softened
    finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange
    225g / 4oz self-raising flour
    100g / 2oz ground almonds
    1 tsp baking powder
    3 medium eggs
    a small handful of flaked almonds
    icing sugar, for dusting


  1. Put the rhubarb into a bowl and sprinkle it with 50g of the sugar. Stir so the rhubarb is coated with sugar, then leave it in a cool place for 30 minutes to draw out some of the juices (macerate). Meanwhile, grease and line the base and sides of a 23cm loose-bottomed, round cake tin with baking parchment or greaseproof paper. Heat the oven to 180°C / 350°F / gas mark 4 (160°C / 325°F / gas mark 3 fan assisted).
  2. Tip the remaining sugar, the butter, orange zest and juice into a large bowl and beat with an electric whisk (whizzy stick attachment) until well blended. Add the flour, almonds, baking powder and eggs, then beat again until smooth (none of your namby-pamby folding in here!). Fold in the rhubarb and any juices. Spoon into the tin and level the top.
  3. Sprinkle the top of the cake mixture with the flaked almonds, then bake in the centre of the oven for 60-75 minutes until well risen, golden in colour and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Note the rhubarb stays moist so your skewer may be sticky because of that.  Cover with foil if the cake starts to brown too much during cooking. 
  4. Leave in the tin for 15 minutes then remove it and let it cool completely on a wire rack. Dust with a little icing sugar before serving.
Haven't you had enough cake?

While making the cake I commented that I might forget to include the rhubarb, my concentration being focussed elsewhere. Guess what... I remembered the rhubarb after I had already put half of the mixture in the tin. I just piled it in and hoped the cake would rise through it. It did, thank goodness.

The fresh eggs impart a lovely golden colour to all these desserts. I'm pleased, though, that we have two layers rather than three. Besides being highly decorative, Vinnie doesn't lay eggs!

Saturday 9 May 2015

What shall I do with all those eggs (part 2)?

The first cake didn't use up enough eggs, but the second cake used a whole box - half a dozen - of the surplus accumulating on our windowsill. This was a Chocolate Lemon Tart from Best Ever Baking by Carole Clements, now long out of print. The slightly odd quantities in the ingredient list give away the American origins of this book.

The finished tart, with chocolate curls

Tim obtained some vast lemons for the making of Pumpkin Preserve with Butter, and there were several left over for the filling. It may have been because of the size of the eggs, or the size of the lemons, or the use of a 23cm rather than a 25cm tin of what proved to be inadequate depth, but there was quite a lot of filling left over.

This was the first tart I've ever made where you mould the pastry into the tin by pressing it with your fingers instead of rolling it out. It handles rather like plasticine or Play-Doh™.  Next time I'll roll it out into a flying saucer shape before I start the moulding bit. In spite of the rather wonky crust, the result looked extremely sophisticated and French, and it really was very easy. And it tasted F.A.B.

240g (8¾ oz) caster sugar
6 eggs
grated rind of 2 lemons
170ml (5½ fl.oz) fresh lemon juice
170ml (5½ fl.oz) whipping cream
Chocolate curls (for decoration)

For the crust:
180g (6¼ oz) plain flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened 100% cocoa powder
30g (1 oz) icing sugar
½ teaspoon salt
115g (4 oz) unsalted butter or margarine
1 tablespoon water

  1. Grease a 25cm (10in) tart tin or flan tin
  2. For the crust, sieve the flour, cocoa powder, icing sugar and salt together into a bowl and stir once or twice to mix.
  3. Melt the butter with the water in a small pan over a low heat. Pour onto the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until the dough is smooth and the flour has drunk all the liquid.
  4. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and sides of the tart tin. Refrigerate the tart case while preparing the filling. You can keep the prepared shell in the fridge for several days, but if you are doing so, put it in a plastic bag  or wrap it in film so it doesn't dry out.
  5. Preheat a baking sheet in the oven at 190°C/ 375°F/gas mark 5.
  6. Whisk the eggs and sugar together until the sugar is dissolved. Add the lemon rind and juice and mix well. Add the cream. Taste the mixture and adjust the sugar/lemon balance if necessary. It should taste sharp but sweet.
  7. Pour the lemon mixture into the tart case and bake on the hot sheet (which will set the pastry before the filling starts to run through it) until the filling is set, about 20-25 minutes. Your fill level will depend on how steady your hands are. The filling will rise, because of all those eggs, but it won't overflow. Probably.
  8. When cool, decorate with chocolate curls.

As a special treat, I was allowed to get my hands on the carefully conserved block of the good stuff from the Chocolate Line in Bruges (as recommended by no lesser personages than the Hairy Bikers). I made the curls by "peeling" the block with a potato peeler. A slightly softer chocolate would have made better curls. You can see the block in the background to the first picture.

One last slice, anyone?

Friday 8 May 2015

What shall I do with all those eggs? (part 1 and a half)

The National Trust's lemon drizzle cake, made yesterday, was the most basic recipe I've ever come across. Sling together soft marge or butter, sugar, flour, eggs and milk in a bowl and stir until you have a smooth creamy mixture. Bung the mixture in a 2lb loaf tin, put it in the oven at 180°C and forget about it for an hour. Spike it with a skewer while still hot and drizzle over a mixture of lemon juice and icing sugar. Leave in the tin to cool completely. Fish out, eat, mmmm....

Just pretend that the rest of the cake is there, OK?

I followed the instructions (just follow the link) to the letter, using my non-stick loaf tin. It stuck like araldite, and the bottom of the cake tore away. Tastes fab, though, and the texture is as light as a feather. I used St. Hubert soft margarine and bottled Sicilia unsweetened lemon juice. Stirring to the required texture took about two minutes, to my astonishment, expecting all sorts of lumps which did not materialise.

You can't see the join

This is another cake that's coming again. Only next time it will be baked in a lined tin! I have pre-folded bread tin liners - to put one in the tin will take an additional few seconds, that is all.

To borrow a very useful term from Baking in Franglais, the "faff factor" denoting the amount of messing about necessary to produce the finished article is as close to zero as makes no difference.

I may take one to the Troc Plantes in Le Petit Pressigny on Sunday, but only if they're very very good.

Wednesday 6 May 2015

What shall I do with all those eggs? (part 1)

Make cakes, of course! All four of the cakes in this series, made over the past few weeks as an escape from blogging about the newspaper cutting found in a hole in the fireplace and the history of the First World War, have something in common - an unusual technique of combining the raw materials.

What are they doing with our eggs, Blanche?

They also use plenty of eggs. All four serve 8 - 10 people.

Our hens produce borderline medium/large eggs. An egg must weigh at least 64 grammes to be called Large. Ours are almost all between 59 and 66 grammes, the average is 62 grammes.

Alice bangs out a 61gm egg every afternoon, amid a great deal of palaver from Blanche.

I'd really like to have some chicks....

Blanche is having a little trouble settling into a rhythm.

B*gg*r chicks, where's my lunch?

She is producing more than one egg a day, more than her eggshell-plating mechanism can cope with, which means soft-shelled eggs that usually get stepped on and broken. We hope things will improve with time, meanwhile we are feeding her an exclusive diet of layer's mix and chafer grubs, and providing a calcium block to peck at.

The first cake was for the Cake Club, on a theme of "Spring is sprung". I christened it "Pumpkin Surprise Cake", the surprise being that there isn't any pumpkin in it. The basis was Light Sponge Cake from the National Trust's book "Good Old-fashioned Cakes" - a present from Jean, for which profuse thanks.

Wot no pumpkin?

This recipe originated at Chirk Castle in Wales, where the cake appeared regularly at afternoon tea. It's great as a plain sponge cake, served on its own, or with fruit and cream.

I doubled the quantities to make two 21cm (8 inch) cakes for a sponge sandwich.

400g (14 oz) sugar
5 of our hens' eggs or 6 medium or 4 large eggs
300g (11 oz) plain flour
A pinch of salt
2½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
200ml (8fl oz) milk
100g (3½oz) butter
100g (3½oz) butter
½ tsp vanilla essence

If using self-raising flour, omit the bicarbonate of soda and reduce the baking powder to 1 teaspoon.
  1. Grease two 21cm cake tins and line them with baking parchment or greaseproof paper. Put the sugar and eggs in a large pyrex bowl and beat using an electric beater, until the mixture is thick and creamy. Add the flour, salt, baking powder and bicarb (if using) and mix well.
  2. Oven on, 160°C / 325°F  / gas mark 3.
  3. Put the milk and butter into a small pan and bring gently to the boil. Pour the boiling milk over the flour mixture and add the vanilla essence. Beat well. The mixture should be of quite a runny consistency. Pour into the prepared tins and give each tin a sharp bang on the table to release bubbles.
  4. Bake for 40-50 minutes until the cake no longer wibbles when you move the tin and the tip of a proddler skewer comes out clean.
  5. Allow the cake to cool for 15 minutes before removing it from the tin, then place it on a wire rack to cool completely. I've made this cake twice now and both times it came out a bit "sad" (sunken in the middle). This is intentional of course - you can fit in more filling.
Icing was an unrepeatable orangey buttercream based on a topping for Screwdriver cupcakes, combining homemade Clementine syrup and Seville Orange Vodka with icing sugar and butter. This was slathered between and over the cakes and decorated with slices of homemade Confit de Clementine and wild violets from the front garden. Actually Tim decorated it but I picked the flowers. I went to wash my hands and he nipped in before I came back.

And it featured on the front page of the CCC web site!

That's my cake, that is! And to the right that would have been my branch had I not moved to France!

Sunday 22 March 2015

A name changer...

One of our other blogs...

Touraine Flint

has changed its name and header...
it is now...

Following Others' Footsteps.

The change came about when we realised that there is so much history to this area...
and, for us particularly, that of La Forge itself and its environs...
that the title "Touraine Flint" was a "bloggers handicap"...
especially that flint word.

We are finding bits of flint all the time...
some of it is worked...
and some of it is from Man's workings past and recent.
However, flint is especially hard to photograph clearly and show detail...
but there will still be reports of findings...
we've recently found out a lot about the buildings here at La Forge....
and we've just had the roof of the longère fettled....
which revealed more detail still....

it isn't just those from pre-history that have lived here...
and that is occupying a lot of our thoughts and time.

And Pauline has been... and still is...
researching some wonderful snippets of WW1 information from a scrap of paper...
that, in 1915, someone used as a rawlplug in our old kitchen...
a fascinating, one hundred-year-old story...
actually a set of stories...

But we felt that our original aim for Touraine Flint was off target...
so we've changed...

To see much more...
with illustrations....

Following Others' Footsteps.

Thursday 19 March 2015

Dogs, chickens and clogs

The lofts of our old farmhouse are floored from end with square terracotta tiles, sometimes called tomettes. The good condition of these tiles and the care with which any gaps between floor and wall were sealed with cement to exclude "nibblers", indicates that the lofts were used to store grain, until quite recently.

Several of them bear the impression of passing feet. When the burden of tiles was off the roof, we could see them much more clearly: -

dog - at a run, followed by variations on a theme of "gerroffit you ..."
Chicken, or chickens

and - a couple of these....

To me, that looks like the print of a clog iron, from the sole of a child sized clog, complete with nails.

You can buy clog irons, British style, from Walkley Clogs, of the Yorkshire town of Mythomroyd, a place we visited with Les Hiboux 2CV group.Traditional dance groups, for example, often dance in clogs, to the ruination of many a good wooden dance floor.

A set of clog irons, complete with nails, as sold by Walkley's
We found a sabot (wooden shoe) hidden in the lofts when we first moved in. The practise of hiding shoes in buildings is well documented here by June Swann. She says that shoes
"are symbols of authority, as in the Old Testament. They are linked with fertility: we still tie them on the back of wedding cars. And they are generally associated with good luck (witness all the holiday souvenirs in the shape of shoes).  But most of all they stand in for the person: it has been a common practise from at least the sixteenth century to at least 1966 to throw an old shoe after people ‘for luck’."
She concludes that a shoe hidden in the roof may be an "I was here" symbol representing the roofer who finished the work, in a sort of topping-out ceremony. I shall have to ask Loic if one of his team would like to hide an old shoe, without telling us where it is!

Our sabot is made of one piece of birch wood, and is a typical farm worker's clog. Here is a description (in French) of the sabot-making process, from the genealogy of the Sousquiers family. Agricultural workers would go to the blacksmith to get a reinforcement for the wooden sole, at toe and heel. For the sole this could be an iron plate in the form of an ogive, following the curve of the shoe. Sometimes these were made from a jam pot lid, held on with round-headed hobnails.
  • Les cultivateurs préféraient du résistant : ils allaient voir le forgeron qui usinait des talons métalliques fixés par trois pointes dans les oreilles de fer. Ces morla emprisonnaient le talon et le garantissaient à la fois de l'usure et de l'éclatement. 
  • Pour la semelle, deux techniques prévalent : une plaquette de fer, en forme d'ogive, ou une tôle récupérée dans une boîte de conserve. La fixation se faisait à l'aide de tachouns (clous) à tête ronde. L'inconvénient de ces ferrures réside dans le fait qu'elles " attrapent " la neige ; il faut interrompre la marche pour dessocar (détacher le bloc de neige).

Sunday 1 March 2015

Cheesy pumpkin muffins

Herewith another of the trio of recipes "cuisine express" by Flavie Degrave that I found in a magazine, the name of which I no longer recall, in the physotherapists' waiting room. Muffins with Beaufort cheese and red onion squash - simple enough store-cupboard ingredients, we have a couple of potimarrons left and several cheeses in the fridge, "certainly what it takes to make [this recipe]".

The original recipe - muffins with beaufort cheese and red onion squash
So here's cheesy pumpkin muffins.

Shared between twelve cases, they look tasty but rather miserly
  • I substituted St Nectaire, which we had lots of in the freezer, for the Beaufort which is 22 euros a kilo on promo. Both are a "cooked" cheese with a soft but firm texture and a distinctive flavour. Both have AOP status (several paragraphs deleted here burbling on about "patrimoine" and "terroir", both untranslatable unless you are allowed to include a 12-page essay).
  • The recipe says "half a potimarron". Now that's a moveable feast: a potimarron (a.k.a. Red Onion /  Red Kuri / Uchiki Kuri squash) can easily weigh a kilo and a half. I used a small butternut squash which yielded 300 grammes prepared weight of pumpkin flesh and it was too much. No more than 250g, let's say 200g.
  • I split the mixture between 12 muffin cases. The muffins did not rise much, with so much pumpkin to flour, and they looked lost in the paper cases, to which they stuck firmly. The recipe makes six standard muffins and I recommend using silicon moulds rather than paper cases. 
  • I had no fresh chives, so I used a sprinkling of dried lovage; dried thyme could add an interesting dimension. 
  • I added a pinch of cayenne. Naughty, but nice.
  • Most of the time was taken up with the chopping. Once it was all done, the recipe is a doddle. 
  • After the recommended cooking time of 25 minutes using a fan-assisted oven the muffins were not done and I gave them another 10 minutes. They really needed a bit longer - I'd say don't use fan assist to avoid burning the top. It will take longer to cook the same mixture divided into six instead of twelve, but the removal of the paper case will speed things up ... the square on the hypotenuse ... windage ... let g be the acceleration due to gravity... oh, give it another ten minutes and poke one with a skewer!
Next time I'll do this mix as six muffins

Muffins with Beaufort / St Nectaire cheese and red onion squash

200g peeled potimarron, butternut or Crown Prince squash, cut into small dice
80g Beaufort or St Nectaire cheese, cut into small dice
10 leaves chives, rinsed and snipped into short lengths
1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
50 g onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 eggs
110g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
65ml olive/sunflower oil
50ml milk
Freshly ground pepper
A pinch of salt

Soften the onion and garlic in a tablespoon (15 ml) of the oil for 3 minutes. Stir in the pumpkin, sprinkle with pepper, put on the lid and let it cook for 5 minutes. Add the chives or other herbs of your choice, stir and allow the mixture to cool (immerse the bottom of the pan in cold water if necessary).. Meanwhile, lay out six silicone muffin moulds on a baking sheet, or line 6 muffin moulds with greaseproof paper or muffin cases.

Heat the oven to 180°C. Beat the eggs. Putting the pumpkin and the cheese to one side for a minute, mix the remaining wet ingredients in one bowl and the dry ingredients in another. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and give a good stir, but don't overmix or your muffin will be hard on the outside. Add the pumpkin, then the cheese. Share out the mixture between the muffin cases. Cook for 25-40 minutes until done.

Serve at room temperature.

Very tasty, very very tasty ....
And the last recipe - brouillade d'oeufs aux cèpes (scrambled eggs with ceps / bolete mushrooms) - is exactly what it says on the tin. Or in my case, jar.

Saturday 21 February 2015

A chocolate feast!

Last Friday morning I had my usual physiotherapy appointment in Descartes. While waiting for the kiné to appear, I thumbed through the ghastly celeb magazines to find a "star" I'd actually heard of who might be capable of stringing a sentence together. Instead, I turned up a trio of recipes in a magazine I no longer recall the name of. I photographed them with my mobile phone. At the bottom of one page it says "Retrouvez nos recettes sur" but there is no sign of any of them at that address. Apparently there is a fourth one. It must remain in lost El Dorado forever. What they do have there looks good, I must say. That link is well worth following up.

The original recipe
Yesterday I tried "Tartes choco/gingembre" (chocolate and ginger tart) on friends and family. This turned out to be a rich, sophisticated dessert that's as easy as... er...pie. It's a deep, dark chocolate ganache in a crisp sweet pastry shell, garnished with preserved ginger, "confit de gingembre". The buckwheat flour gives the shell a crunch that contrasts welI with the smooth ganache. I substituted home-made confit de clémentines, which gave a fresh lift to the richness of the chocolate.

This recipe serves six, if making tartlets, and at eight in a round tin. The amount of pastry is probably about right for six square tartlets, but I only had a round 21 cm tin and there was twice as much as needed (surface to volume ratio, you know). I found that loose-based tart tins were not a great success. A solid tin or tins is preferable. There is no need to line or grease the tin.


For the pastry :
150g wheat flour
75g buckwheat flour
25g ground almond powder
70g icing sugar
A pinch of salt
150g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 egg
For the ganache filling :
300g good quality dark chocolate, the best you can find. I used 72% cocoa solids
30cl liquid cream (30%fat)
To decorate :
30g crystallised ginger
or 2 confit clementines

Prepare the pastry :
Sift the wheat flour and the icing sugar. Place all the dry ingredients for the pastry in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Mix until well blended. Add the butter and the egg. Mix until the pastry forms an irregular ball. Mould it into a ball shape with your hands. Wrap the pastry in cling film and chill it in the fridge for an hour. Do not leave it in the fridge (as I did, for four hours) because it goes rock-hard - if you need to leave the pastry for more than an hour, move it to a cool place. If making one large tart, cut the pastry ball in half and freeze one half for next time.
Make the pastry shell :
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Roll out the pastry on a sheet of greaseproof paper. Pick it up holding the paper only - warning, fingers go through the pastry! Garnish 6 tartlet moulds or one 20cm square mould or one 25cm round mould with the pastry.  Prick the pastry with a fork, cover it with a circle of greaseproof paper wider than the base and weigh it down with baking beans. Blind bake it for 15 minutes, taking out the weights and the greaseproof for the last five minutes to let the bottom of the pastry brown. Leave the pastry shells to cool.
Prepare the ganache :
Cut the chocolate into small pieces (you can use a hand grinder for this) and put it in a heat-proof basin. Bring the cream to the boil and tip it boiling over the chocolate. Leave it untouched for five minutes for the chocolate to melt. Stir well with a spatula until the ganache is smooth.
Fill and decorate the tarts :
Pour the ganache while still hot into the bottom of the cooled pastry shells. Leave to rest at room temperature and, just before serving, garnish with slices of the preserved ginger / clementines.
Save some for next time!

Astuces: Leave the ganache to cool at room temperature rather than in the fridge. It will then stay glossy and won't go hard.

Don't try adding alcohol or anything fancy, it isn't needed. I put walnuts on but they weren't needed either. The pastry should be sweet: the ganache should not.

Wednesday 11 February 2015

Pumpkin Conserve - a serving suggestion

Back in December 2011 we posted about a particularly delicious and easy Conserve made from Pumpkin, lemons, sugar and butter.
This week I made some more.

You can just eat it out of the jar with a spoon!
From comments we received, we thought people might be unsure how to serve it.

Take some digestives, some cream cheese and some Pumpkin preserve...
Tim's favourite is an instant Pumpkin Cheesecake, made with a digestive biscuit, a creamy cheese and a dollop of Pumpkin conserve.

And serve.