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!