Greek Odyssey

Dinner!!

Massive, road closing, motorhome shaking thunderstorms (two), unexploded WW2 bomb (one), aeroplane turbulence of the epic kind, exploding tyre (two), minor flooding to motorhome thanks to exploding tyre, minor flooding to motorhome thanks to chemical toilet (eww), endless waits at border controls (all Serbia), lunatic recovery vehicle drivers (Serbia), more toll posts than I ever need to see again, intimate knowledge of service station quality and service across the UK, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Poland, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria and Italy, constant vigilance of deer and screaming at A. for what turned out to be a cutout of a deer.  An eventful holiday.  What I haven’t mentioned of course are the beautiful mountain ranges; some verdant, some arid, the grapevines stretching as far as the eye can see, storks perching in the fields in Poland, fish leaping out of the sea in Greece, empty beaches, breathtaking sunsets, homebuilding, colours so vibrant they make your eyes ache, stray dogs that make your heart ache and of course food…the food…beetroot soup as the final course of a wedding feast at 3.30 a.m. in Poland, slow cooked goat with roasted lemony potatoes in a mountain village in Greece, scrambled eggs and fried tomatoes cooked at my stove whilst waiting in the queue at Serbian border control (I’m not down on Serbia, honest!), freshly made casoncelli alla bresciana (a type of pasta stuffed with breadcrumbs, parmesan, garlic, parsley, nutmeg and broth), picked up at Desenzano by Lake Garda and eaten tossed in butter in the motorhome washed down with a rosé from Milea Winery in Argalasti, seeing the day’s octopus catch drying outside Stefano’s and then having it for dinner, barbecued souvlaki and lamb with friends and family, layered creamy moussaka, unlimited fava and feta....aahhh feta...

 

Feta, Spinach and Sundried Tomato Muffins

  • 30g butter
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 300g plain flour
  • 2½ tsps baking powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsps ground cumin
  • 110g feta, crumbled
  • 90g Cheddar cheese, grated
  • 250 ml whole milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 50g sundried tomatoes
  • 130g baby spinach leaves, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 180°/Fan 160°/350°F/Gas 4.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan and fry the onion until soft.  Leave to one side.

Sieve the flour and baking powder into a large bowl then add the cayenne pepper, cumin and cheddar cheese and mix until combined.

In a separate bowl mix the milk and egg together then pour onto the flour mixture, stir until just combined, do not overmix or the muffin police will arrest you.  Add the onion, feta, sundried tomatoes and spinach and stir until evenly distributed.

Spoon into twelve muffin cases or wrappers or if you don't wish to use these, brush the insides of the muffin tin with melted butter.

Bake in the oven for 30-35 mins or until a skewer comes out clean. 

These are best served warm so I give you full permission to eat them all as soon as they come out of the oven.  Alternatively cool and then refresh for a few minutes in the oven when required.

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Back to Greece again in October for a mini break and some garden harvesting.  Walnuts and pomegranates were a welcome surprise.  The pomegranates didn't look like what I thought ripe pomegranates looked like, they were more of a golden colour, but had started to burst so we tasted them...so sweet!  Promptly made a pomegranate syrup for gin o'clock and stuffed some in my suitcase to bring home.  I used those on Ottolenghi's Barley and Pomegranate salad from Plenty which is beautiful and has opened up my eyes to the possibility of pearl barley not just being something I hurl into casseroles.  On that subject I also refer you to Gill Meller's Stuffed Squash with Fennel and Barley from Gather....just lovely.  But I digress...

 

Greek Coffee and Walnut Cake

  • 225g unsalted butter
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 225g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 50 ml strong Greek coffee (or strong espresso coffee)
  • 75g walnuts, finely chopped

 

Coffee buttercream:

  • 150g unsalted butter
  • 300g icing sugar
  • 15 ml strong Greek coffee (or strong espresso coffee)
  • Walnut halves, toasted, to decorate

Grease and line the base of two victoria sandwich tins.  Preheat oven to 180°C/Fan 160°C°C.

Cream butter and sugar with an electric whisk until light and fluffy.  

Add eggs gradually, whisk until combined.

Sieve flour and baking powder and gently fold into mixture.

Stir in 50 ml Greek coffee and chopped walnuts.

Divide evenly into the sandwich tins and bake for 25 mins.

Remove from oven and leave to cool in tin for 5 mins before turning out onto wire tray.  Allow to cool.

For the buttercream, cream butter and icing sugar together with electric whisk until light and fluffy.  Add Greek coffee then a dash of milk if buttercream too stiff.  Taste for coffee strength, add more if necessary.  Whisk for approx 5-10 mins.  Place in piping bag and pipe circle onto one half of the cake.  Place second half on top.  Spread a thin layer of buttercream over the top of the cake and then pipe dots of buttercream pulling off towards you to make a teardrop shape.  Drag the back of a teaspoon from the top towards you to create the design illustrated.  Pipe decoration on top and finish with walnut halves.

 

It's taken longer than usual to get round to my blog post, things seem to have got very busy of late.  Am now working in the Stour Space Cafe in Hackney Wick so if you are in the area, come say hi.  Ooh and try their veggie breakfast, it's flippin' lovely.

 

 

 

 

Edible Dusts.

 Image by Nick Radley

Image by Nick Radley

There is something you should know about me.  I am a teensy bit obsessed with flowers.  It was one of the reasons I became a cake decorator...to learn how to make sugar flowers.  I went to a local college to learn and had the most fantastic teacher, Pauline Moody.  A great teacher can make all the difference and her insistence on learning the fundamentals of all aspects of cake decorating has helped me endlessly. I didn't have a clue how to use edible dusts before either and so I thought this month could be my little homage to Pauline and all the creative people out there who pass on their knowledge and skill with passion and love.

Edible dusts are an excellent way of adding tone and dimension to sugar flowers.  They always seem a bit two-dimensional and flat to me if they haven't been dusted.  They are also brilliant to experiment with if, like me, you do not come from an artistic background.  Look at photographs of the flower you are trying to recreate before you start.  Even if you are not trying for botanically correct flowers (not everyone is as retentive as me and I don't always succeed), it's a good starting point. 

You will need clean (new) paintbrushes or make-up brushes.  You can just use one and build up light colours first but it is useful to have more than one.  Generally you do not wash these brushes but clean the dust off by dipping them in cornflour and knocking it off.  I can't really recommend a paintbrush size as most people have their favourites.

The range of colours available is considerable and you can blend the colours.  There is also a range of shimmers which add a luxurious texture.  These also look wonderful dusted onto macarons.  If you add clear alcohol such as vodka or cool boiled water to dusts they can also be used as paints.

Edible glitters are also available but use sparingly.  I tend not to use them on flowers so much as I like my flowers to look like flowers but they look gorgeous on snowflakes, stars or for adding sparkly detail to lettering or 3D models.  I used a silver silver hologram glitter on a tiny pair of Louboutin Daffodiles once, looked really cute. 

I thought I would you show you the colours I have used to dust a viola to give you an idea of how to build up colour:

 

On the first viola I have used 'Lavender' brushed on to build up a light colour.  I have also dusted the back.  On the second I have added 'Empress Purple' to start to build up tones.  On the third I have used 'Lobelia' on the edges of the petals.  I think using a darker colour on the edges can really lift it...be adventurous - try colours you might not necessarily immediately go for.  On the fourth viola I have added a little clear alcohol to the 'Aubergine' dust and painted the veining. On the fifth I have used clear alcohol to paint 'Sunflower' to represent the stamens and 'Superwhite' for the stigma.  (If this was a wired flower I would recommend using wire stamens.)  Once dusted, hold the flower over a steaming kettle for a few seconds.  This sets the dust so it doesn't fall off onto your cake.

On a food safety note, The Food Standards Agency issued the following guidelines as to purchasing dusts and glitters...

"Dusts or glitters that are edible will include permitted additives (such as mica and titanium dioxide) and must comply with the requirements of EU food additives legislation Regulation 1333/2008. Only glitter or dust clearly labelled to show it is suitable for eating should be applied to food for consumption.

Edible glitter or dust must be labelled with the name or E-number of any additives used and carry either the statement ‘For food', ‘Restricted use in food', or a more specific reference to their intended food use (for example ‘Edible lustre’)."

Happy dusting!!

 Image by Nina Kapsali

Image by Nina Kapsali

 

 

 

Overview.

So I am just about to resume my patisserie course at Le Cordon Bleu after my two month broken wrist sabbatical so I thought I would give you a little update on my progress so far.  I have learnt so much, my pastry has improved dramatically amongst other things, I have met some brilliant people and have broken out of the complacent little rut I had found myself in.  Firstly...speed..I never knew I was so slow!!! Having worked for myself I have had no one to compare myself to.  Having someone basically cracking a metaphorical whip behind me has done wonders for my efficiency.  Secondly....teamwork...for someone who works by themself I have really enjoyed working with other people, I can talk to someone else apart from myself, my dogs and Netflix.  I love geeking about pastry, cakes and just food in general.  Thirdly....practicals....I love sitting with a cup of tea watching a top pastry chef create something gorgeous in front of me and then getting to eat it.  Little gasps and rounds of applause are not unusual, it's a beautiful thing.  Fourthly...age has its benefits....I think if I had done this course when I was 18 I would be in a corner rocking and gibbering.  A little dash of French contempt here, a smidgen of English sarcasm there and occasionally a compliment or two which you grasp onto like a drowning man to a lifebelt.  I have cried over a broken tuile biscuit (yes, really), I have been told my chantilly cream was "irrelevant" - strangely upsetting at the time but vastly amusing when I am out of the goldfish bowl.  I have had my lemon julienne measured (with a tiny ruler) and found to be too long (by 1 cm!), my buttercream piping resembling the James Bond "Spectre" logo or an octopus.  Whilst I may sound like I am mocking this attention to detail it is what I actually love about the course and what I hope will make me a better baker.

  Spectre/Octopus cake....he had a point... .

Spectre/Octopus cake....he had a point....

Top five things I have learnt this term:

1. Dock your pastry, makes it so much more crispy and lovely.

2. Get a microscale for measuring salt...saves heartache.

3. Julienning things...it gets easier, it really does.

4.  Negative space...it's a thing.

5.  The French put booze in absolutely everything.  Not that this is a bad thing.  Don't sit still as you may be lightly brushed with a kirsch syrup.  Vive La France!

When life gives you lemons...make lemon cake.

Maybe it's because it is chucking it down with rain outside  and I am sitting here with my left wrist in plaster typing one-handed or maybe it's just because I love them but this week is all about lemons.  I had some exciting news this week when we exchanged contracts on a house near A's sister in Greece.  She sent us a picture of the garden this week blanketed in snow with our lemon tree posing sunnily in the middle, ripe for picking.  She has been merrily scrumping ever since.

Wandering around Spitalfields market yesterday, shivering in the damp air, I picked up some aragostini at one of the food stalls.  These delicately layered Italian pastries in the shape of lobster tails are a variation of sfogliatella (meaning small, thin, leaf layer), the difference (I think) being aragostini are filled with pastry cream and sfogliatella are filled with ricotta or almond paste and candied peel.  The last time I ate one of these I was basking in the sunshine in a cafe in Amalfi, a town along that beautiful coastline famed for its lemons.  This time I bought lemon, chocolate and pistachio flavours (5 for £4.00 - rude not to!), picked up a bowl of freshly made carbonara at another stall (no cream - hurray!) and sat on a bench to pig out.  The carbonara was hot, creamy and delicious, the egg creating that velvety mouthfeel.  I bit into the aragostini and just for one second I could have been back at that cafe again.

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My next foray into lemons this week was madeleines.  Eaten straight from the oven.  Although because they are best eaten like this it seems to give me licence to eat three in a row.  I added half a teaspoon of lemon oil to the batter which gave it an extra lemony kick and smelt divine....

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Finally lemon and blackcurrant loaf.  Recipe below....have been meaning to share this one for a while but it needed tweaking...nice with a dollop of creme fraiche or just on its own.

 

Lemon and Blackcurrant Loaf

200g unsalted butter

200g caster sugar

3 large free range eggs

225g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

2.5 tbsps lemon curd

Zest of 1 lemon

100g blackcurrants (I used frozen ones, defrosted).

Topping

Juice of 1 lemon

50g caster sugar

50g blackcurrants

Grease and line a 2lb loaf tin.  Pre-heat oven to 160°C/Fan 140°C/Gas Mark 3.

Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Beat in eggs one by one.  Add lemon zest.  Sift flour and baking powder into bowl then fold into mixture.  Add a third of the mixture to the loaf tin then cover with 100g of the blackcurrants.  Cover with another third of the mixture.  Spread the lemon curdon top of this and add the final third of the mixture.  Use a skewer to incorporate the lemon curd through the mixture, weaving in different directions to combine.

Bake in the oven for one hour and 25 minutes, test with a skewer - pierce cake, hold for a few seconds then remove, if it is clean the loaf is cooked.

Mix together the lemon juice and caster sugar for the topping.  Add the blackcurrants and drizzle on top of the cooling loaf.  Cool in tin.

 

Granny/Mémé

 

My mother gave me my granny’s recipe book the other day.  I have really fond but hazy memories of my granny, who died when I was 14.  All my memories are good and relate to food…apples pies, soda bread, irish stew, boiled bacon, cabbage and potatoes (I don’t think I have ever eaten potatoes as good since…boiled in their jackets then they would just fall open dripping with butter.  I was considered too skinny and so they were piled onto my plate in a bid to fatten me up).  My granny used to stand over the cooker in her brown checked housecoat, fag in one hand, wooden spoon in the other.  The recipe book isn’t huge, my granny was a plain home cook and I love the minimal descriptions - “Cake” as a title so you have to read the recipe to work out what sort of cake it is.  I found a christmas card tucked into the back with a recipe written on the back of it.  The christmas card was from me, I must have been about 7 or 8 when I wrote it.  A silly thing but made me feel like I was meant to own the recipe book now.  

Granny’s Banana Pudding
175g self raising flour, sieved
4 large bananas, mashed
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 large eggs
100g caster sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg

Preheat oven to 180oC/Fan 160oC/Gas Mark 4.

Beat lemon juice and eggs into bananas.  Stir in the flour, spices and sugar.  Pour into a buttered pie dish.  Bake for 50 minutes.  Serve warm and drown in custard.


My friend Aurore came round one day to show me how to bake her grandmother’s wine cake.  We had an excellent day drinking Pouilly Fume, baking pretzels, baking this cake and setting the world to rights.  I really love it.  I love its simplicity and elegance.  You could add to this cake I suppose and maybe one day I will but for now I don’t see the point.  This is the sort of cake perfect for sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of tea in the afternoon - a plain sponge with a beautiful backnote of white wine.  Baking it conjures up memories of the afternoon Aurore and I baked it together and I was touched that she shared the recipe with me.  She has kindly allowed me to share the recipe with you so you can make your own memories - bake with friends - what could be nicer?


Gisele Gautier’s Gateau Au Vin Blanc
280g plain flour
280g caster sugar
3 large eggs (lightly beaten)
2 1/2 tsps baking powder
125 ml sunflower oil
125 ml dry white wine (Gewurztraminer works particularly well)

Preheat the oven to 160oC/Fan 140oC/Gas Mark 3

Grease and line an 8 inch round tin.

Sieve dry ingredients together into a large bowl.  Make a well in the middle and add the eggs, sunflower oil and white wine.  Mix together until just combined.  Pour into tin and place on middle shelf of oven.  Bake for 60 minutes.  Test with a skewer, if the skewer comes out clean it’s cooked.  Leave in tin for 5 mins then turn out onto a wire tray to cool.  Or if you can’t wait that long, eat it warm!  Keeps well in an airtight tin for several days.

 

My new blog and website

 

Welcome to my new blog and my new website!  First things first, a little update about what’s going on at The Last Crumb HQ.  I am hanging up my apron for a year as I am taking a little time out to do the Patisserie Diploma at Le Cordon Bleu in London (that sounds very matter of fact but I am actually jumping up and down whilst I write that).  So I won’t be doing any wedding cakes or celebration cakes this year.  As for my website, I have made some changes which I hope you will all like.  I will now be including recipes on my website and video tutorials.  I will also being doing a monthly newsletter so please feel free to join my mailing list.  My favourite thing about baking is sharing recipes, I love the tradition of it, the discussion that arises around it and there is nothing better than sitting round a table with friends and eating the results!  So see what you think.  I look forward to receiving your feedback and please feel free to share your recipes with me if you would like to.  Wish me luck - I think I might need it!  So excited about what lies ahead, I will keep you posted. xx